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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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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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The Venerable Bede (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

The Fathers of the Church are particularly adept at “unpacking” the allegorical meaning of Sacred Scripture. The great Father and Doctor of the Church, St. Bede the Venerable, proves no exception as he reveals the meaning of today’s Gospel.

St. Bede tells us the ten lepers represent those “having no true knowledge of faith” who “profess a variety of heretical teachings.” These people do not hide their ignorance, but loudly proclaim it as the height of knowledge, even taking pride in what they say. Since even false doctrine contains an element of truth, St. Bede says this disordered mixing of truth and falsehoods “resemble the leprosy that spots and blemished the human body with patches of true and false colour.” We are warned that such people must be excluded from the Church and placed far off so that they might change their ways and loudly cry out to Jesus.

For those who do wish to be saved, will cry out to the Lord and will humble themselves to call Him their Master. It is in this acknowledgement of their estrangement and a return to the true teachings of Jesus that they find healing.

Of those healed by Jesus, it is only the lepers, notes St. Bede, whom Jesus directs to show themselves to the priests. This is because the Jewish priesthood prefigured the Royal Priesthood of Christ, which is the Church, His mystical Body. If those who are “discolored” with the stain of false teaching are to find salvation, they must renounce their false beliefs and return home to their Lord and His House, the Church.

As for the one healed man who returns, St. Bede says, “This one who went back giving glory to God is a figure of the one Church, in devout humility before Christ. He falling down before the feet of the Lord, gives fitting thanks. For he truly gives thanks to God who repressing the thoughts of his own presumption, is humbly aware of how weak he is in himself; he who attributes no virtue to himself; who confesses that the good he does, is due to the mercy of his Creator.”

We should note as well that we’re told the elect fall on their faces, while the wicked fall backwards. “The wicked therefore, since they do not see into what they are falling, are said to fall backwards, for they rush headlong where they cannot now see what will then happen to them. But the just fall as it were upon their faces; for moved by fear, they humble themselves: of their own will they throw themselves down amid things visible, that they may be raised up amid things visible.”

The number ten holds significance as well. It is a number which signifies unity. One joined to nine represents a unity. Thus, the nine need the one to become the unity of ten. However, the one does not need the nine since one is a unity in itself. “For this reason as the one who gave thanks is approved and praised as a sign of the One Church, so the nine who did not give thanks, now rejected, are shut out from the communion of oneness. And so shall others like them remain imperfect in the number of the nine. And rightly does the Saviour ask where are they; as though He knew them not. For, with God, to know is to choose; not to know, is to reject.”

St. Bede says, “As to the body, it is easy to see that a man may have no leprosy; and yet he may not be of sound of soul. But in the light of this miracle, it troubles the mind to know how one who is thankless can be said to be made clean? But it is now easy to see, that this also can happen that someone within the society of the Church may know her true and pure doctrine, and may interpret it all in accord with the Catholic rule of faith; he may distinguish the creature from the Creator, and by this show that he is free as it were from leprosy, from the spots of lies, and nevertheless by ungrateful to God and Lord Who made him clean, because uplifted in pride, he has not thrown himself down in loving humility to give thanks, and so has become like those of whom the Apostle said: When they knew God, they have not glorified Hum as God or given thanks (Rom i. 21). Saying, they knew God, Paul shows that they have been made clean of leprosy; yet he goes on to call them ungrateful.”

Thus, we find he who humbles himself at the feet of the Lord, professing his own unworthiness, is told to rise and be on his way, comforted by the Word of God to grow in his perfection. He is saved not through his accord, but by the grace he receives from God through his faith: “For if faith made him whole who had hurried back to give thanks to his Saviour and to the One Who had made him clean, unfaith has brought spiritual ruin to those who, receiving favours from God, fail to return and give Him glory.”

Our faith must not only grown through humility, but we must also undertake the works of faith which follow, “which makes whole those who believe, and give glory to the Father Who is in heaven. Amen.”

+JMJ

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

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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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Galileo

With “Catholic Bashing” seemingly back in vogue today, the true Catholic is called once again to stand up and defend his faith against ignorant and uninformed accusations.  Along with smearing the entire Church based on the heinous actions of a few “priests” (in reality, mostly actively homosexual men who should not have been ordained to the priesthood in the first place), we also see other bashing in the form of worn-out clichés and unfounded, but popular, myth.

One of these poplar myths portrays Galileo (1564-1642) as a lone crusader persecuted by a narrow-minded, superstitious Church.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  If you actually study Galileo in depth, you’ll find he comes across not as a humble, brilliant scientist, but instead as something of an impatient and conceited pompous ass.  Galileo demanded his theories, many of which were later proven incorrect, be unquestioningly accepted as fact.  The Church repeatedly offered Galileo an “out” by asking him to correctly label his theories as theories instead of fact.  Galileo consistently refused.

During Galileo’s time, Latin remained the language of science.  The educated at the time used Latin as a “universal” language since it allowed for exchange of ideas without limits of vernacular language barriers.  However, Galileo chose to write in the vernacular, often using bawdy prose, in an effort to “play to the people” instead of subjecting his work to the review and critique of fellow scientists.  When his friends and supporters, including many in the Church hierarchy up through Pope Urban VIII, begged him to tone down his style and simply state his theories were not fact, Galileo arrogantly replied: “”You cannot help it . . . that it was granted to me alone to discover all the new phenomena in the sky and nothing to anybody else.”  Not exactly the speech of a persecuted underdog.

Because of his attitude, many of his fellow scientists were hostile to Galileo and condemned his theories.  It was not the “enlightened reformers,” but the Roman Catholic Church that sponsored Galileo’s lectures and supported his honest endeavors.  In fact, Pope Urban VIII, Cardinal Bellarmine, and many other leaders of the Church publicly supported Galileo’s scientific work and many of them owned telescopes made by Galileo and conducted their own observations.

Galileo was placed on trial only once, in 1633.  During his trail, the Church treated him as a guest of honor in Rome, providing him a palatial apartment and a personal servant.  He was given a moderate sentence (the recitation once a week for three years of the penitential psalms, which he had already been doing anyway and voluntarily continued to do afterwards, a practice taking only fifteen minutes per week) for publishing as fact what he was told to publish as theory.  Galileo did not spend a single day in prison. Additionally, the Church never prohibited Galileo from continuing his work and studies, and never barred him from receiving visitors.  In fact after his trail, he lived for a time in apartments provided by the Archbishop of Siena.  Galileo died at the age of 78 in his own bed, with the plenary indulgence and blessing of the pope.

When held to the light of honest scrutiny, the truth always shines through.  Truth always triumphs over falsehoods.  Considering those before us laid down their lives in defense of the faith, is it so much to ask today for us to speak up in defense of our faith?  Either we truly believe the Catholic Church is the one, true, holy and apostolic Church worth publically defending; or the Church is merely one denomination among many, no better or worse than any other.  What do you believe?  Do you have the courage to defend the Church in which you profess faith?

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