The Cross is Pregnant with Victory! A Brief Ecclesiology for the Downcast

091713In the parlor of my rectory where I meet with most of my spiritual directees, and others who come to me for counseling or instruction, there is a crucifixion scene, (see photo at right).

Among the many things means, it is for me something of a paradigm of the Church at her darkest moment. How tiny the Church had suddenly become. Gone were the crowds of Galilee which followed the Lord. Gone were the crowds of Palm Sunday shouting Hosanna. Gone were all but one of her first bishops, St. John. One of them (St. Peter) had followed at a distance, and then three times denied he knew the Lord, the rest of those first bishops fled to God knows where.

And now the tiny infant Church was gathered around her Lord at the foot of the cross. Yes, there is the Church, so tiny; only St. John, Mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, Mary Clopas, and perhaps one other. So tiny now, so few.

Yet here was one of her greatest moments. The bride of Christ, the Church mystically united to her groom.

And strange,  though even in this reduced and horribly suffering condition of the Church, Satan’s back was being broken, his power undermined. It is almost a Trojan Horse incident. For, even as Satan gloats over his apparent gift, a surprise waits within, a hidden power that will send him reeling.

And small though the Church has become, she will gain two surprising converts that Good Friday: the good thief, and the centurion. Perhaps not a bad day for a Church reduced to five or six: two converts, plus the breaking of the back of Satan’s power.

I often point to the statute in my parlor. For many come to me at times with great struggles, perhaps feeling defeated, or at least discouraged. I point and remind them that, for those with faith, there is something about being in the crucible, something about the cross that is pregnant with victory. Satan still has his incursions, and his apparent victories. But they are only temporary, they cannot stand. His back was broken Good Friday, and not by a large and triumphant Church, but by a tiny and suffering Church, the Church in the crucible, The Church at the foot of the cross with Christ her groom and head.

Many of us who share this blog together, are often dismayed at the condition of the Church today, and even more, the condition of culture. For those of us who are little older, our discouragement is deepened by the fact that many of us can remember a time when things at least seemed to be greater repair. Our families were largely intact, our churches filled, people seemed generally more able to make commitments and keep them…

The list could go on, but you get the point. Things were far from perfect, but things did seem to be more orderly, and the basic fundamentals necessary for culture, civilization and for the Church were more in place.

Yet, our mind should never stray far from that Good Friday afternoon, the Church so reduced, betrayed by most of her members, even her leaders; yet never more powerful.

There have been days of triumph of the Church, only to see collapse! And then, Victory again! The early days were so marked by suffering and martyrdom, and then suddenly the Edict of Constantine and the Church emerged victorious. Resurrection!

And yet, finally set free, Arianism reared its ugly presence and so many other endless fights ensued, perhaps necessary, over basic doctrines of Christology and the Trinity.

And then the sudden loss of the western flank, as the Roman Empire collapsed and moved to the east, as so-called barbarian tribes swept in to what we call Europe today. St. Augustine was so troubled that he wrote the City of God trying to explain how his beloved Roman Empire, finally having embraced the faith would now fall. St. Jerome, depressed, went to live in a cave. The Cross again.

But the Church struck up a conversation with those barbarians, and began to convert them, first in small numbers, then in waves. Resurrection!

And then, just as things seemed to be improving, all of North Africa, the great cradle of the Church, was lost, almost overnight, laid waste and mowed down by the edge of the Muslim sword. There were once 500 bishops in North Africa, some of the greatest Fathers of the Church had lived there: Augustine, Cyprian, Tertullian, Athanasius, and so many others. And now the great North African part of the Church lay beneath the sand. The Muslims made it across Gibraltar and into the Portugal and Spain before they were turned back. All of Asia Minor so beautifully evangelized by St. Paul, was also lost, lost to the Church! The Muslim invaders made it all the way to the gates of modern Vienna before they were turned back. The Cross again.

But now that North Africa was tragically lost, Europe began to flourish as a kind of Christian civilization was built there: Universities were founded, hospitals too, and the great cathedrals rose. Something called the great “Medieval synthesis” took hold. Resurrection!

And then, all of this to begin to erode with the rise of Nominalism and the Cartesian revolution it would eventually usher in. With intellectual confusion, came an epistemological revolution that severed the connection of the mind to reality, ushered in radical doubt, decadence, the rise of the individual autonomous self, and the rejection of any lawful authority within the Church. The revolution that some called the “Reformation” led to a break of unity, and the Church was once again firmly cast to the foot of the cross to search her own soul and begin a counter reformation. Ecclesia semper reformanda (The Church is always being reformed). The cross again.

Yet even as a million people left the Church in Germany in the Lutheran revolt, our Lady ushered in nine million Mexicans at Guadalupe. Resurrection!

Back in Europe, as wars, rebellion and confusion raged the Church was wracked by division, more Protestant revolts, and the hundred years war. A great darkness was gathering there that would lead to the bloodbath known as the 20th Century: two World Wars, bloody ideological revolutions, an iron curtain and an almost complete loss of faith. The lights were going out in Europe.  The Cross!

Yet, even so, faith began to take hold in the New World, And, though early persecuted, waves of immigrants escaping Europe brought the Catholic faith to the United States in numbers too big to ignore. Even though Europe was racked with confusion and doubt, many fled from there and found in America a remarkable synthesis of faith and culture held in tight knot ethic communities built around parish churches….(With healthy persecution besides!)  Resurrection!

But even America could not ultimately withstand the decadence of Europe and its decline in the post Cartesian centuries. America was eventually drawn into two European World Wars, and the poison of modernism reached our shores. And now there seems to be bewildering, almost demonic decline. The cross again!

And, suddenly, Africa is abloom again. There is a 7,000% increase in the number of Catholics in Africa in the last fifty years. Resurrection!

Yes, it would seem that the Church must often find herself back at the cross. Yet even as we are there now in the West, we must never forget that the Cross is pregnant with victory.

Many look to the Church now with ridicule and declare that we are done and defeated. But they have not studied history, nor do they know the power of God, and that the Cross is pregnant with victory.

Even within the Church there are naysayers who point to glory days and, in fear, announce great woe, and seek to assign blame for the current decline. “Things have never been worse,” they declare. But they too have not studied history (things have been far worse) nor do they seem to remember the power of God.

That the Church is at the foot of the Cross in many ways, at least in the West, in hard to deny, but the Cross is pregnant with victory. Just you wait and see!

Ecclessia semper reformanda! Sed Christus Resurrexit tertia die! Semper! Ubique!

Give me Wisdom! A Reflection on a”Scientific”Report that Calls believers less intelligent than Athiests

By Shubert Ciencia  Licensed under  CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
By Shubert Ciencia Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

It would seem, according to how some people measure intelligence, that those of us who believe in God rank as “less intelligent” than those who do not. A recent report in the “Mail” (a U.K. paper) reports this “fact” as the result of extensive and scientific IQ testing and summarizes what I would call the rather “non-scientific” conclusions of the researchers.

