Friday, May 30, 2008

Two New Vatican Documents

In the past week and a half two new documents have come out of the Vatican. The news today is the release of a new CDF document on women's ordination that was printed in L'Osservatore Romano just today. The General Decree is very brief and concise and reiterates the Church's disciplinary directives on the attempted ordination of women to the priesthood. Here is the Decree in its entirety:

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

General Decree

Regarding the offense of attempted holy ordination of a woman

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in order to safeguard the nature and validity of the sacrament of holy orders, and in virtue of the special faculty conferred upon the congregation by the supreme authority of the church (see canon 30, Code of Canon Law), in the Ordinary Session of December 19, 2007, has decreed:In keeping with the disposition of canon 1378 of the Code of Canon Law, both the person who attempts to confer holy orders upon a woman, and the woman who attempts to receive holy orders, incur the excommunication latae sententiae, reserved to the Apostolic See.

If the one who attempts to confer holy orders upon a woman or the woman who attempts to receive holy orders is subject to the Code of the Canons of the Eastern Churches, in keeping with canon 1443 of that code, that person will be punished with major excommunication, the remission of which is reserved to the Apostolic See (see canon 1423, Code of the Canons of the Eastern Churches).The present decree takes effect immediately from the moment of its publication in L’Osservatore Romano.

William Cardinal Levada, Prefect
Angelo Amato, s.d.b.
Titular Archbishop of Sila

As far as I'm concerned, this issue was settled forever with Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, where in one of the few clear and unambiguous declarations of his pontificate, John Paul II declared infallibly, "Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful." Nevertheless, this new decree is a good compliment to JPII's condemnation because it outlines the canonical penalties for such attempted ordinations and if very refreshing in its brevity.

Unfortunately, the second document to come out of the Vatican in the past two weeks was a bit more of a let down. On may 20th, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue issued a message to Buddhists honoring the Buddhist Feast of Vesak. Have you never heard of Vesak? Well, Vesak is the celebration of several events in the life of Buddha: first and foremost, his birthday, but also his "enlightenment" and death. In both Chinese and Japanese traditions, a statue of the baby Buddha is bathed with sweet tea by all those present, and there are street processions made up of elaborate floats that commemorate events from the Buddha’s life.

Why on earth would the Catholic Church want to wish Buddhists a happy Vesak? Isn't this like saying, "Hey, you're celebrating the "enlightenment" of your false-guru with anti-Christian philosophical mysticism. Good for you. You keep on doing that." What kind of a message is this? As is typical with most messages in interreligious dialogue these days, this document (which you can read here) never once mentions the name of Jesus Christ or insinuates that Buddhists ought to become Catholics. The crux of the brief document is "evironmental protection" and it goes on the talk about how Catholics and Buddhists need to work together on projects such as "recycling, energy conservation, the prevention of indiscriminate destruction of plant and animal life, and the protection of waterways."

A document issued from the hierarchy of Korea to the Korean Buddhists is also questionable. This document, signed by Archbishop Nicholas Cheong Archbishop of Seoul and Bishop Boniface Choi Ki-san of Incheon, praises Buddha and refers to both Buddhists and Christians as "believers:"

Buddha presented the world with a life of interior peace and liberation for all who suffer and are fatigued. Believers of all religions in Korea must faithfully practice their religion. If we believers respect and love one another the world will be a better place and we can offer to all hope and consolation. It is natural for us to live together in this land, to work for development and prosperity of the nation in mutual respect and understanding to lead people towards eternal values and in this way open the door for a bright future for the people of Korea.

Who does the document refer to when it says "if we believers respect and love one another"? It is obvious that it is referring to the "believers of all religions" mentioned above, whom the Archbishop encourages to "faithfully practice their religion." So Buddhists are encouraged to go on worshiping Buddha, animists to their totems and fetishes, and Muslims to their false god. No mention is made of Jesus or the one sheepfold (John 10), but Buddha is praised as a teacher who "presented the world with a life of interior peace and liberation."

Much has been said about this type of thing over the years by many Traditionalists and concerned Catholics the world over, but I will make but two observations here. First, in attempts to stave off any notion of evangelization (or "proselytism" as it is commonly called), such statements on interreligious dialogue inevitably wind up focusing on merely temporal, worldly affairs. A prime example is the Assisi prayer gatherings for "world peace." Like those gatherings, this document from the Vatican and the Korean statement focus on purely transitory and worldly goals: environmental protection and "development and prosperity" in Korea. While these goals are good, there is the danger that as they are continually brought up time and time again, and as the name of Jesus of the need for His grace is continually neglected, it comes to pass over the years that people believe the whole reason for interreligious dialogue is nothing other than the attainment of worldly goals, or worse, that people think that religion itself if about establishing world peace or environmental responsibility.

Second, interreligious dialogue, if we want to be anal about the Latin meaning, would be translated as dialogue among religions (inter = among, between). But nothing is more one-sided than Catholic interreligious dialogue. Where are the yearly documents from the Buddhists at Christmas, celebrating Jesus' birth and praising His teaching? Where are the statements from all the imams congratulating us at Easter time on the Resurrection of our Lord? Where are the statements of the rabbis and Jews of the world saying that the New Testament is truly an inspired book and that the New Covenant is a valid covenant? How about Hindu statements on the sublimity and majesty of the Holy Trinity? They simply don't exist. These other religions expect Christians to pander to them and give credence to every false god and superstition in their pantheons but stubbornly deny to give the same to Christ.

Not that Christ needs the same from them to be validated! For unlike these hyper-sensitive apostles of tolerance, we understand that Christ does not stand or fall depending on what the Jews or Hindus say about Him. Let them scorn Him! Let them revile! I'd rather they bend the knee, but I understand that Christ and Christianity are opposed to the world system and not part of it, which is a truth we need to reclaim. Unfortunately, modern interreligious dialogue in the Catholic Church seems to be more about convincing ourselves that we are not intolerant than about converting the nations or even about understanding their religions.

That is the true paradoxical failure of interreligious dialogue. Not only do we fail to win souls for Christ, but by glossing over differences and focusing on merely temporal goals, we fail to even understand the other religion that we profess to be wanting to learn about. Anybody who studied Islam objectively is capable of understanding its historical roots, its propensity to violence, and the vision of a world caliphate with all peoples subject to it. It is only when we become blinded by false unity in the name of tolerance that we are forced to set aside such obvious observations and create for ourselves not only a false Catholicism but a false Islam as well, one that is solely a "religion of peace." Thus, while giving our own patrimony and religious traditions away, we fail to understand those we are engaged with.What a tragedy.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Revisiting the Pontifical Biblical Commission (part 2)

Last time we talked about the PBC we looked at its declarations concerning the composition and authorship of the Book of Isaiah. This time we shall examine its eight responses on the composition, authorship and Messianic nature of the Book of Psalms, dated May 10, 1910 (can be found in Denzinger 2129).

The Psalms are a particularly important book of the Scriptures. They form the heart of the Old Testament and are used in so many places and ways within the Church's liturgy that it is difficult to quantify; I would venture to say that the Book of Psalms is the most used book of Scripture in the liturgy. It is also very important in the New Testament, and Psalm 110 is the most quoted Messianic psalm in the Gospels and Epistles. Like Isaiah, how we interpret Psalms has much to do with how we view the Messiah, because both books have traditionally been seen as books of prophecy that spoke of Christ and His mission. The most famous Messianic psalms are 2 ("Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel"), 22 ("My God my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?") and as mentioned above, 110 ("The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool"). This Messianic interpretation of the Psalms goes back to the Jesus Himself, who quotes from Psalm 110 in His dispute with the Pharisees when discussing the identity of the Christ (Matt. 22:41-46) and Who quotes Psalm 22:1 while dying on the cross. Quotes from the Psalms are frequent throughout the New Testament, not as uplifting, consoling words of wisdom (the way they are often used today), but as inspired prophecies bearing directly on the life and death of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Thus, it can be said without much exaggeration that prior to the Church's Trinitarian and Christological controversies of the mid-patristic age, much of her Christology was derived from the Psalms. That Christ was co-equal with the Father could be proven from Psalm 110, where the Psalmist (in the person of the Son of David says) "The Lord said to My Lord," indicating that the son is Lord just as is the Father. The same psalm, Psalm 110, is used in Hebrews to explain Christ's eternal priesthood, for in verse 4 of that psalm we run across the famous phrase, "Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek." When we look to the Psalms, we are looking to the earliest Christological treatise.

