No door will ever close.

maids with oil lamps

This is the screen saver on my computer at work. It is the facade of the Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, in the Trastevere neighborhood in Rome. It depicts the women from Matthew’s Gospel and the story of the wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25).  The church sits in the middle of a bustling piazza and so it looks as if the women are carrying is right into the middle of life in the piazza. The Gospel story has an Advent feel to it because it reminds us that we know not the day or hour when our Lord will return and so we need to be alert and ready, looking for  to walk right into the midst of our lives–here and now!

Limits and Promise

A few years ago I came across this poem by someone called T.J. O’Gorman of whom I know nothing other than this work which is an Advent favorite of mine.

  • Face to face with our limits,
  • blinking before the frightful
  • Stare of our frailty,
  • Promise rises
  • Like a posse of clever maids
  • Who do not fear the dark
  • Because their readiness
  • Lights the search.
  • Their oil
  • Becomes the measure of their love,
  • Their ability to wait–
  • An indication of their
  • Capacity to trust and take a chance.
  • Without the caution or predictability
  • Of  knowing the day or hour.
  • They fall back on that only
  • Of which they can be sure:
  • Love precedes them,
  • Before it
  • No door will ever close

Exactly Backwards! The World and Our Faith

It really should be “The Faith and our World.” Faith comes first and all things should be seen by the light of Faith. But many people have it exactly backwards. Instead of the world being on trial it is more often our Faith and the Scriptures that end up on trial. For a Christian it should be the world that comes under our scrutiny through the Word of God and the truth of our Faith. We ought to have some pretty tough questions for the world:

  1. Why is revenge and violence your way?
  2. Why do you celebrate promiscuity?
  3. Why do you constantly think that money and power is what makes you great?
  4. Why do you kill the unborn and praise it as a right?
  5. Why do you reject the wisdom of prior years as recorded in the Scriptures and Tradition?
  6. Why do you hate authority and any limits on your behavior?
  7. Why do you struggle so much with addiction?
  8. Why can’t you stay married?
  9. Why are your children’s test scores dropping? Why are they getting pregnant? Why do they have STDs?
  10. Why are your priorities so messed up?
  11. Why are you so worked up about silly things like Hollywood and Sports but not very interested in Faith, truth and justice and your final end?
  12. Why do you trust the shifting opinions of men more than the lasting truth of God?

Most Christians should be asking these sort of pointed questions to a world gone mad. But too many, filled with worldly thinking, put the Church, and Scripture on trial and demand answers only of these.

The fact is, too many Catholics tuck their faith under their politics, under their worldview, under their preferences. Instead of judging politics by faith, faith gets judged based on political views. Most Christians are far more passionate about politics than faith and if there is a conflict between what their faith says and what “the Party” says, guess what gives? A large number of Catholics base their moral reasoning not on Scripture or Church teaching but on what Hollywood stars, politicians, and pop-culture figures say.

And therefore when the Church does speak and/or Scripture is referenced and it goes against any of the modern thinking  from the world gone mad, angry denunciations, or scoffing, laughter and so forth come forth even from Catholics. It is exactly backwards. It is the world that deserves this treatment. It is the world that deserves to come under our scrutiny and answer to our faith. The world should seem downright strange and alien to us, inimical to our understanding. The Book of James makes it plain:

Know you not that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

And God does in fact seem an enemy to many. They may not be able to see it that clearly so they direct their condemnation at the Church or at the Bible. But in the end these are just deflections since the Church and Scripture are merely reporting what God clearly teaches.

In the end, why not put the world on trial? Why not test the world by faith and see all things by the light of faith? Why not store up some pointed questions for a world gone mad? The early Christians who renounced the ways of the world and knew that the Lord had called them out of the world had a saying: Let grace come, and the world pass away. Maranatha! (Come Lord) (Didache, 10)

The following video is an excerpt from a sermon I preached Yesterday here at the Parish. Audio is me, photos are of the parish.

Pondering the Hermeneutic of Suspicion

I know! I apologize for using one of those rather haughty theological words: Hermeneutic!  I also know that many DO in fact know what the word means. But just in case you don’t let’s define. Fundamentally a “hermeneutic”  is an interpretive key, a way of seeing and understanding the world.

