Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"I Have Always Labored Out of Love"

The stereotype of traditional Catholic education is dominated by the image of strict nuns whacking knuckles with rulers. Today is the feast of John Bosco (1815 - 1888). Here is a brief write-up about him.
He was born in Piedmont of a peasant family, and he was brought up by his widowed mother. He became a priest, and his particular concern was for the young. He settled in Turin, where, as in so many cities in the 19th century, the industrial revolution was bringing enormous movements of population and consequent social problems, especially for the young men who came there to work. John Bosco devoted himself to the care of the young, first of all by means of evening classes, to which hundreds came, and then by setting up a boarding-house for apprentices, and then workshops for their training and education. Despite many difficulties, caused both by the anti-clerical civil authorities and by the opposition of some senior people within the Church, his enterprise grew, and by 1868 over 800 boys and young men were under his care. To ensure the continuation of his work, he founded a congregation, which he named after St Francis de Sales (a saint for whom he had great admiration), and today the Salesians continue his work all over the world.
The following is from a letter John Bosco wrote, and it is read on his feast day in the Office of Readings. It very much reflects the philosophy of education that our Headmaster at Cistercian is constantly telling us. Since he is a Cistercian monk, he hears this read every year, so he is surely familiar with it.
First of all, if we wish to appear concerned about the true happiness of our foster children and if we would move them to fulfil their duties, you must never forget that you are taking the place of the parents of these beloved young people. I have always laboured lovingly for them, and carried out my priestly duties with zeal. And the whole Salesian society has done this with me.
  My sons, in my long experience very often I had to be convinced of this great truth. It is easier to become angry than to restrain oneself, and to threaten a boy than to persuade him. Yes, indeed, it is more fitting to be persistent in punishing our own impatience and pride than to correct the boys. We must be firm but kind, and be patient with them.
  I give you as a model the charity of Paul which he showed to his new converts. They often reduced him to tears and entreaties when he found them lacking docility and even opposing his loving efforts.
  See that no one finds you motivated by impetuosity or wilfulness. It is difficult to keep calm when administering punishment, but this must be done if we are to keep ourselves from showing off our authority or spilling out our anger.
  Let us regard those boys over whom we have some authority as our own sons. Let us place ourselves in their service. Let us be ashamed to assume an attitude of superiority. Let us not rule over them except for the purpose of serving them better.
  This was the method that Jesus used with the apostles. He put up with their ignorance and roughness and even their infidelity. He treated sinners with a kindness and affection that caused some to be shocked, others to be scandalised, and still others to hope for God’s mercy. And so he bade us to be gentle and humble of heart.
  They are our sons, and so in correcting their mistakes we must lay aside all anger and restrain it so firmly that it is extinguished entirely.
  There must be no hostility in our minds, no contempt in our eyes, no insult on our lips. We must use mercy for the present and have hope for the future, as is fitting for true fathers who are eager for real correction and improvement.
  In serious matters it is better to beg God humbly than to send forth a flood of words that will only offend the listeners and have no effect on those who are guilty.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Christ is present to his Church

I especially liked the second reading from today's Office of Readings. It is from The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council. I think it makes clear why the Catholic Church teaches that missing Sunday mass is a serious sin.
Christ is always present to his Church, especially in the actions of the liturgy. He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, in the person of the minister (it is the same Christ who formerly offered himself on the cross that now offers by the ministry of priests) and most of all under the eucharistic species. He is present in the sacraments by his power, in such a way that when someone baptizes, Christ himself baptizes. He is present in his word, for it is he himself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the Church. Finally, he is present when the Church prays and sings, for he himself promised: Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in their midst.

Indeed, in this great work which gives perfect glory to God and brings holiness to men, Christ is always joining in partnership with himself his beloved Bride, the Church, which calls upon its Lord and through him gives worship to the eternal Father.

It is therefore right to see the liturgy as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ, in which through signs addressed to the senses man’s sanctification is signified and, in a way proper to each of these signs, made effective, and in which public worship is celebrated in its fullness by the mystical body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the head and by his members.

Accordingly, every liturgical celebration, as an activity of Christ the priest and of his body, which is the Church, is a sacred action of a pre-eminent kind. No other action of the Church equals its title to power or its degree of effectiveness.