It is not surprising, therefore, that this book came under scrutiny from the modernists at the turn of the 20th century. This attack on the Book of Psalms was but one part of a larger attack on the Christological doctrines as a whole and a perfidious attempt to create a "Jesus of History" over and opposed to the "Christ of Faith." Thus, the Pontifical Biblical Commission saw it as a very important matter to settle forever the doubts raised about the Book of Psalms, just as it did with the Book of Isaiah.

Responses I and III-V deal with the Davidic authorship of the Psalms. Responses II and VI-VII treat of the date of composition, while response VIII deals with the method of interpreting the Psalms, especially those traditionally held to be of a Messianic character.

In response I, we are given to understand that Catholics are not bound to insist that each and every psalm is individually the sole work of King David alone. The Church has never taken this position, but it is good that the PCB acknowledges this first hand, lest the Church be accuse dof biblical "fundamentalism" in looking at questions of authorship.

Nevertheless, response II points out that whether or not David composed each Psalm, the entire Psalter is undoubtedly of a very ancient Jewish tradition, "more ancient than the Septuagint," as evidenced from the uniformity of the titles of many of the Psalms in the Hebrew and Alexandrine texts. This would commit Catholics to acknowledging and affirming that even the psalms that may not have been written by David were certainly composed prior to the 2nd century BC and possibly as early at the late 4th century BC. This is a far stretch from the time of David (11th century BC), but it is much earlier than some modernists liked to suppose (some asserted that the Psalms were not even completed until around 150 AD!).

Response III is probably the most important in dealing with authorship, because it lays down a general principle. The question posed is, "Can the aforesaid titles of the psalms, witnesses of Jewish tradition, be prudently called into doubt when there is no serious reason against their being genuine?" To this question, the Commission responds, "In the negative."

What this boils down to is this: we have a lot of Traditions that come down to us regarding the authorship of certain books of the Bible: Moses writing the Pentateuch, Jeremiah and Isaiah writing the books attributed to them, the Evangelists writing the Gospels, and so on. Since we are so far removed from them in time, our confidence that these people in fact wrote these books is largely based on Tradition. Now, unless there are substantial and credible reasons to question that Tradition, then it is therefore imprudent to dispute it. Those who deny the traditional authorships place the burden of proof on themselves. So, it is up to the modernist to prove that Moses did not write the Pentateuch, or that David did not write the Psalms. All things being equal, if there is no evidence to the contrary, the Traditional authors are to be maintained. Therefore, the appropriate response to, "John didn't write the Fourth Gospel" ought to be, "Oh yeah? Prove that he didn't."

Response IV is important because it establishes the Davidic authorship of most of the Psalms. "Alright," says the modernist, "if I have to believe that David wrote some of the Psalms, I will. But I'm sure he only wrote a bare minimum, like maybe only Psalm 51 and 23. The rest were written after the Exile." Ha! Not so. Response IV puts the smack-down on such an interpretation. Though response I says we need not believe David wrote all the Psalms, response IV goes on to say that nevertheless David was the "principal author" of most of the Psalter, so that those Psalms not attributed to David are in the minority, and that this understanding is "in the agreement of the Jews and of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church." Response V goes on to name six specific psalms that it is absolutely forbidden to deny the Davidic authorship of:

Psalm 2 (Quare fremuerunt gentes)
Psalm 15 (Conserva me, Domine)
Psalm 17 (Diligam me, Domine, fortituto mea)
Psalm 31 (Beati quorum remissae sunt iniquitates)
Psalm 68 (Salvum me fac)
Psalm 110 (Dixit Dominus Domino meo)

So, next time somebody tries to tell you that Psalm 2 reflects the eschatological-Messianic expectations of the post-Exilic Jewish community under Greek persecution, you can tell them that they have incurred latae sententiae excommunication according to the motu proprio Praestantia Scriptura of St. Pius X of 1907, reserved to the Roman Pontiff alone. Or just politely refer them to this post instead.

Response VI reasonably points out that it is not contray to faith to admit that some of the psalms have been modified of added to in order to make them suitable for liturgical use in the Jerusalem Temple, and furthermore that this does not detract from its inspiration. In the New Testament, we have of course done this with the Lord's Prayer by adding the doxology to the end for use in the Mass. Nothing new here.

Response VII deals with the date of composition and builds on response II. While the second response commits us to dating the Book of Psalms earlier than the Septuagint (c. 150 BC), response VII commits us to holding a date prior to Ezra and Nehemiah (prior t0 444 BC, thedate of the arrival of Nehemiah in Jerusalem). This tells us that we must date the Psalms, even the non-Davidic ones, to either the time of the Exile or before (prior to 587 BC). Therefore, all the Psalms are asserted to have been composed in the Kingdom period, mostly by David, but some by scribes attached to the Temple (like the scribe Asaph, who is known to have composed Psalms 50, 73, 79 and 82).

Finally, response VIII affirms the traditional understanding of the Book of Psalms as not only a liturgical but a prophetic text and stated that "it is necessary to admit a number of prophetic and Messianic psalms, which foretold the future Savior's coming, kingdom, preisthood, passion, death, and resurrection." Of the idea, common among Jews even to this day and among the ilk of the Jesus Seminar, that the prophecies of the Messiah in the Psalms refer only to the nation of Israel collectively and pertain only to the future lot of the Jews, the PBC says that "it is necessary to reject altogether."

By preserving the Psalms, we preserve their Messianic character, and in doing so we preserve and strengthen the very foundation of our Christology. When we argue Christology, we can argue from Nicea and Chalcedon. But what do you think the Fathers at Nicea were arguing from? They argued from the Psalms, Isaiah and the Gospel of John, three of the most vilified and attacked books of the modernists. Next time we will look at the PBC's statments on the Fourth Gospel.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Padre Pio Incorrupt?

I just received these pictures of the exhumed body of St. Padre Pio, which is purported to be incorrupt. The body was exhumed in early March of this year, and since its exhumation has been viewed by over 7,000 pilgrims a day. As we can see from these shots, the body is obviously in a remarkable state of preservation. Take a look:

One thing I wonder about with these modern alleged incorrputibles is that they often have been treated with modern embalming techniques, making it difficult to draw the line between natural preservation and miraculous incorruptibility, like the nonsense with Pope John XXIII being incorrupt when everybody who knows about the case acknowledges that his preservation is due to natural processes.

Consider the following facts about Padre Pio, after having seen these pictures: first, shortly after death, Padre Pio was injected with formaldehyde, the same embalming chemical used by most morticians in the United States. Use of embalming chemicals, coupled with a burial in a relatively air-tight tomb, can bring about natural preservation for a number of years. Abraham Lincoln's body was found "incorrupt" when exhumed around the turn of the 20th century, and slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers body was so well preserved that an autopsy was done on it decades after his death. We all are aware of the famous case of Vladimir Lenin's preservation:

Further complicating the issue is this fact: when Padre Pio was exhumed, the face was covered with a life-like silicone mask to make it viewable to the public. This mask is meant to lay over the skull and create the appearance of flesh and allow otherwise decomposed corpses to be more acceptable for public viewing. When the tomb was first opened, papal legate Archbishop Domenico D'Amrbosio said, ''As soon as we got inside the tomb we could clearly make out the beard. The top part of the skull is partly skeletal but the chin is perfect and the rest of the body is well preserved" (source). What he means by "the top part of the skull is partly skeletal" I do not know, but it is clear that the face was a little less well preserved than the pics above would lead us to believe. Since his face has been covered by a silicone mask made to resemble flesh, we do not really know to what level of decomposition this corpse has reached.

Now please do not accuse me denying Padre Pio's sanctity! I have had reservations about some modern canonizations and beatifications: I question the attempts to canonize Mother Teresa and John Paul II, (here and here) for various reasons. But I have no reservations about the sanctity and miraculous works of St. Padre Pio. Interesting from a Traditionalist viewpoint is that he requested and obtained permission from Paul VI to continue using the 1962 Missal after Vatican II. It was widely rumored after the Council that Padre Pio had met Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, and that the saint had prophetically warned the Archbishop that he would "tear apart the community of faithful." This nonsense has since been debunked, and Archbishop Lefebvre formally repudiated it before he died (see here).

