Do We Need a New Word for Marriage?

Here in Washington DC today Gay and Lesbian couples lined up to apply for “Marriage”  Licenses. It is a simple fact that word “marriage” as we have traditionally known it is being redefined in our times. To many in the secular world the word no longer means what it once did and when the Church uses the word marriage we clearly do not mean what the DC City Council means.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines Marriage in the following way:

The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament (CCC # 1601)

The latest actions by the DC Council, along with Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Iowa have legally redefined the term marriage. Other states will likely join the list. The secular world’s definition of marriage no longer even remotely resembles what the Catechism describes.

To be fair, this is not the first redefinition of marriage that has occurred in America. The redefinition has actually come in three stages:

  1. In 1969 the first no-fault divorce law was signed in California. Within 15 years every state in this land had similar laws that made divorce easy. No longer did state laws uphold the principle which the Catechism describes as a partnership of the whole of life. Now marriage was redefined as a contract easily broken by the will of the spouses.
  2. The dramatic rise in contraceptive use and the steep drop in birthrates, though not a legal redefinition, amount to a kind of cultural redefinition of marriage as described in the Catechism which sees the procreation and education of offspring as integral to its very nature. Now the American culture saw this aspect as optional at the will of the spouses.
  3. This final blow completes the redefinition of marriage which the Catechism describes as being  a covenant, …which a man and a woman establish between themselves. Now secular American culture is removing even this, calling same-sex relationships “marriage”.

Proposal:  So the bottom line is that what the secular world means by the word “marriage” is not even close to what the Church means. Is it time for us to accept this and start using a different word? Perhaps it is and I would like to propose a new (really an old) term and hear what you think. I propose that we should exclusively refer to marriage in the Church as “Holy Matrimony.”  According to this  proposal the word marriage would be set aside and replaced by Holy Matrimony. It should be noticed that the Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to this Sacrament formally as “The Sacrament of Matrimony.”

The word matrimony also emphasizes two aspects of marriage: procreation and heterosexual complimentarity. The word comes from Latin and old French roots. Matri = “mother”  and mony, a suffix indicating “action, state, or condition.”  Hence Holy Matrimony refers to that that holy Sacrament wherein a woman enters the state that inaugurates an openness to motherhood. Hence the Biblical and Ecclesial definition of  Holy Matrimony as heterosexual and procreative is reaffirmed by the term itself. Calling it HOLY Matrimony distinguishes it from SECULAR marriage.

To return to this phrase “Holy Matrimony” is to return to an older tradition and may sound archaic to some but at least it isn’t as awkward sounding as “wedlock.” But clearly a new usage will be difficult to undertake. It is one thing to start officially referring to it as Holy Matrimony. But it is harder when, for example, a newly engaged couple approaches the priest and says, “We want to be married next summer.” It seems unlikely we could train couples to say,  “We want to be wed next summer.” or to say, “We want to have a wedding next summer.”  Such dramatic changes seem unlikely to come easily. Perhaps we cannot wholly drop the terms “marry” and  “married.” So the more modest form of the proposal is that we at least officially discontinue the use of the word marriage and refer to it as the “Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.”

What do you think? Do we need to start using a new word for marriage? Has the word been so stripped of meaning that we have to use different terminology to convey what we really mean?

Only Shades of Gray: A Critique of Moral Relativism in a Monkees Song?

There is a song about the sadness of moral relativism in an unusual place: “The Greatest Hits of the Monkees.” Some who are old enough may remember growing up with the songs of the Monkees. I confess their song “Only Shades of Gray” was not one I remember well from those days. But it is a fascinating song about moral relativism. Some think it’s just a song about growing up. But to most it speaks of a time when things were more certain and compares it to these more modern times when it seems everything is disputed and up for grabs, no more black and white, only shades of gray. It is all the more poignant that the song was written in the turbulent 60s and perhaps represented the anxiety generated by those times when just about everything was being thrown overboard.

Now I know that it is wrong to point any particular age as the “golden age.” Scripture itself warns against this: Do not say: How is it that former times were better than these? For it is not in wisdom that you speak this (Ecclesiastes 7:10). I am also aware that not everyone feels the same about the “good old days.” For some they were not all that good. We should not forget the terrible wars of the early half of the 20th Century. Further, I serve in a parish that is predominantly African American and for many of my parishioners previous days featured “Jim Crow” laws, disenfranchisement, lynching and enforced segregation.

And yet, it remains also true that some fifty years ago we had a much wider consensus on basic moral teachings and appropriate behaviors. Pre-marital sex was considered gravely wrong and guarded against. Remember chaperons and separate dormitory facilities? Easy divorce and remarriage was considered wrong. Abortion was illegal, it never even entered our minds to give children contraceptives. There was also strong consensus against homosexual activity. Families were larger and most were intact. There was also a general appreciation of the role of faith and prayer in American life. I could go on but perhaps this is enough.

Here too I can hear the objections: “We might have had those standards but we didn’t live them well….Things went on behind the scenes, families weren’t perfect, many kids still had sex etc. etc….” But I will respond by saying, At least we had those standards and saw them as truths to be respected. It is an extreme measure, a kind of nihilism, to say that since we do not live up to our standards perfectly we should not have them at all.

And I also know we were more wrong about some things in the past. We were more racist and less open to legitimate diversity, less concerned about pollution. But here too it is extreme to say that because we were wrong about some things in the past the whole thing should be thrown out. Why not keep the best and purify what is needed?