You know the usual drill when I comment on texts. The text of the original report is in bold, black italics, my remarks are in plain red text. I am excerpting a longer article.

The full article by Daniel Bates is HERE. – However,  be forewarned, there are a lot of unchaste and risque photos often appear in the margins of this “news”paper.

Reporter Bates begins:

Atheists tend to be more intelligent than religious people, according to a US study. Researchers found that those with high IQs had greater self-control and were able to do more for themselves – so did not need the benefits that religion provides.

OK, so lets just stipulate that IQ tests are a common way of measuring at least some aspects of intelligence. Of course having a high IQ is no guarantee that one will necessarily navigate life well.

I do terribly on IQ tests, and tests in general. But I do a pretty good job of navigating life. My “smarts” are more verbal and less numerical. I love etymology, I also have a more keen sense of  paradox and symbol, and the mystical connections of many apparently dissimilar things. Not bad strengths for a preacher, teacher and occasional writer.  Of course this type of  “smarts” is less easily measured  in IQ tests, since this sort of intelligence is harder to quantify.

But OK, lets just stipulate that IQ tests have some validity in measuring a certain kind of mechanistic and basic intelligence.

But then our intrepid reporter goes on to claim that the “science” shows that atheists had “greater self control.”  Now honestly, how did they measure that? I am going to guess that “self control,” at least as defined by our reporter, has little to do with what most of us traditionally meant by the term. 

I would tend to think that the term means things like drinking in moderation, not being given to wild carousing and fornication, having authority over one’s emotions like anger and love, being moderate in behavior, frugal in spending,  and so forth.

But something tells me that this understanding of self control has little to do with our author means, or what the “scientists” he claims to reference mean. For it is clear that the modern, and I would add secular and increasingly unbelieving West,  is collectively given to almost every excess and lack of self control: drinking, fornication, pornography, addictions, fornication, carousing, overspending, excesses of every kind. And did I mention fornication?

Of course our intrepid reporter does not define what is meant by self control or how it is measured. But how anyone can connect our modern secular (unbelieving) culture to greater self control is puzzling, to say the least.

Again, I realize that I am among those of lesser intelligence, as a believer, but the correlation between atheism and self control seems to be an inverse one to this observer. In other words, as atheism and secularism have increased in the West, self control has demonstrably decreased during that same period. Just a simple analysis of the debt crisis shows that. Add divorce rates, addiction rates, STD rates etc. and the picture of low self control is consistent. There are many reasons for this but an inverse relationship seems the logical conclusion than to assert unbelievers ipso facto have more self control.

Similar puzzlement arises at the observation that atheists “do more for themselves.” First of all, what does that mean? It is true that Christian believers speak of depending on God. But this does not mean we expect God to be some sort of divine butler. Rather it means that we attribute our strength to God and seek his grace to do our work.

But theology aside, I must say I am mystified at the claim, however it can possibly be measured, that atheists “do more for themselves.” For again the evidence seems (to this admittedly less intelligent believing observer), that as atheism and secularism have risen, so has socialism, wherein increasing numbers expect the central government to do more and more for them.

What evidence is there that (globally) unbelievers and seculars do more for themselves? The big picture suggests just the opposite and correlates the nanny state with increasing secularism and unbelief. Maybe they don’t turn to God, but the State sure has grown.

I realize that the growth of socialism is not wholly attributable to unbelievers. But again I remain puzzled at any claim that anyone, or any group is “doing more for themselves” these days. The whole trend is away from personal responsibility, as it is from self control.

They also have better self esteem and built more supportive relationships, the study authors said.

Here too I would have loved for our intrepid reporter to have asked the “scientists” how “self esteem” is defined and then measured. I do think that Christians may test lower in this area, not because we actually do lack self esteem, but because we have a traditional language that emphasizes humility.

Many modern notions (not all) of self esteem are far too close to simple “pride” and we believers will  be less likely to affirm vague modern notions and statements like: “I feel good about myself…..I like myself just the way I am…” If our tendency to caution regarding pride makes us “less intelligent,” then so be it.

As to “supportive relationships” again, please define. I suppose this could include anything from bowling leagues, to labor unions, to group therapy, and 12-step programs. But how would I know, since the term is undefined. I wonder if “Church” counts, because, frankly that is my biggest source of supportive relationships. I have a funny feeling the testers don’t consider “Church” to be in the realm of “supportive relationships.”

The conclusions were the result of a review of 63 scientific studies about religion and intelligence dating between 1928 and last year.

Notice these are called “scientific” studies. But again many of the claims, at least as reported, are presented in very vague and non-scientific language. Might I even say some of the claims are metaphysical?

Honestly are terms such as “self-control,” “supportive relationships,” “self-esteem,” “benefits,” “do more for themselves” scientific terms at all? Calling a study “scientific” does not make it so.

All the terms above contain a priori  and metaphysical judgments about what is good or not good. And while there may be some methodologies from the social sciences at work, most people have (sadly) reduced the word “science” and “scientific” to the physical sciences. And thus to speak of atheists  being more intelligent that believers as being “scientifically” demonstrated is misleading because it is not how most people use the word today.

The judgment of this scientific study is filled with many non-scientific  judgments about things that cannot simply be quantified, measured or compared. There are complicated social realities at work.  Words such as “better” worse” “esteem” and so forth bespeak a more Metaphysical stance.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for metaphysics, but calling a report “scientific” that indulges in so many metaphysical concepts and judgements is not how people use the word “science” today. As such it is misleading to call this report a “scientific study.”

So finally here comes the money quote:

In 53 of these (studies) there was a ‘reliable negative relation between intelligence and religiosity’. In just 10 was that relationship positive. Even among children, the more intelligent a child was the more probable it was that they would shun the church. The University of Rochester psychologists behind the study defined religion as involvement in some or all parts of a belief. – Vague, to say the least.

They defined intelligence as the ‘ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience’.

Also vague. For example define “ability.” Some people are “genius” at intuition, others at analysis of data, still others are said to have empathic abilities, emotional intelligence, photographic memory and so forth.

Also define “comprehend,” and who gets to say something is complex? For some a Bach fugue is complex but a car engine is easy. For others it is the reverse. etc.

Vague, vague and more vague.

So, if you’re going to call me stupid or even less intelligent, I want clearer parameters.

In their conclusions, they said: ‘Most extant explanations (of a negative relation) share one central theme – the premise that religious beliefs are irrational, not anchored in science, not testable and, therefore, unappealing to intelligent people who ‘know better’. –

Well I guess it takes one to know one. For as we have seen, this study commits the very errors it claims we do. But at least we admit to being in the realm of metaphysics and do not claim to be able to measure things that defy simple measurement. The arrogance of this final quote is so bold as to require little response, res ipsa loquitur (the thing speaks for itself).

And perhaps a final thought from yours truly. I want to say that how ever some one wants to regard my intelligence compared to theirs, or my group (believers) compared to theirs, I will probably take little real offense.

