Wednesday, October 31, 2007

All Hallows' Eve

Growing up, I heard every once in a while that the word Halloween was derived from a contraction of the phrase All Hallows' Eve, but that never had much significance for me since I had no idea what All Hallows' Eve meant in the first place. It makes a lot more sense now that I realize that hallow is an old word for saint and that October 31 is the day before the Catholic solemnity All Saints' Day, a day when the faithful on earth remember and honor all those members of the Mystical Body of Christ who have gone before us and are now in Heaven. This feast has its roots in the Catholic understanding of the communion of saints. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

"We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church." (CCC 962, quoting Paul VI)

(Almost entirely unrelated side note: I have a vague memory of being chastised by my kindergarten teacher for spelling Halloween like this: Hall-o-ween. Come on. I think she should have been impressed that I got that close as a five-year-old. Or maybe I was in third grade . . . )

Happy Halloween

I was once a clown baby:

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Religion and politics

I read a big article this afternoon from this Sunday's New York Times Magazine that was rather interesting. It presented a lot of anecdotal evidence for a number of trends in the political activities of American Evangelical Christians, including the possible disintegration of the so-called "religious right."

The article, written by David D. Kirkpatrick and entitled "The Evangelical Crackup," covers a number of influential Evangelical pastors who are moving away from their traditional loyalty to the Republican Party and starting to "lean left" in their politics and their preaching.

I'm not going to say whether this leftward trend is a good or a bad thing, because I think that the alliance of Christianity with any specific political ideology is a dangerous and foolish enterprise. This is not to say that I believe that religion should be completely divorced from politics, that Christians should not take a stand on "political" issues, or that one's religious convictions should not have an influence on how one votes. This is because to take Christianity seriously is to hold certain beliefs that cannot be compartmentalized and contained within the "religious" portion of one's life. Likewise, there is no such thing as a purely political issue, since politics influence the lives of everyone, not just of politicians.

As I say, though, I think that it is dangerous for Christianity to ally itself with any specific political ideology, whether Republican or Democrat. The main reason for this is that the beliefs of Christianity -- at least as I understand them -- do not fit neatly with the platforms of either of the prevailing political parties in the United States. While both parties support policies that Christians can and should get behind, they both also get it wrong on plenty of important issues. For a Christian to give his or her unreserved loyalty to either party for the sake of some element of that party's platform is thus to give implicit assent to a whole host of positions indefensible from a Christian perspective. This situation, I believe, leads to the temptation to modify one's theology to fit one's political positions, rather than the other way around.

I think it's a much safer practice for Christians to support specific policies or candidates -- regardless of their "conservative" or "liberal" pedigrees -- rather than committing themselves to a given political party and all its baggage.

Monday, October 29, 2007


I first saw a choppy version this video on Saturday night, and soon afterwards received multiple e-mails about it. So, in case you haven't seen it yet, do yourself a favor and check out this video of the final seconds of a Division III college football game:

Yes, that was 15 laterals. Ridiculous.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A journey through John - 14:15-17

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth."

Rather than give any thoughts on this passage, I'm just going to post it again in musical form. Specifically, this is a recording of "If Ye Love Me" by Thomas Tallis, a 16th century English composer and lifelong Catholic. It's a simple, beautiful little choral work, and it's one of my favorites, so I hope you enjoy it:

Saturday, October 27, 2007

More "historical" nonsense

Sorry to rant, but I just wanted to point out my other main objection to much of the field of historical Jesus scholarship, which is illustrated in the opening paragraph of the course description for Thomas Sheehan's Historical Jesus course at Stanford University, the lecture audio of which is available on iTunes U:

"Who was the historical Jesus of Nazareth? What did he actually say and do, as contrasted with what early Christians (e.g. Paul and the Gospel writers) believed that he said and did? What did the man Jesus actually think of himself and of his mission, as contrasted with the messianic and even divine claims that the New Testament makes about him? In short, what are the differences -- and continuities -- between the Jesus who lived and died in history and the Christ who lives on in believers' faith?"

I think the most startlingly arrogant aspect of this paragraph is that Sheehan grants that the writers of the New Testament actually believed that Jesus had said and done the things that they wrote about Him saying and doing. It would be one thing for Sheehan to argue that Paul and the Gospel writers had fabricated fictional yet edifying stories about Jesus to fit their quasi-mystical experience of His whatever. But he doesn't. He concedes that they wrote what they "believed . . . he said and did."

And yet he contends that modern historians nearly 2,000 years removed from the lifetime of Jesus have a better grasp on what Jesus said and did than the people who lived at the same time and in the same place as Jesus and who were writing within a few decades of His death!

And these modern historians can know what Jesus really said and did, "as contrasted with what early Christians . . . believed that he said and did," despite the fact that the only historical data about Jesus that these modern historians have to work with are the writings of those stupid early Christians who knew so little about what Jesus said and did!

I would say that this is pure arrogance, except that there's a good amount of nonsense mixed in there, too.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The "historical" Jesus

Scholarship about the so-called "historical Jesus" wouldn't be so bad if it weren't quite so ridiculous.

I say this as someone who has just a bit of experience with the field: at Harvard, I took a course called Jesus of Nazareth and the Gospels which was taught by Helmut Koester, who himself was taught by Rudolf Bultmann, the famous demythologizer of Christianity. That course gave me the strong impression that the field of historical Jesus scholarship consists largely in proving that the miracle stories in the Gospels must have been made up, by starting with the assumption that miracles are impossible.

It's not this brand of airtight logic that I take issue with, however. I do think it's a valid intellectual position to believe that miracles do not occur. Now, to prove that they didn't by assuming that they can't doesn't seem like the most intellectually satisfying undertaking to me, but that's really none of my business.