I love Padre Pio, and I am not in any way saying that he is not saintly, or even that he is not incorrupt. What I am saying is this: because of the silicone mask and the formaldehyde treatments, nobody can be sure now. The waters have been muddied, and room is opening up for the possibility of doubt. Anybody who sees this can say, "Yeah, but they embalmed him, sealed him in an airtight tomb and put a silicone lining over his face when they exhumed him." True. The case for true incorruptibility is now more difficult to discern.

What we need in these times, especially when it comes to persons of eminent sanctity like St.. Pio, is clear-cut truth, not more uncertainty. I say that whenever a person dies "in the odor of sanctity," they ought to be buried (a) without any embalming at all, as most saints throughout history have been, (b) in a simple wooden coffin. These are the conditions in which St. Francis Xavier was buried in Goa, India in 1552, and his body remains incorrupt after 456 years and being subject to the intense heat and moisture of the Indian climate. That is a miracle that there can be no doubt about. But as for Padre Pio, holy as he is, we will never be able to know for sure.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

The Undefinable Experience

I rarely write or speak about things of this nature, especially on my blog, but I thought this was an interesting line of thinking, so here it goes!

The other night, late after I got out of my evening college classes, I was on my way home when I started feeling a draw to pray. Now, of course, we can pray anywhere (as our Protestant friends always remind us!), but this was a different kind of prayer I was feeling the need of, something that was not best suited for the car ride home. I thought of stopping in a Church, though it was late. As I work for a Church, I can unlock it and enter anytime I please to come before the Sacrament. But for some reason, I decided on the wilderness instead as the most fitting place for my prayers.

So, I drove way out of my way out into some backroads that I knew as a youth. It was about 10:30 PM and rain was coming down, though not too hard. I came to an isolated location near the entrance to a vast tract of state land, covered by massive, hulking pines. Across the country road from where I parked lay nothing but miles upon miles of desolate field, some of it turned up for sowing beans, most of it short grass for what had once been grazing land. It had once belonged to a local farmer but was now owned by some far-off corporation that rarely ever came there. The barbed wire fence that used to keep the cows in was broken down, and I easily passed from the road into the fields.

These fields were truly immense, the kind you can get lost in, if it is possible to get lost in a wide open space. The sky was dark and overcast, and rain was sprinkling down upon me. I walked and walked, further from the road, until I was truly immersed in the wilderness, where the sounds of the road grew faint and the large pines of the state land were only a dark ridge far behind me. Before me was nothing but endless tracts of barren field, devoid of even one small bush or stump and consisting entirely in hill after hill of endless, short grass. The sky was very dark, and the ground in turn was dark and unlit by moon or star, so that the darkness of sky and earth seemed to melt into one vast darkness which I was trying desperately to lose myself in. For the first time in a long time, I was simply able to marvel at Creation: not this or that aspect of Creation, but Creation as such, the fact that anything at all existed and that I existed in the midst of it, yet distinct from it. I held my hands aloft and looked at them against the backdrop of the impersonal, bleak sky and marvelled.

I often come to desolate places like this when I really want to pray from the depths of my being. Not that there is anything wrong with praying before the Blessed Sacrament; far be it from me to assert such a thing! But the wilderness is appropriate for certain types of prayer, as many saints of the Scriptures and other saints right up to our own time attest. Being alone out there helps cut through the illusions of modernity and brings you face to face with the reality of God and your own soul. It helps you come to the realization, as C.S. Lewis put it, that every man is really alone with God. Also, when I pray like this, I often like to yell, cry out, bang my fists on the ground, prostrate myself in tears and do things that would otherwise get some angry looks from the veil-covered women in the Church adoring the Sacrament.

When I came to a place where everywhere I looked was darkness, I protsrated myself on the ground and prayed with many tears and supplications. I need not mention the substance of my prayers, for I wish to write about the experience only. How often, in our fake, comfort-seeking entertainment oriented culture we are stopped from having any real experience at all! Experience of what? Sure, we experience lots of sensual stimulation, but the sense stimulation so often blocks out everything else. I tore my jacket off, leaving me in just my T-Shirt, and it was a joy to feel the stinging cold rain of a Spring's night in Michigan pelt me. The wind was frigid as well, and I felt a genuine physical discomfort, but in a deeper way, it was comforting, because it had been a long while since I'd felt any intense joy or pain. Like so many others, I'd been existing in a state of constant numbness, an emotional comatose brought on by the world in which we live and from which it is a struggle to loose oneself.

This discomfort of the rain was quickly overcome by a great interior consolation as I cried out to my God, begging Him to make Himself more real to me than my own life. I adored Him for being Who He was and asked Him for many graces that I urgently needed. Several times I got up, only to collapse to the ground again in sobs, at once petitioning, adoring, repenting and thanking, as if every form of prayer came together in one great cry from the depths of my being. I knew not what else to do, so I raised my hands to the sky and simply yelled and cried out.

Them something happened. A great silence. The wind or the rain did not stop; they actually intensified. But all the turmoil of my soul seemed to cease, and there was a great silence, a silence very thick and intense. A substantial silence. I know that grace is something that is altogether outside of the realms of sense experience and not subject to feeling or knowing, but I will say that I seemed to "feel" the grace of God come over me, or at least it was a consolation that perhaps accompanied the grace. I felt perfect stillness and harmony within my being, as if the whole world was at rest, beginning with my own soul. I had a clarity of thinking and a depth of perception that I rarely enjoy and the whole world and God Himself seemed vibrantly present to me immediately. I knelt in awe, looking out at everything and nothing in particular and simply received it, feeling like Adam looking upon the world at his first moment of waking. This persisted for five minutes or so, until by and by it passed away, and I became again part of this world, and I knew the time had come to get up and leave.

I reluctantly trudged back to my car, looking behind me often as I went, gazing at those bleak fields where, with no one in the world knowing what I was doing or caring, I had bared my soul to God and He had responded.

My wife was quite concerned when I came home, almost an hour and a half late (near midnight), covered in mud, wet and chilled to the bone. "What happened to you!?" she inquired. I was still basking in the afterglow of the experience and unable to quite put it into words, so I simply mumbled, "I was out in a field." She accepted this answer and let me alone; she has gotten quite used to this type of strange behavior from me over the seven years of our marriage, and no doubt this will not be the last time!

How do we account for such experiences? Where do we put them in the scheme of things? They are very unique because, on the one hand, almost everybody who is a serious Catholic has had some comparable experience in their life, sometimes more than once, often in varying circumstances. These experiences often give us the grace and impetus to carry on in an otherwise wearisome labor, or the power to overcome some persistent fault. In fact, I can trace the course of my entire Christian life to one such experience I had ten years ago. Had it not been for that one experience when I was 19, I perhaps would not have come to Christ. Only God knows.

Many great saints begun their work with such experiences of conversion: St. Augustine being the most famous, but also St. Francis and St. Anthony of Egypt (in his moment of clarity when he heard the Gospel about giving away your possessions) as well as a host of others. They are obviously very important factors in our own spiritual lives and in the life and history of the Church as a whole.

On the other hand, because these experiences are so individualized and "private," theology can really say nothing about them, other than to document that they exist (as many mystics have) and to lay down some general rules for how to work with them. But other than that, not much can be said of these intense and universal, yet profoundly private experiences.

This is especially interesting when it comes to proving the existence of God. If you look in any text on proofs for God's existence, you will invariably see St. Thomas' five proofs, perhaps the argument of St. Anselm, some proofs made famous by C.S. Lewis and many others. But you will not find a "proof from personal experience," and rightly so, for since it is "personal," we cannot expect it to apply to or convince all men. But yet, if you talk to serious Catholics or anyone who has converted from atheism or agnosticism, most will almost certainly tell you of some experience that gave them the initial push, some way in which God tore open the curtains of their meager little world and made Himself known to them.