So what do I mean when I speak of a “hermeneutic of suspicion?” Well, consider the times in which we live. Most people  are suspicious of just about everything and everyone! It is a common and usual worldview that politicians lie, the Government is lying, big business is lying, advertisers are lying, the Church is lying. It is presumed that cover-ups are common and, even if there is not outright lying most people and organizations are just acting out of selfish motives and self-serving agendas. If their motives are not selfish they are otherwise bad motives: Liberal! Conservative! Bigoted! Homophobe! Hater! Infidel! Socialist! Selfish Capitalist! Reactionary! Well, you get the point. Everyone is simply dismissed because they  have an ”agenda” and this agenda is somehow less than pure, fair or neutral.

You may well think that some or much of what is said abouve is true. But in pondering this all-pervasive “hermeneutic of suspicion” I wonder if there do not have to be some limits to its application and conclusions. Is “everyone” really lying or just acting out of a less than pure agenda? Is it always wrong to have an agenda? Is self interest always a bad thing? Is it always wrong for groups to seek to influence the national discussion even if that influence serves their interest and worldview? Clearly lying is wrong and there is such a thing as lying but is everything I call lying really lying?

I don’t have simple answers to these questions and PLEASE understand I am not some moral relativist who is simply asking for everything to be murky and gray. But our culture is really overheated at the moment with suspicion. There is a pervasive presumption of the worst in terms of motives, sincerity and the like. It is getting harder and harder to have any kind of a conversation at all about issues without the names and the labels sallying forth and the impugning of motives. I don’t have a simple formula to come up with the right balance between a healthy skepticism and pathological suspicion but I would like to propose a few benchmarks toward a better balance.

1. Everyone DOES have an agenda and that is OK. It’s not wrong to have a worldview and to seek to influence others to that way of thinking. The very word “agenda” is intended as pejorative but it need not be. The problem seems to come up when everyone is defensive about having and “agenda.” Since that is somehow supposed to be “wrong”  we start to do unhealthy things. We often try to hide our truest agenda and paper it over with less than sincere descriptions of what we think and what we want. We start to talk in code and engage in political correctness, jargon and other circumlocutions that are not always true or at least frank. We become less transparent and this fuels suspicion. If we can just accept that we all have agendas and that’s fine, then we become more frank and honest, and suspicion recedes. In terms of full disclosure let me share my agenda: I am a Roman Catholic Christian and I believe everything that the Church teaches in matters of faith and morals. I believe Jesus Christ Founded the Catholic Church, that it is the one true Church. It is my desire that everyone on this planet become Roman Catholic and thus embrace the fullness of the faith given by Jesus Christ and revealed through the Apostles. Clear enough? That’s my agenda.

2. Self interest is not always bad– I do a lot of organizing work in the neighborhood working with the Washington Interfaith Network, a local chapter of the Industrial Areas Foundation. One of our key principles is to help people identify their interests and then act upon them. If they want more affordable housing, great! Then let’s work to find others who have a similar interest and build power around that shared interest. Self interest can be a powerful motivator toward great ends. Instead of being suspicious and cynical that people have self interest in mind, what if we just accepted that this is the universal human condition and used it to engage people for good ends? It’s not wrong to care about myself. I really ought to get my needs met and that also helps others because I am less of a burden on them. If ALL we care about is our self that is a problem. But most people instinctively understand that their self interest is linked to the good of others too. My life is more secure and stable if there is a healthy, strong and vibrant neighborhood. So I can be engaged around my own interests to work for a just and healthy world. The fact that I get something out it does make my motives somehow impure. But the hermeneutic of suspicion demands “pure” motives and unrealistically defines pure as completely selfless. What if we just stopped all that and accepted that people act on what interests them and that it isn’t necessarily bad. Accepting this makes us less suspicious and cynical.

