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From the Roman Catholic Daily Missal, 1962:

Among the truths which faith teaches us, there are several which all ought to know and believe explicitly, namely, the existence of God; the Mystery of the Holy Trinity; the Mystery of the Redemption of mankind by the Incarnation and death of Jesus Christ, and the future state of reward and punishment.

There are things which every Catholic is also bound to know by the express command either of God or of the Church. These things are: 1.) The three most ordinary Catholic prayers, namely, the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, and the Apostles’ Creed; and also, at least in substance, 2.) The Commandments of God; 3.) The Precepts of the Church; 4.) The Doctrine of the Sacraments, and especially of these three which are necessary to everyone, namely, Baptism, Penance, and the Holy Eucharist; 5.) The duties and obligations of one’s state in life.

It is a mortal sin for a Catholic to be ignorant of these things, if it be through his own willfulness or neglect.

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

What Will the Church Look Like?

[T]he big talk of those who prophesy a Church without God and without faith is all empty chatter. We have no need of a Church that celebrates the cult of action in political prayers. It is utterly superfluous. Therefore, it will destroy itself. What will remain is the Church of Jesus Christ, the Church that believes in the God who has become man and promises us life beyond death. The kind of priest who is no more than a social worker can be replaced by the psychotherapist and other specialists; but the priest who is no specialist, who does not stand on the sidelines, watching the game, giving official advice, but in the name of God places himself at the disposal of men, who is beside them in their sorrows, in their joys, in their hope and in their fear, such a priest will certainly be needed in the future.

Let us go a step further. From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge – a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so will she lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, she will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. As a small society, she will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. Undoubtedly she will discover new forms of ministry and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or in self-contained social groups, pastoral care will normally be provided in this fashion. Alongside this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly. But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world. In faith and prayer she will again recognize her true center and experience the sacraments again as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship.

The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed. One may predict that all of this will take time. The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism of the eve of the French Revolution – when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain – to the renewal of the nineteenth century. But when the trail of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.

And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already with Gobel, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.

– Fr. Joseph Ratzinger, Christmas, 1969 (from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI, Faith and the Future, San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2006)

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"Adoration of the Shepherds" by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622 (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Ah, yes, Christmas, that time of year with a winter nip in the air (unless you live in parts of Florida where record highs in the 80s are forecast this weekend) and the time of year when the thoughts of old school Protestants (meaning those few Protestants who still find the need to base their beliefs on a militant anti-Catholicism), New Age “pagans,” and militant atheists turn yet again to the supposed “pagan” origins of Catholicism. Along with Easter and Halloween, the Feast of Christmas is yet another of those celebrations we are told “prove” the pagan origins of Catholicism. After all, everyone knows Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular are nothing more than “dressed up” paganism. It’s just too bad everyone is wrong…

Instead of merely reposting my piece on the true, non-pagan, origins for the December 25th date of Christmas, I share this link to a wonderful piece by Rev. Dwight Longenecker which does an excellent job of explaining (yet again) once and for all the true background of the Christian celebration of Christmas on December 25th.

Allow me to highlight a few points from Rev. Longenecker:

1. The “pagan origin” claimants begin with the capital mistake of assuming that mere resemblance proves causality. Simply because two things resemble each other does not mean one is the cause of the other. Two things can be strikingly similar yet share absolutely no causal relationship what-so-ever. Simply because Christians and pagans observed certain feasts at similar times throughout the year does not mean one automatically caused the other.

2. The Roman feast most often associated with Christmas by the “pagan originists” is Saturnalia, a Roman feast for the god Saturn which was held from December 17 to 23. However, this feast, while occurring on the wrong date (if Christianity “co-opted” this feast, why not make the date of Christmas December 17th to really sock it to those pagans?), also had nothing to do with the imagery of the solstice and the return of the sun. The focus of this feast centered more on the theme of sacrifice-to-appease-the-gods-for-a-good-harvest.

3. The Roman feast associated with the solstice was Dies Natalis Sol Invictus. The only problem here is the inconvenient fact that this feast wasn’t instituted until around AD 278, well after the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire, and for quite some time remained a rather minor feast with a small cult. Further, we find no evidence that Sol Invictus was celebrated on December 25th until AD 360 – decades after Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in AD 315. In fact, the promotion of the feast was due to the influence of Julian the Apostate who attempted to turn back the tide of Christianity sweeping the Empire. Huh, so that means Sol Invictus was used by the Roman authorities in an attempt to “win back” Christians to paganism, not the other way around.

4. The “pagan origins” nonsense completely ignores the fact that thousands (some sources say millions) of Christians lost their property and in many cases their lives over their complete refusal to, as Rev. Longenecker puts it, “offer so much as one grain of incense to the pagan gods.” Yet, the “pagan originists” would have us believe the very people who were giving their lives over refusal to participate in anything even resembling paganism suddenly decided to “co-opt” pagan festivals.

5. If we actually take time to read the historical record provided us in the writings of the early Church Fathers, we find a clear answer as to why Christmas is celebrated on December 25th. As early as AD 386, we find a sermon by St. John Chrysostom linking the date of Christmas to the date of the Annunciation (the day the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive and give birth to Jesus). The wording of his sermon suggests this linking was already a long-accepted tradition within the Church. We need to remember early Christians were primarily Jewish converts and thus the roots of Christianity are in Judaism, not Romanism. The Jews believed the world began on March 25th. They also believed great men died on the same date as the date of their conception. Therefore, we find the early Christians believed the date of Jesus’ conception was March 25th. Let’s count nine months and see what we find: December 25th.