That is what happened to me. I was minding my own business, living in sin and ignoring God, when I had an experience at age 19, where God "came down" and made His reality known to me with such power and glory that it was seemingly impossible for my intellect or will to deny His reality any longer. That set me moving, and I gradually grew in faith and knowledge, and then proceeded to get book-smart and learn about all the other "logical" ways to prove God's existence, not often thinking that the only reason I was even interested in "proving" God's existence is because God had proven Himself to me in a way that could never be commuincated to another. It was a revelation in my own language, so to speak, for me alone in that one place in time. Many, many people I know came to God through similar experiences, though I by no means claim this as universal.

Well, in the end, the experience must remain beyond the boundaries of explanation. I can try to tell you what happened, sure; but it falls terribly short. I do not look for these times, but take them as they come and thank God for them, because they are as refreshing to my soul as lembas bread and miruvor on a long and weary journey.

Here's some pics of the field I mentioned, though taken during the day, and the actual place I talked about was far off in the distance, far beyond the trees, so far off in fact that the trees were but tiny specks from where I stood. These pictures were taken from the road of this spot which will ever-after be dear to me:

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Revisiting the Pontifical Biblical Commission (part 1)

In 1902, Pope Leo XIII established the Pontifical Biblical Commission to address the growing trend of historical-critical approaches in scripture scholarship then on the ascendancy thoughout the Church. In the establishment of this Commission, which Leo instituted to be an official teaching organ of the Church, the Holy Father said that the goal of the Commission was "that Catholics should not admit the malignant principle of granting more than is due to the opinion of heterodox writers, and of thinking that the true understanding of the Scriptures should be sought first of all in the researches which the erudition of unbelievers has arrived at" (Enchiridion Biblicum, 141).

The PBC functioned in this capacity until the spirit of modernism caught up with the hierarchy in the late 1960's, and many scholars (mainly of the historical-critical school) petitioned the Vatican to reform the Commission. Finally, in 1971 Paul VI restructured the Commission and dethroned it from its place as an official teaching organ of the Church. From that time on, it has been staffed largely by historical-critical scholars a commission of scholars who, "in their scientific and ecclesial responsibility as believing exegetes, take positions on important problems of scriptural interpretation and know that for this task they enjoy the confidence of the teaching office" (Cardinal Ratzinger, Preface to the PBC document, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church).

Nevertheless, though the PBC only now "takes positions," it once was invested with the highest authority. In 1907, Pope St. Pius X in his motu proprio Praestantia Scripturae gave the PBC this authority, in which he expressly states his desire to use the PBC as a bulwark to thwart the modernist school and to support the declarations of Lamentabili Sane and Pascendi Dominici Gregis. Of the authority granted to the PBC, the Pope said:

We do declare and decree that all are bound in conscience to submit to the decisions of the Biblical Commission relating to doctrine, which have been given in the past and which shall be given in the future, in the same way as to the decrees of the Roman congregations approved by the Pontiff; nor can all those escape the note of disobedience or temerity, and consequently of grave sin, who in speech or writing contradict such decisions, and this besides the scandal they give and the other reasons for which they may be responsible before God for other temerities and errors which generally go with such contradictions.

and this we declare and decree that should anybody, which may God forbid, be so rash as to defend any one of the propositions, opinions or teachings condemned in these documents he falls, ipso facto, under the censure contained under the chapter "Docentes" of the constitution "Apostolicae Sedis," which is the first among the excommunications latae sententiae, simply reserved to the Roman Pontiff. This excommunication is to be understood as salvis poenis, which may be incurred by those who have violated in any way the said documents, as propagators and defenders of heresies, when their propositions, opinions and teachings are heretical, as has happened more than once in the case of the adversaries of both these documents, especially when they advocate the errors of the modernists that is, the synthesis of all heresies.

Therefore, though the PBC has no real authority today, all Catholics are bound to submit their intellects to the earlier decisions reached by this Commission, especially since Pius X specifically says that not just scholars, but "anybody" whp defends a proposition condemned by the PBC is subject to latae sententiae excommunication.

The PBC issued many replies to certain dubia submitted to it throughout the course of its life, the most well-known being the replies on the historicity of Genesis and portions of the Old Testament issued bteween 1906 and 1908 (though from 1911 onward it had much to say on the historicity of the New Testament, as well).

Let's take a look at one of the many replies of the PBC, from June 29th, 1908, regarding the character and author of the Book of Isaiah. This particular reply is divided up into five parts, each corresponding to a different question put to the Commission regarding certain aspects of the Book of Isaiah: the first two questions are concerned with the nature of Old Testament prophecy as such, and the latter three deal with the authorship of the book.

Regarding prophecy, it is one hallmark of modernist biblical interpretation that no prophecy is acknowledged to be truly supernatural in character: if Daniel predicts something that did in fact happen in the future, the only "rational" explanation is that Daniel must have been written after the fact to give the appearance of prophecy. This anti-supernaturalism is usually taken for granted and not explicitly stated. In Reply I, the PBC condemns the following proposition:

"That the predicitions read in the Book of Isaiah-and throughout the Scriptures-are not predictions properly so called, but either narrations put together after the event, or, if anything has to be acknowledged as foretold before the event, that the prophet foretold it not in accordance with a supernatural revelation of God who foreknows future events, but by conjectures formed...and shrewdly by natural sharpness of mind..."

Reply II upholds the eschatological and Messianic interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies against an over-exuberant preterism (the belief that prophecies were fulfilled not long after they were made and were always for the prophet's own time only and have no future fufilment). The following proposition in condemned:

"Isaiah and the other prophets did not put forth predicitions except about events that were to happen in the immediate future or after no long space of time..."

The remaining three replies all deal with the argument that Isaiah had multiple authors. This is a very common assumption nowadays, one even made by otherwise conservative and orthodox persons (although some still cast doubt on the multiple-authorship theory, as does Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J., in his book Inside the Bible, where the multiple-authorship theory is mentioned but not endorsed). The main argument for the multiple authorship of Isaiah comes from the fact that chapters 40-66 seem to speak to post-Exilic Jews. Taking the presupposition that Isaiah could not have known or written about events two centuries in the future, it is presumed that another author wrote chapters 40-66. As evidence for this, modernists will point out that had Isaiah actually prophesied about these events so far in advance, his contemporaries would not have known what he was talking about!

Reply III condemns the idea that a prophet must be understood by his contemporaries. Reply IV condemns the idea that a philological or textual critique of Isaiah turns up any evidence of mutliple authorship. Reply V deals with the possibility that many of these arguments taken altogether could cast doubt on the single-authorship and lead us to believe that the book was attributed "not to Isaiah alone, but to two or even several authors." Like the previous assertions, this one is condemned as well. While the idea of multiple authorship itself is not condemned, the Replies condemnt the notion that there is any textual evidence of multiple-authorship. Thus, the PBC is saying, "If you believe in mutiple-authorship, know that there is no good reason to do so."

Next time we'll look at what the PBC had to say about the Psalms.

Monday, May 19, 2008

"We agree on essentials"

"There will be one flock and one shepherd" (John 10:16)

A strong argument against Protestantism is that the Protestant concept of the Church seems to be in serious contradiction with Christ's express desire that the Church be one (John 17:8-26). This oneness is no superficial unity, but is an essential unity that is derived from Christ's unity with the Father. This runs against the Protestant notion of many individual churches united by nothing other than vague agreement on certain fundamentals. As we will show momentarily, there really is no agreement even on fundamentals. The only "fundamental" that Protestants hold in common is that the Catholic Church is not the true Church.

But is the Catholic Church's interpretation of Christ's wish in John 17 the only viable understanding of what it means for the Church to be "one?" Protestants often will say that the fact that there are 22,000 Protestant denominations in the world (with 1500 new ones forming every year) does not in any way conflict with Christ's prayer for the oneness of the Church. They will argue, "Sure, we disagree on things. This is to be expected since the Church is a human institution. But we all agree on the essentials, and so we really are one in the Spirit, though there may be different organizations."

This is not an implausible argument outright. Many Catholics disagree on accidental or prudential matters and still remain in the unity of the Church, because as long as we can all agree on the dogmas of the faith and remain in communion with Rome, then it can be said that we have unity. So, Protestants claim that their disagreements among themselves are of the same nature: accidental to the essence of Christianity, about non-important matters that do not effect salvation. Examples often cited are whether or not one should speak in tongues, whether women should have leadership roles within the Church, whether healing still occur, and so on. "So you see," they will say, "we may have denominations that disagree on these issues, but we all agree on the fundamentals."

