Thursday, November 12, 2009

In Whom Do You Have Peace?


A few weeks have passed since this semester’s Buffalo Awakening (BA) retreat. For those of you unfamiliar with this retreat, it is a high-energy student-led event, which has become one of our most popular and fruitful ministries we have here at St. Thomas Aquinas. Each semester’s BA is distinguished by a theme most recently being “In Me You Have Peace” which comes from the mouth of Christ recorded in the Gospel of John (Jn. 16.33). Reflecting upon this passage, I was struck by the words that immediately followed Christ’s encouraging statement. After boldly proclaiming that peace is something gifted to us through Christ, He then admits that the world will still continue to bring us troubles, but we ought to still rejoice since it is Christ who has conquered the world (cf. Jn. 16.33b).

The first thing I noticed was that Jesus spoke of “conquering” the world. John, the author of this Gospel, picks this word up again to be used as a powerful theme in his last composition before death, namely The Book of Revelation. It is here that this word (nikein) is used not to describe Christ but rather the Christian. Over and over Christ speaks to the Christian communities in this apocalyptical masterpiece explaining to the faithful that it is the one “who conquers” who will enter into God’s Glory and receive eternal life (cf. Rev. 2.6, 11, 17, 26; 3.5, 12, 21). What then does Christ mean by “conquering”? While the Jews were expecting a great political Messiah to liberate them from exile by the sword (i.e. conquering through the sword), Jesus came to liberate Israel and the whole world by the cross (i.e. conquering through sacrifice). Thus for the Christian, “to conquer” refers to the act of utter surrender! In other words, the primary condition for peace is surrender or to let go.

This can be a difficult prescription to follow, although it is not difficult to actually implement. We are surrounded by a world that proclaims a very different message. We are asked to hold on tightly to what we do have and to be suspicious of anyone who may want a piece of us. We are told we must fight for whatever we want because no one will fight for us. We have been convinced that the key to personal peace is to grasp for that which we desire and to do everything in our ability to secure it and maintain it. We appear to live in a world that has embraced a “survival of the fittest” paradigm. This is antithetical to the Christian way and therefore antithetical to genuine peace.

I am reminded of the story of Israel’s exodus. Moses had successfully freed Israel from Egyptian enslavement without Pharaoh’s permission. Clearly not having thought everything through of their escape, Israel was only able to run so far before being blocked by a large body of water called the Red Sea. Being cornered, they had nowhere to turn as word had arrived that Pharaoh’s army was in pursuit of them for reasons other than wishing them farewell. Israel became frantic, questioning the escape, appearing that it was only leading them to death. In the midst of the mass hysteria Moses spoke to the crowd saying, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be still” [emphasis mine] (Ex. 14.13-14). You have only to be still! Peace is not something we achieve, but rather receive. We are being asked by God to trust Him, knowing that he does love us and He is working this very moment and fighting for us. Yes, someone is actually fighting for us!

St. Augustine says that our hearts are restless until they rest in God. Notice what Augustine does not say. He does NOT say that our hearts are restless until they accomplish God’s Kingdom, or bring X number of lost people back to the faith, or until we find a spouse, or until we hit the right numbers in our business or ministry. Our hearts are restless until they REST in God. How many times do we get caught up in finding our identity with what we do rather than who we are? We are being called to BE more and DO less. This is why our Lord has designated one day a week to be meant for resting which is Sunday. Our God desires our hearts not our deeds.

Again, peace is something we do not achieve but rather receive from God. Christ warns us that even with peace, we will still undergo troubles. Behind all this is the reality that genuine peace is less of a subjective experience and more of an objective reality. It is through Christ that we have peace, which means we are now in relationship with God through reconciliation. Whether you feel it or not, Christ has died for us and restored us to new life with God. It is up to us to make the choice whether we want to receive it or not.

I pray each of us is able trust in God’s love for us and to allow Him to give us the peace He has promised. We have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ so I encourage you to be reconciled with God. If you have not been to confession in quite awhile, maybe this is the time to do so as we prepare our hearts for the upcoming season of Advent. Be also reconciled with one another as we are called to be imitators of Christ. He has forgiven us even in our deepest sin so we are being called to forgive those who have offended us. We cannot do this on our own so we beg for God’s mercy and His grace to empower us to do so. Be still and know that God is fighting for you and be at peace. May God be Praised!

Friday, October 9, 2009

You Have Permission to Hurt Me, Not Harm Me


What do fast-food chain restaurants and many of today’s relationships have in common? They both take pride in offering a product with awesome expediency. Thankfully, although still being the fattest country in the world, the sobering reality that fast food may in fact make us “well-feed” while not “well-nourished” has awoke many from their artery-clogged comas! In other words, I’ll be the first to admit that while consuming a Big Mac and a large fry definitely does not hurt going done, it does in fact harm me in the long run (see Super Size Me for frightening statistics). On the other hand, while ordering a bag of carrots and a small salad may hurt my desire for something other than “horse food,” it is undeniable that such a superior decision will in fact be good for me in the long run!

As I mentioned above, while we have come to a sobering reality of the negative effects of fast food (i.e. obesity, diabetes, disease), we are still the fattest country in the world. Apparently, knowledge is not sufficient for change! In the end, the practical reality that I want food and want it now will often trump any rational discourse on what may be better in the long run. Thus, the element of change will only come when we actual desire the good over the convenient and this takes time and sacrifice. It will hurt in the immediacy but it will be incredibly good in the long run!

I say all this to present a poignant analogy to a current trend in dating relationships. Like the starving gentleman looking to satiate his desire for food as quickly and conveniently as possible, our culture seems to be starving for relationships which is propelling them to seek in the same matter as they would seek food: quickly and conveniently. Such a relationship moves from the exchange of numbers to the exchange of house keys, and the words “I love you” are exchanged before either knows the other’s middle name.

Unsurprisingly, the effects of “fast food dating” have been equally if not more damaging than the actual fast food industry. These effects manifest themselves in depression, increased rates of suicide, and even abuse. What has happened in our culture is that in the name of love we have erratically begun searching for relationships. We become “well-feed” but ill nourished which ultimately propagates the seemingly insatiable desire. In the end we find ourselves in a closed system of “quick fixes” which only leave us starving all the more!

The diagnosis of the symptoms is that we are made for more than just enjoyment! We are made to know and be known, to love and to be loved deeply and authentically with the purpose of giving ourselves wholly to another. The fast food relationship culture has impeded nearly all opportunities for one to really know, love and give oneself to the other. The necessity to quench one’s own desires becomes the dominating impulse and general pulse of the relationship. In other words, it remains inward focused rather than outward and so becomes ill nourished. Fortunately, Christ has come into the world to set us free from the selfish desires of our heart so that we may love as we were created to love. With Christ as our strength, I would like to share two ways of overcoming the damaging forces of fast food dating!

The beginning of a relationship is incredibly exhilarating as passions and emotions are become intoxicating. During this time, the man is typically dominated by the question “when” while the women is typically dominated by the question “why.” As for the man, he is asking himself, “When will I be able to kiss this woman?” As for the woman, she is asking herself, “Why should I kiss this man?” It is the man who, being initially motivated by the sexual urge, needs to have his question moved from a “when” to a “who.” Who is this woman I long to kiss? This transition from when to who is powerfully and effectively driven by a woman’s “no.” It will be the woman’s assertive and loving “no” that will become the fertile ground for a man to say yes to her as a person rather than an object of appropriation.

Finally, this “no” may appear mean and uncharitable but that is far from the truth. As stated above, we must always make the distinction between hurting and harming another. While we ought never to harm anyone, we are not under the same moral mandate when it comes to hurting another. It is not easy for a man to hear the word no, but it may good for him. Likewise, it is not easy for a woman to hear the word no but it may be good for her! Our yes’s mean nothing unless we have the ability to say no. Our no’s and yes’s define where each of us begin and where we end! This creates clear boundaries for the other so that one can love the other for who they actually are, not what one may desire to conform them to be!