So here we are today, is a radically relativistic time where there is less and less agreement about the most basic of moral issues. And, without a common basis for discussion, such as Natural Law, or the Judeo-Christian worldview we are left to a battle of wills, an increasing power struggle where the one who shouts the loudest, has the most money, wins an election or has the most access wins, at least for the moment. Reason and principles increasingly do not transcend political, economic and social distinctions. There are fewer and fewer shared values that every one agrees on no matter what their party or background. Whatever our struggles of the past, we used to agree on more. Many of those certainties have been replaced by a wide presumption that everything is just shades of gray.

Listen to the song. Don’t forget my disclaimers. I do not propose a simplistic old=good; new=bad scenario. I just write to provoke thought. Please feel free to comment. I couldn’t find a good video of the Monkees performing the song (I think copyright may be involved) so I have included a group that sings it a lot like the Monkees did. First the words, then the video.

  • When the world and I were young,
  • Just yesterday.
  • Life was such a simple game,
  • A child could play.
  • It was easy then to tell right from wrong.
  • Easy then to tell weak from strong.
  • When a man should stand and fight,
  • Or just go along.
  • Refrain:
  • But today there is no day or night
  • Today there is no dark or light.
  • Today there is no black or white,
  • Only shades of gray.
  • I remember when the answers seemed so clear
  • We had never lived with doubt or tasted fear.
  • It was easy then to tell truth from lies
  • Selling out from compromise
  • What to love and what to hate,
  • The foolish from the wise.
  • It was easy then to know what was fair
  • When to keep and when to share.
  • How much to protect your heart
  • And how much to care.

Are You”Scientifically Illiterate!?”Someone Thinks You Are.

I recently heard an interview with Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum two authors of a book published this past August entitled Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future. In the book they claim most Americans are scientifically illiterate. They try to explore why many Americans are skeptical of what the authors term “good science” and why we seem to accept what they call “bad science.”  I would like to add a dimension to the conversation that they did not cover, namely, how science has edged over into the religious world by demanding a kind of faith. This movement beyond the proper boundaries of science has caused the public not to be “illiterate” so much as skeptical.  Allow me to begin by stating some basic premises.

  1. Science it seems to me is fundamentally about what is material and measurable. It is true that there are some areas on the cutting edge of science such as quantum that defy simply measurement, but most fundamentally science is about what we can physically measure, observe and quantify. The realm of science is the material world. Further, the scientific method and peer review remain essential components of the world of science. Now I say all this with respect. I think sometimes we ask too much of science. When a scientist will not postulate a personal God or does not accept biblical texts as raw data,  he does not lack faith necessarily, he is staying within his realm. To ask him to affirm some theological point or to use scripture in his reasoning is asking too much. The world of science is circumscribed by the material and the measurable. Many things of faith are not material or measurable. This does not make them less true but does place them outside the realm of what science can speak of.
  2. Faith on the other hand has a broader realm. As believers we not only accept the measurable and the material but also the spiritual and the authority of revealed truth. We are free to accept science into our world in a way that science is not free to accept us into theirs. Since it is a Catholic instinct that all truth is one and that truth cannot contradict truth, we can with some confidence joyfully accept the truth which science uncovers as affirming what we already believe. As we shall see this has to be done with some discernment for not all which is called science is settled or demonstrably true.
  3. But we have limits too. Although we are able to accept much of science into our world it also remains true that our faith imposes some limits. This is particularly true today since science not only measures the material world, it has enabled us to exert a significant amount of control over the material world. But simply because we can control does not mean we always should. Our moral tradition imposes limits on what we as Catholic Christians can accept insofar as controlling the material goes. Most recently the biggest area of tension is in the area of bioethics to include things such as embryonic stem cell research, abortifacients, cloning etc. Here there are tensions between the scientific world and the world of faith.
  4. But let’s be clear the Church is not and should not be intrisically “anti-science.” We ought to respect science and it’s boundaries and insist on proper limits when necessary. Some may argue that in the past when the Church has had more power we may have transgressed into the world of science inappropriately. While I do not think that every charge against the Church in this regard is true or fair, it seems clear enough that there were some regrettable moments of overstepping in our past. Yet it remains true that the Church has also been the patron of science. Through our universities and hospitals Catholics have well shown respect for science. Priests and religious have been among noted scientists.

But I want to propose that it is often science that oversteps its boundaries today and that this is what has led to what the authors above call “scientific illiteracy.” Some basic departures from the limits of science and the increasing demand that we simply put faith in what scientists say are very evident today and have led to a more general cynicism and skepticism on the part of the public toward scientific claims. What our authors call “illiteracy” may be rooted in doubt that science is all that pure anymore.