3. Faith and Trust in the Church are an essential balance to the hermeneutic of suspicion– While it is true that we have to be sober that live in a world where lies are told and where motives are not always pure, it is also true that we have to refuse radical suspicion and cynicism. There IS truth, and there are those who do speak and teach the truth. We must find and seek those harbors of the truth and build and lower our anchor there. For Catholics, the harbor of the truth is the Church. Scripture describes the Church as the Pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15).  One of the great tragedies of the hermeneutic of suspicion is that many Catholics have adopted this attitude  toward the Church.  Yes, there is sin and even corruption in the Church, but despite that the Church has never failed to hand on the authentic truth of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ does speak through his Church. I emphatically trust that fact. I believe and profess all that the Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims to have been revealed by God. I can do no other. This is my faith. I trust God and believe that he speaks through the Catholic Church despite whatever human weakness is evident in the Church. God can write straight with crooked lines and he can teach infallibly even despite human weakness in the Church.  Without a harbor of truth the hermeneutic of suspicion can and will overwhelm us. We will mistrust everyone and everything and have no real way to sort out all the conflicting claims and counterclaims. Without faith and trust both in God and in the Church I am lost, adrift on a sea of suspicion and cynicism and the hermeneutic of suspicion overwhelms me. This is sadly true today of so many who are cut off from the truth thinking they can trust no one. In them the hermeneutic of suspicion has its most devastating effect. The lack of trust locks them into a tiny world, dominated by suspicion and doubt. Only the gift of faith and trust can diminish such deep suspicion.  With faith we can measure all things by God’s truth and know what is true from what is false. We have a measuring rod to judge what is true and thus we need not flee to suspicion.

This video fits with my agenda! 😉

A Strange Sort of Logic – The Kennedy Case

There is news today the Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence RI, and the Bishop of Patrick Kennedy has advised him to refrain from receiving Holy Communion. This was announced by the Congressman himself. What is the reason that someone in Mr. Kennedy’s situation might be instructed to to refrain? As you may be aware, Holy Communion is not just communion with Jesus Christ in a personalised sense, it is communion with the Body of Christ the Church. A Catholic who receives communion is is not just saying in an abstract sort of way,  “I believe in Jesus.” They are also saying, I share communion with his mystical Body on earth, the Church. I believe in one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I believe that when  the Church speaks solemnly and authoritatively that it is Jesus Christ who speaks. For Scripture records that Jesus said to the apostles and their successors, “He who hears you hears me.” Hence, our communion with Christ is not just an abstract Christ, a Christ of our own making, it is communion with the Christ defined in the Scriptures who also has a Body, the Church which actually speaks in his name. Holy Communion is thus communion with Christ and his body the Church, which speaks in his name. In recent months Congressman Kennedy has made declarations that it is possible for him to vote for abortion rights and to vote to fund abortion and still be a Catholic in good standing. He has repeated this claim over the objections of his own Bishop and he has done this publicly. His Bishop has instructed that he cannot consider his communion with the Church to be intact by such actions. Hence Holy Communion cannot rightfully be celebrated when such a lack of communion on a serious matter is lacking. If communion means something, and it does: communion with Christ and communion ALSO with his Body the Church, then it is not possible to celebrate a communion that is severely lacking.

There can be a further reason for a Bishop, or any pastor for that matter,   to advise someone to refrain from communion and that is the matter of serious sin.  One of the first Pastors of the Church, St. Paul instructed the faithful to receive Communion worthily:

Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. 32When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world. (1 Cor 11:27-32)

Notice therefore that since we recognize the Eucharist as the Body and Blood of the Lord, to receive communion unworthily, that is in serious sin, is to sin against the Body and Blood of the Lord and to bring judgment upon oneself. Any good Pastor ought to warn the faithful who seem to be in objectively sinful situations to carefully examine themselves and confess lest they come under further judgment by unworthy reception. Notice too that St. Paul sees this being disciplined as a kind of medicine. Hence if we accept the judgement of the Church and the disciplining of the Lord we may well be saved when the world is condemned on Judgment Day. Discipline at the time it is administered seems obnoxious (cf Heb 12) but if it is accepted it can lead to a change of heart and ultimately to salvation on the Day of  Judgement. It is an objectively serious sin to promote abortion and even more serious to vote to fund it. It is to be hoped that Congressman Kennedy and others might think seriously about what they are doing and come to a whole hearted acceptance of the Lord’s teaching on Life.

Thus we have the background issues as to why a Bishop might instruct a member of his flock to refrain from Communion.

Patrick Kennedy unfortunately is not alone. He speaks for a lot of Catholics who think they can invent their own Church and establish communion with that Church. Further, that they can call the Church that they invent  the “Catholic Church” and claim that they are in union with a this fictional Catholic Church and ultimately with Christ,  who is supposedly the head of this fictional Church. Bishop Tobin has warned Mr. Kennedy and others like him that they cannot simply invent their own Church and call it Catholic. There is an actual Church, founded by Christ, that is defined by him. It is not a Church of our own invention. It is rooted in the teachings of Christ and cannot simply be refashioned according to the whim or recipe of anyone other than what Jesus Christ has given. Even the bishops and the Pope cannot recast the Church. We have clear tradition and the Scriptures which must serve as the basis of the of how we understand ourselves. The Church is the servant of the Word of God, not its master. We must interpret and understand the Word of God but we cannot and must not over ride it.