In the liturgy on earth we are given a foretaste and share in the liturgy of heaven, celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem, the goal of our pilgrimage, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God, as minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle. With the whole company of heaven we sing a hymn of praise to the Lord; as we reverence the memory of the saints, we hope to have some part with them, and to share in their fellowship; we wait for the Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ, until he, who is our life, appears, and we appear with him in glory.

By an apostolic tradition taking its origin from the very day of Christ’s resurrection, the Church celebrates the paschal mystery every eighth day, the day that is rightly called the Lord’s day. On Sunday the Christian faithful ought to gather together, so that by listening to the word of God and sharing in the Eucharist they may recall the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God who has given them a new birth with a lively hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The Lord’s day is therefore the first and greatest festival, one to be set before the loving devotion of the faithful and impressed upon it, so that it may be also a day of joy and of freedom from work. Other celebrations must not take precedence over it, unless they are truly of the greatest importance, since it is the foundation and the kernel of the whole liturgical year.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Response to a Video

I shared the following fine video on my Facebook page, which provoked a long response from an old friend of mine, Kenny Mansfield. Because the comment was so long, I thought the FB comment system was too awkward to adequately respond to it, so I'm using a blog post for that purpose.

First of all, here is the video, which was created by Patrick Gothman, a member of my parish.

Now I will respond to Kenny's post a section at a time.
OK, I listened to 2:03, when he said "...without the Catholic church, you would have no Bible." That, and other misstatements caused me to prematurely stop him and start writing. The Torah existed long before the Catholic church. And, while the canon was born in the 4th and 5th century by writers in the Catholic church, it was the leaders of the same church that tried to suppress it's distribution 1000 years later. It was during the Protestant Reformation that the Bible was printed in modern languages and made available to common people for all to see the heresies that the Catholic church had forced into the lives of Christians.
There are two issues I will address here: first is the accusation that the Catholic Church suppressed the distribution of the Bible in order to keep people from knowing about the heresies they were teaching. The second issue is the greater question raised by Patrick in the video: did the Bible came from the Catholic Church?

Regarding the first issue, Kenny repeats a common story among Protestants that is a gross simplification of a much more complex history. It is true that Bible translators Wycliffe and Tyndale were opposed by the Church, but it was due to their doctrine, not merely for translating the Bible. A quick check of Wikipedia shows that there was some translations of Scripture into English and several versions of the Bible in German before the Reformation. I have heard it said that there were Catholics who thought that vernacular languages were to "low" for the words of Scripture, and only a lofty language like Latin was a proper way to express the Bible. That would be an incorrect position, and one that has since been corrected by the Church. I also know that in reaction to what was seen as misuse of the Bible by Protestants, a fear developed in the Catholic Church that the Bible could not be correctly understood by those without a proper theological education. That mindset has since been reversed. Vatican II, Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI have all strongly taught that knowledge of the Bible is important for all Christians, quoting St. Jerome that "ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ."

Regarding the second issue, which is that the Bible came from the Catholic Church, I raise the question of where did Wycliffe, Luther, and Tyndale get their Bibles from which they produced their translations? Wycliffe used the Latin Vulgate, which came from the Catholic Church. Luther and Tyndale made their translations from Hebrew and Greek. The Hebrew Old Testament was available from the Jews, but how did they get a Greek New Testament? They used the Textus Receptus produced by Catholic scholar Desiderius Erasmus. If it were not for the Catholic Church, the Protestant Reformers would not have had a New Testament to work from.

I want to make one more point about the idea that the Catholic Church kept the Bible in Latin in order to keep people from challenging their heretical doctrines. Such an idea rests on the idea that Latin was some secret language that only the evil heretical Catholic clergy could understand. On the contrary, Latin was known by all educated people in Europe, a fact that remained true even among Protestants well into the 17th century. Regardless of the issue of the Latin language, an educated person is more likely to oppose the so-called Catholic heresies and be able to mount a successful attack against them, so keeping the Bible in Latin would not be effective for hiding heresies. If the Church had really been afraid of the Bible, it would have destroyed it.
In Vatican Council II (12/7/1965), the following statement was added into the record: "It [Vatican Council II] longs to set forth the way it understands the presence and function of the Church in the world today. Therefore, the world which the Council has in mind is the whole human family seen in the context of everything which envelops it... This is the reason why this sacred Synod, in proclaiming the noble destiny of man and affirming an element of the divine in him, offers to co-operate unreservedly with mankind in fostering a sense of brotherhood to correspond to this destiny of theirs."