  1. “Settled Science” exaggeration– Some in the scientific world often request a kind of faith on the part of the public that what they claim is proved beyond doubt and is settled science. But the fact is, even so-called settled science changes a lot. I am only 48 and recall that when I was a young child being taught that the universe was in a steady state. But in the 1960s this basic scientific presumption yielded to the current expanding universe theory wherein the universe is expanding outward at a rather remarkable rate. When this theory was first proposed many scientists balked at the notion for it unsettled many notions of the universe. But rather sweepingly this theory has now gained almost universal acceptance. The proof for this dynamic expansion is the red shift indicating movement in the stars away from us. While it seems unlikely that we will go back to some other theory it always remains possible that the theory of the universe may shift to something else if new data becomes available. What was considered settled science wasn’t all that settled after all. Further, when I was in High School we were gravely informed by our teachers and the media that we were heading for a new ice age. By the year 2000 we should expect a major expansion of the ice caps and increasingly frigid winters in the north. Well 20 years later we were being told that global warming threatened everything. But which is or was the settled science? Cooling or warming (More on this later). The Theory of Evolution is often called settled science but it is just a theory and  the fact is that the fossil record raises serious questions about the theory as it is currently proposed. The fossil record shows that species appear and disappear suddenly and do not just morph into each other.  And we were all told without any doubt that there were nine planets in our solar system. Oops looks like that isn’t so sure either. When is s a planet not a planet? When it’s a planetoid of course! All sorts of other little examples come to mind: coffee is good,  coffee is bad. A glass of red wine is good, not it’s not. This causes cancer, well no it actually doesn’t and is in fact good because it has anti-oxidants (whatever they are). Now there may in fact be some things we can call settled science but the fact is that some scientists often demand a faith of the general public that is beyond what science should ask. Science steps out of its boundaries when it starts asking for a faith that certain things are settled when in fact they are not, or may realistically change. Many theories have come and gone and the public is not illiterate or stupid to remain less than enthusiastic about the latest claims of science. The latest findings may in fact be only that, the latest findings.
  2. Advocacy Science– As stated above science is about the material and the measurable. In it’s purest form science has deep reverence for data and the scientific method demands that theories be tested and the results be replicable. Intense peer review, testing, checking and analyzing of data, examining alternative explanations and so forth are all essential parts of science. But in recent years there has been a noticeable shift away from the careful world of true science on the part of some scientists. The media plays a big role in this. Also, grabbing up limited funding often requires that scientists behave more like salesmen. Publicity brings in bigger dollars for research so some scientist have left the careful world of scientific precision and taken up an edgy, provocative style that often exaggerates and goes beyond what the data actually say. They manifest a kind a religious fervor that may be appropriate for religion but not for science. Again this is not true of all or even most scientists, but there are enough engaged in this sort of hyperbole that the public again becomes suspicious that we are dealing with pure science here. When science steps out of the lab and begins to aggressively advocate for public policy shifts, funding priorities, taxes etc. it has left the scientific world and entered politics. It is unrealistic for scientists who walk into the political world and begin to advocate to expect the public to take their white coat so seriously any more. When science becomes about money and public policy and less about data it has left the world of pure science and cannot demand that it be treated as pure, objective, unbiased and just about the data. There is almost a religious proselytizing evident in some. The most obvious example of all this is the global warming (climate change) controversy. Many have suspected for years that this was not pure science but rather advocacy science, more about money and politics than about real science. Recent and persistent revelations about the data having been manipulated, a lack of peer review, poor source data and even the destruction of data lend great credibility to these charges. The chief proponent of this theory and Director of Climate Research at the East Anglia University, Phil Jones has stepped aside over this scandal. Things like this go a long way to show that the general public may not be “illiterate” in terms of science but is in fact skeptical. When science demands faith and that the public make major changes but does not level with us as to the theoretical nature of its propositions it has strayed beyond science.
  3. There’s more to life than Science– This final critique is not directed at science per se but at our culture. There has been a tendency in our culture to emphasize the material and the measurable. But there are many things in life that cannot be measured or quantified. Justice, mercy and compassion are very real but they cannot be reduced to mere math. Love, joy, serenity, all real but not produced to a test tube or able to be put on a chalk  board. The existence of God who many know to be very real cannot be found under a microscope and God cannot be reduced to a computer algorithm. But there are some in our culture who so exalt science and materialism that anything outside their world “isn’t real.” Therefore for some who see only science as revelatory, faith is unreal and it is fantasy. It can’t be “proven” using the scientific method etc. Here too is a failure to recognize the limits of science. As I have said I see this as more of a cultural issue than of science per se. This sneering at faith and things outside pure science is a source for many in the public who are skeptical of science to some extent. Most people know that life is not just mechanistic, that everything can’t simply be quantified. A scientist may declare that drinking coffee is bad  but everyone doesn’t stop drinking coffee. Why, because they are illiterate? Not necessarily. Life has trade-offs. Coffee is about more than biology. It’s about relaxing, its about a small euphoria, it’s about socializing, its about taste, flavor, aroma, it’s about a lot of things.

So maybe we are not so illiterate after all. Surely it is helpful if we learn more of what science has to teach. But science is only one part of life. It is exists in the world of the material and measurable and we human beings live in the wider world, the world of faith, the world of love, the world  of wonder, the world that accepts some trade-offs and that life is not about one thing or view but about many. As Christians we ought to joyfully accept what science can offer us but also realize its limits. We should respect the limits that science has, that it cannot and should not theologize. But it is not wrong to ask science to respect its own limits too. And when it does stray into politics or faith and makes demands that we accept on faith as settled things that are not settled, or when our culture idolizes science as the only thing, we are not illiterate to tune out or to object. We are insisting on proper boundaries and that science not try to become religion or politics.

This old film from the Moody Bible Institute is a pretty good example of one way faith and science can work together. For the believer science helps us to develop the gifts of wonder and awe. God has done marvelous things. Science helps us to see just how marvelous as this film shows.