Bishop Tobin has asked Congressman Kennedy to be honest and understand that he is not in communion with the real Catholic Church. Communion with the real Church has real parameters. There are just some things not compatible with being a Catholic and in communion with the real Catholic Church. There is a “bridge too far” that cannot be crossed for me to claim I am still in my homeland. At some point I have left the motherland , at some point I no longer speak my mother-tongue, the language of faith.

In the video below Congressman Kennedy has indicated that the bishops and the Church are simply guilty of being divisive and “fanning the flames of dissent and discord.” But Mr, Kennedy you have it exactly backwards. In the Catholic Church the bishops in union with the Pope ARE  unity and accord! It is those who break union with the Bishop and Pope who are guilty of dissent and discord. If you claim to be Catholic you cannot also claim to be working for unity when you oppose the Pope and bishops in union with him. They ARE the source of our unity. This is not new idea. St Ignatius of Antioch stated it all pretty clearly when he said:

It is therefore fitting that you should, after no hypocritical fashion, obey [your bishop], in honour of God who has willed us [so to do], since he that does not so deceives not [by such conduct] the bishop that is visible, but seeks to mock Him that is invisible….I exhort you to study to do all things with a divine harmony, while your bishop presides in the place of God, and your presbyters in the place of the assembly of the apostles, along with your deacons, who are most dear to me, and are entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ,… As therefore the Lord did nothing without the Father, being united to Him, neither by Himself nor by the apostles, so neither do anything without the bishop and presbyters…. let there be one prayer, one supplication, one mind, one hope, in love and in joy undefiled.  (Ignatius to the Church at Magnesia 3,6-7)

It is simply impossible to speak of unity in the Catholic Church apart from the Pope and the bishops in union with him.  Congressman Kennedy, you are the one guilty of disunity and discord if you walk away from the Pope and the Bishops in union with him on important moral issues of our day. It is a strange sort of logic to break union union with the Pope and bishops and then accuse them of breaking union and sowing disunity and discord.  The bishops in union with the pope are not the source of disunity, they are the STANDARD of unity and the source of union for every Catholic.


Delight in the Dies Irae!

I am of the mind that we set aside a great treasure and masterpiece when the sequence hymn for funeral Masses, Dies Irae got the boot some forty years ago. I know it was a “heavy” hymn with a sobering message, but it sure was glorious. The gorgeous chant was one of the more beautiful and soaring melodies of Gregorian Chant and manycomposers such as Mozart and Verdi set the text to stirring musical compositions.

Ah the Dies Irae!  It’s syllables hammering away in trochaic dimeter: Dies irae dies illa solvet saeclum in favilla, teste David cum Sybila! (Day of wrath that day when the world dissolves to ashes, David bears witness to it along with the Sibyl!) Many came to think it a theme too dark and sobering for the modern funeral. Perhaps at times it is a bit heavy but at the same time no hymn more beautifully sets forth a basis for God’s mercy. The dark clouds of judgment part and give way to the bright beauty of the final line Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem (Sweet Jesus Lord, give them [the dead] rest).

The hymn was not composed for funerals. Actually it was composed by Thomas of Celano in the 13th century as an Advent Hymn. Yes, that’s right an Advent hymn. Don’t forget that Advent isn’t just about getting ready for Christmas, it is about getting ready for the Second Coming of the Lord. And that is what this hymn is really about. At this time of year, as the the leaves fall and summer turns to winter, we are reminded of the passing of all things. The Gospels we read are those that remind us of death and the judgment to come.

Journey with me into the beauty and solemn majesty of this hymn. I will give you an inspiring English translation by W J Irons, one that preserves the meter and renders the Latin close enough. A few comments from me along the way but enjoy this largely lost masterpiece and mediation on the Last Judgment. (You can see the Latin Text along with English here: Dies Irae)

The hymn opens on the Day of Judgement warning that the day will reveal God’s wrath upon all injustice and unrepented sin. God’s wrath is his passion to set things right. And now it is time to put an end of wickedness and lies:

    • Day of wrath and doom impending,
    • Heaven and earth in ashes ending:
    • David’s words with Sibyl’s blending.