Resting confidently in our redemption with Christ, may we strive to seek holy and healthy relationships by establishing healthy boundaries with our no’s and yes’s allowing us to love and be loved as we are, not what others would like us to be. May God be Praised!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Purging Misconceptions of Purgatory, Part III: Indulgences


The topic of indulgences is an incredibly complicated subject to speak of due to the nearly countless distortions having evolved over the years regarding this doctrine.Furthermore, restricting my type-space (originally printed in church bulletin) to one page only makes this challenge more, well, challenging! Nonetheless, I believe this article will help clear up misconceptions, display the logical structure, and illustrate the biblical foundations of indulgences rather convincingly.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), “An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints” (CCC, 1427; emphasis mine). In other words, an indulgence can be likened to a child who inadvertently or deliberately throws a baseball through a neighbor’s window. The neighbor may very well forgive the child, restoring the relationship to its original status, but that does not change the fact that a window is in pieces. The temporal effects of the transgression remains and must be fixed. The child may have to dip into his allowance to restore the window.However, the father or mother may step in and pay for the broken window on behalf of their son. This is where the analogy of indulgences comes into focus. While it would have been fine for the child to pay for the window, the family stepped in graciously to fix the window on behalf of their child. In the case of indulgences, the child is you and I, and the gracious family is the Church: the family of God!

At this point in the discussion with a non-Catholic many objections would begin to manifest themselves in the form of questions: 1) Where is eternal punishment and temporal punishment distinguished in the Bible? 2) Doesn’t such a doctrine diminish the merits of Christ? 3) If Christ’s merits are sufficient then why add the inadequate “merits” of saints to the “treasury of merits”? 4) Where does Scripture give authority to the Church to give such indulgences? Many of these questions may seem cryptic to you, but they will become clearer as they are addressed.

The distinction between temporal and eternal punishment begins at the very beginning of time.Due to Adam and Eve’s disobedience, they lost their relationship with God (i.e. their eternal reward) and they received temporal punishments befitting their crime (cf. Gen. 3: 16-19): Eve was to experience the pangs of childbirth, and Adam was to work tirelessly with little reward.This example from Scripture illustrates the fact that being eternally redeemed in Christ does not necessarily remove the temporal punishment that accompanied the crime. While I know many married women who have been baptized, their childbearing has been far from painless! Another great example is the story of David being caught in adultery. While his sins were forgiven, God still punished David for his actions through the death of the child from adultery (cf. 2 Sam. 12.7-12). There is a clear distinction between eternal and temporal punishment in Scripture, and there is clear Scriptural support that such temporal punishments may remain after forgiveness/redemption.

From this quick reflection of Scripture we can begin to see why indulgences do not diminish the merits of Christ. Indulgences have nothing to do with eternal punishment and reward, for that is Christ’s victory! Scripture is clear that temporal punishment may remain after forgiveness which often times comes in the form of a continued distorted desire to commit the transgression again (i.e. pornography, masturbation, premarital/extramarital sex, etc.). It is in God’s loving kindness that such a disciplinary action is given us. We do not discipline a child for punishment’s sake, but so that the child may know the gravity of his offense, and so that his will may be strengthened not to commit it again. So it is with God!

The third question ought to be broken into a number of sub-questions but space limits such a desire. We know that the cross of Christ was more than sufficient for our salvation. Thus, rather than diminishing the merits of Christ, the belief in indulgences actually magnifies our Lord’s salvific act by acknowledging its “benefits” well beyond our own eternal salvation. This truth is what is behind the Church’s teaching of the “treasury of merits.” The work of the cross was not something that was barely efficacious enough to squeeze us into heaven. Rather, the cross was and is overflowing with graces beyond our salvation. These graces are not wasted but are entrusted to the Church to be distributed to those who may need it. These graces are dispensed in the form of indulgences.

All this being said, we are still not any closer in our understanding of why our own merits would be considered as contributing to the treasury of merits if Christ’s merits are enough. In the same way our imperfect faith is made perfect through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, so to are our imperfect works made perfect by the perfect work of Jesus Christ. These imperfect works of ours are united to the perfect work of Christ to be used for the good of others. In other words, our God ensures that everything we do and everything we are is supernaturalized so that it may be used as a gift for another! What a beautiful reality!

St. Paul articulates this truth quite profoundly in his letter to the Colossians: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, this is, the church…” (Col. 1.24). The Apostle uses language that is much more shocking than anything the Catholic Church has ever articulated. What St. Paul acknowledges is the fact that there are many things that we undergo in life that may not be necessary for our own salvation but are beautiful things nonetheless. Our God does not allow them to be wasted but rather unites them to the merits of the Cross for the sake of the kingdom. What a great God who both saves us and allows us to participate in His mission of salvation not by necessity, but out of His loving kindness and His desire to be close to us!

I am reminded of a childhood experience of my youth that may help make since of why God would bring our own works of charity into the equation if they are not necessary. My father took me with him to work when I was a child so I could see what he did. Looking back, I think this may have been one of the highlights of my youth. I remember sitting in his desk pretending I was him, and helping him with his work which in hindsight only made his day longer. I know my father could have done his work much more efficiently without me since he clearly did not need me, but he allowed me to be a part of his day because he loved me. I can only imagine how many corrections had to be made by my father so as to perfect my small little works. My father never looked down at me for my “imperfect performance” nor did he ever think I was a threat to his position or stealing his “glory.” Rather, he affirmed me in all the little things I did not because I did them, but because of the love behind them. So it is with our heavenly Father! God has given us the opportunity to “work” with Him to build His kingdom not out of necessity but simply out of love for us and because of his desire to have a relationship with us!

A serious question still remains: Who gave the authority to the Church to be the dispenser of this treasury of merits? The answer is quite simple: Jesus Christ. Jesus handed over His own authority in a unique way to St. Peter who was the first pope (cf. Mat. 16.13-20). Christ made St. Peter the new ambassador to the New Israel which was and is the Church. While the ambassador of the Old Testament governed the treasury among other responsibilities in the Old Covenant, it is now St. Peter and his successors who govern the new treasury of the New Covenant, which is spiritual rather than physical! For a more thorough explanation of the Church’s authority, I refer you to my column entitled, “Why I am Catholic".

In the end, a belief in indulgences simply confesses the nature of our faith, which is familial! We are the family of God that is rich in mercy and full of compassion. God disciplines us for our actions because he loves us and He also showers his mercy upon us in that very discipline through indulgences which has for its source the cross of Jesus Christ. The Church has been given that honor and responsibility to be the distributer of such gifts. It is up to the receiver to receive them with genuine hearts, repentant hearts, and faith-filled hearts that are restless until they rest completely and unconditionally with God, for grace is received according to the capacity one is able to receive it. The gift of an indulgence is not a free ticket but rather an invitation to reexamine our lives in light of Jesus Christ, and to seek Him more faithfully than we had in the past. I encourage each of you this week to look up the types of indulgences the Church has to offer and take advantage of such a great gift! May God be Praised!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Purging Misconceptions of Purgatory, Part II: Historical Continuity


As the title mentions, this is an unanticipated continuation of my column I wrote over a month ago on the biblical and logical foundation of the Church’s doctrine on purgatory. The desire to continue writing on this subject came from two events: 1) The fact that many people enjoyed the column; 2) A Lutheran minister had read it and said it was the most persuasive thing he had read on the topic of purgatory. Before you begin thinking you may see him in this year’s RCIA class, he did qualify the statement by saying he still doesn’t believe the doctrine. With that, I would like to continue the apologetic crusade—filled with charity—and address a couple more points that will further solidify the veracity of the Church’s wisdom in upholding this doctrine in spite of criticisms.

While the theological necessity of purgatory appears to be undeniable and the biblical evidence persuasive, the overall argument is still incomplete. The best way to validate a biblical truth claim is by looking for historical evidence that would confirm the particular interpretation of Scripture at hand. In other words, is there a line of continuity between the Church’s belief in purgatory and the belief of the Early Church? The answer appears to be a resounding yes!