Beware of the Solists! (or) It’s Not Good to Be Alone

There are a lot of “Solos” sung by our Protestant brethren: Sola Fide (saved by faith alone); Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone is the rule of faith); sola gratia(grace works alone). (See the Protestant Logo to the right). Generally one ought to be suspicious and careful of claims that things work alone. It is our usual experience that things work together in harmony with other things and are interrelated. Very seldom is anyone or anything alone.

The problem of the “solos” emerges, it seems to me, in our minds where it is possible to separate things out. But the fact is, just because we can separate out something in our mind does not mean that we can separate it in reality. Consider a candle flame for a moment. In my mind I can separate the heat of the flame from the Light of the flame. But in reality I could never take  a knife and put the heat over to one side and the light off to the other. In reality the heat and light are inseparable, so together as to be one.

I would like to respectfully argue that it is the same withthings like faith and works, grace and transformation, Scripture and the Church. We can separate all these things out in our mind but in reality they are one. Attempts to separate them from what they belong to lead to grave distortions and to the thing in question no longer being what it is claimed to be. Rather it turns into an abstraction that exists only on a blackboard or in the mind of a (geeky) theologian.

Let’s look at the three main “solos” of Protestant theology. I am aware that there are non-Catholic readers of this blog so please understand that my objections are made in respect . I am also aware that in a short blog I may oversimplify an thus welcome additions, clarifications etc. in the comments.

Solo 1: Faith alone (sola fide).For 400 years Catholics and Protestants have debated the question of faith and works. In this matter we must avoid a caricature of one another’s positions. Catholics do not and never have taught that we were saved by works. For heaven’s sake we baptize infants! We fought off the Pelagians. But neither do Protestants mean by “faith” a purely intellectual acceptance of the existence of God as many Catholics think they do.

But what concerns us here is the detachmentof faith from works as the phrase “Faith alone” implies. So let me ask, What is faith without works? Can you point to it? Is it visible? Introduce me to someone who has real faithbut no works. I don’t think they can be found. About the only example I can think of is a baptized infant! But oops, that’s a Catholic thing!  🙂  (Pardon me for having some fun). Hence it seems that faith alone is something of an abstraction. It is something that we can separate from works only in our minds but not in reality. If faith is a transformative relationship with Jesus Christ it seems we cannot remain unchanged by our entering into that relationship with him. This change affects our behavior, our works. Even in the case of infants it is possible to argue that they are changed and do have “works” it’s just that we cannot easily observe them. Scripture affirms that faith is never alone, that such a concept is an abstraction.  Faith without works is dead (James 2:26) It is not really faith at all since faith does not exist by itself  but is always present with and causes works through love. Galatians 5:6 says: For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith working through love. Hence faith works not alone, but through love. Further as Paul states in 1 Corinthians 13:2 if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. Hence faith alone is a null set, it is nothing in that it does not exist. True faith is never alone, it bears the fruit of love and works of holiness. Faith ignites love and works through it. Beware the solo  “faith alone” and ask where faith, all by itself can be found.

Solo 2: Grace alone (sola gratia). As for grace alone, this too is a puzzling claim since grace by its very nature changes us. Again, show me grace apart from works. That is an abstraction. It cannot be found apart from its effects. In our mind it may exist as an idea but in reality it is never alone. Grace builds on nature and transforms it. It engages the person who responds to its urges and gifts. If grace is real it will have it’s effects and cannot be found alone or apart from works. It cannot be found  apart from a real flesh and blood human who is manifesting its effects.

Solo 3: Scripture alone (sola Scriptura) – Finally beware the soloists who say Sola Scriptura! Namely the claim that Scripture alone is the measure of faith and the sole authority for the Christian. There are several problems with this.

  1. First, Scripture as we know it (with the full New Testament) was not fully assembled and agreed upon until the 4th Century and it was Catholic Bishops in union with the Pope who made the decision as to what books belonged in the Bible. The early Christians could not possibly live by sola scriptura.
  2. Secondly, until recently most people could not read. Kind of strange that God would make a book the sole rule of faith. Even today large numbers of people in the world still cannot read well.
  3. Thirdly, and most importantly, if all you have is a book,  that book still needs to be interpreted accurately. Without a valid and recognized interpreter the book can well serve to divide more than unite. It this not the experience of Protestantism which now has tens of thousands of denominations all claiming to read the same Bible but interpreting it in rather different manners? The problem is if no one is Pope everyone is Pope!  Protestantism claims that everyone alone with a Bible and the Holy Spirit can authentically interpret Scripture. Well then why does the Holy Spirit tell some that baptism is necessary for salvation and to others no.  Why the Holy Spirit tell some that the Eucharist really is Christ body and blood and others only a symbol? Why does the Holy Spirit say to some Protestants “Once saved always saved” and to others, “No” ?? So it seems clear that Scripture is not meant to be alone. Scripture itself says this in 2 Peter 3:16 our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, also wrote to you, Our Brother Paul speaking of these things [the Last things] as he does in all his letters. In them there are some things hard to understand that the ignorant and unstable distort to their own destruction, just as they do the other scriptures. Hence Scripture warns that it is quite possible to mis-interpret Scripture. Well then, were is the truth to be found? The Scriptures once again answer this: you should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth. (1 Tim 3:15) Hence Scriptures are not to be read alone. They are a document of the Lord through the Church and must be read in the context of the Church and with the Church’s authoritative interpretation and Tradition. As this quote says, The CHURCH is the pillar and foundation of the truth. The Bible is a Church book and not meant to be read apart from the Church that received the authority to publish it from God.  Scripture is the most authoritative and precious document of the Church but it emanates from the Church’s Tradition and must be understood in the light of it. Further, faith is not alone but works through love, grace is not alone but builds on nature.