But here's what got me going today. I stumbled across the lecture audio for a Stanford University course called Historical Jesus on the relatively new iTunes U service and started listening to the first lecture (Call Me Yeshua). For whatever reason, the professor, Thomas Sheehan, conveys the unmistakable impression of having a major ax to grind with orthodox Christianity, which seems to lead him, at times, to go a little bit overboard in trying to shock the faith out of anyone in his audience who might have any. At 37:15 into the lecture he says this:

"Here's the point: over the last four decades -- I said that the real turning point is 1800 -- but since World War II, historical scholarship on Yeshua and on his times -- and it doesn't matter who conducts the historical scholarship -- whether Jews, or Christians, or Muslims, or non-believers -- has arrived at a strong scientific consensus about what this undeniably historical figure said and did -- how he presented himself and his message to his Jewish audience."

Alright, fair enough, so far. But then he drops -- in a very pompous and self-satisfied voice -- what you can tell he thinks is a real bombshell:

"Jesus had nooo intention of being a Christian."

Oh, really? Jesus had no intention of being a follower of Himself? I'm positively scandalized!

But he's not done. He pauses dramatically for a couple of seconds and then adds, snidely:

"Not even a Catholic."

Come on! Who is this clown? A very bitter man, apparently, whose bitterness is clearly coloring his scholarship to the extent that, for some reason, he's insinuating in an academic environment that Catholicism isn't Christian.

Now that is ridiculous.

UPDATE: In fairness to Sheehan, I will acknowledge that his "Not even a Catholic" quip is sufficiently vague to support a number of interpretations, not all of which would imply that Catholicism is not Christian. All the other possible meanings of his remark are, however, equally obnoxious.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Raven

One thing I noticed almost immediately when I moved to Seattle was that there are an extraordinary number of crows in this city. They're everywhere. And they always make me think of the poem "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe. And since it's a creepy poem and we're closing in on Halloween, this seemed like as good a time as any to post about "The Raven."

(Before I go on, I'll make a feeble attempt at tying this post in with the Catholic theme of this blog.) Though he was baptized in the Episcopal Church and was not, I don't think, very religious, Poe once wrote and published quite a lovely piece called "A Catholic Hymn," which is addressed to the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. Here it is:

At morn -- at noon -- at twilight dim --
Maria! thou hast heard my hymn!
In joy and woe -- in good and ill --
Mother of God, be with me still!
When the Hours flew brightly by,
And not a cloud obscured the sky,
My soul, lest it should truant be,
Thy grace did guide to thine and thee;
Now, when storms of Fate o'ercast
Darkly my Present and my Past,
Let my Future radiant shine
With sweet hopes of thee and thine!

Anyway, back to "The Raven." Most kids are forced to study this poem in school at some point, but in my opinion it's one of those poems that should just be enjoyed without too much analysis. I think the majority of my generation has seen the James Earl Jones-narrated version of the poem on The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror special, which is excellent. Unfortunately, it's a little abridged, so you miss out on some of the story.

Luckily, there's an awesome film version of the entire poem, made in 1963 and starring the ridiculous Vincent Price, which I highly recommend. Here it is:

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Spiritual warfare

“Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

It's easy in these enlightened times not to think much about the devil, or, if we do think about him, to think that he doesn't exist. We ignore or deny the existence of the devil, however, at our peril. To quote Baudelaire's oft-paraphrased line, "La plus belle des ruses du diable est de vous persuader qu'il n'existe pas." (The finest trick of the devil is to persuade you that he does not exist.) The Bible mentions Satan by name nearly 50 times, not to mention all the times he is referred to by some other word or phrase. Indeed, the devil is all too real, and it is only when we acknowledge this that we can fight him and his evil influence in our lives and in the world. As St. Paul writes:

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." (Ephesians 6:10-17)

(Side note: When I typed this out, I accidentally wrote about the "flaming farts of the evil one." Now that would be really scary.)

The devil wants to lead us to destruction, to keep us from experiencing the amazing love of God, and to that end he works in all kinds of terrible and subtle ways: by persuading us that God doesn't exist (or at least doesn't matter), or that prayer is boring or pointless, or that sin isn't really sin, or any number of other things. And he is quite adept at disguising his attacks so that we never suspect he's behind them -- he can make the most heinous lies seem utterly reasonable, and he can lead us astray so gradually that we're a million miles from home before we realize we've left at all. That is why we must be always on our guard against the devil.

And, luckily, we're not alone in the battle. When we are tempted by the devil, God will always give us the grace to resist him if we are willing to accept it. God even has a whole army of angels ready to do battle with the devil, headed by St. Michael the Archangel, to whom we can also pray for backup:

"St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle; be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil; may God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen."


Okay, this has nothing to do with anything, but I just stumbled across this picture on The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks and thought it was the most ridiculous, "hilarious" thing I had seen in a while. No commentary from me could possibly make this any funnier, so I'm just gonna post it and let it be (you can click on the picture for a little better resolution):

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A journey through John - 13:2-5

"And during supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded."

What utter humility for Jesus, Who knows that He is God, to willingly wash his disciples' disgusting feet. What incredible love for Him to extend this beautiful offer of cleansing to those He knew would soon betray and deny Him. It's the same amazing offer of grace that He constantly extends to us. If we believe this, what else can we do than respond with love and gratitude?

A journey through John - 12:42-43

"Nevertheless many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God."

If I publicly confess my belief in Jesus, I'm not going to be thrown out of the synagogue. I have no fear of Pharisees. So what am I afraid of? Why am I so reluctant to speak openly about my faith? While it's true that I do love the praise of men, I don't get much of that as it is, and I doubt that I would get much less if I were forthright about my faith in Christ.

I think that, for me, the reticence is due to an aversion to awkwardness. It's just a fact that a lot people don't want to hear about anything remotely religious, let alone about faith in Jesus. It makes them uncomfortable. Sometimes it even makes them mad. And I don't like to make people uncomfortable or mad. (Okay, once in a while I do, but not usually.) So, for the most part, I err on the side of silence.