So, just as I pointed out last time, the date of Christmas has nothing to do with Romans or paganism, but everything to do with early Jewish belief and the dating of Jesus’ conception by early Christians.

Merry Christmas!

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(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

For most of its history, no one in the United States connected Halloween to “paganism” or “wicca.” Only within the past few decades has it gone from a harmless “kid’s holiday” to an urban legend taking root among both New Agers and fundamentalist Christians about Halloween’s supposed “pagan” past.  Thanks to continued repetition of this urban legend by venues such as the History Channel and various New Age and “paranormal” publications, as well as fundamentalist Christian anti-Halloween “crusades,” most people today accept it as fact, never bothering to investigate it further.  Today’s urban legend claims Halloween directly dates back to a pre-Christian Celtic Druid festival which the (evil) Catholic Church co-opted in order to “suppress” pagans.  As with most urban legends, this one contains a dash of truth in order to hold together a bunch of complete nonsense.

The customs we now accept as associated with Halloween are actually of much more recent origin than New Age urban legend suggests and are a mix of traditions and practices from throughout Europe, Britain, and Ireland.  As with most things which began across the Atlantic and reached American shores, these various customs and traditions were blended, “Americanized” and repackaged into what we now call Halloween.  What we do know for certain is that the modern Halloween celebration has no direct religious connection with the ancient Druids of Celtic Britain and Ireland.

It’s true the Druids celebrated a minor festival at the end of October, as they did at the end of every month, but they had long since ceased to exist as an organized people when Halloween developed.  At the beginning of what eventually became the New Age movement, Druidism saw a “revival” in the 1700s and 1800s, but just like the current New Age movement, this involved people with no real connection to ancient Druids – except in their minds – and no real connection to actual ancient Druid practices.  Just like today’s New Age “pagans” and “wiccans,” a bunch of people pretended to be “Druids” with little actual historical knowledge (other than what they invented for themselves) of actual ancient pagan groups and practices.

Let’s examine the ancient Druids a bit closer.  First, unlike the image today’s self-styled “pagans” like to project, the Druids were not peace-loving “greenies” who liked to get naked and commune with nature.  Instead, they were a rather violent and blood thirsty Celtic people who inhabited pre-Roman Britain and Ireland.  The ancient Druids had much more in common with brutal peoples like the Aztecs than Kumbaya-singing hippies.  Our earliest records of the Druids come from the Romans.  It’s significant to note that even the Romans found these people excessively brutal.  We also find that it was the Romans who suppressed Druidism.  Tiberius (Roman emperor from AD 14 to 37) first outlawed the practice of Druidism.  Under Claudius (emperor from AD 41 to 54), the Druids were completely wiped out in Roman Britain.

The Roman record brings out two extremely important points regarding Druidism.  First, very clearly, the suppression of the Druids had nothing to do with the Catholic Church, which had not spread much outside Judea at this point in history.  So claims that the Church co-opted a Druid festival to create Halloween and force the conversion of Druids are flat-out false.  Second, a hallmark of the Roman Empire was allowing conquered territories a large amount of relative autonomy as long as they continued to acknowledge Rome and pay tribute – this included allowing people to maintain local religious customs (we see this very clearly in Judea).  The fact the Romans felt compelled to stamp out Druidism shows the Druids were anything but peace-loving nature freaks.

So how does the Catholic Church get drawn into all this?  In the fourth century, the Church instituted a feast day to honor all Christian martyrs of the faith.  This feast day was originally celebrated on May 13.  In 615, Pope Boniface IV established it as the “Feast of All Martyrs” and commemorated it with the dedication of a basilica in Rome to the Blessed Virgin Mary and all martyrs.  By 741, the feast had grown to include remembering not only all martyrs, but all the saints in heaven as well.  As a result, the name was changed to the “Feast of All Saints” in 840.  In 844, long after the passing of the Druids and long after Christianity had become the predominate western religion, Pope Gregory IV transferred the feast to November 1st.

October 31st itself held no special significance in the Church calendar until 1484 (again, long, long past the time of the Druids) when Pope Sixtus IV declared the “Feast of All Saints” a holy day of obligation (days on which Catholics are obligated to attend Mass – in addition to Sundays) and gave it a vigil and an eight-day period or octave to celebrate the feast (the octave of All Saints was removed from the Church calendar in 1955).  For Catholics, the vigil is celebrated on the evening before the feast – hence Christmas Eve.  Saints were known as “hallowed” in old English.  Therefore, the vigil for the Feast of All Saints, or “All Hallows,” became known as “All Hallows’ Eve” – Halloween.  The fact that “Halloween” is derived from old English and the Druids happened to inhabit ancient Britain is as close as we come to a direct connection between the Catholic Church, Druids and today’s Halloween.

Even though it’s true that traditions such as dressing in costumes, Trick-or-Treating, and Jack-o-lanterns were originally inspired by ancient religious practices to ward off evil spirits, by the time these practices made their way to America, they had long since lost their religious meaning. Instead, they’d become much more along the lines of cultural traditions. Most telling is the fact that there is no mention of Halloween being a “pagan,” “wiccan,” or “evil” celebration in the past historical record. Only in recent decades has this notion taken hold. Once we consider the true facts, it leads me to ask just who exactly is it that has actually co-opted Halloween for their own purposes?