And all are struck with a holy fear! No one  and no thing can treat of this moment lightly: all are summoned to holy fear. The bodies of the dead come forth from their tombs at the sound of the trumpet and will all of creation answer to jesus, the Judge and Lord of all:

    • Oh what fear man’s bosom rendeth
    • When from heaven the judge descendeth
    • On whose sentence all dependeth!
    • Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth,
    • Through earth’s sepulchers it ringeth,
    • All before the throne it bringeth.
    • Death is struck and nature quaking,
    • All creation is awaking,
    • To its judge an answer making.
    • Lo the book exactly worded,
    • Wherein all hath been recorded,
    • Thence shall judgement be awarded.
    • When the Judge his seat attaineth,
    • And each hidden deed arraigneth:
    • Nothing unavenged remaineth.

Judgment shall be according to our deeds, whatever is in the Book  (Rev 20:12; Romans 2:6)! Ah but also in God’s Word is the hope for mercy and so our hymn turns to ponder the need for mercy and appeals to God for that mercy:

    • What shall I frail man be pleading?
    • Who for me be interceding?
    • When the just are mercy needing?
    • King of majesty tremendous,
    • Who does free salvation send us,
    • Font of pity then befriend us.
    • Think kind Jesus, my salvation,
    • Caused thy wondrous incarnation:
    • Leave me not to reprobation.
    • Faint and weary thou hast sought me:
    • On the cross of suffering bought me:
    • Shall such grace be vainly brought me?
    • Righteous judge for sin’s pollution,
    • Grant thy gift of absolution,
    • Before the day of retribution.
    • Guilty now I pour my moaning:
    • All my shame and anguish owning:
    • Spare, O God my suppliant groaning.
    • Through the sinful Mary shriven,
    • Through the dying thief forgiven,
    • Thou to me a hope has given.

Yes there is a basis for hope! God is rich in mercy and, pondering the Day of Judgment is salutary since for now we can call on that mercy. And, in the end it is only grace and mercy that can see us through that day:

    • Worthless are my tears and sighing:
    • Yet good Lord in grace complying,
    • Rescue me from fire undying.
    • With thy sheep a place provide me,
    • From the goats afar divide me,
    • To thy right hand do thou guide me.
    • When the wicked are confounded,
    • Doomed to flames of woe unbounded:
    • Call me with thy saints surrounded.
    • Lo I kneel with heart-submission,
    • See like ashes my contrition:
    • Help me in my last condition.

 And now comes the great summation: That Day is surely coming! Grant me O lord your grace to be ready:

    • Lo, that day of tears and mourning,
    • from the dust of earth returning.
    • Man for judgement must prepare him,
    • Spare O God, in mercy spare him.
    • Sweet Jesus Lord most  blest,
    • Grant the dead eternal rest.

A masterpiece of beauty and truth if you ask me. Some years ago I memorized most of it. I sing it from time to time over in Church late at night, the hauntingly beautiful chant rings through the echoing arches of our Church. When I die sing it at my funeral!  For I go to the Lord, the judge of all and only grace and mercy will see me through. Perhaps the plaintive calls of the choir below at my funeral will resonate to the very heavens as I am judged. And maybe the Lord will look at me and say,

    • I think they’re praying for you down there, asking mercy.”
    • “Yes, Lord, mercy.”
    • “They’re making a pretty good case.”
    • Yes Lord, mercy.
    • Then mercy it shall be


Dies Irae from elena mannocci on Vimeo.

Catholicism and Car Sales

OK Y’all, there’s been some heavy weather here on the blog of late and it’s time for a little humor. The following video is a little glimpse into the humorous culture of Catholicism.

I want to say that I sometimes feel like the Deacon salesman in this video as I try to get people back to sacraments and regular Church attendance! I also remember that, some years ago, in the Catholic Standard, our Archdiocesan Newspaper, a certain Deacon who was also a car dealer used to advertise each week. He loved to point out that he was a permanent Deacon at such-and-so a parish. There was more than a hint in his add that he had a special deal for practicing Catholics: An outrageously low price for a new or used car! Just bring a Church Bulletin and get the discount!  Hey,  why not. I think if I’d been in the market for a car I might of just paid him a visit!