This policy, however, is self-inconsistent and rests on a fundamental disordering of priorities. I have faith in Christ because I believe that to know, to love, and to serve Him is the most important and life-giving thing a person can do on this earth. And I'm gonna keep my mouth shut about that because I fear a little awkwardness? Come on.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Mother Teresa on prayer

So I've been trying lately to recenter my life more squarely around prayer, and I've been finding, as I always do, that it's not always easy to pray. There always seems to be something more immediately gratifying to do, and it's all too easy for prayer to fall by the wayside. Anyway, as I was putting away some books on my bookshelf a few minutes ago, I noticed a little volume I'd never really looked at before called A Simple Path, which is a compilation of short writings by Mother Teresa. For some reason I grabbed it and flipped it open randomly to a page in the middle, which began with these words:

"Try to feel the need for prayer often during the day and take the trouble to pray. Prayer makes the heart large enough until it can contain God's gift of Himself. Ask and seek, and your heart will grow big enough to receive Him and keep Him as your own."

Now, a good portion of the book seems to be devoted to writings about prayer, so I'm not going to say that this was definitely an instance of divine intervention, but I'm not going to completely rule it out, either. I will say that it was certainly a timely bit of very relevant encouragement, and I'm thankful for it.

I Sing the Mighty Power of God

I came across a great hymn this morning as I was praying the Liturgy of the Hours called "I Sing the Mighty Power of God." The words were written in 1715 by Isaac Watts, the "Father of English Hymnody" who is credited with writing 750 hymns, including such well-known ones as "Joy to the World!" and "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross."

The hymn celebrates the power and the goodness of God, which is revealed through His creation, as Paul affirms in his Letter to the Romans: "Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and his deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made" (1:20).

One of the tunes for the hymn is called Ellacombe, which you can hear here. These are the words, which first struck me:

I sing the mighty power of God,
That made the mountains rise;
That spread the flowing seas abroad,
And built the lofty skies.
I sing the wisdom that ordained
The sun to rule the day.
The moon shines full at his command,
And all the stars obey.

I sing the goodness of the Lord,
That filled the earth with food.
He formed the creatures with his word,
And then pronounced them good.
Lord, how your wonders are displayed
Where e'er I turn my eye:
If I survey the ground I tread,
Or gaze upon the sky!

There's not a plant or flower below,
But makes your glories known;
And clouds arise, and tempests blow,
By order from your throne;
While all that borrows life from you
Is ever in your care,
And everywhere that man can be,
You, God, are present there.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Catechism of the Catholic Church

I've made reference to and quoted from the Catechism of the Catholic Church several times on this blog. It is a wonderful and wonderfully useful book that contains pretty much all the essential teachings and beliefs of the Catholic Church in a concise and easy-to-navigate format. If you've got a question about what the Church believes about a given subject, chances are you can find the answer in the Catechism. Pope John Paul II called it "a sure norm for teaching the faith."

Here's an episode of That Catholic Show, a video podcast by Greg and Jennifer Willits, who run an apostolate called Rosary Army. It's a little silly, but it's fun, and it gives a good introduction to the Catechism.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The poetry of John Donne

One of my favorite literary discoveries during my time as an English major was the poetry of John Donne, who was one of the 17th century's so-called "Metaphysical Poets" as well as a clergyman in the Church of England. The Norton Anthology of English Literature gives this summary of his early life and fascinating family history:

"Donne began life as an outsider, and in some respects remained one until death. He was born in London in 1572 into a devout Roman Catholic household. The family was prosperous, but, as the poet later remarked, none had suffered more heavily for its loyalty to the Catholic Church: 'I have been ever kept awake in a meditation of martyrdom.' Donne was distantly related to the great Catholic humanist and martyr Sir Thomas More. Closer to home, a Jesuit uncle was executed by the brutal method of hanging, drawing, quartering, and disemboweling, and his own brother Henry, arrested for harboring a priest, died in prison of the plague. As a Catholic in Protestant England, growing up in decades when anti-Roman feeling reached new heights, Donne could not expect any kind of public career, nor even to receive a university degree (he left Oxford without one and studied law for a time at the Inns of Court). What he could reasonably expect instead was prejudice, official harrassment, and crippling financial penalties. He chose not to live under such conditions. At some point in the 1590s, having returned to London after travels abroad, and having devoted some years to studying theological issues, Donne converted to the English Church."

I have a few favorite poems of John Donne's. One is his "Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward," which I will post on its appropriate day. Another is his "Holy Sonnet 14," which I will post right now:

Batter my heart, three-personed God; for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurped town, to another due,
Labor to admit you, but O, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betrothed unto your enemy.
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again;
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Praying always has a nice commentary on this Sunday's Gospel reading by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, who is the Preacher to the Papal Household (meaning he's the guy who gets/has to preach to the Pope). Fr. Cantalamessa writes about Jesus' instructions to his disciples in the Gospel of Luke to pray always without growing weary. Here's an excerpt from the commentary:

"This ideal of constant prayer is realized in different forms in the East and West. Eastern Christianity practiced it with the 'Jesus Prayer': 'Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!'

"The West formulated the principle of constant prayer in a more flexible way so that it could also be proposed to those who do not lead a monastic life. St. Augustine teaches that the essence of prayer is desire. If the desire for God is constant, so also is prayer, but if there is no interior desire, then you can howl as much as you want -- to God you are mute.

"Now, this secret desire for God, a work of memory, of need for the infinite, of nostalgia for God, can remain alive, even when one has other things to do: 'Praying for a long time is not the same thing as kneeling or folding your hands for a long time. In consists rather in awakening a constant and devout impulse of the heart toward him whom we invoke.'