While an argument can be made regarding Halloween’s gross over-commercialization, an argument that can now be made about several holidays, this fact is a reflection of our out-of-control consumer society and not a reflection on the traditional observance of Halloween itself. Similarly, the fact that Halloween observances have taken on increasingly gory and over-sexed aspects are because we as a society have allowed it. In a secular relativistic society which teaches that every opinion (as long as it has nothing to do with traditional family values) is of equal merit, should we really be surprised at this? However, this should not prevent us from reclaiming the largely innocent and clean fun aspects of the traditional American customs associated with Halloween.

So, for good Catholics, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying All Hallow’s Eve. You don’t need to limit yourself to “Fall Celebrations” (which are actually much more pagan in nature than the traditional American observance of Halloween) or “All Saints Parties.” It’s okay for you to recapture the traditional American observance of Halloween. You can carve your Jack-o-lantern, throw on your costume, and go Trick-or-Treating all without fear that you’re participating in an “evil,” “pagan,” or “wiccan” celebration. Happy Halloween!

For more information, here is an article from Fr. Robert Barron’s The Word on Fire Blog answering many questions about Halloween and Catholicism: http://www.wordonfire.org/WoF-Blog/WoF-Blog/October-2012/Culture–Time-for-Catholics-to-Embrace-Halloween.aspx. For even more information on the real history of Halloween, you may read this article by Fr. Augustine Thompson, O.P.: http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Catholic/2000/10/Surprise-Halloweens-Not-A-Pagan-Festivalafter-All.aspx?p=1. As a further update, here’s a recent article from Catholic Answers with the same information as found in this article: http://www.catholic.com/blog/jon-sorensen/halloween-or-samhain. Here’s an article in which Dr. Taylor Marshall shares his “Top 10 Christian Halloween Ideas:” http://taylormarshall.com/2013/10/top-10-christian-halloween-ideas.html.

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St John Chrysostom (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

We cannot Serve God and Money

In today’s Gospel, our Lord tells us what we should understand as a self-evident truth: we cannot serve two masters. Specifically, He says we cannot love God while at the same time loving money. This is not to say that money or wealth is inherently evil, however when we worship it as a god, it always leads to our doom. As St. Paul warns us, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plague men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs” (1 Tim. 6:9-10).

How often do we deny money is our god, yet our actions reveal otherwise? Whenever we desire the latest fashion, the latest electronic gadget, the newest car, the fanciest house, do we not through our very actions worship money as out god? When we seek fame and fortune for its own sake, we forsake our one and true Lord and Master.

To put it plainly: when we make money our lord and master, we are in mortal danger of banishment from the service of Christ. God is infinite and perfect love, yet true love is not easy and what we are called to return to God in love is not easy. St. John Chrysostom clearly tells us this when he writes, “I now say again to you, what I am always saying: that Christ urges His hearers to obedience to His words, both by means of what is profitable to them, and by what is painful; like a good physician, pointing out the disease that comes through neglect, and the good health that will come through obedience to His directions.”[1]

What does it profit us more as we are being eaten with the cancer of sin: to believe everything is fine and we should not trouble ourselves with it or to understand we are inflicted with a painful and deadly disease? Is it not better to know of the disease, no matter how painful, so that we might recognize it and fight it? Our Lord tells us the Truth: if we pretend there is no disease, we condemn ourselves to the fires of hell – for we must never forget that it is not God who sends us to hell, but we ourselves who do so through the actions and choices of our own free will. No, God does not send us to hell, but it is He alone who reaches out His hand in friendship and love to pull us up from the abyss of our own damnation. Without Him we have only death, but with Him we have only life.

Again, it is not wealth itself which is our enemy; it is our relationship to money which can make us master over it or slave to it. St. John Chrysostom recalls to mind here the example of Job:

Job was indeed rich. But he was no slave of mammon. He possessed riches and ruled them, as a master, not a slave. He held all he had as though he were the steward of another man’s riches. And not only did he not rob others of what belonged to them, he gave what was his to those in need…And so he did not grieve when he lost them. But the rich now are not like this, but rather in a state worse than any slave, and as though paying tribute to some tyrant. For the minds of such men become a sort of stronghold, held by money; and from there each day money sends out its commands, commands that are fulfilled by the violation of justice, and decency; and there is no one who does not obey.[2]

Our Lord implores us to take heart: “Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns: and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of much more value than they?” Now, Jesus is not calling on us to be lazy and slothful, with a “the Lord will provide” attitude; instead He reminds us that God provides all that we are and all that we ever will be. We must trust in Him for our ultimate nourishment and our ultimate life comes from a life in, through, and with the Holy Trinity.

We are called to take heart and to not lose our faith amongst the anxieties of the world: “If then God takes such care of the creatures He has made for our sake, how much more will He not provide for our own needs? If He cares for the servants, how much more will He not care for the masters? … He did not say we are not to sow, but that we are not to be solicitous. Neither did He say we were not to work, but that we must never be fainthearted, now wear ourselves out with anxieties. He commanded us to eat; but not to be over-concerned about it.”[3]

Our Lord calls us, in love, to follow Him on the difficult path: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Lk. 9:23-25)

Yet, our Lord, in His infinite and perfect love, understands we cannot instantly become Christ-like. We approach Him as pilgrims on a journey, some faster and some slower than others, yet all on the same path. As we see this message in today’s Gospel, St. John Chrysostom writes of Christ’s lesson to us:

For you now however, it is enough to learn not to be grasping, that almsgiving is a beautiful thing, to know also that you must give to others a share of what is yours. If you do this well, Beloved, you will soon go on to higher things…Meanwhile therefore let us put away all excessive luxury, and be content with what is fitting and moderate; and let us learn to acquire by honest labour all we are to possess…

Therefore keeping before our mind those degrees of self discipline which have been set before us, let us strive to attain at least to those midway on the road, so that we may be delivered from the wrath to come and, drawing ever nearer, may come at last to the very crown of all blessings; and may it be given to each one of us to attain to this, by the grace and love of Jesus Christ our Lord, to Whom be glory and honour for ever. Amen.[4]

+JMJ


[1] M. F. Toal (ed), The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, Volume 4 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000), 102.