Thus the problems of singing solo seems to come down to the fact that we end up with an abstraction. Something that exists in the mind but in reality cannot be found alone. Thus to gloss on a famous passage from Genesis:

It is not good (or even possible) for grace or faith to be alone. It is not good for Scripture to be alone. I, (the Lord) will make a suitable partner for the grace of faith: works. I will make a suitable partner for the Scriptures: the Church. That is why the grace of faith leaves it’s Father and clings to its wife and the two of them becme one. That is why Scripture leaves its Father and joins itself to the Church and the two of them become one.

Ok it’s a little corny. But I couldn’t resist. In end, Beware the solos, it is not good to be alone!

Here is a brief video where Fr. Robert Barron ponders the Protestant point of view that every baptized Christian has the right to authoritatively interpret the Word of God.

What is the Wrath of God?

Not long ago I saw a bottle of hot sauce with the creative name “Wrath of God!” Now that’s gotta be some hot sauce! But what is God’s wrath? It is spoken of often in the scriptures and it is a concept with which we have to be careful. On the one hand we cannot simply dismiss the concept as contradictory to the fact that God is love. But neither can we fail to see God’s wrath apart from his love.

As a followup from yesterday’s blog it seems worthwhile to consider some aspects of the very complicated and reality of the wrath of God. There is not enough space to cover the whole topic in the post but the comments stay open as always for your additions and subtractions. What are some ways that we can explain and understand the wrath of God? Let me propose a few.

The wrath of God is not merely an Old Testament Concept. In fact we find it mentioned quite frequently in the New Testament as well. For example consider the following:

  1. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him. (John 3:36)
  2. The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness (Rom 1:18)
  3. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Rom 12:19)
  4. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things [i.e. sexual immorality] God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. (Eph 5:6)
  5. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thess 5:9)
  6. The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. (Rev 14:19)

And there are at least a dozen other texts from the New Testament that could be referenced but allow these to suffice. So it is clear that the “wrath of God” is not some ancient or primitive concept that the New Testament has dispensed with. And notice too that the wrath of God is not something simply for the end of the world. It is also spoken of in some of the texts above and others not listed as something already operative in certain people.

So what is God’s wrath? And how can we reconcile it with his love?  Consider some of the images, explanations of God’s wrath. None of them all alone explain it but together a picture and understanding may emerge.

  1. Image: God’s wrath is his passion to set things right. We see this image of God’s wrath right at the beginning in Genesis when God cursed Satan and uttered the protoevangelium (the first good news): I will make you and the woman enemies….one of her seed will crush your head while you strike at his heel” (Genesis 3:15). God is clearly angered at what sin has done to Adam and Eve and he continues to have anger whenever he beholds sin and injustice. He has a passion for our holiness. He wants what is best for us. He is angered by what hinders us in this regard. Surely all sins provoke his wrath but there are five sins that especially cry out to heaven: Wilful murder – [Gen. 4:10]; The sin of the Sodomites, [Gen. 18:20; 19:13]; The cry of the people oppressed, [Ex. 3:7-10]; The cry of the foreigner, the widow and the orphan, [Ex. 20:20-22]; Injustice to the wage earner. [Deut. 24:14-5; Jas. 5:4] (cf Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1867). In terms of all sin and injustice and anything that afflicts or hinders the possibility of salvation,  God has a wrathful indignation and a passion to set things right. This is part of his love for us. His wrath may be manifest through punishments, disturbances of our conscience, or simply by allowing us to experience some or all the consequences of our sin and injustice.
  2. Clarification: God’s wrath is not like our anger. In saying that God is angry we ought to be careful to understand that however God experiences anger or any passion, it is not tainted by sin. God is not angry like we are angry. When we get angry we often experience an out of control quality, our temper flares and we often say and do things that are either sinful or at least excessive. It cannot pertain to God to have temper tantrums and to fly off the handle, to admix anger with an unreasonable lashing out. The way God does experience anger is not something we can fully understand but is it surely a sovereign and serene act of his will, not an out of control emotion.
  3. Clarification: God is not moody. It does not pertain to God to have good days and bad days, good moods and bad ones. Scripture seems clear enough when it indicates that God does not Change. Consider this from the Book of James 1:17 Every good and perfect gift comes from above, from the Father of lights, in whom there is no variableness or shadow of turning. Hence to speak of God’s wrath does not mean that he has suddenly had enough or that his temper has flared, or that his mood has soured. God IS. He does not change. As the text says, he is not variable. And this leads us to the next point.
  4. Image: Given what we have said,  the primary location of God’s wrath is not in God,  it is in us. Perhaps the best definition I have heard of God’s wrath is this: God’s wrath is our experience of the total incompatibility of our sinful state before the Holiness of God. Sin and God’s holiness just don’t mix. They can’t keep company. Think of fire and water. They do not mix. They cannot coexist in the same spot. Bring them together and you you can hear the conflict. Think of water spilled on a hot stove and hear the sizzle and popping and the steam as the water flees away. If, on the other hand there is a lot of water the fire is overwhelmed and extinguished . But the point is that they cannot coexist. They will conflict and one will win. This is wrath, the complete incompatibility of two things. It is this way between sin and God’s utter holiness. We must be purified before we can enter the presence of God otherwise we could never tolerate his glory. We would wail and grind our teeth and turn away in horror. The wrath is the conflict between our sin and God’s holiness. God cannot and will not change so we must be changed. Otherwise we experience wrath. But notice the experience is in us primarily and not God. God does not change, he is holy, serene, he is love. If we experience his wrath it is on account of us, not him. Consider the next example.
  5. Image: It is we who change, not God and this causes wrath to be experienced or not –Consider an example. On the ceiling of my bedroom is a light with a 100 watt light bulb. At night before bed I delight in the light. I am accustomed to it. But then at bed time I put out the light and sleep. When I awake it is still dark (at least in the winter). Hence I put the light on. But Ugh! Grrr! Now the light is bright and I curse it! Now mind you, the light has not changed one bit. It is still the same 100 watt bulb it was hours earlier. The light is just the same, it is I who have changed. But do you know what I do? I blame the light and say, “The light is harsh!” But the light is not harsh, it is just the same as when I was happy with it. Now that I have changed I experience its wrath but the wrath is really in me. So also consider the experience of the ancient family of man with God. Adam and Eve walked with God in the cool of the evening when the dew collected on the grass (cf Gen 3:8).  They had warm friendship with him and did not fear his presence. After sin, they hide. Had God changed? He had not, they had and they now experience him very differently. Fast forward to another Theophany. God has come to Mt Sinai and as he descends the people are terrified for there are peals of thunder, lightning, clouds and the loud blast of a trumpet. The people told Moses “You speak to us, but let not God speak, else we will die!” (Ex 20:19) God too warned Moses that the people could not get close  lest his wrath be vented upon them (Ex 19:20-25). Now again, had God changed? He had not. He was the same God who walked with them in the cool of the evening in a most intimate way. It was we who had changed. We had lost the holiness without which no one can see the Lord (Heb 12:14). The same God, unchanged though he was, now seemed to us frightening and wrathful.
  6. What then shall we do? If we can allow the image of fire to remain before us we may well find a hopeful sign in God’s providence. Since God is a holy fire, a consuming fire (cf Heb 12:26; Is 33:14) how can we possibly come into his presence? How can we avoid the wrath that would destroy us? Well, what is the only thing that survives in the presence of fire? Fire is the only thing that survives! So it looks like we’d better become fire if we want to see God. And thus it was that God sent tongues of fire upon the Apostles and us at our confirmation. God wants to set you and me on fire with the Holy Spirit and in holiness. God wants to bring us up to the temperature of glory so that we can stand in his presence: See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty.  But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years. (Mal 3:1-4). And indeed Jesus has now come:   For you have  turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. 1 Thess 1:10-11)