Is this really the case? I would submit that this argument is specious for three reasons.

1) Who decides what is an "essential" and what isn't? This argument implies that there is some body of essential doctrines that all Protestants already agree on, which essentially begs the question. So, all Protestants agree on essentials. What are essentials? Those things which all Protestants agree upon. See the problem here? Taken seriously, this argument appeals to some trans-denominational authority to decide what exactly is an essential doctrine and what isn't. And who will make this call? Is it essential to salvation to believe in the literal nature of Christ's miracles? What about the Genesis account? What about the historicity of the rest of the Old Testament? This quickly becomes a quagmire if there is nobody with the authority to say what is essential and what isn't, and since the Protestant world has no such authority, there can be no agreement on what essentials are.

2) Is anything pertaining to Revelation non-essential? We also ought to ask ourselves, "Can anything that God revealed be considered accidental or non-essential to faith?" By saying, "We agree on essentials," Protestants thereby imply that there are other matters of faith that are non-essential. In the Catholic Church, these non-essentials are usually matters of judgment, prudence, etc (whether to adopt Carmelite or Benedictine spirituality, whether or not a specific war is a just war). But all doctrinal matters are settled and defined de fide, leaving no fuzzy realm of non-essential doctrine. In fact, to have a non-essential doctrine would by oxymoronic, since all dogma is revealed for the sake of our salvation, as Dei Verbum 11 says (which is what it actually says).

What are some of these "non-essentials" that Protestants say are not important? I've heard some amazing things: forms of baptism, how we receive the Holy Spirit, the nature of Christ's Second Coming: in essence, anything a Protestant cannot agree upon is relegated to the realm of a non-essential, and some of these issues are anything but.

3) Non-essentials are essential. Following the last point, if we look at what it is exactly that Protestants cannot agree upon, we begin to see that they are no mere accidental issues, but things central to salvation. Here are some issues that divide major Protestant groups: the role of works in salvation, how baptism ought to be done, predestination, what baptism does (if anything), the Rapture, how one receives the Holy Spirit, the nature of Holy Communion, the indissolubility of marriage, the morality of homosexual acts, and on and on. These things are not negotiable issues where we can take either side and be just fine in the end. On most of these issues, if you take the wrong side, you are striving not only against men but God. To be wrong about the method of validly baptizing (or wrong on what baptism is) is no dispensable, non-essential issue but is intimately bound up with salvation itself. How dare anybody relegate any of these issues to the realm of the non-essential!

So, does the Protestant argument that "we all agree on essentials" hold any weight? Not at all, because on a practical level there is nobody with the authority or wisdom to decide with certainty what is an is not an essential dogma, and theologically because the things that Protestants disagree on are often the most weighty and soteriologically important of dogmas.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Pants and other things

Sorry I haven't posted in a while...I've been very busy with lots of things at my work and with school. I just started two new college courses this week: one required geography class, and one English/Lit class on American folklore that seems to be moderately interesting. I am very upset with my geopgraphy class, however. It costs about $1500 and the professor is literally have us color maps like we are third graders. "Remember, rivers in blue, forests in green." Seriously! I am very upset about it, but I'm thankful that it is not that demanding at least.

I have also spent a lot of time browsing through the comments on Athanasius Contra Mundum concerning the ongoing debate between Athanasius and apologist Dave Armstrong (which as of now has 38 comments). In the course of the debate, a Sedevecantist showed up who made some pretty serious accusations about women wearing pants. For many of you who have been around, perhaps you've ran into this thing before, but this was my first time encountering the argument.

If I understood him right, the Sede was making the argument that it was never permissible ever for a woman to wear pants, no matter what she was doing. If there was some sort of work or labor that necessitated pants, then she ought not be doing the labor in the first place. So, essentially, to wear pants would be a mortal sin for a woman, akin to a man cross dressing. Someone asked, "What about when riding horses?" and this person said that the woman ought to ride side-saddle.

This, of course, brought to mind one famous Catholic saint who rode horses and got her attire questioned as well: I refer of course to St. Joan of Arc. When going into combat, she donned male attire for utilitarian reasons. She was condemned on this account, but after her death, the Church exonerated her, declared her trial illegal and canonized her in 1923. Would not the fact that St. Joan is a canonized saint be an irrefutable argument against the position that it is never permissible for a woman to wear pants? Otherwise, how could the Church canonize somebody who did what would be considered a serious sin? Does anybody have any input on this?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Bishop Flynn forbids lay preaching

Good news from the Diocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, taken from This has already been going around the Net for sometime, but it is worth republishing here [my comments and emphases]:

Father Terry Rassmussen, pastor of St. Joseph in New Hope, finished reading, closed the Book of the Gospels, and stepped away from the ambo. From the congregation, Ginny Untiedt stepped forward.

Clad in a white robe, Untiedt bowed as Father Rassmussen laid his hands on her head and blessed her. She looked up, walked to the ambo and began preaching for the last time.

As many as 29 parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis have used lay preachers at Mass during the past 25 years. In January, however, Archbishop Harry Flynn instructed pastors to discontinue the practice. He gave his retirement date - May 2 - as the time by which parishes should develop "a pastoral plan" to end lay preaching [Another lame diocesan-bureaucratic phrase. Why do you need a plan to stop an abuse? Just knock it off!].

In his January letter to pastors, Archbishop Flynn referenced the 2004 Vatican instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum," which called eucharistic lay preaching - a non-ordained person reflecting on the Gospel reading at the place in Mass usually [?] reserved for a homily by a priest or deacon - a liturgical abuse [It is funny that Flynn references RS, as if this were a new devlopment or something. Lay preaching is forbidden by the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which RS simply reaffirms. If you take the 25 years that lay preaching has been going on in Flynn's diocese, this takes us back to 1986, meaning that almost as soon as the 83 CIC went into effect, the abuses came in immediately]. Only an ordained person should preach after the Gospel at Mass, Archbishop Flynn said.

Many lay preachers have expressed "enormous grief and anger" [haha] over the directive to stop the practice, said Patricia Hughes Baumer, who co-founded the lay preaching training organization Partners in Preaching with her husband, Fred, in 1997.

Proponents of lay preaching argue that canon law allows the practice [Really? Let's see: Canon 767:1: "Among the forms of preaching the homily is preeminent; it is a part of the liturgy itself and is reserved to a priest or to a deacon"] and that both the congregation and pastors benefit from hearing Gospel reflections from diverse voices.

Ending the practice

For many lay preachers, some of whom have been preaching in the archdiocese for more than 25 years, the biggest question is: Why now?

Archbishop Flynn told The Catholic Spirit he was aware of a few parishes practicing lay preaching and that local leaders in the lay preaching movement were aware of his disapproval. He wrote the January letter only after becoming aware that the number of parishes with lay preachers was larger than he realized, he said [Real nice being bishop for years and years and having no clue what is going on in your parishes; somehow, I don't by this argument: either he is really disobedient, or really clueless].

Some have speculated Archbishop Flynn's letter came at this time because he wanted to "clean house" before Archbishop John Nienstedt assumed leadership of the archdiocese, but Archbishop Flynn said this is not the case [Nonsense. This is entirely the case. Nienstedt is a hardcore disciplinarian who would not tolerate such garbage. Read this article from July 16th on some of Nienstedt's disciplinary actions in his former Diocese of New Ulm, Minnesota].

Archbishop Flynn said he has explained to Baumer on two occasions why lay preaching during the Mass cannot be promoted. He said canon law does not support the practice of lay preaching at the place of the homily during Mass. The education, formation and ordination of priests and deacons make them uniquely suited to preach during Mass, he said [They are not just uniquely suited: it is an essential part of their ministry! As St. Paul said of himself, "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel! (1 Cor. 9:16)].