[2] Ibid., 103.

[3] Ibid., 105.

[4] Ibid., 107.

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(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

When discussing sin, hell, and damnation in relation to salvation, people sometimes bring up an objection citing a person in an isolated jungle who has never heard the Gospel. Surely, they claim, God would not be so “cruel” as to condemn this person to hell merely because he never had an opportunity to hear the Gospel. This well-meaning, but utterly misguided, notion shows a deep lack of understanding regarding the true Catholic Faith. Let’s consider this situation a bit further to see if we can come to a better understanding regarding the Truth of God’s Law.

First, we very clearly need to distinguish that if a person outside Christ’s Church is saved, he is not saved because of his religion but in spite of it. Certainly God is completely free to save whomever He chooses, including those outside the Church, yet at the same time we cannot discount what He has told us through His Divine Revelation about His plan for Salvation.

Some within the Church, on both sides of the rail, have misinterpreted the teachings of Vatican II, either accidently or on purpose, to claim that every religion is just as good as any other and that the Catholic Church has no particular claim on the Truth, and therefore has no right or obligation to proselytize. This is a dangerous lie. Vatican II very clearly taught, in complete continuity with Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, that the fullness of Truth subsists in the Catholic Church (here’s a link to a very important document from the CDF clarifying the meaning of the word “subsists:” http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/document.php?n=162).

According to the Fathers of the Church, the most primitive religion is the natural religion of monotheism brought about by the work of God’s holy angels entrusted with the care of nations. As Fr. Jean Danielou says in The Angels and Their Mission, “The very regularity of the laws of nature is a sort of revelation through which man can recognize the existence of a provident God.” The angels were charged with the mission of providing protection and temporal assistance to nations, along with a primary spiritual role of leading pagan people towards God and retaining the spark of natural revelation. However, nations turned away from the natural religion due to the egotism and presumption of man, coupled with the activity of demons; instead of God, pagans turned to foolish worship of idols.

Thus, while elements of truth exist in other religions, they do not contain the fullness of Truth. God does not desire man to remain in the ignorance of false religion. Instead, those elements of truth in otherwise false religions are designed to prepare people for and lead them to the Truth, which is found only in the one, true, orthodox Catholic Faith. This is why missionary and apologetic activity remains critically important and why ecumenical activity should encourage dialogue but never compromise the Truth.

God is not cruel; He is pure and perfect love. As pure and perfect love, He grants us the free will to either accept or reject Him – for true love only exists if it is freely given and freely returned. Therefore, it is not God’s pure and perfect love which condemns us. It is we, through our own actions, who condemn ourselves. We forget that true love isn’t all smiley faces and warm puppies. Instead, true love is very often tough and difficult. Our Lord reminds us of this throughout Sacred Scripture. A close reading of Sacred Scripture shows us that salvation is anything but easy or a “given” – in fact our Lord clearly indicates the truth that not everyone is saved. In a misguided attempt not to “offend,” there’s been a de-emphasis of sin, the devil, and damnation in recent decades. Yet, isn’t it better to live in the Truth no matter how difficult it might be than to be “comforted” by a lie?

St. John pulls no punches when he tells us, “Unless a man is born again of water and the Holy Spirit he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God” (Jn 3:5). Thus, the Second Council of Lyons (1274) and the Council of Florence (1438-1445) declared: “the souls of those who die in mortal sin or with only original sin soon go down into hell, but there they receive different punishments.” Those two punishments are the “pain of loss” and the “pain of sense.” The “pain of loss” is the absence of the Beatific Vision. The “pain of sense” is brought about by actual sin and is felt by the senses even after the resurrection of the body. As Pope Innocent III summed it up, “the punishment for original sin is the loss of the vision of God, but the punishment for actual sin is the torment of an everlasting hell.”

The “pain of loss” is compatible with a state of natural bliss or perfect happiness – it merely lacks the Beatific Vision. This is the state many orthodox theologians throughout the history of the Church refer to as “limbo.” Limbo itself is not a dogmatic teaching of the Church, but is a strongly accepted theory among many eminent and solid theologians. I agree with the arguments for the existence of limbo and its role as the repository for souls who die without the Sacrament of Baptism. I don’t find this to be “cruel,” but instead simply a fact of the Truth. Those in limbo are in a state of perfect natural happiness; they are not being eternally punished as are those suffering “pain of sense,” instead they simply lack the Beatific Vision (they are happy, but unaware they could be more happy).