Anyway, enjoy this rather humorous and well done video.

The Problem of Privatized Religion

Some years ago I preached a sermon that covered the Christian and Biblical teaching on Hell. I believe the Gospel that day was from Matthew 7:13ff  wherein Jesus warns that we should strive to enter through the narrow gate and declares that, “The road that leads to destruction is wide and many follow it. But the road that leads to salvation is narrow and the way is hard and how few there are who find it. I preached what I thought was a very balanced teaching on hell and also the reason it made sense as a doctrine. After the Mass a woman approached me and said, “I didn’t hear the Jesus I know in your words today.” “But mam,” I said,  “I was quoting Jesus!’  Unfazed she replied, “We know he never really said those words, the Church merely invented them to scare us.”

There is a tendency for many to “privatize” the faith today. The faith communally declared and held by the Church is considered adaptable by them. They chose rather to have a private faith, a personal doctrine. Pope’s bishops, catechisms and creeds are all rejected in favor of a private, personal and ultimately self-serving and egotistical private doctrine. Those who scoff at the need for a Pope become pope themselves. Not content with the faith revealed in the Scriptures and in Church teaching have chosen to refashion the faith in a way that pleases them. In effect they invent their own religion and their own “designer” god. The God of the Bible does not suit them, so they make up a new one. I think the Scriptures have a word for crafting your own God and worshiping it: “idolatry.”

Bishop Tobin of Providence Rhode Island has entered into a rather public discussion with Congressman Patrick Kennedy who claims that he is still a faithful Catholic despite a consistent record of voting to fund abortion. In his own words Kennedy says, The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic. Hmm…sounds like privatized religion to me. The communal consensus of Catholic faith going back 2000 years is not “essential” to his being a Catholic. Rather, he has a privatized faith. Bishop Tobin, his bishop,  has rejected any such notion and strongly teaches that one cannot merely redefine Catholicism according to their own whim. Here are excerpts from his statement released today:

….[W]hen someone rejects the teachings of the Church, especially on a grave matter, a life-and-death issue like abortion, it certainly does diminish their ecclesial communion, their unity with the Church….The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” says this: “Mindful of Christ’s words to his apostles, ‘He who hears you, hears me,’ the faithful receive with docility the teaching and directives that their pastors give them in different forms.” (#87)….If you don’t accept the teachings of the Church [Congressman] your communion with the Church is flawed, or in your own words, makes you “less of a Catholic.”….Being a Catholic means that you’re part of a faith community that possesses a clearly defined authority and doctrine, obligations and expectations. It means that you believe and accept the teachings of the Church, especially on essential matters of faith and morals; that you belong to a local Catholic community, a parish; that you attend Mass on Sundays and receive the sacraments regularly; that you support the Church, personally, publicly, spiritually and financially.

Congressman, I’m not sure whether or not you fulfill the basic requirements of being a Catholic….Your letter also says that your faith “acknowledges the existence of an imperfect humanity.” Absolutely true. But in confronting your rejection of the Church’s teaching, we’re not dealing just with “an imperfect humanity” – as we do when we wrestle with sins such as anger, pride, greed, impurity or dishonesty. We all struggle with those things, and often fail. Your rejection of the Church’s teaching on abortion falls into a different category – it’s a deliberate and obstinate act of the will; a conscious decision that you’ve re-affirmed on many occasions. Sorry, you can’t chalk it up to an “imperfect humanity.” Your position is unacceptable to the Church and scandalous to many of our members. It absolutely diminishes your communion with the Church.

Perhaps most key to our discussion here are these words of Bishop Tobin: being a Catholic means that you’re part of a faith community that possesses a clearly defined authority and doctrine, obligations and expectations. But many today do not want to be part of a community with clearly defined authority and and doctrine. They want instead a private religion that answers to no one. They want a religion they can define on their own and still claim to belong to the community, a community  they really want little to do with if it comes to soemthing they don’t like. Some go even further and insist on a designer God who has exactly their understanding, their priorities, their views. This god is made in their own image and is an idol. The “Jesus I know” over-rules the Jesus of Scripture. The reinvented god trumps the God revealed in the Scriptures.