For, at the end of the day it is not so much intelligence that I value as wisdom. Intelligence has its place, and is nice to have. But intelligence is a human thing. Wisdom comes from God and as such is a greater gift. And wisdom need not depend on a lot of formal education. I have met some very wise people who had little formal education. I have also met people who were highly educated, but possessed of little wisdom. I have also met every combination in between.

Wisdom pertains to the things of God, to heaven and our final goal. To be wise is to discover God, to learn of Him and know Him, It is to know also, who I am in God, to grasp the meaning of my life and to move steadily toward my goal of the upward calling in Christ. Wisdom is infused by God who is able to grant it to the simplest and undereducated, or to the most intellectually astute.

But Wisdom is always gift. Intelligence, how ever we adduce it, too easily leads to pride. But Wisdom requires humility and thrives only on it. To be wise is to know that I know only very little, no matter how high my intellectual ranking among men. For as St. Paul once boldly said,

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength….But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor 1:26-31)

So you may call me stupid, or less intelligent. You may call me a fool, but at least add that I was a fool for Christ.

Oremus: Intelligence has its place, but above all Lord, give me your wisdom. Indeed, you have hidden from the learned and clever, what you have reveled to the merest children. Thank you Lord for holy Wisdom. Thank you.

Why? A Simple question often overlooked or suppressed today. But we who believe must keep asking it of a secular world.

080113One of the more common misunderstandings of the modern age, we might even call it a delusion, is to confuse explanation with meaning. Through scientific method and other empirical ways of studying, we have gotten very good at explaining many of the processes and mechanics of the natural world.

But to give explanation, is not the same as to ascribe meaning. To answer how things work is not the same as to answer why.

Why, for example, do things exist at all? Why is there existence vs. nonexistence? Why is there observable order in the universe vs. chaos. Showing for example the wonderful and symbiotic relationship of photosynthesis and describing how it works at the molecular level, does not explain why it is there in the first place. Explanation is not the same as meaning; “how” is not the same as “why.”

The Delusion – Yet, in our modern times, perhaps as a prideful result of being able to explain so much, we often think we have wholly accounted for not just how things work, but why. We have not.  Many today like to argue that the material, or physical sciences have presented a comprehensive explanation for most things. They have not. By definition the physical sciences can only look to the physical interrelationships and secondary causes of things.

Put in philosophical terms, the physical sciences deal pretty well with material and efficient causality, but are not well equipped or able to answer questions of formal or final causality (More HERE and HERE) . Further, the material sciences can address some secondary causality, but not primary Causality (More HERE).

The error of our day, that the physical sciences give a comprehensive explanation for things is often referred to as “scientism.” As Father Robert Barron and others have rightly pointed out, there is a metaphysical assumption at the basis of all the physical sciences: namely, that reality is “intelligible.” It is a necessary presumption for the scientific method that things are not mindlessly, dumbly, or haphazardly here.

Science must base itself on intelligibility but cannot answer why there is intelligibility, why there is meaning at all, or purpose to be discovered. That we “think,” and are able to extract meaning, and that things are intelligible, is self-evident. But why do we have this capacity? Why do rocks and trees, and likely most animals, not have this capacity?

Simply looking to brain chemistry etc., can tell us some of “how” we have this capacity (though consciousness and the sense of “self” remain mysterious) but not “why.”

Again, to “explain” is not the same as to “understand.” One of the great tragedies in this modern and  unreflective age is that too many do not grasp or realize this. In our intellectual acumen, impressive though it is, many have stopped adverting to the wonder and awe that engages our humility at the moral level, and our faith at the spiritual level.

Man is naturally spiritual. Hence we ask the burning question or “Why?!”  And, despite the relatively recent surge of atheism in the decaying West, faith is quite ubiquitous in human history, and even today across most cultures. No matter how much we think we have “explained,” deep down, there is still that lingering question, “Why?” Ultimately, even the secularists and atheists of our modern age cannot wholly avoid this question, for explanation is not the same as meaning. They may postpone, try to ignore it, or deny its relevance, but one day they will and must confront it.

There is a remarkable story told about a dying soldier in the trenches of World War I. As the 18 year old lay dying, the Chaplain spoke to him to comfort him. In his delirium the soldier said, “Why?”  The chaplain thought he was struggling with why he was dying after a mere 18 years of largely hidden life on this planet. And so he asked the solider, “Do you mean, ‘Why am I dying?'”  But the soldier answered by asking something far more profound: “No,” said the soldier “Why did I live? What was I here for?”

“Why” is about meaning and is not a question that science is equipped to answer. It is not a question that seems to come from our body, or “brain,” it is a question that comes from our soul. There is no evidence that rocks or plants or animals ponder meaning, seek to understand, ask “why” or agonize over nonexistence as they lay dying. It is a uniquely human question: “Why….what is the meaning…..?” To explain is not the same as to understand.

No matter how materialistic, secular or atheistic our culture becomes, no matter how widespread the error of scientism is, it is not a question that is not going away: “Why…..why!?”

We who are of faith have answers given to us, for faith is a way of knowing based on God’s revelation. Granted the answers given by God are not understood by us comprehensively and contain mysterious elements. But, the answer to why things exist rather than not, why I am here rather than not, the answer is simply this: God is, and God is love.

We of the house of faith must gently but clearly “re-up” the fundamental question of “Why” to an unbelieving age and respectfully inisist that the question be addressed. There are many ways to ask it and then respectfully wait for an answer:

  1. Why is there existence?
  2. Why (not how) do you exist?
  3. Why are you angered when I mention God? You are not angry when I mention a duck-billed platypus or the possibility of ancient space visitors to this planet who sowed the seeds of life. But my mention of God seems to evoke a strong response in you? Why?
  4. If your anger is rooted in a sense of injustice (i.e. that what I say or believe is “wrong”), why?
  5. In other words, why do we human beings have a sense of justice, of right and wrong? Where does it come from and on what is it based?
  6. Is there any basis for morality at all, if as a materialist you say that everything is caused by random mutation and behavior and is biologically determined?
  7. Why do you say believing in God is “wrong” and atheism is “right?” On what do you base this?
  8. If you point to the “evil things” believers have done such as the “Inquisition,” where does your sense of injustice come from, and why be angry with believers if we are simply doing what the chemicals in our brain made us do?
  9. Why is anything wrong at all, if behavior, thought and decision are simply and biologically determined?
  10. In a word, “Why?”

Some will seek refuge in debates about meaning in terms like “pre-frontal cortex,” “hippo-campus” etc. But these sorts of words and concepts are focused on how, not why. Why does the brain do what it does, have what it has,  and why is it there in the first place? Why is it not there instead?


Setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience: A Consideration of the Church’s Role in the Public Square

072413In the Office of Readings today we read from 2 Corinthians 4 where St. Paul well describes the work of the Church in the Public square: Setting forth the truth plainly, we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God (2 Cor 4:2). Not a bad description of our posture and practice toward the secular world.