"Jesus himself gave us the example of unceasing prayer. Of him, it is said that he prayed during the day, in the evening, early in the morning, and sometimes he passed the whole night in prayer. Prayer was the connecting thread of his whole life.

"But Christ’s example tells us something else important. We are deceiving ourselves if we think that we can pray always, make prayer a kind of respiration of the soul in the midst of daily activity, if we do not set aside fixed times for prayer, when we are free from every other preoccupation."

For me, the practice of praying always is something I've only ever been able to get a very feeble and tenuous (and brief) grasp of. I've found it difficult to maintain for very long, mostly because my will is just so weak and I am so easily distracted by silly things. But those days when I am able to live in constant awareness of God's presence and when I am continually seeking His face are just so indescribably joyous. It's a sad commentary on myself that I could experience such periods joy in the presence of God, but then let them slip away because of the effort of the will involved. I must pray for God's grace that I might persevere in loving and desiring Him in every moment of my life.


Today I went to a Hollywood Video store closing sale, and I made out like a bandit! Jeanette and I grabbed 17 DVDs for only $20.52! I'm pumped!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

St. Luke the Evangelist and Peanuts

October 18 is the feast of St. Luke the Evangelist, who wrote the Gospel of Luke and who is traditionally believed to have been a physician who traveled with St. Paul during the mid-1st century. I like this collect from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer for his feast day:

"Almighty God, who didst inspire thy servant Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of thy Son: Graciously continue in thy Church the like love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of thy Name; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."

St. Luke is especially special to me because he is my patron saint, and I took the name Luke at my Confirmation, largely because of the beauty of his Gospel, which I first discovered in this:

I think I totally freaked out everyone in a class I took at Harvard called The Making of Christianity when the professor showed that clip and then asked if anyone knew what Linus was quoting. No one else spoke up, so I said, "The Gospel of Luke . . . chapter 2 . . . verses 8 to 14." Unfortunately, this is one of the few Bible passages I could cite like that, just because I love it so much.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

An interview with Fr. Robert Barron

Check out to read a great interview with Fr. Robert Barron, an incredibly intelligent and faithful priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago who describes himself as a "Post-Liberal, Post-Conservative Evangelical Catholic." Also worth checking out are his Sunday homilies, which are available on iTunes or on his website. Here's the opening question and answer from the interview: The subtitle to The Priority of Christ is "Toward a Postliberal Catholicism", and Bridging the Great Divide is subtitled "Musings of a Post-Liberal, Post-Conservative Evangelical Catholic." What is misleading or hindering about the descriptives "liberal" and "conservative" when used to describe Catholicism? How might you define a "post-liberal, post-conservative evangelical Catholic"?

Fr. Barron: The terms "liberal" and "conservative" are misleading in regard to the Catholic faith because they are primarily political categories borrowed from the era of the French revolution. During that time, if you supported the ancien régime, you were a conservateur, and if you favored political reform, you were a liberal. But this applies, only very awkwardly, to the context of Catholicism, for the church is not a political form towards which we are either positively or negatively disposed. It is, rather, a body of which we are members. As the subtitle to my book Bridging the Great Divide suggests, I would recommend that we leave these misleading designations behind and embrace the title "evangelical." By this, I mean that we should be Christ-centered, eager to proclaim the faith, and deeply desirous of bringing people into the mystical body in which we have found such abundant life.

St. Ignatius of Antioch was a badass

. . . in the best sense of the word.

And October 17 is his memorial!

St. Ignatius lived from the mid-1st century until the early 2nd century, and he was appointed bishop of Antioch by St. Peter himself, according to Theodoret. He was arrested during a persecution under the Roman emperor Trajan and was taken in chains from Syria to Rome. Along the way he wrote several letters to different Christian communities, seven of which we still have today. When he arrived in Rome, he willingly met a martyr's death, as he was devoured by lions in the Colosseum.

The old Catholic Encyclopedia gives this summary description of St. Ignatius:

"The character of St. Ignatius, as deduced from his own and the extant writings of his contemporaries, is that of a true athlete of Christ. The triple honor of apostle, bishop, and martyr was well merited by this energetic soldier of the Faith. An enthusiastic devotion to duty, a passionate love of sacrifice, and an utter fearlessness in the defense of Christian truth, were his chief characteristics. Zeal for the spiritual well-being of those under his charge breathes from every line of his writings. Ever vigilant lest they be infected by the rampant heresies of those early days; praying for them, that their faith and courage may not be wanting in the hour of persecution; constantly exhorting them to unfailing obedience to their bishops; teaching them all Catholic truth; eagerly sighing for the crown of martyrdom, that his own blood may fructify in added graces in the souls of his flock, he proves himself in every sense a true pastor of souls, the good shepherd that lays down his life for his sheep."

I read through all of St. Ignatius's epistles on Tuesday (they're quite short), and they are just fascinating. Not only do they paint an inspiring picture of a man of great faith in Jesus Christ, who actually begged the Christians at Rome not to prevent his execution; but they also give great perspective on what Christianity looked like during its very early days. (St. Ignatius probably wrote his letters during the first decade of the 2nd century.) Interestingly, St. Ignatius makes explicit and repeated references to many things that some people would have you believe were later "inventions" of the Church: the divinity of Christ, the hierarchical structure of the Church, and Christ's Real Presence in the Eucharist, to name a few.

Most of all, the epistles of St. Ignatius are often a joy to read. Though he is usually plain-spoken and straightforward, his imagery is occasionally beautiful, as in the case of this excerpt from his letter to the Ephesians:

“Wherefore it is fitting that you should run together in accordance with the will of your bishop, which thing also you do. For your justly renowned presbytery, worthy of God, is fitted as exactly to the bishop as the strings are to the harp. Therefore in your concord and harmonious love, Jesus Christ is sung. And do ye, man by man, become a choir, that being harmonious in love, and taking up the song of God in unison, you may with one voice sing to the Father through Jesus Christ, so that He may both hear you, and perceive by your works that you are indeed the members of His Son. It is profitable, therefore, that you should live in an unblameable unity, that thus you may always enjoy communion with God.”