One of the most persuasive texts comes from the middle of the second century (c. AD 160) in a Christian apocryphal work called The Acts of Paul and Thecla. Whether or not the story in this writing is historical is not important since the value of this work is in the story itself. Like every story or book whether fiction or non-fiction, the surrounding worldview informs the norms and practices of the narrative. In the story of Paul and Thecla, the deceased daughter of Trifina appears to Trifina in a dream. The daughter requests that Trifina take Thecla as her new daughter in place of the deceased daughter. When given the reason, the daughter says it is so “that she [Thecla] should pray for me, that I may be transferred to the place of righteousness” (ANF VIII: 490, brackets mine). Notice that there is never an explanation of this request on behalf of the deceased daughter as if this was some foreign custom being added to the narrative. Praying for the deceased had become so common by the mid-second century that it found its way into story telling. In other words, the practical elements of purgatory were being expressed without apology less than a century before Christianity was recognized as a separate religion from that of Judaism!

Story telling is not the only historical manifestation of a belief in purgatory by the Early Church. Archaeology has discovered burial stones with epitaphs that request prayers for the deceased. One such epitaph is by a man by the name of Abercius who after expressing a love for his Christian faith, requests that “everyone who is in accord with this [the Christian faith] and who understands it pray for Abercius” (Epitaph of Abercius, c. AD 190, brackets mine). Again, the customs and practices of the Early Church express an understanding of and belief in purgatory.

Yet another dimension of the historical record that has archived an image of the Early Church adhering closely to the image of the Catholic Church today is the written accounts of Christian martyrs. One such story articulates a vision of Perpetua’s blood brother who apparently died from disease. The sister received a vision of her brother being purified through fire after death and, with the help if her prayers, seeing him eventually purified for his eternal reward (cf. ANF III: 701-02, c. AD 202).

In the end, an entire monograph could be dedicated to an analysis of all the Early Church Fathers who explicitly spoke about the doctrine of purgatory whether that be through Origin’s commentary on 1 Cor. 3, or Tertullian’s interpretation of Mat. 5:25-26 (cf. Homilies of Jeremias [c. AD 244] & ANF III: 234-5 [c. AD 210]. The fathers of the Church are overwhelmingly in favor of the doctrine of purgatory and in light of such company—which only confirms the previous columns attempt to express purgatory’s biblical foundation and theological necessity—a sense of arrogance is almost needed to outright reject the doctrine without question. If the Judaism of Christ’s day believed in a form of it, the biblical text spoke of it, heaven needs it, and the Early Church practiced and preached it, then it would appear as if this doctrine is not up for dissenting.

I mentioned at the beginning of this column that my intention was to address a “couple” more points about purgatory, but I have only mentioned one additional point being the continuity of the Early Church Fathers. My next column will address the question about indulgences. Is it possible that while the Church got the doctrine of purgatory correct, she erred with the dispensation of indulgences? Stay tuned…

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Concrete Ways to Support Campus Ministry


I can’t believe how fast the summer is going by! I feel as if May was only yesterday with June nowhere to be seen. As July nears its half-way mark, campus ministry is preparing to go full steam ahead which is both exhilarating and nerve-racking. The first two weeks of school are critical weeks for ministry as many new students are quickly transitioning from a life guided by parental wisdom, to a life ruled by the self. Numerous are the parents who have come to me over the summer while tabling on campus pleading with me to contact their son or daughter because they are witnessing a sense of rebellion toward anything that resembles “parental insight.” In a sense, we are the hope to these parents that we will do everything in our power to contact them and continue to build upon the foundation they have laid.

We obviously take this call seriously as it can easily become a life or death situation. To that end, we are preparing dozens of students to pound the pavement come August 18th to lend a helping hand to new students as they move in, to introduce them to the family of St. Thomas, and to invest in them so that when times get tough—which they always do—they have a friend to turn to. With just under 6,000 new students coming to CU this year, we are inviting every student of St. Thomas to help with this ambitious mission!

With all available students on campus, this leaves us with little assistance for events at the Catholic Student Center. Our goal is to offer daily events during the week preceding school so that the students of St. Thomas will be able to offer a concrete invitation to each student they meet on campus so as to introduce them to the family of St. Thomas.

All of this may sound familiar as I have written on the topic of parish and alumni support a few weeks back. While I only received a few responses expressing a willingness to volunteer, I did not expect much since I was unable to give specifics to our fall outreach efforts. I come to you now with a concrete plan and a hope that we may obtain the 100 volunteers I wished for in the previous column (you may find that column on our website). Please prayerfully consider volunteering for one of these events:

1) Open House BBQ: August 18th, 20th, and 22nd from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.

a. Looking for three sets of 10 volunteers to setup at the Catholic Student Center, provide sides, flip burgers, and clean up.

b. This will be a time to meet new students and show them around the Catholic Student Center.

2) Student Mass BBQ: August 23rd from 7:00 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.

a. Hoping for 15 to 20 volunteers to help setup, provide sides, flip burgers, and clean up for the big new-student welcome party immediately following the first Student Mass of the semester.

3) Open Air Mass BBQ: August 30th from 7:30 p.m – 9:30 p.m.

a. Hoping for another 15 to 20 volunteers to help setup, provide sides, flip burgers, and clean up following the BBQ.

4) Cookie Baking: Cookies Due Between August 21st and 23rd

a. Looking for 10 people who would each be willing to bake 100 cookies and place them into little baggies in pairs of two.

b. These go as gifts to the new students we visit in the dorms during the first week of class.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me via phone or email. If you are student and would like to volunteer for on-campus outreach, please contact Hilary Rowe at hrowe@focusonline.org for more information. For those of you who are graciously willing and wanting to take time out of your day for the sake of campus ministry, please contact me with the particular event you would like to volunteer for. If you are reading this in the pew then please sign up on your way out. You can find the signup sheets on a table in the narthex. Thank you for the sacrifices you all make to ensure this ministry reaches those who need the healing touch of Jesus Christ! May God be Praised!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Purging Misconceptions of Purgatory


Dealing with a non-Catholic Christian’s objections to the Church’s doctrine of purgatory can be incredibly intimidating. The average Evangelical or Protestant is well versed in Scripture which can present a formidable challenge to the average Catholic who is typically not as well versed in the details of Scripture. While we may be quick to speak of scriptural stories, the scriptural precision of the non-Catholic appears to override the Catholic’s own Scriptural acumen pressuring the faithful Catholic to back away from the sacred text and turn to the rather impotent phrase, “Well, that is what we believe!” Such a response only vindicates the non-Catholic’s belief that the Catholic Church is deeply erroneous in doctrine AND that she is “clearly” anti-Scriptural. While both beliefs are unequivocally false, one can sympathize with the non-Catholic in light of the Catholic’s lack of intellectual ability to answer objections to their faith.

How easy it is for each of us to conclude something about an organization simply based upon a nearly universal observation about each of its members. If we want to heal the rift that was created by the Protestant Reformation, if we want peace, if we want justice, if we want Jesus Christ to be visibly and powerfully manifested in this world then the buck begins and ends with each one of us in a sense. While ultimately peace, salvation and reconciliation come from Jesus Christ, it is in God’s loving will that He asks us to participate in this mission (cf. Mt. 28.18-20). In light of this truth, we are being asked by God to love Him with our entire mind (cf. Mat. 22.37) so it is our duty and privilege to prepare ourselves to be able to give a defense for what we believe (cf. 1 Ptr. 3.15). To this end, let us examine and critique the objections to the Church’s teaching on purgatory.

The two common objections made by non-Catholic Christians are that the doctrine is nowhere found in Sacred Scripture and that the concept of purgatory makes a mockery of the of cross since the belief implies a second safety net for salvation which lay outside the meritorious act of Jesus Christ. In other words, the accusation being made is that purgatory implicitly states that Jesus Christ was not sufficient for salvation and so purgatory exists for the sake of the deficiencies in Christ. The second objection is a strong accusation which explains the hostility many non-Catholic Christians have toward purgatory; their hostility comes from a deep love for Jesus Christ and what He has done. Fortunately, the accusation is entirely wrong and based upon distortions of the Church’s teaching.