Yet, that is not often the impression many take from our posture. In what I would called a misplaced fear, many think of the Church as trying impose her power and views on others. In much of the heated public debate on the HHS mandate (that the Catholic Church pay for contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization) and over gay “marriage,” there is a strain to the conversation, that somehow, the Catholic Church is trying to “force” people to follow what she teaches.

To think that we have such power is fanciful, but the charge comes up a lot and in different forms. Consider the following comments I gleaned from various sources, mainly from the comboxes of several secular papers. These comments are not made up by me. I cut and pasted them into a reference file over the last two years, they are actual quotes of readers. All of them see us as trying to use power to force others to do what we want. (I have added a few responses in Red just because I can’t resist):

  1. Inasmuch as we can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God, everyone should be free to follow their own path as individuals. You are. The Church doesn’t have the power to force you to do anything. But you are going further than “following your own path.” You are asking for legal recognition of something that has never been recognized before (i.e. Same-sex unions). Expect a little push back. Further, the Catholic Church does not only appeal to God and the Bible but also to Natural Law, because we recognize that not everyone sees the Scriptures with the kind of reverence we do.
  2. When it comes to owning a business that accepts public funds and which will employ believers of every stripe as well as non-believers, the owners have no right dictating the choice of others Actually it is the Government that is dictating choice. In the HHS mandate, only the government has the power here to compel and punish non-compliance, and they are saying that we must give contraceptives free to anyone who asks for them. The “mandate” says that Catholics, and anyone who objects to sterilization, to abortifacients and contraceptives, (for it is not only Catholics), must pay for them whether they like it or not. As for Gay “marriage,” it is once again the Government that is requiring everyone to recognize what has never been recognized before, that same-sex couples are “married.” And, by gosh, if we don’t recognize them and treat them as married then we will be decertified from adoption services and have to stop providing marital health benefits for our married employees (as happened with Catholic Charities). So there IS a lot of forcing going on here, but it isn’t the Church. We don’t have that power, the State does. And frankly that should make everyone sober, even those who don’t agree with us on these specific issues. EVERYONE ought to be mighty concerned when the State seeks to compel people to act against their conscience.
  3. Just one more example why one should never vote for a Roman Catholic politician who would more likely march in lockstep to the dictates of the Church than follow constitution. Whew! Dream on, we have the opposite problem. Very FEW Catholic politicians live their faith when it comes to political agendas. And if they do, they, like anyone else, they have to face the voters every few years. Further, why is it wrong for politicians to follow, say, environmental agendas, or homosexual agendas, or social justice agendas, but it is WRONG for them to follow religiously inspired agendas?Since when do people of faith have no voice or seat at the table in the world of politics? Are we not citizens who have the right to petition the government for redress etc?
  4. This is about the Catholic church (sic) demanding that people who do not have any allegiance to that church or its dogma live by its rules. We don’t have this power. It is the State (and you?) who are instituting that we pay for what we consider wrong. Why should I have to pay for your contraceptives? Why should you simply demand to get them free?
  5. Today, they are gunning for the gays. Next will be your birth control. We don’t have this power. What we are asking is that we not be compelled to pay for things we consider wrong and sinful.
  6. In pushing your definition of marriage on to all other people and churches, you are in fact trying to ensure that Catholic law remains state law. We don’t have this power. As citizens, and for principled reasons rooted in Scripture and Natural Law, we argue that the law that Has ALWAYS been the law in this land, remain unchanged. We have a right, as citizens, to be part of the political process. One side is going to win, right now it looks like the pro-gay -pseudo marriage folks. How would you feel if I said, “You are pushing your definition of marriage and trying to make it State law?” Why don’t we just admit that we both have a right to be in the public square and advocate for what we think is right? I think you’re wrong headed and confused about marriage and your type loves to call me intolerant and bigoted. I’ll see you at the ballot box. Oh! but wait a minute! Here in DC your advocates on the DC Council would not allow a referendum, you try NOT to allow votes on such matters, but use the legal system to impose your views. And, gee, when we do win at the ballot box as we have in several states, your side runs to a judge and tries to overturn the will of the voters. Hmm….who is throwing power around here? Who’s pushing whose definition on whom? Hmm…?
  7. the church will be better off the more that it gives up its hold on political power. What power? If we’re so powerful, why is the moral meltdown so advanced? Again, are you simply striving to say we should have no voice in the political process? We have a right as citizens to try and influence outcomes, just like you. Frankly we haven’t been very successful lately. I’d love to find out where all this political power we theoretically have is hidden.

OK, well you get the point. A LOT of people think we have a lot more power than we do. Frankly it’s laughable to think think the Catholic Church has all this power. We can’t even unify our own believers. I have written before (with love) that unifying Catholics is like herding cats! I would to God that we could really unify around anything. Then we might be a political force to be reckoned with. And as citizens we would have every right to be such a force. But as it is, we are (sadly) a rather divided lot, even on abortion. I can assure you , most Catholic politicians do NOT have a hotline to the Vatican or take even a scintilla of advice from the Pope or Bishops. And even if they accidentally agree with the Pope or the bishops, for most of them, it is because the politics make sense, not that the faith has “compelled” them. No, don’t worry too much about the “power” of the Church.

That said, I have already commented above (in the red remarks) that Catholics, as citizens of the Untied States of America have the same rights as any other citizen to petition the government, to seek to enact laws that reflect our values and concerns. But we have no more or less power or voice than any other citizen of this Land. We, like others, often band together with coalitions. But again, if this is somehow wrong, then why is it not wrong for feminists, or environmentalists, or unions, or advocates of any number of hundred of other causes to do the same? We are Americans with rights. And people of faith have just as much right to be in the public square and the public conversation as any one else.

Some of the commenters in Comboxes, I survey like to recite grievances from the Middle Ages about Church power then etc. Why not leave the 14th Century politics in the 14th Century, and let’s stay in the 21st Century. There was a LOT of bad stuff in the old days. It wasn’t just the Church, governments too were different then. Modern democratic republics were unknown in those days. Today the political landscape is different. And if the Church ever did have all the power (and some of the claims are exaggerated and the Inquisition is often cartoonishly portrayed) that is not the case today. For our purposes we are in the 21st Century West.

Finally, I return to the quote from St. Paul in today’s office that rather well distills what we, as a Church, and as believers, seek to do in the public square of America. More than acquire power (which is not easy in a wide and pluralistic culture), we seek to commend ourselves, and our message to everyone’s conscience. St. Paul says in context,

Rather, renouncing secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the Word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly, we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God (2 Cor 4:2)

Yes, frankly we do have vigorous disagreement with secret (and not so secret), and shameful practices. And we will not, in order to be popular or conformed to these times, distort or misrepresent the Word of God. Abortion is wrong. Fornication, adultery, and homosexual acts are wrong. Divorce, and chosen single parenthood, and so called gay “marriage” are wrong. Contraception, sterilization, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, wrong, wrong wrong.