So there is a wrath of God. As I have tried to show it is more in us than in God. But I will not say to you that there is NO wrath IN  God. Scripture seems clear to indicate that wrath does pertain to God’s inner life. What exactly it is and how God experiences it  is mysterious to us. We can say to some extent what it is not (as we did above) but we cannot really say what it is exactly. But far more rich is the meditation that the wrath of God is essentially in us. It is OUR experience of the incompatibility of sin before God. We must be washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb and purified. Most of us will need purification in purgatory too. But if we let the Lord work his saving work we are saved from the wrath for we are made holy and set on fire with God’s love. And fire never fears the presence of fire. God is Love but he will not change. So it is that Love must change us.

One of the greatest cinematic depictions of the Wrath of God occurred in the move the Raiders of the Lost Ark. The Nazi’s sinfully think they can open the Ark and endure the presence of God. What they get is wrath for sin cannot endure the reality of God’s presence. “Enjoy” this clip:

Pat Robertson Gets it Wrong

Enough ink has already been spilled objecting to Pat Robertson’s comments describing Haiti’s disastrous earthquake as the result of a pact they made with the devil 300 years ago. If you’re unfamiliar with the comments you can view the video below. Not only are the remarks insensitive and ill-timed, but they bespeak an flawed mentality common in biblical times that Jesus himself moves away from. I’d like in this post to examine the passages where it seems clear that Jesus himself would have something of a rebuke for Mr. Robertson.

First, just a few facts. Whatever pact Mr. Robertson thinks Haitians made 300 years ago with the Devil, the current population of Haiti is overwhelmingly Catholic and Christian. Approximately 80% of Haitians are Catholic. It is true that there are vestiges of voodoo intermingled with the Catholic Faith of some Haitians. Haitians who observe some voodoo rituals still think of and refer to themselves as Catholic. The Catholic Church to be sure condemns this intermixing of ancient voodoo with Catholicism though it persists in some places, especially in rural areas. But voodoo is not satanism. The Church condemns it as idolatry, not as satanic. False or imperfect  religious practice and intermixing of idolatry are not unique to Haiti. But lets be clear the vast majority of Haitians are Catholic Christians, even if some are imperfectly so, they are NOT worshippers of Satan.

Now, let’s return to Pat Robertson’s remarks. The premise of them seems to be a philosopy not uncommon in biblical wherein those who suffered catastrophic loss must have been guilty of some sort of sin for this misfortune to have happened. Perhaps they were born blind, then their parents must have sinned. Perhaps they were killed in a sudden accident, then they must have sinned. At least this was the thinking.

Now such a thinking carried forward into Jesus’ times  and he both encounters and deals with the attitude. In effect he sets such thinking aside or at least dispenses with the notion that God singles out certain people or groups out for punishment. Let’s look at these texts.