"There has to be that kind of training and theological background that even a person with a master's degree in theology would not have," he said. "The church does not want people just standing up there and giving opinions or even things they've read in books, but [rather]: What is the clear teaching about this mystery of our faith?" [Flynn, attempting to justify his decision, actually leads us to a false conclusion: that the reasons a priest or deacon must preach are solely because they have a certain training and background. However, preaching is not about function or expediency. Of course, we want to hear good preaching at Mass, but that is not ultimately what it is about. There are probably any number of people in any parish who could preach better than the pastor, but that doesn't matter. It has nothing to do with training or experience, and everything to do with Holy Orders and the fact that preaching is tied in essentially with what a priest is ordained to do, regardless of whether he is a good speaker with experience or not].

To allow a non-ordained person to preach would also interrupt the action of the Mass, he said. The Scriptures make it clear that it was the role of the presbyters to preach, he added [The New Testament has been around since the first century. How long did it take you to realize this?].

"To preach the Gospel is an extremely important part of the mission of any priest - I cannot overemphasize its importance," Archbishop Flynn said. "I would feel deprived, because this is my vocation to preach the Gospel. And if I were celebrating Mass, and it came time for me to preach - which should be the fruit of my prayer, my experience and the experience of those who [are] in [the] congregation - it would be disruptive to me to have someone else come and break open the Word of God" [I hear this phrase, "break open the word of God," a lot from progressives. There is nothing wrong with it, but I notice that they seem to like it. Anybody else notice this?].

As for priests who appreciate the break from preparing the homily when lay people preach, Archbishop Flynn said they should pray and spend more time in homily preparation because that is the work of the priest [Appreciate the break! What a pity that a bishop has to issue a directive reminding his priests that they ought to preach]. Archbishop Flynn has received letters both from Catholics who support lay preaching and from those who have been deeply distressed by it, he said.

If a lay person must speak or preach at Mass [There is no reason a lay person must speak or preach at Mass. At daily Masses, homilies are optional. On Sundays, if the priest is ill, he can speak only a few brief words and then move on. This seems to be a reflection of the view that exalts the homily to a more exalted place than it traditionally had; i.e., that it enjoys in Protestant churches], it would be appropriate for him or her to address the congregation after the prayer after Communion, he said. Lay people may also preach outside of the Mass.

Feelings of loss

For parishioners accustomed to hearing lay people preach on the Gospel, and for the lay preachers themselves, understanding and accepting this change has proven difficult.

Ruth Hunt, 52, a parishioner at St. Joseph in New Hope, has been preaching for 13 years [How come these lay preachers are always women?]. The number of lay preachers at her parish has fluctuated between five and about 12 [12! I wonder how many Extraordinary Ministers they have!!!], she said. When she first heard that lay preaching would end in her parish, she was filled with a very deep sadness and a sense of loss. The response of many St. Joseph parishioners was similar, she said.

"I was sad that this role of the laity could be something that Jesus didn't want," she said [It is good that she recognizes that this decision comes from the Magisterium (CIC & RS) and as such, we can hear in it the voice of Christ ("He who hears you hears Me"). However, it is unfortunate that she sees this expression of Christ's voice as something "sad"]. Untiedt, 62, has also been preaching for 13 years at St. Joseph and was instrumental in bringing lay preaching to her parish.

After Mass May 4, a parishioner told her that he enjoys hearing lay preachers because he feels like he can identify with their life experiences, she said [I don't want a preacher that I can identify with. I want one who is holy, transcendent, above me, and draws my attention upwards towards holy things. But that's just my preference].

Barb Frey, 51, a parishioner at St. Frances Cabrini in Minneapolis, described preaching as a "humbling, transformative experience." "It's enriched the ecclesiastical understanding of the community," she added [More post-V2 diocesan bureaucratic-pastoral mumbo-jumbo terminology].

Lay preachers at St. Frances Cabrini meet almost weekly throughout the year to read, pray and discuss Scripture together. The parish has had 52 lay preachers in the last 15 years ranging in age from 30 to mid-70s. They are provided seven sources of written material to help them plan what they will say, and many consult additional sources, said Chris Kosowski, the parish's liturgist.

Frank Schweigert, 57, also preaches at St. Frances Cabrini [Okay, well, here's a guy at least]. He grew up in rural Wisconsin where his father sometimes preached in the absence of a priest [As if to insinuate that this is a long-hallowed practice. The fact is, in rural Wisconsin half a century ago, if there was no priest, there would not have been Masses. What he probably remembers is his father speaking at a communion service or a liturgy of the word, but definitely not at a Mass in the 1950's]. He sees lay preaching tied into the archdiocese's Evangelization Initiative and lay people's "ownership of the Gospel."

"Would that we had 1,000 preachers . . . instead of 100," he said. "I don't think that would diminish the role of the priest. It hasn't here" [But it has if the priest is not preaching because to preach and administer sacraments is the priest's role].

After Vatican II encouraged greater participation of the lay faithful in the Mass [*eye twitching*] , some pastors across the nation began to invite their parishioners to preach during the liturgy [And where in the Vatican II documents is that mandated?]. Lay preaching differs from a homily, Baumer said, and is called "lectionary-based liturgical preaching." Homilies, she explained, are reserved for a priest or deacon [This is a nice way of just saying, "It's not as homily unless a priest gives it. A homily, or whatever you want to call it, is the preaching that occurs right after the reading of the Gospel It is the location within the liturgy that determines the homily, not the subject of your preaching on].

Lay preachers do not exist simply to compensate for a shortage of priests, proponents insist. Even if a parish had three full-time priests, it would benefit from lay preachers [Well, that is even worse reasoning than if there was a shortage], said Father Bob Hazel, a retired priest of the archdiocese. When he became pastor at St. Joseph nine years ago, he inherited its lay preaching tradition.

"A good part of preaching is to witness to one's faith - we're not just up there to give catechism," [And that's a crying shame!] Father Hazel said. "Lay preachers can witness to their faith in terms of the difficulty, the problems in the business world, work-a-day world, and in families, and priests just can't do that in the same way" [Nobody says lay people can't do those things: just not at Mass].

Lay preaching was prohibited by canon law until 1983, when a revised Code of Canon Law was promulgated. Canon 766 addresses lay preaching, saying "lay persons can be permitted to preach in a church or oratory, if necessity requires it in certain circumstances or it seems advantageous in particular cases," Baumer said [But it never says they can give a homily during Mass. But I guess that depends upon what your interpretation of the word "homily" is, and then, what your interpretation of the word "is" is].

It is the multiple interpretations of what constitutes a "necessity" or what is "advantageous" that opened the doors to regular lay preaching in parishes across the country, Baumer said [Nope. It is abuse. Plain and simple. These people always try to come off as if thet are just innocently doing what they think the Vatican is telling them to do, while they wink at each other knowing full well that they are dissenting]. In the archdiocese, the practice varied, from an occasional lay preacher to regular, scheduled lay preaching one or more Sundays each month.

Lay preaching is meant to collaborate with the priest's ministry, not substitute for it, Baumer said, just as it is a pastor's responsibility to ensure the education of the faithful, yet share the actual teaching with lay religious education teachers [But that doesn't happen in the Mass, which is the issue here. The CIC says the homily is part of the liturgy, and therefore resreved to those with Holy Orders]. In most cases, pastors invited particular men and women they felt may be called to preach to consider the ministry.

Most, if not all, parishes trained their lay preachers to effectively "break open the word of God" through their own program or through Partners in Preaching's nine-month program. Although it is possible that lay preaching could be mishandled, most lay preachers receive guidance from their pastors or liturgists as they prepare their reflections, Baumer said. Some pastors even read the reflection before it is given [Again, these people are making the mistake that who preaches has to do with whether or not a person is qualified or sufficiently trained].

Archbishop Flynn's letter said that a lay person could speak after the prayer after Communion. But to insert something that refers to the Liturgy of the Word after the Liturgy of the Eucharist does not fit the Mass' liturgical flow, Baumer argues [He's right! And therefore, let's have them not speak after Communion, either!].

Lay preaching also brings a woman's perspective to the Gospels [uh oh, here it comes], Baumer said. "The suppression of lay preaching is simultaneously the suppression of female voices, because no matter how God has gifted a lay woman . . . to break open the Word, the community will not have access to that word as it gathers on Sunday," she said.