This notion that God wouldn’t be so “cruel” as not to save everyone comes down to believing what we wish to be true instead of what we’re told through Divine Revelation is actually the Truth. God clearly spells out His Law and the consequences of either rejecting or accepting that Law. Yet in our subjective and relativistic “me” centered society, we think it “unfair” and “cruel” if we’re held to an objective standard of Truth. However, at the end of the day, no matter how loudly we complain or how much we wish it were otherwise, we cannot break His Law, but only break ourselves against His Law.

As for our man we left standing alone in the middle of the jungle, did not our Lord command us to “make disciples of all nations?” If our man in the jungle dies without every hearing the Gospel, or worse yet turns to demon-inspired idolatry, then in a sense aren’t we at least partly to blame for not fully following the command of our Lord?

+JMJ

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Parable of the Good Samaritan

In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, our Lord teaches us points critical to our salvation. First, we see clearly we are called to love our God with all our heart, all our soul, all our strength, and with all our mind. Further, we are to love our neighbor as our self. Jesus then goes on, in the Parable itself, to clearly define our neighbor: he is, quite simply, every other human being, known or unknown, friend or foe. Our fellow man is our neighbor and we are called to love him. Yet, what does “love him” mean?

We would do well to read this Parable carefully since our Lord makes some salient points regarding how we express our love for our fellow man. Clearly, we do not simply pass by like the priest and the Levite. Instead, we must act like the Good Samaritan. But what does he do? Does he see someone in need and call the government to demand they “do something?” Does he bemoan the fact there’s not a social program to “take care of” the injured man? Does he simply summon the “authorities” so they can “do something?” Does he go find others, and either through bribe or coercion, demand they “do something?” No!

The Good Samaritan shows us the way through his direct action in caring for his fellow man. Keep in mind, at the time Jesus spoke this story, Jews and Samaritans were enemies and did not associate with each other. Jesus teaches that despite this rivalry, the Good Samaritan himself comes to the aid of his fellow man. He does not push off that responsibility onto someone else or onto some sort of government social program.

Not only does the Good Samaritan reach out himself to aid his fellow man, at the Inn he reaches into his own pocket to pay for the injured man’s stay. He doesn’t demand the “rich” Inn Keeper pay out of his pocket for the injured man, nor demand the government pay for support of the injured man. No! Once again, we see our example: We, our selves, with our own time, talent, and treasure are called to care for our fellow man. Our Lord clearly expects us to jump in and “get our hands dirty,” not sit on the sidelines and wait for someone else to “do something.”

Reach out in love to your fellow man no matter where you might find him.

+JMJ

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(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

I apologize for the recent lack of activity on this site. I’ve been busy finishing up the course work for my master’s degree in theology and am about to begin writing my thesis. While I haven’t been active on my blog recently, some of my work has been published in other venues. The New Oxford Review ran one of my pieces (written as “On the Function of the Theologian,” but published as “Are Theologians Necessary?”) in the April 2011 issue. You can read a part of the article here (sorry, NOR requires a subscription to read the entire article online — however, as one of the few no nonsense, solidly Catholic publications remaining, you should consider supporting their work by taking out a subscription).

As a side note, thank you to everyone for your generous support of this blog.

God bless!

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Nativity by Lorenzo Lotto, 1523 (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Of course, everyone knows Christmas and most other Christian observances, even Christianity itself, are nothing but warmed over paganism – practices which were viciously ripped from the hands of innocent pagans by a marauding Catholic Church.

It’s just too bad everyone is wrong.

Strange how every year lately someone just can’t but help bringing up the worn out urban legend that Christmas is a “stolen” pagan winter solstice festival.  Of even more interest is the fact most of these people are self-described non-Christians and non-believers (especially in “organized religion”), others are even fallen away Christians, who for whatever reason (usually dissatisfaction with the “rules”) rejected Christ’s Church.  Yet, these very admittedly (by their own words) non-Christians somehow fancy themselves “experts” in Christianity.

Strange too is the fact these people’s “explanations” of the “truth” are often accompanied by all sorts of claims of “toleration.”  Rather dubious, I must say, considering how these people, in the name of “tolerance,” go out of their way to disparage Christianity.  “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

“Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15, RSV-CE).  Unfortunately, most Christians do not know the tenets and history of their faith well enough to counter these baseless charges.  Instead, they generally cede the point, often mumbling something about a “shameful” point in Church history.  As a result, since most Christians don’t know how or won’t take a stand, these sorts of myths continue to perpetuate.

So let’s take a look at the real facts surrounding the Christian Holy Day of Christmas.

Before we begin, it’s important to understand the correct definition of “pagan” and “paganism.”  Today, when most people, particularly its “practitioners,” use the word “paganism” they are referring to a New Age spiritism belief system.  However, this is not the formal meaning of the word, particularly when applied to the ancient world.  The Catholic Encyclopedia defines paganism thus: “Paganism, in the broadest sense includes all religions other than the true one revealed by God, and, in a narrower sense, all except Christianity, Judaism, and Mohammedanism.”  In the ancient world, a “pagan” was simply someone who wasn’t Christian or Jewish (since Islam didn’t come along until the seventh century).

Let’s begin our study by putting to rest once and for all the notion that the early Christian Church somehow “suppressed” or “got rid of” pagans.  The time period under consideration for all these claims of the Church “suppressing” paganism is within the first few centuries of the establishment of the Christian Church by Jesus Christ.  A time during which Christians were being mercilessly persecuted by the Romans (pagans) for the “crime” of following someone whose message was one of love: love of God, love of neighbor and love of self.