Wholly Catholic's one-month anniversary

I know it's silly to talk about an "anniversary" without reference to years, but I don't care -- "birthday" would have made even less sense. In any case, as of today, this blog is one month old, and by the grace of God, I haven't lost interest in it yet. I continue to pray that God will somehow use this humble blog to His glory, and that my faltering reflections might someday prove helpful to someone.

To any readers out there, thanks for reading, and please let me know how I can serve you better.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Knights Templar and the Vatican Secret Archives. . .

Sounds really mysterious, right?

The story's really not all that exciting, though.

As has been reported for a little while now, the Vatican is releasing a book containing the documents from the 14th century heresy trial of Knights Templar, a religious military order founded in 1118 to protect pilgrims in Jerusalem during the aftermath of the First Crusade.

The centerpiece of the book is a document discovered in the Vatican Secret Archives in 2001 that suggests that Pope Clement V initially absolved the Knights Templar of the charges of heresy against them, but later reversed his decision under pressure from King Philip IV of France, who historians believe probably owed money to the order.

So, a decent dose of intrigue and scandal, I guess, but no Holy Grail.

Ah well.

Monday, October 15, 2007

A journey through John - 11:5-6

"Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was."

Jesus is just maddening sometimes, isn't He? What is He waiting around for? What on earth is He doing where He is while His friend is dying?

Why does Jesus stay two days longer in the place where He was? Precisely because He loved Lazarus and his sisters, John insists. That little So has got to be one of the most perplexing, frustrating conjunctions in all of Scripture. Jesus took His sweet time going to see Lazarus because he loved him! Jesus loved Lazarus; therefore He couldn't be bothered to lift a finger to help him! It doesn't make any sense!

And so, once Jesus actually decides to get going and finally arrives at the home of Mary and Martha, Lazarus is already dead. His sisters betray some of the same frustration that we feel at His tardiness: "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died," they both tell him (11:21, 32).

But Jesus has a plan in all this. As He said upon hearing the news of Lazarus' sickness, "This illness . . . is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it" (11:4). Jesus allows His friend Lazarus to die so that, in the presence of all the mourners, He can demonstrate His power and divinity by raising Lazarus from death to life, so that they might all have faith in Him. Before Jesus commands Lazarus to come out of his tomb, He prays, "Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. I knew that thou hearest me always, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that thou didst send me" (11:42).

Indeed, it is because Jesus loves Lazarus and his sisters that He does wait to answer Mary's and Martha's plea to help their brother. He loves them so much that He wishes to reveal to them His power over death, so that they might believe that He is the Son of God and lay claim to the new and everlasting life He offers to everyone: "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die" (11:25-26).

Pope Benedict XVI on sacred music

There's a nice little article on about Pope Benedict XVI's recent speech at the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music about the importance of sacred music. An excerpt:

"'How rich is biblical and patristic tradition in highlighting the efficacy of song and sacred music in moving hearts and lifting toward, we could say, the very intimacy of the life of God,' he said.

"Benedict XVI recalled that Pope John Paul II said that 'today, as always, three characteristics distinguish sacred music: its "sanctity," its "true art," and its "universality," in other words the fact that it can be presented to any people or assembly.'"

A lot of people might think the Pontiff is a little out of touch if he believes that sacred music could possibly have a universal appeal in this day and age, but I defy anyone to quietly listen to Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli, for example, and not be elevated and exhilarated. (Even if it isn't that great of a recording.)

St. Teresa of Avila and prayer

October 15 is the memorial of St. Teresa of Avila, a 16th century mystic and reformer who was recognized in 1970 as a Doctor of the Church and who is commemorated in Bernini's famous The Ecstasy of St. Teresa (left). I've just been trying to learn a little bit about her life today, and I came across a passage in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that contains a very nice quote from her:

"What is contemplative prayer? St. Teresa answers: 'Contemplative prayer [oracion mental] in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.'"

Sounds good to me.

Prayer of St. Ephrem

I just think this is such a beautiful prayer. It is attributed to St. Ephrem the Syrian, a Doctor of the Church who wrote many many hymns during the 4th century. I need to pray this prayer every day. Here it is:

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of laziness, meddling, ambition, and vain talk. But give me a spirit of prudence, humility, patience, and love. Yes, Lord and King, grant me to see my own sins and faults and not judge my brother. For You are blessed forever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A journey through John - 10:11-15

"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep."

Jesus here prophesies that He will die for the sake of all humanity, His flock. Now, I know that I don't have nearly enough faith or understanding to come close to appreciating the full weight of this, but I just have to keep reminding myself that when we talk about Jesus, we're talking about God, the Creator of the universe, and for some reason He loves us lowly creatures enough to die for us. And not just die, but willingly subject Himself to the most shameful execution the Roman world could come up with.

This is simply remarkable to me. I think many Christians are so used to hearing that God loves us that we start to take it for granted. "Of course God loves me -- why wouldn't He?"

But why should He? He didn't even need to create us! He made us out of nothing! We are infinitely below Him in every respect. And yet He loves us. Enough to die a painful, humiliating death for us.

All I can say is, thank God that God is not an aloof, uninterested, uninvolved god. Thank God that God is not the god of the deists. Thank God that God is a compassionate, Self-sacrificing Shepherd Who loves us lowly sheep as His own and has not left us to be snatched up by the wolves of this world.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

What does "Christianity" mean?