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. (John 9:1-3)

Note how the disciples manifest the typical attitude of the day that it must have been the sin of the man or his parents that he is blind. But Jesus says that he is not blind sue to the fact that he sinned and then goes on to set forth an entirely new understanding that suffering is often an opportunity to manifest the glory of God shining through our human weakness. Suffering and the cross lead to glory. But it is clear that Jesus does not accept the notion advanced by his disciples that link this man’s suffering to his or his parents sin. Hence, even if we were to accept Pat Robertson’s rather questionable historical data that the ancestors of these Haitians made a pact with devil it hardly follows from Jesus’ teaching that they are suffering today due to that. Let’s consider another text:

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)

Here again Jesus refers to the attitude that those who suffer calamities are worse sinners than the rest. He refers to it only to reject it. But then Jesus turns the tables on those with such an attitude and warns them that something far worse than the physical loss of life will await them if they do not repent. He warns them that they will perish unto hell. This much is clear  for he goes on to tell a parable (not reproduced here) of a fig tree that comes under judgement. It will be spared for one year more but it still does not bear fruit it will be cut down and thrown into the fire (cf Luke 13:6-9). So here again, Mr. Robertson’s theory that the Haitians have suffered due to some sin that makes them as the parable puts it worse sinners than all the others,  is rejected quite explicitly by Jesus.

Further, consider the over all approach of Jesus toward the crippled, the lepers, the blind, deaf and others with similar physical maladies. Jesus does not say to any of them that they have these problems due to sin that they or their ancestors committed. He heals them without mention of sin being the cause of their distress. There is one exception to this in the paralyzed man let down through the roof (cf  Mark 2:1-12). When healing him Jesus says, have courage son, your sins are forgiven. This causes a stir among the Pharisees who declare that God alone can forgive sins. To prove his power to forgive sins Jesus heals the paralyzed man. And this seems to be the general context of the passage which is more an affirmation of Jesus’ power to forgive sins than a teaching that the man was paralyzed due to his own sin.

Finally, a couple of disclaimers. Jesus teaching does not exclude ANY relationship between sin and suffering. First of all, in a general sense,  ALL suffering is traced back to Original Sin which brought suffering and death into the world. Secondly there are surely some sufferings we experience in relationship to sins committed. Maybe it is a hangover from too much drinking, or a sexually transmitted disease from fornication, and so forth. But it is not as though we can claim that everyone who suffers anything is guilty of some sin or that God singles some people out for special punishment. These are things we cannot know, especially in the case of natural disasters that affect so many people.

Let’s be honest, most of us have never gotten the the punishment we really deserve. If God were “fair” we’d all be in hell. As it is he is merciful, thanks be to God! To point to others in a disaster and say, “Look at them, they must have sinned” is to invite disaster upon ourselves. Because as Jesus in effect says above “If you think they are worse sinners than you, wake up, I’ve got something coming for you that might be far worse if you don’t shape up.”  So careful Pat Robertson, not only are you at odds with the New Testament and Jesus himself, you also risk a stern warning from Jesus that you repent or experience something far worse.

Pray for the people of Haiti right now.

Jesus is the reason for ANOTHER season – New Years!

How remarkable is it that one man could affect the world so much that our entire calendar system is based on his life and ministry?

What is today’s date?

Once, a man who said that he did not believe in Jesus challenged me. Understand, he was not someone struggling with his faith. Rather, he was obstinate in his disbelief and openly hostile to mine. After listening to his faulty arguments about the non-existence of Christ, I casually asked him for the day’s date. When he responded, I pointed out that his response was based on the life, death and resurrection of a man that supposedly did not exist.

No one else in human history can claim influence over the direction of the world like Christ. No monarch, president or billionaire will ever again change the world to the point that our entire calendar system would be based on his or her life.

Jesus Christ is Lord!

Only a truly divine being could do such a thing. Even without faith in Him, the life of Jesus has touched anyone who has dated a check, booked an airline or hotel reservation, disclosed his or her own birthday or simply answered the question, “What is today’s date?”

2010 AD

In recent years, some have tried to diminish this undeniable fact. For example, some historians have abandoned the designation “A.D.” or “Anno Domini”, which means “Year of our Lord” in favor of the secular “C.E.” which means “Christian Era.” Or “B.C.” or “Before Christ” is replaced with “B.C.E.” or “Before the Christian Era.”  Despite these efforts at secularization, our calendar system is STILL based on the life of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. A rose by any other name is still a rose. So, as we celebrate the New Year, think about the fact that this is may be the one day everyone in the world expresses a belief in Christ, whether they like it or not.

Happy New Year – New Year of our Lord that is!

The Wisdom of Humanae Vitae: Time Has Proved Where Wisdom Lay

A generation has passed since the publication of the boldly pastoral and prophetic encyclical Humanae Vitae which upheld the ancient ban on the use of artificial contraception. Perhaps no teaching of the Church causes the worldly to scoff more than our teaching against artificial contraception. The eyes of so many, Catholics among them, roll and the scoffing begins: Unrealistic! Out of touch! Uncompassionate!  Silly! You’ve got to be kidding!