Privatized religion and a designer God, these are surely signs that point to the arrogance and ego-centricity of our times. The challenge for all of us is to have the true faith, the faith of the Church, the faith and the God revealed in Scripture. Anything less is privatized religions, worse yet heresy’ a designer God, worse yet, idolatry.

Natural Law is Not New

The Natural Law Tradition of the Catholic Church is often criticised by some Protestants and more often by secularists. Some think of it as merely an invention of the scholastic period. Others (esp. some of the Protestants) think we should limit our discourse to the Scriptures alone. But Catholicism has always seen God’s revelation in broader terms that Scripture alone. To be sure, Scripture along with Sacred Tradition is revelation it is clearest manifestation. But creation too is revelation from God and speaks to his will and to his attributes.

Natural Law, far from being an invention of the Middle Ages is enshrined in Scripture. We find it in the Wisdom Tradition of the Scriptures and also in the New Testament. Most clearly, St. Paul points to it in the Letter to the Romans:

What may be known about God is plain to [the Gentiles],  because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Rom 1:19-20)

Notice that St. Paul does not speak of murky sort of revelation vaguely noticeable in creation but rather a revelation that can be “clearly seen.” Paul does not call this revelation “natural law” (that designation would come later) but what we now call Natural Law is what Paul is speaking of here.

Further, the concept of “Logos” present in the prologue to St. John’s Gospel also enshrines Natural Law premises. The ancient Jews, particularly those who collected the Wisdom Tradition in the Scriptures (Books such as Wisdom, Sirach, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs etc.) understood that the created world has a Logike (a kind of Logic) based on the fact that God made it through his Logos (Word). When God spoke creation into existence through his Word (Logos) his Logos sets things forth with a Logike(logic) that is discernible and could be studied to make one wise in the ways (the logic) of God. We have come to call this scriptural teaching, Natural Law. In effect we can discern a logic of rationality to what God has made and come to know of God and his will for us.

As a final example of the antiquity of Natural Law in the I would like to share excerpts from one of the Church Fathers, Athanasius who teaches on in his great work, “Against the Arians.” In this excerpt Athanasius uses the term “Wisdom” but the teaching, as you shall see is the same as the Logos tradition and what we have come to call “Natural Law.”  Here are excerpts:

An impress of Wisdom has been created in us and in all his works. Therefore, the true Wisdom which shaped the world claims for himself all that bears his image…Wisdom himself is not created, because he is the Creator, but by reason of the created image of himself found in his works, he speaks [of himself] as if he were a creature, and he says: The Lord created me in his works, when his purpose first unfolded.   The likeness of Wisdom has been stamped upon creatures in order that the world may recognise in it the Word who was its maker and through the Word come to know the Father. This is Paul’s teaching: What can be known about God is clear to them, for God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature has been there for the mind to perceive in things that have been made….So there is a wisdom in created things, as the son of Sirach too bears witness: The Lord has poured it out upon all his works, to be with men as his gift, and with wisdom he has abundantly equipped those who love him….and in the light of this wisdom the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims the work of his hands. –  Discourse “Against the Arians” by St Athanasius

Hence we see a valuable and very ancient pearl in what we have come to call Natural Law. In these secular times the testimony of Natural Tradition gives us something of a basis to address a world that rejects the authority of Scripture. The use of Scripture may still be best in the circle of believers, (though even there the testimony of Natural Law should not be overlooked), but Natural Law can provide a possible basis for discussion with non-believers. Even here, there are challenges today. In an age as “skeptical” as ours the plain testimony of “reality” is not so plain to some who radically doubt that we can or should derive moral norms from things that appear in creation. Still Natural Law at least provides some navigating points for a discussion with most non-believers.

One of the glories of the Catholic Church is our rich appeal to several sources for truth. Scripture surely ranks first but Sacred Tradition supplies us additional revelation in addition an interpretive key for the Scriptures. Further, Natural Law, attested to in the Scriptures also supplies a witness to the truth about God and it reveals his glory. This is the broad and beautiful foundation upon which the Catholic faith rests.

The following video sets forth the challenges that a radical skepticism poses and illustrates why the Natural Law is a precious gift to be recovered and respected.

I’m in the Holy Land this week until November 8th. I have scheduled blogs that will appear each day while I’m away so stay tuned! My participation in the comments however may be a little light since my time with the internet will be sporadic. Comments will be moderated by someone else on the team and I’ll participate when I can. – Msgr Pope.