John Shelby Spong is a 76-year-old former Episcopal Bishop of Newark who writes a lot of books with subtitles like A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture and A Bishop Rethinks the Birth of Jesus. I stumbled across a brief essay of his today entitled "A Call for a New Reformation," which I read with great interest. It concluded with the following passage:

"Martin Luther ignited the Reformation of the 16th century by nailing to the door of the church in Wittenberg in 1517 the 95 Theses that he wished to debate. I will publish this challenge to Christianity in The Voice. I will post my theses on the Internet and send copies with invitations to debate them to the recognized Christian leaders of the world. My theses are far smaller in number than were those of Martin Luther, but they are far more threatening theologically. The issues to which I now call the Christians of the world to debate are these:

"1. Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found.
2. Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt.
3. The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.
4. The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes Christ's divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible.
5. The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.
6. The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed.
7. Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history.
8. The story of the Ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post-Copernican space age.
9. There is no external, objective, revealed standard writ in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time.
10. Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.
11. The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior control mentality of reward and punishment. The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior.
12. All human beings bear God's image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one's being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination.

"So I set these theses today before the Christian world and I stand ready to debate each of them as we prepare to enter the third millennium."

I don't think it's going too far to say that, in these twelve theses, Spong has flatly rejected (or attempted to reject) a few of the more central tenets of the Christian faith as it has been almost universally understood for nearly 2,000 years. Now, this would be easily understandable if Spong's goal were to destroy Christianity, but he actually asserts that his proposed "Reformation" is the "only . . . thing [that] will save this venerable faith tradition." The way he sees it, this "Reformation will be about the very life and death of Christianity," and he claims to be rooting for life.

Based on what little I know of John Shelby Spong, he seems like an intelligent, amiable, and generally good man, but I can't help feeling that his whole project is a bit disingenuous. While Spong claims to want to save "Christianity," he exhibits nothing but disdain for the traditional faith, and I cannot fathom why (or how, for that matter) he ever became a bishop, or why he insists on calling his non-religious, humanistic set of beliefs "Christianity." I honestly don't understand.

Maybe for the publicity?

Friday, October 12, 2007

A journey through John - 9:6-7

"As he said this, he spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man's eyes with the clay, saying to him, 'Go, wash in the poor of Siloam' (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing."

What I find most remarkable about this passage is how Jesus uses such mundane materials -- water, dirt, and spit -- to effect a miracle and enable a man born blind to see. He certainly doesn't have to -- He is God, He can do whatever He wants, He can perform miracles merely by commanding them. But in this case, for whatever reason, Jesus chooses to work through the humble medium of matter.

I find it helpful to remember this sometimes when it seems hard to believe that God would actually convey grace through the everyday elements -- water, oil, bread, wine -- of the sacraments of the Church.

I think there's an almost Gnostic tendency these days to feel that all things spiritual must somehow be kept separate from the lowly material realm. But to hold this belief consistently would be to resist the truth not only of certain of Jesus' miracles, but also of the mystery at the very center of the Christian faith: that God effected our salvation by becoming flesh and dying on a cross.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

G. K. Chesterton's blind faith

What little I've read of G. K. Chesterton's writings, I've always loved. Here's the opening line of his autobiography:

"Bowing down in blind credulity, as is my custom, before mere authority and the tradition of the elders, superstitiously swallowing a story I could not test at the time by experiment or private judgment, I am firmly of the opinion that I was born on the 29th of May, 1873, on Campden Hill, Kensington; and baptised according to the formularies of the Church of England in the little church of St. George opposite the large Waterworks Tower that dominated that ridge."

Think about it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

St. Hilary of Poitiers

I though provided a very nice summary of Pope Benedict XVI's teaching about St. Hilary of Poitiers, a Church Father I had never heard of before, but who sounds like an incredible guy:

"Benedict XVI lauded what he called a gift of St. Hilary of Poitiers: the ability to combine meekness in interpersonal relationships and firm compliance to sound doctrine.

"The Pope said this today at the general audience in St. Peter's Square, in which he continued his reflection on the Fathers of the Church, turning his attention to the fourth-century bishop.

"Noting that St. Hilary confronted the Arian heresy and suffered exile for his adherence to the true faith, the Holy Father said the saint was 'always firm in his opposition to radical Arians.'

"But, the Pontiff affirmed, Hilary 'showed a conciliatory spirit with those who accepted that the Son was similar to the Father in essence, naturally trying to lead them toward the fullness of faith, which says that there is not only a similarity, but a true equality of the Father and the Son in their divinity.'

"The Pontiff called Hilary's desire to forge unity a characteristic of the saint's life: 'His conciliatory spirit tries to understand those who still have not yet arrived to the fullness of the truth and helps them, with great theological intelligence, to reach the fullness of faith in the true divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ.

"'This was precisely his gift: uniting strength of faith and meekness in interpersonal relationships.'"

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

A journey through John - 8:31-33

"Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, 'If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.' They answered him, 'We are descendants of Abraham, and have never been in bondage to any one. How is it that you say, "You will be made free"?'

"Jesus answered them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave of sin.'"

There is so much that could be gleaned from these few verses, but right now I'm going to focus on the response that the Jews give to Jesus' offer of freedom: "We are descendants of Abraham, and have never been in bondage to any one. How is it that you say, 'You will be made free'?"

Wrapped up in those two little sentences are so many unfortunate things: misunderstanding, defensiveness, pride, denial, false security.

The Jews do not even know what kind of freedom Jesus is talking about, yet they immediately jump to justify themselves by their earthly lineage. They believe that, as members of the chosen people of God, they are all set, so to speak, and need no help from this uppity Jesus guy.

The problem is that these Jews have become so secure and complacent in their status as the chosen people of God that their hearts have grown cold, so much so that they react hostilely when God Himself speaks the truth to them in person.