The Lord Jesus had an answer to those who ridiculed him in a similar way:

“To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: ” ‘We played the flute for you,  and you did not dance;  we sang a dirge and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.” ‘ But time will prove where wisdom lies.”  (Matt 11:16-18)

Indeed, times DOES prove where wisdom lies. Some forty or more years after widespread acceptance of contraception set in how have we done? Perhaps it is best to review some of the “promises” that contraceptive advocates made, then review the prophecies of Paul VI. Then lets review the record, looking at the “fruits” of contraception.

The Promises of the Contraception Advocates:

  1. Happier Marriages and a lower divorce rates since couples could have all the sex they wanted without “fear” of preganancy.
  2. Lower abortion rates since there would be far fewer “unwanted” children.
  3. Greater dignity for women who will no longer be “bound” by their reproductive system.
  4. More recently contraceptive advocates have touted the medical benefits of preventing STDs and AIDS.

What were some of the concerns and predictions made by Pope Paul VI? (All of these are qutoes from Humanae Vitae)

  1. Consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity (Humanae Vitae (HV) # 17)
  2. A general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. (HV # 17)
  3. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection. (HV # 17)
  4. Who will prevent public authorities from…impos[ing] their use on everyone. (HV # 17)

So, forty years later, who had the wisdom to see? The World or the Church? Well lets consider some of the data:

  1. The divorce rate did not decline. It skyrocketed. Divorce rates soared through the 1970s to to the 1990s to almost 50% of marriages failing. In recent years the divorce rate has dropped slightly but this may also be due to the fact that far fewer people get married in the first place, preferring to cohabitate and engage in a kind of serial polygamy drifting from relationship to relationship. The overall divorce rate despite its slight drop remains high, hovering in the low 40% range. Contraceptive advocates claim that divorce is a complicated matter. True enough. But they cannot have it both ways, claiming that contraception would be a “simple”  fix to make marriages happier and then,  when they are so horrifyingly wrong, claiming that divorce is “complicated.” Paul VI on the other predicted rough sailing for marriage in advent of contraception. Looks like the Pope was right.
  2. Abortion rates did not decrease. They too skyrocketed. Within five years the pressure to have more abortion available led to its “legalization” in 1973. It has been well argued that, far from decreasing the abortion rate, contraception actually fueled it. Since contraception routinely fails, abortion became the contraception of last recourse. Further, just as the Pope predicted sexual immorality became widespread and this too led to higher rates of abortion. It is hard to compare promiscuity rates between periods since people “lie” a lot when asked about such things. But one would have to be very myopic not to notice the huge increase in open promiscuity, cohabitation, pornography and the like. All of this bad behavior made more possible by contraceptives also fuels abortion rates. Chalk up another one for the Pope and the Church.
  3. The question of women’s dignity is hard to measure and different people have different measures. Women do have greater career choices. But is career or vocation the true source of one’s dignity? One’s dignity is surely more than their economic and utilitarian capacity. Sadly, motherhood has taken a real back seat in popular culture. And,  as the Pope predicted women have been hypersexualized as well. Their dignity as wives and mothers has been set aside in favor of the sexual pleasure they offer. As the Pope predicted many modern men, no longer bound by marriage for sexual satisfaction, use women and discard them on a regular basis. Men “get what they want” and it seems many women are willing to supply it rather freely. In this scenario men win. Women are often left with STDs, they are often left with children, and as they get older and “less attractive” they are often left alone. I am not sure this is dignity. But you decide who is right and if women really have won in the new morality that contraception helped usher in. I think the Pope wins this point as well.
  4. As for preventing STDs and AIDS, again, big failure. STDs did not decrease and were not prevented. Infection rates skyrocketed through the 1970s and 1980s. AIDS which appeared on the scene later continues to show horribly high rates. Where is the promised deliverance? Contraceptives it seems, do not prevent anything. Rather they encourage the spread of these diseases by encouraging the bad behavior that causes them. Here too it looks like the Church was right and the world was wrong.
  5. Add to this list the huge teenage pregnancy rates, the devastation of single parent families, broken hearts and even poverty. The link to poverty may seem obscure but the bottom line is that single motherhood is the chief cause of poverty in this country. Contraception encourages promiscuity. Promiscuity leads to teenage pregnancy. Teenage pregnancy leads to single motherhood (absent fatherhood).  Single motherhood leads to welfare and poverty. Currently in the inner city over 80% of homes are headed by single mothers. It is the single highest factor related to poverty.
  6. Declining birth rates are also having terrible effects on contracepting cultures. Europe as we have known it is simply going out of existence. I have written on that before HERE: Contraception is Cultural Suicide!  Europe’s future is Muslim. They have huge families. Likewise here in the USA white and African American communities are below replacement level. Thankfully our immigrants are largely Christian and share our American vision. But for the Church the declining birthrates are now resulting in closing schools, parishes, declining vocations and the like. We cannot sustain what we have on a population that is no longer replacing itself. Immigration has insulated us from this to some extent but low Mass attendance has eclipsed that growth and we are starting to shut down a lot of our operations.

Conclusion: Time will prove where wisdom lies.  What have we learned in in over forty years of contraception? First we have learned that it is a huge failure in meeting its promises. It has backfired. It has made things worse, not better. Marriage, families, children have all taken a huge hit. Bad behavior has been encouraged and all the bad consequences that flow from it are flourishing. Most people seem largely disinterested  in this data. Hearts have become numb and minds have gone to sleep. I hope you  are not among them and that you might consider this information well and share it with others. Time HAS proved where wisdom lay. It’s time to admit the obvious.