To begin, the Church teaches that Jesus Christ is the sole mediator for salvation (for the distinction between Christ's role as mediator for salvation and the Christian's role as mediator of salvation, see article on intercession of the saints). Purgatory is not a second chance for salvation because it is exists exclusively for those who have already been saved in the blood of Jesus Christ. At this point, purgatory may appear to be a superfluous teaching. After all, if we are already saved, what is the need for purgatory? The answer to this question articulates the necessity of this teaching! In fact, whether one believes in imputed or infused righteousness the logical and theological necessity of purgatory still holds.

For the sake of the argument, let us say that justification is simply through declaration (cf. God says you are righteous but it doesn’t mean you actually are). This is different from Catholic theology which states that justification is both declarative and transformative (cf. Rom. 5.19). If life lived in justification on earth is one of declaration but not necessarily transformation, what then about heaven? Is heaven simply an eternal life of “declaration” not necessarily tied to transformation? Of course not! Heaven is not a place where fornicators continue to fornicate or even feel tempted to fornicate while simply being declared righteous. Nothing unclean can ever enter into heaven whether that is in thought or deed (cf. Rev. 21.27). If I were to die today, while being fully redeemed in the blood of Christ, I would die with a tendency toward sinful desires which often times concretize in the form of selfishness. What is God to do with a dead man redeemed in Christ yet not perfectly virtuous which is the exclusive criteria for a life lived in heaven? Purgatory is a logical necessity if we are to understand heaven as that which is completely free from sin, the direct beatific vision of God. For the overwhelming majority of us, purgatory serves as a state of loving purification for those who have been saved in Jesus Christ. We are sanctified and made perfectly holy in purgatory through the blood of Christ so that we may enter into the marriage banquet in heaven without spot or wrinkle (cf. Eph. 5.25-27).

After having understood purgatory’s theological and logical necessity, and recognizing purgatory’s intrinsic relationship to Christ’s meritorious act rather than seeing it as something outside or in addition to the cross, what does Scripture have to say about this teaching? While Scripture never explicitly mentions the world purgatory (which simply means “a place of purification”), there are a number of passages that speak of a state of purification after death. This should be no cause for concern as there are many things that both Catholics and non-Catholics alike believe in that are not explicitly stated in Scripture (i.e. hypostatic union of Christ, divinity of Christ, Trinity, Infant Baptism, etc).

One of the clearest attestations of purgatory in Scripture can be found in St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. In chapter three of his letter, St. Paul speaks about a day of judgment which has a particular three pronged judgment. There are those whose works will be tested and be seen as worthy of a reward which contextually refers to heaven (cf. 1 Cor. 3.14). On the other hand, there are those whose works are destructive and so are worthy of damnation (cf. 1 Cor. 3.16-17). However, there is a third peculiar judgment where a person’s works are judged and neither found to be universally accepted nor condemned. This person’s bad works will be “burned up” and “will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Cor. 3.15). St. Paul’s explanation fits very well with the Church’s teaching on purgatory as a state of purification for those who have been saved in the blood of Christ yet must undergo a cleansing from the residual effects of sin.

We also know that Judaism believed in a type of purgatory which urged them to pray for their fellow dead (cf. 2 Macc. 12.46). This places the Church’s teaching in integrity with the teachings of God’s chosen people of the Old Covenant. This is all the more important when we understand that the New Covenant did not come to abolish the Old Covenant, but to fulfill it (cf. Mat. 5.17)! Finally, Christ Himself appears to allude to a sense of purification in the life to come (cf. Mat. 5.25-26; 12:31-32).

This is clearly far from an exhaustive treatment of the Church’s teaching on purgatory, but I pray it has better equipped you to be able to give a defense for the love you have for Christ and His Church! May you love Him more with all your soul, body, strength, and mind. May God be Praised!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Self-Mastery & Gadgets


Those who know me know that I love technology! Although I have been formally removed from the world of software development for nearly ten years, my hunger for new technology has not dissipated in the least. Like Moore’s Law which states that technology roughly doubles every 18 months, my desire for a new gadget intensifies almost proportionately to that law. While I think it is safe to say I’m exaggerating my gadget addiction, I do want to recognize a potential disproportionate desire for new technology at times. I typically rationalize my longing through my deeper desire for organization. Anything that helps me quantify every aspect of my daily life is incredibly alluring! After all, the more I can use technology to quantify things (including myself) the more I will be able to know myself better and be more responsible, right? Such a belief almost makes my disproportionate desire for technology a noble quest. Believe it or not, it wasn’t until last week that a pin-leak was discovered in this inflated rationality of mine which is soon to become a full-blown flat.

The error in my thinking was revealed shortly after a grueling run with a friend of mine who is currently on summer break from seminary. For the sake of my friend, I must admit that it was a grueling run for me and not him. As we were walking back to our cars I brought up the topic of my new fancy running watch which records about everything you could possibly record about yourself and the surrounding landscape. He then told me about a mutual friend of ours who is currently a cross country runner for CU and an active member of our campus ministry. He explained to me how this runner begins every race deliberately in the “back of the pack.” Basically, what he does is take inventory of himself, the landscape, and the surrounding runners before engaging the race with intensity, and he doesn’t do this by a gadget but through self-evaluation and observation. He has trained himself to translate accurately the breathing patterns of himself and others. The student can quickly determine if his body is starting to go anaerobic thus enabling himself to make the proper corrections almost instantaneously. Hearing all this was both breathtaking and humbling!

Up until this point of the conversation, I had thought that my constant connectivity to gadgets was only aiding my quest for self-mastery through accurate knowledge, planning, et cetera. What I quickly learned was that I really did not know myself like I thought I knew myself. One may easily make the excuse that as long as you are in tune with your soul, you are doing well, but that is bad theology. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the body was created as the form of the soul. In other words, our soul and body are so intimately tied together that what you learn about the body can lead to knowledge about the soul and vice versa. This runner’s intimate knowledge of his body can easily be translated into virtue of the soul!

Take for instance the student’s ability to gauge his physical heart incredibly well during a run. Having the ability to modify his pace correctly given the slightest change in the rhythm of his heart offers him the opportunity to run efficiently, giving his best each time. One can only assume that such self-awareness is equally present off the trail as it is on the trail. How much more is the runner able to perceive physiological stimuli that are heading toward temptation well before the temptation becomes enticing? While the phrase “listen to your body” may sound too new aged to some, it is deeply Catholic!

We live in a plugged-in world. Everywhere I go I see people plugged into laptops, cell phones, and ipods. While technology is a great gift, it also can be an enormous impediment to knowing oneself. The impediment largely comes in the form of only knowing two dimensions of ourselves: zero and sixty miles per hour. Unfortunately, we are plugged in during those times when we move from 10 to 20 mph which consequently doesn’t register on the radar screen. I would like to challenge all of us to unplug ourselves a little more from the distractions that may be preventing us from knowing ourselves. This is a hard challenge to offer since I’m arguably the most plugged in among us. Our bodies are all too often against us; it is with excitement that I’m able to see a profound way for our bodies to work for us by drawing us deeply into our spiritual lives, further enabling us to give ourselves to another through the art of self-mastery and virtue! May God be Praised!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Moral Difference Between Contraception & NFP


A student from my Theology of Body class asked a very common question a few weeks ago. Apparently she was discussing the moral implications of contraception with a friend when this friend posed an unanticipated question. The question went like this: “If it is true that the Catholic Church believes marriage must be open to life, then wouldn’t Natural Family Planning (NFP) also be immoral when used to prevent pregnancy in light of the Church’s teaching? After all, both NFP and contraception are being used as a means to prevent life which the Church says one must be open to in marriage. It appears as of the Church is arbitrarily picking and choosing what is moral and immoral.” The question is a good question worthy of a good response. I must admit that my initial answer to this student was deeply unsatisfactory in my own mind, so I spent the next week looking for a better answer. What I discovered was rather alarming.