Widespread and systematic Roman (pagan) persecution of Christianity lasted into the fourth century, by which time the major feast days and practices of Christianity were already established.  Given what the pagans were doing to Christians, the Church was hardly in a position to “suppress” anyone – even if she had chosen to do so.  Since the major feast days and practices were established during a period when the Church was under almost constant persecution, one can hardly say these days and practices were established to “stop” paganism since the pagan Roman authorities were in control and the Church was not in a position to “stop” anyone (again, even if she’d chosen to do so).

During this time period, the vast majority of converts to Christianity were Gentiles (non-Jews).  Keep in mind as well these were people who freely converted to Christianity during a time when such a choice meant subjecting one’s self to almost certain persecution and in many cases, even death.  People were not forced to become Christians – such a notion is anathema for a Church which believes God grants man free will and that it’s up to man to use his free will to freely choose God’s gift.  Those who brush off Christianity really need to understand this point.  At a time when simply going along with the status quo was easier and more conducive to one’s lifespan, many people freely chose Christianity even while seeing what was happening to fellow Christians at the hands of non-Christians.

Christianity calls people to join through faith and reason, not through force and subjugation.  St. Paul provides a perfect example of how early Christians interacted with Gentiles (pagans), inviting them to become Christians.  We read in Acts of the Apostles, when St. Paul entered Athens, he saw a temple dedicated to an “unknown” god.  Did he tear into the people, calling them fools for believing such nonsense?  No – instead he praised the people for their faith:

Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.  For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’” (Acts 17:22-23, RSV-CE)

He then used that as a spring board to introduce them to the “good news” of Jesus and entered into a dialogue with the people, inviting them to become Christians of their own free wills.  What a terrible act of suppression and attempt to get rid of paganism by force!

In addition, if you actually know Church history, you know why stories of Jesus’ birth were not of prime importance to the Apostles and early Christians.

In the immediate aftermath of Jesus Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension into Heaven, early Christians were most concerned with hearing the message of Jesus’ preaching.  They expected the Parousia (Second Coming of Christ) to happen within their lifetimes.  Therefore, they wanted to know the message of Jesus rather than being focused on details regarding the person of Jesus.  For these people, getting their lives in order so that they might be ready for the return of the Lord was their top priority.

However, as time passed (again, time during which Christians were viciously and systematically persecuted by non-Christians) and it became clear the Parousia wasn’t going to happen immediately, the Church began to settle itself in for the long term.  As this happened, people’s interest in Jesus began to go beyond just his preaching.

It was during this period that interest developed in establishing a feast day to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ.  So much time had passed since the actual events, no one any longer knew with complete certainty when this really happened – although as we’ll see shortly, compelling evidence existed for the date chosen.

Even more importantly, our ancient ancestors (Pagan, Jewish and Christian alike) were not nearly as concerned with detailed biography as we understand it in the modern sense.  Therefore, establishing exact historically accurate (as we understand this concept in the modern world) dates weren’t the prime concern of early Christians; so the historicity of the date is not a critical point.  The critical point we must examine is motivation, both of the early Christians as well as the Romans (pagans), in assigning significance to December 25th.

As it turns out, not only was Christmas not some sort of “hijacking” of a pagan festival, but the pagan festival generally cited as the one “stolen” by Christians was actually started by pagans to take December 25th from Christians.  As Dr. William Tighe, a church history specialist at Pennsylvania’s Muhlenberg College, puts it: “the pagan festival of the ‘Birth of the Unconquered Sun’ instituted by the Roman Emperor Aurelian on 25 December 274, was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians. Thus the ‘pagan origins of Christmas’ is a myth without historical substance.”

As Biblical scholar Mark Shae notes:

But in fact, the date [December 25] had no religious significance in the Roman pagan festal calendar before Aurelian’s time, nor did the cult of the sun play a prominent role in Rome before him.

There were two temples of the sun in Rome, one of which (maintained by the clan into which Aurelian was born or adopted) celebrated its dedication festival on August 9th, the other of which celebrated its dedication festival on August 28th. But both of these cults fell into neglect in the second century, when eastern cults of the sun, such as Mithraism, began to win a following in Rome. And in any case, none of these cults, old or new, had festivals associated with solstices or equinoxes.

What was the reaction of early Christians to Aurelian’s implementation of his Sol Invictus festival?  Shae continues:

The first irony is the reaction of the Christians of the late Roman Empire to Aurelian’s attempt to co-opt Christmas and make it a pagan day of celebration. Instead of fighting with Sun-worshipers who were trying to rip off their feast, early Christians simply “re-appropriate[d] the pagan ‘Birth of the Unconquered Sun’ to refer, on the occasion of the birth of Christ, to the rising of the ‘Sun of Salvation’ or the ‘Sun of Justice.'”

The natural symbolism of the winter solstice (return of the sun and new life) happens to also fit perfectly with Christian theology: birth of the Son of Man and the “new life” found in Him.  Consequently, early Christians didn’t “take” anything from the pagans, but instead simply refused to allow Aurelian to claim some sort of “copyright” on December 25th.  Christians continued to leave it up to people’s free will to decide if worshiping the sun or worshiping the Son made more sense.

It also turns out that records associating December 25th with the birth of Jesus are actually significantly older than records associating December 25th as a pagan festival day.  Again quoting Biblical scholar Mark Shae:

[T]he definitive “Handbook of Biblical Chronology” by professor Jack Finegan (Hendrickson, 1998 revised edition) cites an important reference in the “Chronicle” written by Hippolytus of Rome three decades before Aurelian launched his festival. Hippolytus said Jesus’ birth “took place eight days before the kalends of January,” that is, Dec. 25.