How often is this true of us as well? How often are we too secure in our own earthly positions? How often do we cut Jesus off, telling him, "Hey, I'm a pretty good guy. Who are you to tell me how to live"? In so many words, probably not very often. But in our attitudes and actions? Far, far too often, at least for me. I don't like to be reminded that I'm a slave to sin. I don't want to be told that I'm not living up to all I was meant to be.

Jesus doesn't just want to call us out on all our shortcomings, though. He came not to criticize us, ridicule us, belittle us, condemn us, but to save us, to provide us with a way out of our self-destructive tendencies. And that way is Himself. As He said: "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." Jesus is "the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). We must understand that. We must stop fighting Him. We must open ourselves to the wonderful freedom He never ceases to offer us.

Monday, October 8, 2007

A journey through John - 7:11-13

"The Jews were looking for him at the feast, and saying, 'Where is he?' And there was much muttering around him among the people. While some said, 'He is a good man,' others said, 'No, he is leading the people astray.' Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him."

The subject of all this hushed discussion and debate is Jesus, of course. He's quite a captivating character. Everyone has an opinion about him. "Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly about him." The people don't want to run afoul of the authorities by being overheard talking about Jesus, Who isn't exactly in the good graces of the earthly powers that be. So they whisper a little bit with those close by and say no more.

I think most of us today are in much the same position as the people at that feast almost 2,000 years ago. Most of us have pretty strong personal beliefs one way or another about Jesus, or about Christianity, or about God or religion more generally. And while I'd guess that most people aren't held back by fear of the Jewish authorities these days, there is something that keeps the great majority of us from speaking openly about our beliefs.

I think that nowadays the fear that keeps us clammed up about our religious beliefs is the fear of offending people, or of being labeled as "narrow-minded" or "judgmental." Our silence does no one any real good, though. It only prevents the possibility of real understanding between people of differing beliefs.

We need to start talking, not offensively, not narrow-mindedly, not judgmentally, but openly and honestly.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Theology and Sanity

So, I've been reading a book called Theology and Sanity by Frank Sheed. I've just finished the first of three sections, and I must say that it has been a great book so far. It's written with great clarity and wit, and it covers some rather important topics -- the three major sections are entitled "God," "Creation," and "Oneself." I would recommend this book to anyone interested in understanding the basics of Christian theology. It's neither overly technical nor dumbed-down in the least. I was initially attracted to the book because Karl Keating, the founder and president of Catholic Answers, claimed that it contained "the clearest explanation of the Trinity ever put on paper," and it did live up to my expectations in that respect. Here's how the book opens:

"My concern in this book is not with the Will but with the Intellect, not with sanctity but with sanity. The difference is too often overlooked in the practice of religion. The soul has two faculties and they should be clearly distinguished. There is the will: its work is to love -- and so to choose, to decide, to act. There is the intellect: its work is to know, to understand to see: to see what? to see what's there.

"I have said that my concern is with the intellect rather than with the will: this not because the intellect matters more in religion than the will, but because it does matter and tends to be neglected, and the neglect is bad. I realize that salvation depends directly upon the will. We are saved or damned according to what we love. If we love God, we shall ultimately get God: we shall be saved. If we love self in preference to God then we shall get self apart from God: we shall be damned. But though in our relation to God the intellect does not matter as much as the will (and indeed depends for its health upon the will), it does matter, and as I have said, it is too much neglected -- to the great misfortune of the will, for we can never attain a maximum love of God with only a minimum knowledge of God."

The intellect matters, Sheed maintains, because "every new thing known about God is a new reason for loving Him." I couldn't agree more.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Pope Benedict XVI on natural law and democracy

There's a good article on about Pope Benedict XVI's recent speech to members of the International Theological Commission. You know, the more I hear from the Holy Father, the more I like him. He is completely unafraid to speak the truth to a world in which so many people no longer believe in such a thing. Here's an excerpt from the article:

"Benedict XVI affirmed that natural law is actually a guarantee of freedom.

"He explained: 'When fundamental essentials are at stake: human dignity, human life, the institution of the family and the equity of the social order -- in other words the fundamental rights of man -- no law made by men and women can subvert the norm written by the Creator in man's heart without society itself being dramatically struck ... at its very core.

"'Thus natural law is a true guarantee for everyone to live freely and with respect for their dignity, protected from all ideological manipulation and from all arbitrary abuses of the powerful.

"'No one can disregard this appeal. If by reason of a tragic clouding of the collective conscience, skepticism and ethical relativism managed to annul the fundamental principles of natural moral law, the very democratic order itself would be profoundly undermined at its foundations.'"

Friday, October 5, 2007

A journey through John - 6:51-52

"'I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.'

"The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, 'How can this man give us his flesh to eat?'"

It's not uncommon, in the Gospels, for Jesus to be misunderstood by those who hear Him. Especially when Jesus starts talking about food, His hearers repeatedly make the mistake of taking Him literally when He is really speaking metaphorically.

Take, for example, this exchange recorded in the Synoptic Gospels between Jesus and His disciples: "Jesus said to them, 'Take heed and beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.' And they discussed it among themselves, saying, 'We brought no bread'" (Matthew 16:6-7). Jesus responds, "O men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves the fact that you have no bread?" (16:8) and continues, "How is it that you fail to perceive that I did not speak about bread?" (16:11). Matthew narrates the disciples' delayed epiphany: "Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees" (16:12).

A similar episode occurs in the Gospel of John just after Jesus has spoken with the Samaritan woman: "Meanwhile the disciples besought him, saying, 'Rabbi, eat.' But he said to them, 'I have food to eat of which you do not know.' So the disciples said to one another, 'Has any one brought him food?' Jesus said to them, 'My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work'" (John 4:31-34).

The pattern in both these episodes is the same: 1) Jesus speaks metaphorically about food; 2) His hearers mistakenly interpret His words literally; 3) Jesus explains that He was not speaking literally, but rather metaphorically.