This is blatant idolatry by the Catholic church, a statement giving the green light to self-worship and elevating man to the level of God, which is clearly forbidden in the Torah. And this was written just 45 years ago, showing that even the modern leaders of your religion are still operating in the darkness.
I was not familiar with that quote, but using Google, I was able to find that it comes from Gaudium et Spes, The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, §3.

Kenny appears to object to the phrase, "affirming an element of the divine in him." The English translation on the Vatican website says, "championing the Godlike seed which has been sown in him." I have not studied this document; my studies of Vatican II have focused on the more theological Dogmatic Constitutions, Dei Verbum on Divine Revelation, and Lumen Gentium on the Church. I would have to do more study to be sure of what it was saying, but it appears to me that it is talking about the fact that we are made in the image of God.

The Catholic Church teaches that Adam and Eve were created in the image of God. "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he create them" (Gen 1:27 RSV-CE). They sinned in the garden, bringing upon themselves spiritual death. The image of God in them was marred, but not completely gone. St. Paul affirms this when he says, "When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts..." (Rom 2:14-15a). St. Paul is talking about the law of God being written on the hearts of pagan Gentiles, so there is something from God still remaining in fallen man.

Kenny says that such an idea is idolatry, but idolatry is the worship of a false god, and I see nothing in this quote about worshiping the "element of divine" in man. I agree that such a thing would be idolatry, but the mere mention that there is something divine in man is not idolatry. Even if Kenny thinks like many Calvinists do that the image of God is completely gone from fallen man, he has not eliminated the fact that there was something divine in original man, and that there is something divine in redeemed man. Christians are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19) and will "become partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). That doesn't mean we worship each other and commit idolatry.
From the same Council, a statement issued on 10/28/1965 reads: "...In Hinduism, men explore the divine mystery and express it both in the limitless riches of myth and the accurately defined insights of philosophy. They seek release from the trial of the present life by ascetical practices, profound meditation and recourse to God in confidence and love. Buddhism in its various forms testifies to the essential inadequacy of this changing world. It proposes a way of life by which man can, with confidence and trust, attain a state of perfect liberation and reach supreme illumination either through their own efforts or by the aid of divine help. The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions."
WHAT?!?! The official position of your religion is that there is a little good in their evil paganisms that deserves recognition (a dip into Taoism)?
I also had to Google this quote, and found that it is from Nostra Aetate, Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, §2. Again, I am sorry that I have not studied this document, but I have heard teaching on the subject, including a talk by Cardinal Francis Arinze, former President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. This teaching is rooted in the doctrine of the universal ministry of the Holy Spirit, of which Jesus speaks: "if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convince the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment" (John 16: 7b-8). We believe that the Holy Spirit constantly speaks to all people, and some of them respond, even if imperfectly. What I learned from Cardinal Arinze is that we can engage in honest dialogue with non-Christians with the expectation that we might learn something from them. Of course, our hope is to convert them to the Catholic faith, which we believe to have the fullness of God's revelation and gifts for salvation, but even so, we might learn something from their unique perspective, which ultimately comes from the same Holy Spirit who indwells the Church. (Note that we believe someone must be a baptized Christian to be indwelt with the Holy Spirit, but not to be influenced by the Spirit.)

What I liked about Cardinal Arinze's talk was that he combined the certainty of the superiority of the Catholic faith with the acknowledgment that there could be some truth in other religions. He said we can confidently desire to convert the non-Catholic, while at the same time be open to learning from him.

Assuming that I may not have been convincing about the possibility that other religions might have "a little good in their evil paganisms," I will pose the following questions. What if another religion taught that is wrong to commit murder? Is that good or bad? Should I reject that idea because it comes from another religion? Of course not! I would then be rejecting God's law as revealed in the Bible. I must affirm that their belief in the evil of murder is true, and good, and compatible with God's law. If they teach that there is only one God, I must also agree that this particular belief of theirs is true, good, and compatible with Christian doctrine. However, I cannot stop there. If they do not believe that the one God is triune, I must say that they are wrong in that aspect of their belief.