Looking to the future

Some parishes have stopped lay preaching completely. Others are looking for new ways to use their lay preachers [i.e., sneaky new ways to dissent]. At St. Joseph, lay preachers will reflect on the day's Scriptures before Mass one Sunday per month.

However, it will be hard to effectively "break open the word" while people are still coming into the church and before they have heard the readings, Hunt said.

Archbishop Nienstedt, who now leads the archdiocese upon Archbishop Flynn's retirement, agrees with his predecessor's position, he said.

"It's not a question of a person's God-given talent [Thank you, Archbishop Nienstedt!]. There may be better speakers, but this priest or deacon, we believe, has been ordained . . . for this sacred service," he said. "There is the power of the Holy Spirit that goes with him that doesn't go to just anyone who has been baptized."

Archbishop Nienstedt said he hopes that people will be understanding of the church's position, but realizes that it might not be easy for them.

"It's awfully hard to explain to somebody why you can't do something next Sunday that you already did last Sunday," he said [Agreed, which is why the best policy would have been for these people to never have been doing this in the first place].

Catholic Spirit editor Joe Towalski contributed to this story.

Medjugorje promotes indifferentism

Taken from an article by Dr. Tim Brady from the May 2008 issue of Los Pequenos Pepper (linked on the sidebar):

Particularly evident in those rare venues in transition, or at least partially in transition, from faux-Catholicism to the Faith of All Time (Catholicism) are those people of very good will who have been misled by certain very significant deceptions. I think we must expect these topics to arise over and over and we must be patient, but we must not hesitate to point out the truth, for the benefit of those deceived (an act of charity), but, even more importantly, to stop the spread of these very damaging deceptions within the Church itself. Germane to this, the topic of Medjugorje has again surfaced at our parish. Last week, during one of his catechism classes, Father repeated and explained the infallible Catholic dogma "Extra-Ecclesiam Nulla Salus (There is no salvation outside the Church)."

I was sitting in the very back and the wife of a very nice young couple very politely challenged Father on this dogma of the Faith. It was one of those situations where, although looking at the back of her head, I could tell that her face evinced her lack of conviction after Father’s explanation.

The class soon ended and she came straight to me (I do not know why, because I remain very silent in that class) and said, "What about what Mary said at Medjugorje?"

"What is that?" I asked.

"That one religion is as good as another," she answered.

I did not have a lot of time, nor, I suppose, was I disposed at that moment to some sort of long explanation, so I opted to cut to the chase. "Medjugorje is a hoax," I replied, not expounding on the fact that a hoax is the most benign thing Medjugorje can be.

Well, that led to the predictable type of interchanges such as "What about the fact that Pope John Paul II said Medjugorje was good", and the like. I really (untypically) kept it brief. I was asked to produce on the spot the documents from the ordinaries of the Diocese of Mostar condemning the apparitions. I did not have them, but I brought them to the next meeting.

So let’s back up. Let’s ask ourselves, "What well-formed Catholic mind could not see immediately that any supposed apparition that claimed that all religions are just as pleasing to God as the Catholic religion could not possibly be Our Blessed Mother?" I mean, the discussion ends before it begins. Now we are left with two possibilities:

1. There are no apparitions whatsoever. The whole thing is a hoax and a type of mass hysteria, if of the seemingly pious type, or...

2. Something is appearing and impersonating Our Blessed Mother. This is, at least to me, the more sobering option.

In either event, I believe we need to take the whole phenomenon very seriously. I am not a student of Medjugorje nor do I really wish to be. I am frying other fish. But it did later come up in conversation and the reasonable question was asked, "Well, did whatever is supposed to be appearing at Medjugorje really say that?"

Excellent question. I assumed that it had been said because I have heard it more times than I can count from Medjugorje devotees. But that is intellectually lazy so I did a quick search on the internet for that supposed "teaching" of whatever this is at Medjugorje.

I came up with a lot of hits, but the following one, I think, expresses all of this much better than I am currently doing: [Excerpts from Craig Questions Medjugorje…] Below are the problematic statements...written in books by those who believe and support the apparitions at Medjugorje:

Question to Vicka: "There are millions of people on earth who are not Christian -what does the Blessed Mother want of them?"

Vicka: "To pray. All people on earth are born with knowledge of God in their hearts. Everyone has his own way to pray. The Blessed Mother is the mother of all people on earth. She has a mother’s love for them all, and her messages, which are from God, are for everyone.

Question: "Then it doesn’t matter what name or person they call God?"

Vicka: There is only one God. It is man who makes divisions."
(Page 51, Queen of the Cosmos by Connell)

Question to Vicka: "Is the Blessed Mother calling all people on earth to be Catholic?"

Vicka: "No! The Blessed Mother says all religions are dear to her and her Son. She says it is we on earth who have made division."
(Page 119, The Visions of the Children, Connell)

Interview with Mirjana by Father Tomislav Vlasic

Mirjana: "The Madonna always stresses that there is but one God, and that people have enforced unnatural separation. One cannot truly believe, be a true Christian, if he does not respect other religions as well. You do not really believe in God if you make fun of other religions."

Father: "What, then, is the role of Jesus Christ, if the Moslem religion is a good religion?"

Mirjana: "We did not discuss that." (The role of our Lord Jesus Christ) "She merely explained, and deplored, the lack of religious unity, ‘especially in the villages.’ She said that everybody’s religion should be respected, and of course one’s own."
(Page 124, The Apparitions of Our Lady at Medjugorje, Kraljevic)

By comparison, Pope Pius IX condemned the following propositions as errors:

1. Man may, in the observance of any religion whatever, find the way of eternal salvation, and arrive at eternal salvation."

2. Good hope at least is to be entertained of the eternal salvation of all those who are not at all in the true Church of Christ.

3. Every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true."

The above errors are collectively know as indifferentism, meaning that it doesn’t matter which religion one adopts, since one can be saved, according to this error, outside the Catholic Church. (One can read more at the above website.)

It is not pleasant in these days to be a naysayer. There are today, however, a number of "sacred cows" that are perversions of the truth or denials of truth. Nonetheless, these sacred cows have gained, in some cases, what amounts to "celebrity" status amongst some members of the Church. As Holy Mother Church finds her way back to Catholic dogma someone is going to have to begin pointing these things out. Like so many parties in the 60s, there are going to be some hangovers after this one. Thank God we have the signposts of true Catholic dogma to guide us
back to truth and reality as the euphoria wears off. Turn on the lights. The party's over.

Dispensable Disciplines?

Traditional Catholic disciplinary practices have suffered greivously in the post-Vatican II Church due to a misunderstanding of their role and very nature. As "small-t Traditions," they are often believed to be completely disposable. In fact, I would go so far as to say that their disposability is actually seen to be their very essence. Look at how they are defined. Usually, the standard EWTN friendly conservative Catholic apologist will discuss disciplines in opposition to dogma, and he will frame the definition like this:

"Well, a dogma is something that the Church has always believed and which is binding upon all the faithful at all times as divinely revealed by God. A discipline, on the other hand, is something that the Church institutes by her own authority. It may change with time or even be discarded all together."

Now, I made this definition up, but it is an accurate reflection of what I have heard dozens of times over. Notice that the definition of discipline does not even attempt to talk about what a discipline is in place for: it merely mentions that it is not revelation and that it can be changed or even thrown out. This seems to insinuate that the very definition of discipline is mutability. Consider the Catechism's statement on disciplines (which it lumps together with other "small-t traditions") in paragraph 83:

[D]isciplinary, liturgical, or devotional traditions [were] born in the local churches over time. These are the particular forms, adapted to different places and times, in which the great Tradition is expressed. In light of the Tradition, these traditions can be retained, modified, or even abandoned under the guidance of the Church's magisterium.

Well, at least the CCC points out that disciplines are expressions of the great Tradition. But again, the emphasis is on the mutability of the disciplines. It is true that disciplines can be modified, of course, but is that the most important and essential thing we have to say about them? If they are an expression, a working out, of the great Tradition, why is it that all we can say about them is that they are dispensable?

In some cases, I'd question how dispensable disciplines really are. Who can deny that when clerical celibacy has been weakened in the history the Church, tremendous chaos has ensued, and great scandal to the faithful? Yet it is true, technically, that celibacy is a discipline, not a dogma. We tread dangerously when we regard disciplines as merely disposable.