But I cannot force you to obey me. Rather I commend myself to your conscience. And even if Scripture will not be acceptable to you, I will have recourse to Natural Law. I, indeed the whole Church, will continue to commend ourselves to your conscience. And even though the gospel is currently “out of season” (cf 2 Tim 4:2) and you laugh at me and call me names like intolerant, bigoted etc., I will continue to commend myself to your conscience.

As long as I live I will speak the truth in love. And however you choose to understand me I will continue to speak. You may wish to call me hateful. I am not. I invite you to conscientiously consider what I say. I cannot command you, so do not fear me. But I do commend myself to your conscience.

I will meet you in the public square, for that is my right as much as yours. But in the end, mandates and forced adherence are not in my power. I commend myself to your conscience, I do not, I cannot, command you.

Those of this world may choose on their own to be pleased or displeased by what we say. As for me, my prayer is and must remain: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you my God (Psalm 19:14).

To be lighthouse, we have to be light, even when the world prefers darkness. An Answer to an Anti-Catholic Blogger

Like many of you I often use Google Alerts to stay in touch with what’s going out out there. One of my search parameters is “Catholic” as you might expect. But what I get back from Google would really be described more as “anti-Catholic.” Well over 80% of the articles and posts that are highlighted are not only hostile to Catholic teaching, but downright hateful.

This suggests two possibilities. First that the Google search algorithm is “off” and that it fails to really search for what I want, and that somehow Google likes or prioritizes the anti-Catholic stuff. Perhaps. It IS odd to me that most of the blogs I regularly read NEVER make the Google cut.

The second possibility is that there simply is a lot more anti-Catholic stuff out there than I’d like to think, and though we Catholics like to think we’ve really got it going on in the blogosphere etc., perhaps those who hate or oppose us just have a bigger footprint.

I don’t know, you decide. CARA recently did a study (HERE) that concludes that we faithful Catholics have a LONG way to go in really making an impact on the Internet, and that most of the faithful do not really frequent Catholic sites for Catholic info.

All that said, (as a challenge to us all to grow the footprint of faithful Catholicism), I want to comment on a typical article that Google alerts generates and make some comments on how the author of the article fundamentally misunderstands the Church and yet exemplifies even what many in our pews think the Church should do and be.

The author identifies himself as “the Friendly Atheist.” Frankly he doesn’t seem all that friendly, given what he writes, but lets take a look, and also at a comment. As usual the original article is in bold, black, italic text, and my remarks are in plain red text. The full article is HERE, these are excerpts.

Friendly Atheist writes:

The Catholic Church is Now Pissing Off the People Who Actually Like Them

Sorry, those are his vulgar words, not mine. Refined language does not seem to be the forte of our Friendly Atheist.

But note the premise of his statement seems to be that anger is an argument. In other words if I make you angry, somehow I must be in the wrong. The argument seems to be  that anger has the upper hand. Yes, if I am angry, somehow I must be “right,”  and if you caused me to be angry somehow you must be wrong.

It is, perhaps, a specific version of the more general trend of our culture to exult feelings over reason. Thus if a person is crying, or if there is anger, somehow they gain authenticity over someone who is more sanguine. If the mother of, say, a crime victim is crying, the cameras roll and she makes the opening of the TV news. If one is more measured and “logical” they get moved to page B2 of the paper, and don’t even make the evening news.

But again, note, anger is not, per se, an argument. Just because you are angry at me does not mean that I necessarily did anything wrong. In fact, it may be that I did something right, that I struck a necessary nerve. Jesus made a lot of people angry, so angry they killed him; the prophets and martyrs too. Anger is not a argument, it’s just a feeling.

We know Catholic leaders are mostly a bunch of men who don’t want to hear any legitimate arguments as to why they’re wrong on issues like contraception usage and gay marriage.

Note that he says we “know” this. I do not cede this point as a premise. Frankly, most Catholics I know, think the Bishops far less decisive than our “friendly atheist” presumes. They experience them, as a group, to be far more open the the “spirit of the age,” to collegiality and to “dialogue” than they would wish.  I personally disagree with either extreme (i.e. too open vs. too closed), but the point here is that what our friendly atheist stipulates as a fact we “know,” is far more disputable than he presumes.

Further he speaks of them not being open to “legitimate” arguments as to why they are wrong on contraception and Gay “marriage.”

Again note the logical fallacy: we are first supposed to stipulate that they are “wrong” on the said issues. No, Mr. “Friendly Atheist,” you are supposed to demonstrate that.

He further implies that the arguments against the Bishops are “legitimate,” which presupposes that arguments for these positions are “illegitimate.” Here too, a logical fallacy since he has failed to demonstrate the presupposition of “legitimacy.”

Now the word “legitimacy” comes from the Latin legis, meaning “law.” In the Catholic realm we find the sources of our law in Scripture and Tradition. Now, if there are “legitimate” arguments that the “friendly atheist” wants to advance, let him attempt to do so. But, frankly, the attempts to advance any argument from Scripture or Tradition that Gay “marriage” or contraception are good, and of God, will be hard to come by, since, at every stage of Scripture and Tradition these practices are consistently condemned.

Some argue that Scripture is largely silent on contraception (but remember, NO ONE wanted small families in those days, contraception was unthinkable except perhaps in relation to prostitution), but Tradition is not silent. And as for Gay “marriage” any attempt to validate homosexual activity of any sort is fanciful. Scripture unambiguously and at every stage, condemns homosexual activity, as well as illicit heterosexual activity. Hence it is unclear what “legitimate” (i.e. based in Law) arguments the bishops should be listening to on either topic

Perhaps our friendly atheist thinks that arguments from the world are the legitimate arguments. But “the world” is not a “legitimate” (i.e. “legal”) source of the moral Law for the Church. We draw from sources of Scripture, Tradition and appeal to the Natural Law both to confirm the rectitude of our beliefs and to demonstrate to unbelievers the rectitude of our positions.

We also know that most Catholics who are not part of the hierarchy don’t buy into what their “superiors” tell them. Catholic women use birth control. Many Catholics support gay marriage. The list goes on.

Here too there are a list of misunderstandings as to the nature of the Church. We are not a body politic that determines what is right based on polls or how conforming people are. It is a tragic truth that the faithful, down through the centuries, have not always lived or upheld what is taught. That goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden.

And even to this day, it is not merely the “conservative” sexual morals of the Church that the faithful often ignore or dispute, it is also more “liberal” notions. For example, we are to love our enemies and not seek to retaliate against those who assail us. But most Catholics, most Christians, liberal or conservative, do not live this very well and even openly live contrary to it. Should the Church simply jettison this call to love our enemies and now sanction, approve and encourage hating enemies? Should we recognize “covenants of hatred” and seek to supply encouragement and provision and rituals for retaliation? Should we affirm those who have a “right” to hate since, after all, God gave them the capacity to hate? Is the mere fact that people don’t live the moral law reason to jettison it?

Well, let these absurdities illustrate the truth that the Church cannot allow sinful human behavior, no matter how widespread and “celebrated” be the norm for our teaching. Taking votes and simply observing human attitudes is not a good source for moral norms. We must look to reveled truth for a more sure source, a source that does not merely pander to what we want.