Tighe said there’s evidence that as early as the second and third centuries, Christians sought to fix the birth date to help determine the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection for the liturgical calendar—long before Christmas also became a festival.

So the inescapable historical record is that December 25th was an important day for Christians before it was an important day for pagans – or more correctly, an important day for one rather obscure pagan Roman sun-worship cult.

Also, the debate in the early Church which fixed the day of Jesus’ birth was not about that date, but about the dating of Good Friday.  The Eastern Church argued for dating Good Friday to April 6th while the Western Church argued in favor of a March 25th date (keep in mind, during this time, there was only one Christian Church since the Great Schism, which saw the breaking of the Church into the Eastern [Greek] Church and Western [Latin] Church did not occur until 1054 – well after the time period we’re looking at).

What does the date of Good Friday have to do with Christmas?  Everything.  I’ll let Dr. Tighe explain it:

At this point, we have to introduce a belief that seems to have been widespread in Judaism at the time of Christ, but which, as it is nowhere taught in the Bible, has completely fallen from the awareness of Christians. The idea is that of the “integral age” of the great Jewish prophets: the idea that the prophets of Israel died on the same dates as their birth or conception.

This notion is a key factor in understanding how some early Christians came to believe that December 25th is the date of Christ’s birth. The early Christians applied this idea to Jesus, so that March 25th and April 6th were not only the supposed dates of Christ’s death, but of his conception or birth as well. There is some fleeting evidence that at least some first- and second-century Christians thought of March 25th or April 6th as the date of Christ’s birth, but rather quickly the assignment of March 25th as the date of Christ’s conception prevailed.

It is to this day commemorated almost universally among Christians as the Feast of the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel brought the good tidings of a savior to the Virgin Mary, upon whose acquiescence the Eternal Word of God (“Light of Light, True God of True God, begotten of the Father before all ages”) forthwith became incarnate in her womb. What is the length of pregnancy? Nine months. Add nine months to March 25th and you get December 25th; add it to April 6th and you get January 6th. December 25th is Christmas, and January 6th is Epiphany.

St. John Chrysostom (Archbishop of Constantinople, died AD 407) argued from a Biblical standpoint, an argument which had nothing to do with any pagan festival, for the December 25th date of Jesus’ birth:

Luke 1 says Zechariah was performing priestly duty in the Temple when an angel told his wife Elizabeth she would bear John the Baptist. During the sixth months of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Mary learned about her conception of Jesus and visited Elizabeth “with haste.”

The 24 classes of Jewish priests served one week in the Temple, and Zechariah was in the eighth class. Rabbinical tradition fixed the class on duty when the Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70 and, calculating backward from that, Zechariah’s class would have been serving Oct. 2-9 in 5 B.C. So Mary’s conception visit six months later might have occurred the following March and Jesus’ birth nine months afterward.

Seeing clearly that December 25th, Christmas, is a Christian Holy Day not derived from a pagan winter festival, how did it become “common knowledge” that Christmas is simply a “warmed over” or “ripped off” pagan festival?  These sorts of claims of grew in the wake of the anti-Catholicism following the Protestant Reformation during the sixteenth century as Protestants looked for ways to disparage the Catholic Church as “non-Biblical.”

With regards the “pagan” roots of Christmas, we can trace the origins of these claims to the 17th and 18th centuries:

Paul Ernst Jablonski, a German Protestant, wished to show that the celebration of Christ’s birth on December 25th was one of the many “paganizations” of Christianity that the Church of the fourth century embraced, as one of many “degenerations” that transformed pure apostolic Christianity into Catholicism. Dom Jean Hardouin, a Benedictine monk, tried to show that the Catholic Church adopted pagan festivals for Christian purposes without paganizing the Gospel.

In the Julian calendar, created in 45 B.C. under Julius Caesar, the winter solstice fell on December 25th, and it therefore seemed obvious to Jablonski and Hardouin that the day must have had a pagan significance before it had a Christian one.

Note that Jablonski began, not with evidence, but with an assumption that the winter solstice must have had a pagan significance before it had a Christian one. In other words, Jablonski simply noticed a correspondence between the Julian calendar’s solstice and Christmas and assumed the pagan feast must have been the prior one even though he had no proof for his theory. Meanwhile, Hardouin, rather than challenge that assumption, simply went along with it. And it’s upon these two authors that the entire myth about Christmas being a warmed-over pagan Sun-worshiping feast is based.

Now, as Paul Harvey would have said, we know the rest of the story.  Christmas is a Christian Holy Day, not a “hijacked” pagan winter solstice festival, and the urban legend of pagan roots for Christmas came from a 17th century Protestant whose self-admitted objective was to disparage Catholicism.

In the end though, we must avoid getting bogged down in the wrong question:

The crucial thing is not, “Did the early Christians get the date of Christmas right?” It is, rather, “What mattered to them as they determined the date of Christmas?” And when you look at that, you again immediately realize that what dominates their minds is not Diana, Isis, sun worship, or anything else in the pagan religious world. What interests them is, from our modern multicultural perspective, stunningly insular. Their debates are consumed, not by longing for goddess worship, or pagan mythology, or a desire to import Isis and Diana into the Faith, but the exact details of the New Testament record of Jesus’ death, alloyed with a Jewish—-not pagan—-theory about when Jewish—-not pagan—-prophets die. They don’t care a bit how pagan priests ordered their worship in the Temple of Diana at Ephesus. They care intensely about how Levitical priests ordered their worship in the Temple of Solomon at Jerusalem. These Christians are completely riveted on Scripture and details of Jewish and Christian history and tradition. They don’t give a hoot what sun worshipers, Osiris devotees, or Isis fans might think.