To be more concrete, when the Muslim says there is only one God, I must say he is correct in that regard, and his belief on that point is good. If I say he is wrong, I am rejecting Christian doctrine, which teaches there is only one God. However, when the Muslim says that Jesus was just a prophet, and not God incarnate, then I must say that he is wrong, and his belief in that particular aspect is evil. I may also point out that the Muslim characterization of God is different from the Christian understanding in many ways.

When the Hindu says there are many gods, I must say he is wrong, and in that aspect his belief is evil. However, when the Hindu says that the things of this world will not bring happiness, I can affirm the truth and goodness in what he says on that particular point. When the atheist astronomer remarks on the beauty of the cosmos, I can agree with him in that regard. I actually believe that his perception of the beauty of the heavens is actually the Holy Spirit speaking to him. "The heavens declare the glory of God" (Ps 19:1).
At 1:30, he talks about the Scientific Method being born in the Catholic church but it is commonly known that Ibn al-Haytham, an Islamic Arab, is considered the father of the scientific method. (Gorini, Rosanna (October 2003), "Al-Haytham the man of experience. First steps in the science of vision" Journal of the International Society for the History of Islamic Medicine 2 (4): 53–55
I will agree with Kenny that Patrick over-stated the point in this regard. I again checked Wikipedia, and on the History of the Scientific Method, it does mention Ibn al-Haytham, and other Arab scholars through Avicenna. At that point, the history moves to the Catholic bishop Robert Grosseteste, Catholic friar Roger Bacon, Catholic scientist Galileo Galilei, English (Protestant?) philosopher Francis Bacon, French Catholic philosopher RenĂ© Descartes, and then English Protestant Isaac Newton.

I heard an interesting talk by Robert Reilly, author of The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist. I will try to state from memory what he said about why the development of science in the Muslim world ended with Avicenna. At that time, an extreme view of God's sovereignty arose in Muslim thought that has persisted to this day, which eliminates all secondary causes. It says that God directly causes the whole state of the universe each moment, entirely according to his will, independent of what the state of the universe was in the previous moment. So if I drop a ball, and I think that gravity is pulling it down to the ground, I am mistaken. Actually, God, in his sovereignty, has decided to create a series of universes in which there is a ball in different positions, such that it appears to be falling due to gravity. However, God could have just as easily caused the ball to exist in different locations, or not at all. Such a worldview tends to take the wind out of the sails of scientific inquiry.

At the same time, the writings of Avicenna, and other Muslim philosophers, including their translations of Aristotle, made their way into the Latin speaking Catholic world. There, although the belief of God's ultimate sovereignty existed, there was also the belief that God created secondary causes which could be studied and understood. That worldview carried forward in the Catholic world, and eventually into the Protestant world, and was the womb in which modern science developed.
And, at 3:04, he says I am welcome? Can I walk into a Mass and partake of the Lord's Supper? I have professed faith in Jesus as my Christ and renounced my sin for over 35 years but your religion won't let me eat at Christ's table without a bunch of legalistic man-made hoop-jumping.
The Catholic understanding of the Eucharist is that it is the Sacrament of the unity of the Church. The desire of the Catholic Church is that all who belong to Christ would come together in unity at the table of the Lord. However, unity does not exist in the Christian world at this time. Protestants believe that the Catholic Church is in error, so for a Protestant to receive communion at a Catholic Church would be a lie, proclaiming a unity that does not exist. The Church does not allow Catholics to receive communion at Protestant churches for the same reason.

The "hoop-jumping" that Kenny speaks of is just an attempt to make sure a person knows what they are getting into before they make that commitment of unity with the Catholic Church. Receiving communion is a very serious thing, and the Church wants to do all it can to make sure people are prepared. "For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died." (1 Cor. 11:29-30). The RCIA program is a 9 month long education program on the beliefs of the Catholic Church, and most priests want people to complete that program before they will receive them into the Church. However, because I already knew something of the Catholic faith, and I went to a small parish where the priest could know about my background, my wife and I were able to receive private instruction in a shorter period of time.
I am struggling with the fact that I know you know a lot about your religion but would still post this video on your wall.
As I said above, Patrick goes to my parish. I don't know him well, but he seems to be a fine young man. He has been to diocesan seminary and is now preparing to become a Dominican friar. Except for his over-statement about the scientific method, I think I have shown that I agree with what he says in the video. I'm hoping that through this post, I might clear up for Kenny and anyone else who reads it, some common misunderstandings about the Catholic Church.