When I followed up with the question at my next class, I began with a true/false quiz to the students. I asked them to answer ‘true’ or ‘false’ to the statement, “The Catholic Church believes marriage must be open to life?” The answer was a unanimous ‘TRUE’ which I then replied, “You are unanimously incorrect.” Before I continue I feel obligated to try and curb any initial responses one might have when reading what I just wrote. I am NOT saying that the Church approves of contraception. I simply ask for your patience as I unpack the Church’s wisdom on human sexuality.

My alarming discovery mentioned above was in the realization that many people (including myself) have a misconceived notion of the Church’s understanding of marriage and its relationship to life. If it were true that “marriage” was to be open to life at all times then it would follow that NFP used to prevent pregnancy would be morally illicit since it would be closing the “marriage” to life. However, this is not what the Church teaches. Humanae Vitae (Pope Paul VI’s encyclical on Human Life) states that “each and every marriage act must remain through itself open to the transmission of life” (HV, 11-12). Notice that Paul VI carefully stated that it is the “marriage act” not marriage itself* that must be open to life! One may argue that since the Church views the marital/conjugal act to be reserved exclusively for marriage (even “consummating” the marriage itself) then the marital act and marriage ought to be considered equivalent. It is true that the conjugal act is intrinsically related to marriage but we must not mistake a part of marriage for marriage itself otherwise we risk reducing marriage simply to the conjugal act (this is called the Fallacy of Composition).

Another way to express this necessary distinction is through an example: It is true that all atoms are colorless. We also know that all dogs are made of atoms. However, no one in their right mind would make the conclusion that this means all dogs are colorless. The error is in attributing a quality from a part of something to its whole. Thus, the Church’s teaching does in fact permit couples in marriage the right to delay pregnancy as long as such reasons are just and moral and the means by which they obtain this end are just and moral.

With the misunderstanding corrected, we may now begin to understand why the Church views contraception and the use of NFP differently. The questions the Church seeks to address are: 1) Is it possible to engage in the marital/conjugal act in a way that is morally illicit? 2) If so, what does such a marital/conjugal act look like? The Church answers ‘yes’ to question one and proclaims such an act exists when the nature of the sexual act is compromised. I recognize that the previous sentence desires extrapolation but space limits me from addressing this which is not necessary for the subject at hand. The important element to notice is that the object of moral inquiry is the activity of the conjugal act within marriage. Thus NFP, even when used morally and justly to prevent pregnancy, has no voice in the discussion above. When NFP is used to prevent pregnancy it is done so through abstaining from the sexual act during the woman’s fertile period. Again, the Church’s teaching is about the actual engagement of the sexual act and its morality. There is nothing wrong with abstaining as I’m confident all of you are doing as you are reading this column! While the couple may be intending not to get pregnant, they do so in a way that respects the value and nature of the conjugal act through abstaining. This is fundamentally different from intending not to get pregnant by sterilizing the womb before intercourse so as to remove a fundamental and natural value of the conjugal act. In the same way we make moral distinctions between death by means of “natural death” and death by means of an “unnatural death” (i.e. murder, euthanasia), the Church is calling us to apply the same distinctions to the conjugal/marital act.

Where the use of NFP appears to become the subject matter of Humanae Vitae is when the married couple actually engages in sexual activity during the infertile periods. If the object of moral inquiry is the sexual act and if each sexual act necessitates an openness of life, then is not the couple breaking the Church’s teachings by engaging in the sexual act during infertile periods? While they may not be actively sterilizing the act, their intentions are to engage in a sexual act without getting pregnant. Do not their intentions make this equivalent to a contraceptive act? The answer is no since you cannot intend something which cannot actually happen. While the statement “I do not intend to get a woman pregnant” has meaning, the statement “I do not intend to get a man pregnant” sounds absurd! The reason for its absurdity is based upon an absurd intention which is in fact no intention at all. One cannot engage in a conjugal act that is infertile with an intention to either get pregnant or not get pregnant any more than one can intend to make a square circle. Thus, even the marital/conjugal act during infertile periods is free from this particular moral scrutiny as the act maintains the integrity, value and nature of the sexual act.

Contraception was NOT invented to prevent pregnancy as there was already a fully effective way to prevent it which, again, I’m confident all of you are practicing as you read this column: abstinence. Contraception was invented to sterilize the fertile period so that if the urge to have sex were to arise during that period, neither the man nor the woman would need to muster up the energy to deny that urge in the fear of pregnancy. It is precisely this truth that opens new horizons of understanding between contraception and NFP. While contraceptive sexual acts risk enslavement to the sexual urge, NFP frees one from the all-too-real threat of sexual addiction through periods of abstinence. This makes NFP not only permissible but even virtuous! After all, one’s ‘yes’ is meaningful only when one has the self-mastery to say ‘no.’ However, this level of self-mastery is impossible outside the grace of God concretely and most powerfully manifested through the sacramental life of the Church! May God be Praised!

* I have received some questions/criticisms about the statement that “marriage” must not be open to life but rather the “marital act.” While I firmly believe the statement is technically accurate, I do acknowledge that it can be misleading to some. As an accurate compromise, another way to articulate what I have mentioned above is to say that marriage must be open to life as it corresponds to the marital act.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Calling All Parishioners & Alumni


I find it hard to believe that the academic year is finished. It feels like only yesterday we were hosting open house BBQ’s for the newly received freshmen, dorm storming, celebrating Mass on Norlin Quad, attending the Great Debate and so many other activities that this ministry has been blessed with. I’m always humbled by the zeal of the St. Thomas staff who are constantly willing to go the extra mile if only to reach one soul. Given that, I can confidently say that the success of this year would never have happened if it were not for the parish community of St. Thomas. I cannot thank you enough for the time you have put into this campus ministry for the sake of Christ, the treasure you have poured into this ministry because of your belief in the mission, and the talent you have offered so as to take this ministry to the next level! Be assured that your labor was never in vain, and because of you we have seen incredible growth in our ministry just in this year: bible studies have nearly doubled, student daily Mass attendance has nearly tripled, Buffalo Awakening retreats are reaching record breaking numbers in retreaters, the number of attendees to the annual debate tripled, and the student center is continuously bustling. These examples are simply the first things that come to mind. We have been blessed and I thank all of you for what you have accomplished!

While it is wonderful to pause and celebrate the work of the Holy Spirit, we must move forward with renewed ardor, open hearts, and creativity as we begin planning for another year of campus ministry. If this ministry were not critically important we could embrace the transition between one academic year and another a little longer. The fact of the matter is that campus ministry is a most important dimension of ministry if the purpose is to transform a culture through the light of Jesus Christ. The ideologies presented in the university classrooms today will inevitably become the practical wisdom of our culture tomorrow. If we want to transform the world then we must be willing to pour our resources into campus ministry as the majority of our future leaders, CEO’s, policy makers, priests, fathers, and mothers will come from universities such as CU.

One thing I have observed around the student center is that the students are asked to volunteer for many things throughout the year. So much so that many of these students can sometimes have hesitations in visiting the center in fear that they may be “solicited” to do yet another thing. I would love to diffuse this tension that is often felt by opening up new areas of volunteer service for the parish community of St. Thomas. This would free the students to do what they do best; building peer friendships in hope for an opportunity to present the Gospel to them. Between the wonderful parishioner and alumni support from last year and the new requests to volunteer coming in as I write this, I would love it if we could get 100 parishioners and alumni to sign up for next year’s volunteer needs. This is a tall order but I am confident that this parish community is convinced of the importance of campus ministry, especially this one.