One I've thought about lately is the Eucharistic fast. Now, prior to Vatican II, this fast had to be 12 hours long. Now, it is one hour. We must ask ourselves this: what has changed? Let's look at it this way:

The Eucharistic fast is in place in order that we might worthily receive the Eucharist. It is ordered towards the Eucharist, not us. The reason for the fast is outside us. It affects us, insofar as if we violate the fast, we commit sacrilege and make a sacriligious communion. But the reference point of the fast is the sacrament, not us alone. I think this is obvious.

Now, we must ask ourselves this question: the 12 hour fast had been a long standing tradition, and if one ate food within that period then received communion, it was deemed a sacriligious communion. Therefore, how did eating food and receiving communion within three hours of each other go from being sacriligious in 1962 to not sacriligious by 1965?

Now, you will naturally say, "Boniface, this was a discipline, akin to not eating meat on Fridays during Lent. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with eating meat: it was simply forbidden on one day of the week, and to violate this discipline was a sin of disobedience. There is no problem in changing the Eucharistic fast period required."

Ah, but the two situations are different. One practical idea of the Eucharistic fast is that we don't want the Body of Christ to go down into our stomach and mingle with the half-digested chesseburger and milkshake we may have ate before we come to Mass. Therefore, the Church ordained a fasting period to help ensure that our stomachs were empty when we recieved Jesus into us (remember, He is still present in the sacrament after He goes down your throat, at least as long as it is intact and sense perceptible). Now, if a person in 1950 ate a bacon and egg breakfast and then received two hours later, it was understood that the Body of Christ was being mingled with the digested bacon and eggs in the gut, and thus became sacriligious. Eating before reception is the physical equivalent of receiving in a state of mortal sin. In one case, we mix the physical matter of the sacrament with profane matter (half-digested food); in the other, we take something holy into something made unholy by sin. Thus, both the disciplines of the fast and of being in a state of grace to receive are ordered towards preventing sacriligious communions.

Now, ask yourself this: what has changed since 1962?

Does it take any shorter time to digest food? No.

Is the sacrament any different? No.

Essentially then, we still have the possibility of mingling the Eucharist with half-digested food, the same thing that was declared sacriligious before, only now it is deemed not sacriligious anymore. Yet, nothing has changed. The discipline, as said above, is ordered towards the sacrament, and nothing has changed there. Our digestive processes have not changed. So how is it that eating within twelve hours of receiving the Eucharist could suddenly be not sacriligious anymore? Imagine declaring that it was no longer sacriligious to receive in a state of mortal sin, yet that is the equivalent of what has happened with the shortening of the Eucharistic fast.

See how this "mere discipline" is not as disposable as one thinks? Now we are enmeshed in many difficulties. Nothing has changed, nobody is more holy because of it (how can lessening the discipline increase holiness? Try that line of reasoning in a monastery and see if it works). I do not deny that teh Church had the power to make this change, but I think it was ill-thought out, as many other post-Vatican II alterations.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

May, 1520: Great moments of interreligious dialogue

Besides being dedicated to Our Lady, the month of May commemorates the glorious days of May, 1520, when Hernando Cortez, hero of the Catholic faith, put an end to the barbarous Aztec Empire in Mexico and established the reign of Christendom there, paving the way for the apparitions of Guadalupe in 1531 and the conversion of the Mexicans. Here follows the account of Cortes' conquest of the chief pyramid in Mexico, from the monumental History of the Conquest of Mexcio by William H. Prescott (1843), which is linked up under Boniface's List of Books that Will Not Imperil the Soul:

"Cortes, who saw the immediate necessity of taking the pyramid, determined to lead the storming party himself. He was then suffering much from the wound in his left hand, which had disabled it for the present. He made the arm serviceable, however, by fastening his buckler to it, and, thus crippled, sallied out at the head of three hundred chosen cavaliers, and several thousand of his auxiliaries.

In the courtyard of the temple he found a numerous body of Indians prepared to block his passage. He briskly charged them, but the flat, smooth stones of the pavement were so slippery that the horses lost their footing and many of them fell. Hastily dismounting, they sent back the animals to their quarters, and, renewing the assault, the Spaniards succeeded without much difficulty in dispersing the Indian warriors, and opening a free passage for themselves to the teocalli.

Cortes, having cleared a way for the assault, sprang up the lower stairway, followed by Alvarado, Sandoval, Ordaz, and the other gallant cavaliers of his little band, leaving a file of arquebusiers and a strong corps of Indian allies to hold the enemy in check at foot of the monument. On the first landing, as well as on the several galleries above, and on the summit, the Aztec warriors were drawn up to dispute his passage. From their elevated position they showered down volleys of lighter missiles, together with heavy stones, beams, and burning rafters, which, thundering along the stairway, overturned the ascending Spaniards, and carried desolation through their ranks. The more fortunate, eluding or springing over these obstacles, succeeded in gaining the first terrace, where, throwing themselves on their enemies, they compelled them, after a short resistance, to fall back. The assailants pressed on, effectually supported by a brisk fire of the musketeers from below, which so much galled the Mexicans in their exposed situation, that they were glad to take shelter on the broad summit of the teocalli [pyramid].

Cortes and his comrades were close upon their rear, and the two parties soon found themselves face to face on this aerial battle-field, engaged in mortal combat in presence of the whole city, as well as of the troops in the courtyard, who paused, as if by mutual consent, from their own figthing, gazing in silent expectation on the issue of those above. The area, though somewhat smaller than the base of the teocalli, was large enough to afford a fair field of fight for a thousand combatants. It was paved with broad, flat stones. No impediment occurred over its surface, except the huge sacrificial block, and the temples of stone, which rose to the height of forty feet, at the further extremity of the arena. One of these had been consecrated to the Cross; the other was still occupied by the Mexican war-god. The Christian and the Aztec contended for their religions under the very shadow of their respective shrines; while the Indian priests, running to and fro, with their hair wildly streaming over their sable mantles, seemed hovering in mid air, like so many demons of darkness urging on the work of slaughter!

The parties closed with the desperate fury of men who had no hope but in victory. Quarter was neither asked nor given; and to fly was impossible. The edge of the area was unprotected by parapet or battlement. The least slip would be fatal; and the combatants, as they struggled in mortal agony, were sometimes seen to roll over the sheer sides of the precipice together. Many of the Aztecs, seeing the fate of such of their comrades as fell into the hands of the Spaniards, voluntarily threw themselves headlong from the lofty summit and were dashed in pieces on the pavement.

The battle lasted with unremitting fury for three hours. The number of the enemy was double that of the Christians; and it seemed as if it were a contest which must be determined by numbers and brute force, rather than by superior science. But it was not so. The invulnerable armor of the Spaniard, his sword of matchless temper, and his skill in the use of it, gave him advantages which far outweighed the odds of physical strength and numbers. After doing all that the courage of despair could enable men to do, resistance grew fainter and fainter on the side of the Aztecs. One after another they had fallen. Two or three priests only survived to be led away in triumph by the victors. Every other combatant was stretched a corpse on the bloody arena, or had been hurled from the giddy heights. Yet the loss of the Spaniards was not inconsiderable. It amounted to forty-five of their best men, and nearly all the remainder were more or less injured in the desperate conflict.

The victorious cavaliers now rushed towards the sanctuaries. The lower story was of stone; the two upper were of wood. Penetrating into their recesses, they had the mortification to find the image of the Virgin and the Cross removed. But in the other edifice they still beheld the grim figure of Huitzilopochtli, with the censer of smoking hearts, and the walls of his oratory reeking with gore,- not improbably of their own countrymen!

With shouts of triumph the Christians tore the uncouth monster from his niche, and tumbled him, in the presence of the horror-struck Aztecs, down the steps of the teocalli. They then set fire to the accursed building. The flame speedily ran up the slender towers, sending forth an ominous light over city, lake, and valley, to the remotest hut among the mountains. It was the funeral pyre of paganism, and proclaimed the fall of that sanguinary religion which had so long hung like a dark cloud over the fair regions of Anahuac! No achievement in the war struck more awe into the Mexicans than this storming of the great temple, in which the white men seemed to bid defiance equally to the powers of God and man."