And note that what the “friendly atheist” calls “Most Catholics” may be statistically true, but it fails to distinguish between church-going Catholics and merely nominal Catholics. It remains a sad fact that most people who call themselves Catholics are not really practicing Catholics in any sense of the word. Perhaps they will return, but non-practicing Catholics cannot set the norm for what it means to be a believing and practicing Catholic.

So when the Arlington Catholic Diocese sent Sunday School teachers a “Profession of Faith” they needed to sign, some of them balked at the idea that they have to “firmly accept” anything the Church teaches about faith and morals.

Ditto with being forced to adhere to the “will and intellect to the teachings” of Catholic leaders.

It is not clear to me how many of the teachers actually balked at the idea. But, not having been born yesterday, and knowing the secular media’s usual approach, lets say 97% say fine, and 3% say “Hmm…” Just guess where the cameras and mics will be found. The dissenters get the attention, the faithful are either ignored or get a little line at the end of the piece.

Here too, our Friendly Atheist misunderstands the nature of the Church which is not a human club wherein the members get to vote on by-laws and determine what seems right according to their thinking. We are a community of believers who gather around a revealed doctrine that we do not get to determine, but are required to give assent to.

It is not so extreme to ask those who do not merely sit in the pews but actually take positions as catechists and who claim to teach in the name of the Church to publicly attest that they actually believe what they are teaching and to promise not to teach anything contrary to it.

No one is required to be a catechist, and thus, if one is struggling to assent to some teaching, they are not required to make a promise of any sort. Perhaps they can discuss their struggle with a member of the clergy or another believer and clarify or come to some understanding. Perhaps not. But that is a personal matter.

When, however, one steps forth to teach the faith in  a formal way and to take the office of catechist, it makes sense that they be asked to certify that they assent to Church teaching and are striving to live it.

Every employee of the Federal and most State governments are asked to assert under oath that they will respect and uphold civil law in these or similar words:

I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

If even secular governments and businesses expect their employees to affirm loyalty and allegiance to a basic set of norms, how much more the Church which proposes not only passing human norms, but what we believe to be eternal and divine norms?

The “Friendly Atheist” then goes on to quote outraged catechist (four of them) an then concludes:

I’m loving this implosion from the sidelines. The Church isn’t going to back down from their awful ideas and the decent people who actually like the Church are finding more and more reasons to get the hell out of there.

I am sure he is loving it but he doesn’t seem very “friendly” when he says this 🙂 .

He’s right that we are not going to back down, not with the Holy Spirit in charge any way. For God is not “no” yesterday and “yes” today and the moral law does not morph with our wishes. The truth does not change just because the world rejects it or even if most people choose to violate it.

So again, the “Friendly Atheist” fundamentally misunderstands the nature of the Church which is not a clubhouse, but is a lighthouse. And to be lighthouse we have to be a light, even when the world prefers darkness.

And as for those who are “getting the Hell out of there,” it is fairly problematic to argue that the Catholic Church would have greater numbers if we were towing the line of what the modern world expects and demands. For, the Mainline Protestant denominations have largely taken this path and their numbers are far worse, indeed one can only marvel at the mass exodus from the denominations who have embraced the spirit of the age. And, the Evangelical denominations who have resisted such modern notions are growing.

In the end, Catholicism is holding her own, and even growing on a worldwide basis. We do not grow by defining ourselves. Our only hope and prayer is to remain faith to the gospel in season and out of season.

One of his commenters  named “Moctavius” says, Nothing says, “I’m on the wrong side of history,” quite like a loyalty oath.

Well Mactavius may have pronounced an end to the Church, or to her influence, but he will do well to consider that the Church has outlived all her opponents and confounded the predictions of all who have announced her demise. Where is Caesar, where is Napoleon, where is the Soviet Socialist Republic? Movements too have come and gone, some remain and recast themselves as “something new” but are really just the same old tired heresies. You think you have a new idea, go back and see how the Greeks put it.

But through it all the Church has remained. She has outlived every enemy and every movement. And though her numbers may rise and fall, she is, by God’s promise, indefectible.

So pronounce away Mactavius, but the Church is not on the wrong side of history, she IS history.

And to the “Friendly Atheist,” and to all who think the Church should learn to “tow the line” and come into conformity with “modern” (actually old, rehashed) thinking, I am mindful of a saying of Jesus:

Jesus Said, “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 is” (Matt 11:17-19)

Yes, wisdom is proved true by her works and by her lasting vindication in the parade of erroneous or foolish ideas.

How Modern Heresies Have Isolated and Left Us Unfulfilled

I have mentioned here before a remarkable book by Ross Douthat that I would recommend as required reading for anyone who wants to grasp what has happened faith in the later half of the 20th Century and until now. It is Bad Religion – How we became a nation of heretics. In the book Douthat documents how the churches, (both the Catholic Church and the Protestant denominations), rose dramatically in the years following the War, and then, quite suddenly saw their numbers collapse as they were overwhelmed with successive waves of heresies he describes with great precision.

He uses the word heresy quite correctly to describe a version of the Christian faith that holds an incomplete version of the full truth. One that chooses certain tenets and discards many others which both balance and complete the picture. Of course there are often tensions in holding all the truths.

For example, how do we reconcile God’s sovereignty and power with our freedom and capacity to to say no? Or how do we resolve God’s mercy and love with the existence of hell? The orthodox approach is to hold both, and leave the tensions largely unresolved, or at least seek a balance that respects both. The heretical approach is to chose one, and discard or minimize the other in order to be free of the tension.

Heresy has become quite the “art” of modern Americans who are often “genius” in crafting endless varieties of do-it-yourself faith, one from column A, two from column B. For most Americans, the Church is largely irrelevant, and tends to be considered an annoyance, with all her rules and traditions. Hence while most Americans identify themselves as believing in God, the actual content of that belief varies significantly and often diverges widely from orthodox Christianity not to mention orthodox Catholicism.

God as He reveals himself in Scripture is quite easily tossed aside by moderns, and a tamed, more “fitting” god is crafted, one who affirms more than demands, who consoles and almost never warns.

We used to call this idolatry (crafting your own god and worshiping it). But most moderns prefer softer terms such as “finding the god within” and discovering the “god of my understanding.” Truth is cast overboard, or doubted altogether, and a self-referential (solipsistic) thinking emerges that is self-authorized.  Along with this private magisterium comes a self-congratulating “tolerance” that is extolled as the highest virtue. If there is any reference at all to the revelation that is Scripture, or to the dogmas of the faith, most moderns interpret them in a highly selective (i.e. heretical) manner, and subject what does remain to interpretations that are often so twisted as to be almost impossible to follow.