The majority of volunteer needs will be in the form of socials whether that is hosting a few BBQ’s throughout the year, baking cookies for the fall dorm storm, or helping host a weekly social throughout the year. These activities alone would free our students up tremendously so that they may be more effective in their own evangelization efforts. Together we can take this great ministry to the next level and transform the culture by the light of Jesus Christ.

Let the sign up for the 100 volunteers begin! All you have to do is set this column down for a moment and either email or phone Matt Boettger and give him your contact information (i.e. name, number, email address), and let me know you are interested in volunteering for the 2009-2010 year of CU ministry! May God be Praised!

Matt Boettger, Director of Outreach & Evangelization Matthew.Boettger@thomascenter.org 720.564.1111 ext. 265

Sunday, March 8, 2009

But He Has Potential: The Tragedy of the Imagination


The imagination is a powerful reality of the human mind.  With it we have the capacity to re-create the past within our own minds, create scenarios of an unknown future, go on journeys in which the traditional laws of nature simply do not apply, and the like.  While the imagination is powerful, it does have limitations and even weaknesses.  While I may have the capacity to re-create my past within my own mind and even alter the historical chronology of events, such changes in the imagination do not translate into reality. In other words, no matter how much I imagine something to be so, reality trumps.

While this point may appear to be overdrawn, it is worthy of deeper consideration.  How many times have we awoken from an imaginary stupor with feelings of accomplishment?  Countless are the times I have come out of my imagination nearly convinced that I was some incredible Jujitsu master, a secret service agent, or married with a great family! Of course, these creations of my imagination can be quickly debunked when I realize I can’t even kick above my knee without falling over! Nonetheless, caution is the rule of thumb when engaging the imagination. Whether one agrees or disagrees with this statement of caution, one should find it easy to admit that the imagination does in fact make claims completely disproportionate to its actual merits. For this reason alone, one might find reason to engage this faculty more consciencously.

The late great pope John Paul II examines the human faculty of the imagination in a context that is exceedingly more difficult to correct; the context of “Relationships”.  In his book Love & Responsibility, the pope speaks about the “raw materials” of love, two of them being sensuality and sentimentality.  Sensuality is the sexual desire of a particular part of a person’s body whilesentimentality addresses the whole person in their expression of affection for that person (i.e. his/her charm, strength, sensitivity, compassion, etc.).  While it is easy to see the potential pitfall into objectification within the arena of sensuality, the dangers of sentimentality are more subtle. However, JPII is quick to warn us that left alone, sentimentality offers a formidable danger to the health of relationships.

The danger of sentimentality is that it utilizes the imagination for its power.  So much so that the pope deems it worthy to state that “in the eyes of a person sentimentally committed to another person, the value of the beloved object grows enormously – as a rule out of all proportion to his or her real value” (LR, 112).  How many times have we entered into a relationship enchanted by the perceived “perfection” of the other only to become incredibly disenchanted weeks or months later?  This profound experience of disappointment can lead to a sense of anger and even hatred. One may even conclude suspicion of deliberate deception. Such a reaction diminishes if not destroys the capability of seeking the real value of the other! At this point the relationship has ended before it had really begun.  The tragedy of the imagination!

However, the real tragedy of the imagination is not at the stage of disenchantment, but in the response to this “awakening.”  Numerous are the relationships I have witnessed having degenerated from a sentimentally committed relationship to a “potentially good” relationship. There is nothing wrong with valuing the potential in another, but when a relationship is reduced to a love based upon its potential goodness, it ceases to be a relationship at all. Rather, the one who loves the potential in another has really turned a subject into an object onto which ones own ideological goods are projected.  In other words, the relationship is incapable of love for love demands the gift and reception of the actual value of the other person, not one’s perceived value of the other!

Being faced with the Christian understanding of love, the pope comments:

We love the person complete with all his or her virtues and faults, and up to a point independently of those virtues and in spite of those faults.  The strength of such a love emerges most clearly when the beloved person stumbles, when his or her weaknesses or even sins come into the open.  One who truly loves does not then withdraw his love, but loves all the more, loves in full consciousness of the other’s shortcomings and faults, and without in the least approving of them.  For the person as such never loses its essential value.  The emotion which attaches itself to the value of the person remains loyal to the human being. (L&R,  135)

The Christian call to love is a difficult reality to live.  Without the redemption afforded to us through Jesus Christ, the most we can hope for is either coping mechanisms or suppressive tactics against our distorted desires lest we fall into indulgence.  The Christian no longer needs to look at the raw material of love with fear and trepidation. Rather, Grace is afforded us in the redemption of the body so that we may live authentically human lives of love imbued with divine love.  May we all open our hearts wider to our Lord so that we may have the capacity to embrace the raw materials of love as they were intended to be embraced.  Not as an end leading to objectification, but as a powerful means to draw ever closer to the value or unrepeatability of the other!  Do we not also want to be loved for who we actually are? May God be Praised!

Friday, February 13, 2009

"This" Is Why I Believe In The Real Presence


I am incredibly grateful for my education at an evangelical seminary. The nearly continuous faith-challenging questions posed by both faculty and fellow students only strengthened my Roman Catholic convictions. However, one particular objection to a Roman Catholic doctrine, presented by a professor I deeply admired (and still do), affected me quite significantly, and drove me to search diligently for an answer.

The real presence of our Lord in the most holy Eucharist is a unique doctrine of the Roman Catholic faith. When such a truth is challenged, the Catholic feels compelled to defend such skepticism with ferocity. This is how I felt when my professor challenged this doctrine in my first class at the evangelical seminary. His two main arguments (at least presented in class) consisted of one assumption and one critique based on language. The assumption was that no one would have imagined our Lord claiming the bread and wine to be his actual body. Not only does this beg the question, but such a skeptical assessment contains a further assumption that Jesus would have only said things that could be clearly understood by others. From a cursory reading of the Gospels, we see that such an understanding is far from accurate.

The second argument presented by my professor was an argument from language. Jesus likely spoke Aramaic. So a phrase like “This is my body” could not have been said since Aramaic did not use “to be” verbs (e.g. is, was, were, etc.). The inference to this argument is that the Greek writing authors of the Gospels inserted an ‘is’ so as to not go beyond Christ’s own words yet maintaining proper Greek grammar. In other words, the ‘is” in the phrase “This is my body” is a deliberate generic verb which functions simply to fill the lack of a verb from the original Aramaic quotation. Thus, Roman Catholics—according to my professor—have gone beyond the scope of the text with their “transubstantiation” theology.

Despite my profound admiration for this professor, I vehemently disagree with his rather sophisticated argument. While it may be true that Jesus did speak in Aramaic, such an argument is an argument from silence. A more powerful argument comes from a close examination of the Greek texts to see if the author, guided by the Holy Spirit, left any clues to what Jesus might have meant when we said “This [no verb] my body” in Aramaic. When such an examination is done, we find an answer that confirms the validity of our Catholic faith and gives the believer goose-bumps.

Those of you who have studied a language like Spanish know that words can have genders. While both Amigo and Amiga share the same basic structure (the stem), the ‘o’ and ‘a’ at the end of the word give it its gender (the first being masculine and the later being feminine). Greek is very similar in that many words may look nearly identical with only a minor change being due to gender differences. One such example is the demonstrative pronoun (e.g. this/these, that/those). In Greek, you can find the word “this” in feminine, masculine, and even neuter forms. The gender of the pronoun is chosen by what it is referring to (i.e. the antecedent). If Joe asks Sally, “Can you hand me my book?” and Sally responds, “Is this your book?” Sally’s “this” obviously refers to “book.” In Greek, “book” has a gender (feminine) so “this” would also have share the same gender as the word book. Enough with Greek grammar and on to the good stuff!

From Scripture we know that when Jesus picked up the bread from the table and said, “This is my body” the ‘this’ was referring to the bread He was holding up. In Greek, ‘bread’ has a Gender (like all nouns) and it is masculine. Thus, we ought to conclude that the ‘this’ that Jesus speaks is also masculine in gender since it is referring to the bread. But wait, it is not masculine at all but rather neuter in gender. Have all three Gospels committed a grammatical blunder? By no means! If only we had the eyes to see (Greek in this case) the reason why all Last Supper accounts record such a grammatical faux pas. We already mentioned that the Greek word ‘bread’ is masculine but we have not yet made explicit what the other critical noun’s gender is, and that would be ‘body’ which is neuter!