[© 2010 All rights reserved.  This copyrighted material may not be reposted or reproduced in any form without permission.]

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Light of the World

I’m very saddened, but unfortunately not surprised, to see the liberal media bandwagon spinning and twisting the Pope’s comments on condoms.  The reality is the Church continues to rightfully teach that the use of artificial contraception in any form is dangerous due to the “de-humanizing” such practices have on human sexuality – and by extension the human person.  Despite the “spin” on the Pope’s comments by the liberal media and progressive liberal “Catholics,” nothing has changed in Church teaching.  Neither the Church, nor the Pope, approves the use of condoms or other artificial conception in any case.

First, one must understand, as many do not, that the Pope is allowed to express personal opinion on any matter he wishes – just as we all have that right.  Despite what some think, Catholicism does not hold that whatever the Pope says is automatically “official” teaching of the Church.  The Doctrine of Papal Infallibility only applies to teachings related to faith and morals, and even then, it must be specifically and clearly invoked.  Most people don’t know that the popes have very, very rarely exercised this authority, despite their voluminous writings from audiences, homilies, letters, etc.  To make an infallible statement on the teachings of Jesus Christ is a very serious process and never something done in mere casual conversation with a reporter.  In this situation, namely an extended interview with a reporter, the Pope’s comments are personal opinion, not “official” Church teaching.  Even so, again despite the “spin” put on his words, what the Pope said is consistent with Church teaching and actually shows tremendous charity on his part.

Second, most people, including many Catholics, completely fail to understand Church teaching on human sexuality.  Briefly, the Church teaches that since God is infinite love and created everything out of His infinite love, all His creation is good.   It is actually a very old heresy going back to the early days of Christianity to claim the body and sex are somehow “bad” or inherently evil.  We must also understand God created not because He had to create, but because He wanted to create out of His free will and His infinite love – which again reinforces the very goodness of His creation.

When it comes to humans, not only are we part of the goodness of God’s creation, we are even more special since we are created in His image.  How are we taught to treat gifts of great value, like a special family heirloom?  We’re taught to treat it with great care as a sign of respect to the giver of that gift – we honor the person by cherishing the gift he or she gave us.  Our humanity, which includes our sexuality, is the greatest gift we can ever receive, for it is only because of that gift that we exist.  Therefore if we truly desire to love, honor and serve the Lord, we must treat His gift, our humanity, with the absolute greatest respect.  Consequently, we must refrain from doing things which “dehumanizes” or goes against the nature of humanity – which includes things like promiscuous sex, unmarried sex, engaging in homosexual acts, abortion, artificial means to prevent the gift of human life and so forth.  All these things work to destroy our human nature – we need only look to today’s society for abundant proof of this fact.

Pope Benedict XVI, as anyone who reads his writings comes to know, is a very intelligent, scholarly and intellectual person.  While on one hand, this is very good as one can gain very deep insights by reading his work, on the other hand his is not writing which lends itself to the short sound-bites so many rely on as their sole source of information today.  As we see in this situation, one comment in a book-length interview, before the book is even released, is taken out of context and twisted to mean something else.  A society fed on nothing but sound-bites eats it up and never bothers to discover the truth for themselves.

All the headlines completely ignore this line from the Pope’s comments: “[The Church] does not regard it [use of condoms] as a real or moral solution.”  Saying it’s not “a real or moral” solution means it is not the right choice, not an “acceptable” choice and not a moral choice – in other words, it is bad and immoral.  If one bothers to read the Pope in context, he makes it clear up front that he does not approve of condom use by anyone.

However, and here’s where the charity I mentioned comes into play, the Pope goes on to say that if someone infected with a STD uses a condom to prevent disease transmission that fact (again, while not the right choice or moral choice) might indicate the beginning of a proper understanding of human sexuality in that person.  He’s really saying the first step to fixing your problem is the recognition you have a problem in the first place.  If we never recognize we have a problem, especially a moral problem, we can never begin taking steps to resolve that problem.  Only if we begin taking personal responsibility for our actions can we begin moving into the light of understanding and Truth.

Unfortunately, in all the media “spin,” we completely fail to grasp the Pope’s real message, a message applicable to all of us.  For far from being an affirmation of condom use, the Pope’s message is actually an affirmation of hope.  The hope we should all share as Christians that even the greatest sinner will eventually recognize his sins, open his heart to God, beg forgiveness and redemption and thereby gain entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven.  That is the Pope’s real message.  The headlines should actually proclaim:

“Pope says Hope of Redemption Possible for even the Greatest of Sinners”

Here are some links which further expound on the Pope’s true message:

http://insightscoop.typepad.com/2004/2010/11/excerpt-pope-benedict-xvi-discusses-condoms-and-the-spread-of-hiv.html

http://insightscoop.typepad.com/2004/2010/11/what-does-the-holy-father-really-say-about-condoms-in-the-new-book-janet-e-smith.html

http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2010/11/the_pope_condoms_and_confusion.html

http://www.jimmyakin.org/2010/11/new-developments-on-the-pope-and-condoms.html

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