What makes heresy so dangerous is that it most often contains some elements that are true. As such, many believers can be easily duped by the partial gospel. Plausible teachers, using smooth words, seem to be confirming some truth of Christian faith. But, they stop short of the full Gospel. For example the purveyors of the “Prosperity Gospel” extol the power of prayer and the truth that God does want to bless us. But they largely discard the cross and the call of Christ to endure hardships and even poverty, for the Kingdom. Gone is any notion that we have been called out of this world and are thus hated by the world, or that we cannot serve God and money. They also smoothly set aside the very consistent warnings about wealth issued by the Lord Jesus.

But it all sounds so good and so right: Pray, trust God, blessings in abundance! Doesn’t God want me to be happy?! Yes, and thus heresy has its appeal in pointing to some truths, but it ignores others meant to balance, distinguish and contextualize.

Consider another huge trend in the modern age that has sorely affected faith, the rise of the therapeutic culture. Douthat spends a good amount of time describing and critiquing it, about midway through the book. Quoting Philip Rieff he begins,

Religious man was born to be saved [but] “psychological man is born to be pleased.” [Philip Rieff, The Triumph of the Therapeutic, Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2006, 19].

Douthat continues,

God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problem that arises, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves.” …[He] is not demanding, He actually can’t be, because his job is to solve our problems and make people feel good.


Therapeutic religion is immensely tolerant: since the only true God is the one you find within, there’s no reason to impose your faith on someone else. But a tolerant society is not necessarily a just one. Men may smile at their neighbors without loving them and decline to judge their fellow citizens’ beliefs out of a broader indifference to their fate. [Tolerance can] easily turn out to be an ego that never learns sympathy, compassion, or real wisdom.

Therapeutic to its very core, it emphasizes feelings over duties, it’s impatient with institutional structures of any sort. [Kindle Edition Loc:4676-95]

Has it worked? Apart from the troubling heretical notions at work, (again, heresy understood in terms of its classical definition, as an incomplete and unbalanced grasp of the true faith),  has the therapeutic religion worked even in its basic goal to “make us feel better about ourselves?” Douthat observes,

We’re freer than we used to be [since everyone can think and be what they want and construct their own little world largely freed from critique by a “tolerant” culture], but [we’re] also more isolated, lonelier, and more depressed….Therapeutic theology raises expectations, and it raises self-regard. It isn’t surprising that people taught to be constantly enamored of their own godlike qualities [since they are trained to discover the “god-within] would have difficulty forging relationships with ordinary human beings. Two Supreme Selves do not necessarily a happy marriage make.

Americans are less happy in their marriages than they were thirty years ago; women’s self-reported happiness has dipped downward overall. Our social circles have constricted: declining rates of churchgoing have been accompanied by declining rates of just about every sort of social “joining,” and Americans seem to have fewer and fewer friends whom they genuinely trust. Our familial networks have shrunk as well. More children are raised by a single parent; fewer people marry or have children to begin with; and more and more old people live and die alone.

Our society boasts 77,000 clinical psychologists, 192,000 clinical social workers, 105,000 mental health counselors, 50,000 marriage and family therapists, 17,000 nurse psychotherapists, 30,000 life coaches—and hundreds of thousands of nonclinical social workers and substance abuse counselors as well. Most of these professionals spend their days helping people cope with everyday life problems… not true mental illness. This means that under our very noses a revolution has occurred in the personal dimension of life, such that millions of Americans must now pay professionals to listen to their everyday life problems….[G]urus and therapists have filled the roles once occupied by spouses and friends. [Kindle version Loc:4819-38, inter al].

So, no, it hasn’t worked. But its purveyors just keep coming out with the latest tome by the latest guru. To be fair, as Douthat notes, there are many causes of the social ills described above. But the therapeutic culture and its “spiritual (not religious!)” religious expressions do raise expectations for a great cure. Orthodox Catholicism on the other hand traditionally spoke of this world as a vale of tears and and an exile to be endured before true and lasting happiness dawned. Contentment here could be found, and true faith is essential to that. But lasting happiness was found only in the Lord, and fully, only in heaven. For now we should gather as a Church and console one another with the consolations we have received, and continue to retell the story of total victory promised us in the Lord, after the Good Friday of this life gives way to the Eternal Easter of heaven.

But another reason the inward and highly personalized faith of the therapeutic culture does not work is that it rejects the communion for which we were ultimately made.

St. Augustine summarized our most fundamental problem as being “curvatus in se.” That is, on account of Original Sin, the human person will tend to be turned in on himself. This of course is exactly what a lot of modern versions of heretical religion peddle: a highly personalized, inwardly focused search for “God.” A search that is apart from the community of the Church, and the extended community of Sacred tradition. Chesterton called tradition the “democracy of the dead” since it gave them a seat at the table and voice. Through Tradition and doctrine, we have communion, not only with each other, but also with the ancient Christians.

But modern heresy turns inward to a very lonely and rather dark place. It rejects the need for a Church or for doctrines at all. Alone, and turned inward, we cannot be fulfilled. It is no accident that the therapeutic “faith” emanating from a therapeutic culture is not fulfilling.

The real truth is that we were made for others and for God. Communion with God, and each other in God, is THE goal of life. Christ founded a Church, and summoned us to a relationship with the Blessed Trinity. But it is the Trinity as revealed, not as reworked by us.

The “god-within” of modern heresy, is more often a mere emanation of our very self, a solipsism (from the Latin solus– alone, and ipse – self). And “tolerance” as often spoken of today (it is not true tolerance, more on that  HERE), does not join us together in harmony as advertised, it separates us into our own little worlds where “what’s true for me doesn’t have to be true for you.” We live increasingly in the little world of our own mind and are pulling up roots from any shared reality. God, if he is understood at all by these modern heresies, is a very local deity, who exists only in the mind of one person and is subject to later redefinition. He (or she? or it?) is small and very contingent deity and has little role other than what Douthot keenly observes, to be our butler.

One of the great challenges for us today then, is to re-propose the need for the Church which Christ founded. He did not write a book and send us off to study it. He founded a community, a Church, and told us we would find him there, where two or three are gathered in his name. Where his actual and true words are read and heard, where his true body and blood are offered and received. Many are scandalized that he should be found among sinners, gossips, hypocrites and the like (and saints too!). But that is where he is found. Indeed, one image for the Church is Christ, crucified between two thieves (one repented!). Yes, that is where he is found, in the Church. And only within the Church and her careful, thoughtful doctrines and the accumulated wisdom of centuries is the journey to find God within us safe enough to consider. For yes, he does dwell within us too. But don’t make the journey there alone.  No, never alone.

Questioning the Questioners: Why Do You Not Honor Mary in Accordance With Scripture?

Most of us who are Catholics eventually get asked, “Why do you Catholics worship Mary?” More often than not the question is not a real question it is a rhetorical question. A “rhetorical question,” is a “question” whose purpose is not to seek an answer, but, rather, to make a (usually hostile) point. For example the expression “Who do you think you are!?” is in the form of a question but it does not seek an answer. Instead it is meant as a rebuke. And so it usually is when we Catholics get asked the “question” Why do you worship Mary?” we’re usually aware that it is not a sincere question seeking a sincere answer. However, for those cases where an answer really is sought I might propose the following approach:

“Well, of course we don’t worship Mary since that would be a terrible sin. Worship belongs to God alone. We DO honor her though. After all, she is Jesus’ mother.