Tying all the loose ends together, we must ask why all the Gospel writers took the liberty to make Christ’s “this” in the phrase “This is my body” neuter in gender when it is clear that the ‘this’ is referring to the masculine in gender bread which he is holding up to his apostles. The answer is quite clear to the Catholic. By the time our Lord and savior raised the sacred bread from the table, the bread had changed into the body (and blood) of our Lord Jesus Christ, which the grammatical gender-change from masculine to neuter conveys! The bread is no longer simply bread but now has taken on the grammatical gender of the body which communicates to the reader the breads substantial change into the body of our Lord! The Gospel writers, guided by the Holy Spirit, could not have been any more explicit regarding the Real Presence of our Lord in the bread and wine consecrated by our faithful priests! Thus, the ‘is’ in Christ’s phrase “This is my body” is not some verb to be disputed, but rather a powerful lens into the Real Presence of our Lord in the Holy Eucharist.

Saying all of this, it would be unfair of me to ignore the common non-Catholic objection to this “demonstrative” argument which favors a Real Presence understanding of the Last Supper passages. Due to the intricate and complexity of this rebuttal, I will only deal with its most “deadly blow” to what I have just argued above. For those wanting a more exhaustive treatment of the non-Catholic perspective, I refer you to Robert Sungenis’s article.

It is true that there are a small number of passages that share the grammatical structure of the Last Supper passages. Both Matthew 13.38 and Luke 8.14 contain a demonstrative pronoun followed by a ‘to be’ verb and ending with a noun or noun equivalent. While the pronoun ought to be taking on the gender of its antecedent, it actually takes on the gender of the substantive following the verb. In the case of Mt. 13.38, the ‘these’ in “these good seeds” takes on the gender of “kingdom” rather than “seeds.” The non-Catholic claims victory in that this appears to be a clear attestation that such a grammatical usage does in fact point to a metaphor.

However, on closer inspection the weight of this objection collapses (along with every other similar example by the non-Catholic interlocutor). Both Mt. 13.38 and Lk. 8.14 are explanations of parables by Jesus which had just been presented. The actual metaphoric usage was in the parable. Jesus is NOT explaining a metaphor (i.e. the parable) with another metaphor. We must make the distinction between metaphor and assigning identities. Coming from a computer science background, I find the best way to explain this is through the lens of mathematics. If I were to create a program based upon an algorithm, I would have two (at the minimum) separate locations of code. One would contain the actual algorithm. The algorithm section of my code would be equivalent to the metaphoric structure of Christ’s parable. I would also have a separate location whereby I would be assigning identities to all the appropriate variables. These are not simply representative variables, but they actually take on that which it symbolizes. The assignments actually imbue the variable to the fullest extent. Thus, we have the clear distinction between metaphor and the assignment of identities.

In light of what I just said, it makes all the more sense why these additional exceptions simply prove the rule. Since both Mt. 13.38 and Lk. 8.14 (and many more like these) are assigning identities, it makes sense why the demonstrative pronoun would take on the gender that follows rather than its antecedent. This grammatical rarity is conveying the message that the subsequent noun is taking on the identity of the pronoun! Again, it is good to be Catholic!

Next time you are at Mass and you hear your parish priest say the words of consecration, “This is my body” I hope you will have a greater appreciation for such a simple word as “this”, and have a deeper love for the Son of God who stands before you in the Holy Eucharist! May God be Praised!

Friday, February 6, 2009

On Being Unevenly Yoked and Hurting Others


Many of you may know that I teach a Theology of the Body class on Monday evenings in the upper room of the Catholic Student Center. This teaching position has served as a kind of catapult into relationship counseling that I honestly had not anticipated but thoroughly enjoy. I’m fully aware that I am not a licensed counselor so I quickly refer those students needing licensed attention to more qualified professionals. However, many students come into my office wanting basic advice on their current relationship, and I am happy to listen and offer an “outside” perspective if they so desire. After only six months of one-on-ones with students I have begun to see a couple common threads that unite relationships deemed “unhealthy” or “complicated” by the students in them. The first common thread may be expressed as the complication of being unevenly yoked (cf. 2 Cor. 6.14-16), and the second thread revolves around an exaggerated fear of “hurting the other.” I would like to address the unevenly yoked complication first.

I began dating a non-Catholic girl during my first year of seminary at an evangelical college. While the relationship was great in a number of ways, it also was very difficult as we obviously did not see eye-to-eye regarding each other’s beliefs. My awakening to the gravity of this disagreement came from my father. Speaking to him one day about my relationship he said, “Son, marriage is a difficult vocation as it is. If you see your relationship worth the additional level of difficulty due to your conflicting beliefs then go for it. However, just remember that this will in fact be an additional cross to bear.” From that moment on I took a very different approach to courtship. I knew that my Catholic faith was the center of my life, and I deemed it necessary that I find someone who shared that intense love for the Catholic Church that I had.

St. Paul calls each of us to a similar discernment as we approach relationships (cf. 2 Cor. 6:14-16). A positive way to express St. Paul’s desire for us not to be unevenly yoked is to say that we ought to strive to find someone who shares the same spiritual foundation we have. While it is important to find someone whom we enjoy and have fun with, such a reality may fair poorly in times of trial when unsupported by a firmer and deeper common faith. I want to be clear that I am not saying that unevenly yoked relationships are doomed to failure, but rather that such relationships offer unique hardships that evenly yoked ones do not.

St. Paul offers us a reason for this warning that I find quite profound, and ironically the reason is presented in his brief treatment of celibacy. In 1 Cor. 7:32-38, the apostle expresses his concern for those who choose the married life. The chief concern is that those who marry may have increased anxiety over the fact that they must split their time between God and family. The celibate person, on the other hand, has the opportunity to live a deeper “inner integrity” since he (or she) does not have to live dividedly. This is why St. Paul appeals to the goodness of celibacy over marriage. He does so NOT because he believes marriage is bad, but because he personally sees a temptation in marriage to become divided in heart. Ultimately, Paul leaves it up to the individual to discern their proper gift from God whether that be the vocation of marriage or celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom.

If it is true that marriage lends itself to the danger of a “divided heart” then we must do what we can to prevent such an occasion of pain. I have encountered many relationships both married and unmarried alike who suffer from wounds caused by this divided heart. Often times, one or both feel as if they have compromised their own integrity so as to keep peace in the relationship. Unfortunately, such actions can lead to spite and regret which further hurts the relationship. However, if we seek another who shares our same Catholic foundation, we quickly bridge the gap between God and the spouse, offering the opportunity for a marriage that nearly shares the great inner integrity inherent to celibacy. I recognize that this column does not address those who have already married into such a relationship stated above. Unfortunately, such a topic must be saved for a later time.

The second common thread deals with the phrase I hear from students “stuck” in an unhealthy relationship. When pressed why they continue the relationship, they often say, “I can’t break up with him/her because I don’t want to hurt him/her.” I have to admit that I have often said the exact same thing. I have come to suspect that behind the altruistic phrase is actually a sense of profound guilt. Upon further inquiry I have discovered that nearly everyone who had shared such a sentiment also had been living a physical relationship beyond that of their own personal convictions about the relationship. In other words, their bodies were writing checks their person was not willing to cash. Behind the altruistic desire not to hurt the other in the relationship was a deep seated guilt based on the truth that they had been expressing ideas through their body (sexually) that they themselves were not ready to commit to personally. Breaking up with the other would only reveal the duplicity presented between their personal and physical commitment. This is what I have commonly seen behind the whole exaggerated emphasis on the fear of hurting the other.