But let me ask you a question. Why in your church, do you NOT honor Mary at all? Doesn’t scripture say Every generation will call [Mary] blessed because God who is mighty has done great things for [her]? (Luke 1:48-49) It seems to me that we Catholics are fulfilling Scripture but that in your denomination you are not fulfilling or following it. So why don’t you honor her at all? Why don’t you call her blessed as the Bible says?”

Now stop there and wait for an answer. Don’t keep going. Just stop and wait. Have them answer for a change. We Catholics are always on the defensive, always in answer mode. But we ought to ask a few questions too. When asking, try to avoid a merely rhetorical or hostile tone. Try to allow this question to be genuine, respectful, one meant to provoke thought.

It is possible that many Protestants have never been asked this question or pondered an answer. Now it is also possible that your interlocutor will try to change the subject or evade an answer by piling on about Catholics but just repeat the question respectfully and ask for an answer. Remember your point is not to argue, be hostile or win an argument. Your point is to provoke thought and get a real answer. And even if the conversation ends badly or with no answer, you’ve planted a seed, a question that they will ponder even if they don’t admit it. Jesus often asked questions to provoke thought and conversion. I will be doing a post on this next week.

Another way to explain out devotion and love for Mary is that we are imitating Jesus. We love, honor, respect and entrust ourselves to her care because Jesus did all these things, and we want to be just like Jesus. Consider that the very Son of God, dwelt in Mary’s womb, nursed at her breasts, was held in her arms, sat on her lap and entrusted himself to her care. Our Lord could have chosen to enter our world in other ways. Perhaps He could simply have entered the world as a full grown man. The fact is that He freely chose Mary to be his mother and he was truly her Son. As her son he loved and honored her as any good son must and as her son he entrusted himself to her care. All of this serves to highlight Mary’s dignity and to show us how devotion to her is in perfect imitation of Jesus himself.

What more need we say: Jesus our Lord and God honors and loves Mary, and his very Scriptures sing her praises; so too His Angel Gabriel, Elizabeth, inspired by the Holy Spirit,  and countless saints. When we honor Mary we imitate the very Son of God and fulfill Holy Scripture. Certainly our Lord is pleased that we love and honor his mother.

Painting above by French artist William Bouguereau (19th Century)

How Can the Saints Hear Us? Because God is Able!

A common Evangelical protest against the Catholic practice of praying and interacting with the saints is that they “can’t hear us.” Those who disbelieve our practice often quote 1 Kings 8:39 which says, for you alone (O Lord) know the hearts of all men. Hence, according to this quote Saints, who are not God, cannot know our thoughts unless we speak them aloud.

This means, we must therefore speak them aloud. And this in turn ridiculed, or at least dismissed, by many Evangelicals who consider it absurd to think a saint way up in heaven would have adequate hearing to perceive us, way down here on earth talking to them. Further, even if they could hear us, how could they distinguish thousands or millions of people talking to them all at once? And so on, with these sorts of objections. To be fair, not every Evangelical shares all these objections nor do they always attempt to ridicule our practice. But objections and attitudes like this  are common enough to merit response.

The straight answer to the objections that saints cannot know our prayers due to lack of hearing, or inability to mind read, is set aside by Scripture itself which does speak of them as interacting with our prayers. More of this in a moment.

But some attention should also be paid to the highly naturalistic notions held by our critics, of the saints in heaven. To simply presume they “hear” in same way we do here on earth, or that their minds are operative in same way that ours are, or that they even experience time in the same serial way we do, are all highly questionable premises.

To begin with, the saints, through their more perfect union with Christ, ought not be presumed to experience their human faculties in exactly the same way as here on earth. Obviously their bodies have not yet risen, and hence they do not “hear” in the same manner as we do who still have bodies. Neither are their minds mediated through the physical brain as our is. Even when the trumpet shall sound and the bodies of the saints be restored to them, we need to understand that their humanity, body and soul, will be a glorified humanity. While we do not know all the aspects of a glorified humanity we will surely not have the forgetful and slow minds we have now. Neither ought we presume that our hearing will be limited as it is now.

So, to be clear, we ought not merely presume that the saints in heaven, even now, experience all the limits we do. They are caught up in Christ, and bound to Him more intimately and perfectly.

Secondly, the saints do not likely experience time like we do. Heaven is called, among other things in Scripture “eternity” or “eternal life.” Now eternity does not refer merely to the length of time or life, but also to the fulness of it. The fulness of time includes past, present and future, as one thing, in one moment. While we cannot be sure if the saints experience the “comprehensive now” as God does, we ought not presume that they experience time merely as we do either. Heaven is quite surely outside our earthly experience of time.

Hence, our understanding of heaven ought to include a mystical dimension and it is wrong to simply project our currently broken and fallen human condition on to the Saints in heaven or to presume them inside time exactly as we are.

Jesus rebukes the minimalists of his day – Regarding this tendency to make heavenly realities look either silly or untenable by projecting earthly categories there, Jesus had to rebuke the Sadducees of his day. They attempted to make heaven (which they rejected as a reality) look silly by projecting an earthly marriage scenario there of a woman who had seven husbands. Jesus said to them “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven (Mk 12:24-25). Thus, heaven is not like earth, and should not be reduced to it.  Nor are the souls in heaven presumed to be exactly the same as they are now.

Hence, to presume that Saints can hear us is not outlandish, for they are in Christ, and they are perfectly in communion with him in heaven. It is obviously Christ himself, then, who fosters our union with the Saints and their ability to remain in communion with us. For there is only one Body of Christ, and all the members are untied by the Head, who is Christ.

Now that the Saints do interact with us and present our prayers to God is stated in the Book of Revelation:

[T]he twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. (Rev 5:8)

Later we also see that the angels also collect the prayers of the saints:

Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne (Rev 8:3).

“Saints” here is used in the common first Century biblical sense as meaning those on earth who have accepted Christ (cf Eph 1:1; Phil 1:1; 2 Cor 9:1; Phil 1:5; Rom 16:2 and many,many more), not merely in the modern Catholic sense as only the canonized saints in heaven.

And thus, the image and teaching here is that the Holy Ones in heaven collect the prayers of the saints on earth and present them to God, like incense.

That these prayers have dramatic effects is illustrated in the verses that follow in Rev 8:

The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake. (Rev 8:4-5)

There follow seven trumpet blasts with confer God’s judgment and justice.

So the saints in heaven do hear us, they do collect our prayers and present them God and their intercession has powerful effects, the text from 1 Kings above, not withstanding.

Those who merely deny this based on some human notion of implausibility I would argue come under the Lord’s judgement: Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? (Mk 12:24). For though it may seem implausible to human minds, our God is able.  And he reveals in Scripture that he not only able to empower the heavenly saints and angels in this regard, he is also most willing.

Here is a very good and brief video on this by Tim Staples