Of course, there are those who simply have a healthy fear of hurting the other that increases to paralyzing implications. To those who struggle with this fear, I offer a powerful quote from none other than C.S. Lewis: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket -- safe, dark, motionless, airless -- it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable...The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of and perturbations of love is Hell” (The Four Loves).

The remedy to both these contemporary difficulties among students is quite simple. If we are convicted to the heart about our Catholic faith, we ought to strive to find someone who is also deeply convicted to the heart about their Catholic faith. In so doing, we create an atmosphere of external integration. Furthermore, if we desire a healthy relationship that is free from exaggerated fears then let us work to love more purely, to love in such way that our bodies speak the same language as our person. In so doing, we create an atmosphere of internal integration. May we all strive to live more authentic and integrated lives for we can do all things in Christ! May God be Praised!

The Rise Against Intellectual Apathy


I had the privilege of participating in a Cathedral Mass a few weeks back, the celebrant was Archbishop Charles Chaput. The Sunday happened to be Epiphany Sunday when we celebrate the coming of the Magi to the foot of Christ’s crib (cf. Mt. 2.1-23). If you have ever had the opportunity to attend a Sunday evening Mass at the Cathedral, then you know that a homily by his Excellency is something you simply do not want to miss. I can say confidently that I would take notes if it wasn’t for my pride persuading me that people would deem me as one of “those” who wears a Holy pocket-protector! While much of what he said on Epiphany Sunday has been forgotten, there is one piece of his homily that has stuck with me to this day and that I find particular pertinent to our upcoming debate on campus.

Like any good homilist, Archbishop began his homily by painting the historical and sociological landscape on which this event of the Magi occurred. Unfortunately, such an accurate portrayal necessitated a significant correction in popular thinking. When we think of the Magi, phrases such as “the three kings,” or the “the three wise men” often come to mind. Such conceptions are nearly entirely wrong or at least a gross exaggeration of the original words. Whether there were three of them, or whether they were “wise” is completely absent from the original text. In addition, evidence for their kingship is about as strong as evidence for their queenship! What we can learn from the text is that these Magi were magicians which was something considered deplorable to Jews and Christians to this day. In other words, they were genuine pagans.

A light may have flickered for those of you reading this. There is an irony to be said, a perplexing puzzle to be solved. We see in this narrative an unexplainable interest by a number of pagan magicians in a rather obscure Jewish prophecy, all the while a near silence befalls Jerusalem for whom this prophecy has been fulfilled. In other words, there is a greater expressed interest in the covenantal God of Israel by pagans than those who claim to be Jewish believers! It is in this rather perplexing inverse of prophetic interest that the Archbishop provides an acute observation in its application.

The archbishop has keenly observed that at times there appears to be more non-believers interested in God today than believers! I actually have a tough time saying those words as they are difficult to stomach. Putting the archbishop’s observations to the test, I did a little research project. With the debate only days away I did a couple google searches. The first search I committed to was to see what results I could obtain in support of Hitchens (the Atheist coming to our debate) in light of this particular debate. I immediately received a rather large number of blogs and other websites talking about this “great opportunity” with many atheists making plans to carpool with one another. With hopeful expectations I then searched for results that would include those people in support of D’Souza (the Christian) in this particular debate. Excluding those sites originating through our own publicity, the results came back with……..ZERO. Sadly, it appears that the archbishop has been proven correct.

I wish I could say that my experience as the Director of Outreach and Evangelization could help curb these disappointing results, but they do not. FOCUS has been doing some incredible work getting the word out on campus about the debate. After a day of success in the distribution of tickets, a missionary made a casual comment about how she felt that “nearly 60 percent” of tickets she distributed were to atheists. In light of the overall population of atheists in Boulder, that is quite a skewed statistic.

I say all this not to be a dirge, but rather to act as a call to arms! We live for a reality that is deeply personal but it is NOT private. We have a public commitment to our faith which must be imbued with both good and beauty, but it also must be grounded in absolute Truth! We are not ashamed of the Gospel because it is the power of God for everyone who places themselves in that love who is Jesus Christ (cf. Rom. 1.16). We have no need to fear the truth of our faith for it stands unabated with or without us, but we are called by St. Peter to give a reason for why we believe to those who inquire about it (cf. 1 Ptr. 3.15). We have many opportunities to satisfy this call to take arms which Hilary spoke of in last week’s column. May we continue to deepen our love for God with all our mind (cf. Mt. 22.37), and may we find such pursuits personally enriching and fruitful. May God Be Praised!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Good And Not-So-Good Bible Studies


Bible Studies are a wonderful way to go deeper in our faith and to establish a more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. One of the many benefits of Scripture is that it has the capacity to add a dialogical dimension to our prayer life. Without Scripture, our prayer life can quickly degrade into a chatty monologue. We have a tendency to avoid those “awkward” silences with the Lord so we simply talk God’s ear off expecting no response. Of course, I think we all desire a formal response but we frequently consign ourselves to defeat in that area. Scripture offers the Christian an instant solution to our deepest desire to have a genuine conversation with the Lord. The living and breathing Word of God speaks to our very hearts as if each letter written on the sacred parchment was penned with us in mind. What a beautiful gift God has given us and kept unblemished through the protective and loving arms of the Holy Catholic Church.

Bible Studies form an indispensable role in our spiritual formation. By entering into a scripture study we communicate the reality that this sacred text is very different from ourselves. We look to others whether that be the Church, certified Bible Study leaders, or resources written by qualified theologians, historians, or socio-rhetorical experts to aid us in our pursuit of Truth.

All this being said, we must also use caution when entering into a group study. One red flag of an unhealthy study group is when the discussions are dominated by the question, “What does this passage mean to you?” This is a trumpet blast to all those attending that the study has moved from looking at Scripture as something “other” than the group to looking at Scripture as “another” of the group. In other words, we have moved from trying extract the riches of the text (exegesis) to imposing our own ideas onto the text (eisegesis). I am not saying that personal application is bad. All good Bible Studies have as their goal solid personal application, but we must always make a firm distinction between our means and our end.

To this end I would like to suggest four solid pillars to a healthy and spiritually edifying Bible Study. The first criterion is that a study should be exegetical. There are many words and phrases we do not understand in Scripture that inhibit our ability to read the text correctly. The function of exegesis is to fill those empty words with a first century meaning so that the reader can read the text fluidly. Of course, exegesis may come in handy to redefine words that the reader thinks he/she knows but has misunderstood due to ignorance.

The second pillar of the study is history. Scripture was not written in a vacuum. Every book you read has a unique and powerful social and historical context. One of the greatest injustices done to Scripture is the idea that the contemporary reader’s worldview was roughly equivalent to the worldview of the first century. Much of the tragedy of the Reformation stemmed from Martin Luther’s belief that St. Paul was battling legalism like Luther was battling “legalism” in the Catholic Church. In other words, Martin Luther sometimes projected his own contemporary crisis onto St. Paul and his letters thus gravely distorting many things. We must deal with the scriptural authors on their own terms and within their own worldview!

The third pillar is theology. Just as each person comes with their own worldview, so too does each person embrace a unique theology. St. Paul does in fact have a different theology than St. John. This does not mean they contradict each other, but rather that they supplement each other. If we are studying Romans, we must be diligent in our endeavors to understand Paul’s own theology. This requires us to study St. Paul’s life seeking to answer particular questions like, “Was Paul a Jew and if so, which Jewish Sect did he come from?” “What kind of Roman education did he have?” “What does it mean that he studied under the great Rabbi Gammalial?” Such questions will help us tremendously to get into the theological mind of Paul.
After mining the exegetical, historical, and theological dimensions of our study we have finally won the right to move to practice! Now it is time to ask the great question, “What does this passage mean to me?” We have stepped outside of ourselves in order to understand the original intention of the passage at hand. In light of this truth which we have discovered through laborious study, we may now apply it to our life with confidence.

I pray these four pillars to a good and healthy bible study are helpful. May God bless you as you read the word of God, and may the information you receive always lead to personal transformation. May God be Praised!