One would expect this pattern to hold true in the above passage from John 6, in which Jesus speaks of eating the living bread which is His flesh, and His hearers clearly understand Him to be speaking literally ("How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"). So how does Jesus explain to them that He was not actually speaking literally? Let's see:

"So Jesus said to them, 'Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.'" (John 6:53-56)

Why does Jesus neglect to clear up His disciples' misunderstanding, even when many begin to leave Him because of this teaching? Why does He not explain that He was only speaking metaphorically?

Maybe because He was speaking literally.

Pub theology

So, tonight I'm going to The Pub at Ravenna Third Place to eat, drink, and discuss Pope Benedict XVI's understanding of Vatican II and modernity (it doesn't get much merrier than that!) with a group of young adults from my new church in Seattle, the Prince of Peace Catholic Newman Center at the University of Washington.

Our discussion will be based on our reading of an interview with theologian Tracey Rowland. All I can say is, there must be some smart young adults at this church. Either that, or Fr. Bernard, the priest who chose the topic for our discussion, has seriously overestimated us. Here's an excerpt from the interview:

"In the 19th century Lord Acton popularized the idea that Thomas Aquinas was the first Whig, that is, the first proponent of a modern, post-Enlightenment concept of politics. Thus 'Whig Thomism' refers to an intellectual project that seeks to locate the genesis of the liberal tradition in the thought of Thomas Aquinas and to synthesize elements of the Liberal tradition, particularly those provided by the Scottish Enlightenment, to classical Thomism.

"The project of reading Aquinas as the first Whig or first Liberal has been criticized by a number of scholars.

"For example, Robert Kraynak, in his work 'Christian Faith and Modern Democracy,' has written that 'though intriguing, Acton's interpretation is misleading because Thomas defends power sharing and political participation, not as a right of the people to parliamentary consent nor as a means for protecting personal rights and liberties, but as the prudent application of natural law whose ends are best realized in a stable constitutional order dedicated to peace, virtue and Christian piety. This is medieval corporatism applied within the [Augustinian] doctrine of the Two Cities, rather than the first stirring of modern liberty.'"

And that's one of the clearer passages. Maybe it will all make more sense after a couple beers.

UPDATE: Well, Fr. Bernard got sick and couldn't come, so we ended up just eating, drinking, and being merry. I guess I'll never know for sure whether or not Thomas Aquinas was the first Whig.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Time: Christianity's Image Problem

Time magazine this week features an article and an interview about Christianity's growing unpopularity in America. The article contains this tidbit:

"Barna polls conducted between 2004 and this year, sampling 440 non-Christians (and a similar number of Christians) aged 16 to 29, found that 38% had a 'bad impression' of present-day Christianity."

This is in contrast to 1996, when "fewer than 20% of non-Christians held an unfavorable view of Christianity," according to the article. The article goes on to explain some of the reasons for people's discontentment with Christianity:

"Kinnaman [the author of a new book called UnChristian] says non-Christians' biggest complaints about the faith are not immediately theological: Jesus and the Bible get relatively good marks. Rather, he sees resentment as focused on perceived Christian attitudes. Nine out of ten outsiders found Christians too 'anti-homosexual,' and nearly as many perceived it as 'hypocritical' and 'judgmental.' Seventy-five percent found it 'too involved in politics.'"

The question for Christians is how to respond to these polls. Personally, I think that certain of these findings should serve as a serious call to reflection and repentance for Christians. Clearly, we should all strive never to be hypocritical or judgmental, and the fact that so many non-Christians see us that way should give us pause. And regardless of Christians' beliefs about the appropriateness of homosexual activity, everyone must understand that there is never an excuse for any Christian to be "anti-homosexual" in the sense of being unloving towards homosexual persons.

Of course, the trick to responding to these polls is to be able to discern to what extent the criticisms of Christianity are legitimate responses to the sins of Christians, and to what extent they are the inevitable result of the world's inability to accept the radicalness of Christ. As Jesus warned us: "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:18-19).

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

St. Cyril of Alexandria and truth

As part of his ongoing series of audiences about the Fathers of the Church, Pope Benedict XVI today presented a brief teaching on the life of St. Cyril of Alexandria:

"The subject of today's catechesis is Saint Cyril of Alexandria, known as the 'pillar of faith' and the 'seal of all the Fathers'. He was born somewhere between 370 and 380, and at a young age became Bishop of Alexandria. Cyril was a zealous defender of the faith. He took care to ensure that his theology was firmly situated within the tradition of the Church by referring to preceding ecclesiastical authorities, especially Athanasius. Through a series of letters countering the position of Nestorius, the Bishop of Constantinople, Cyril made a very significant contribution to Christology defending the divinity and humanity of Christ united in the one Lord, Christ and Son. He was also of utmost influence at the Council of Ephesus, supporting the recognition of the Virgin Mary as the 'Mother of God'. This led to the deposition of Nestorius as Bishop of Constantinople. Saint Cyril, a prolific writer whose works were read throughout the Church, was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII in 1882. May our remembrance of this outstanding figure in the history of Christianity remind us that the centre of our faith is the encounter with Jesus Christ, who gives each one of us a new horizon and a decisive direction!"

I always think it's interesting to learn a little bit about the history of Christianity and see how God has worked through very real people and events to guide His Church and its understanding of Him. The Christian faith didn't just plop down from the sky neatly packaged, nor was it fabricated during the Middle Ages. Rather, the Church's understanding developed over time, and it continues to develop to this day.

It may seem like the debates with which the Church has concerned itself over the centuries have often been esoteric, irrelevant, and prone to hair-splitting. Why should we care, one might ask, whether Jesus was two persons, as Nestorius argued, or one person with two natures, as Cyril argued? What difference does it make?

The Church believes, however, that the truth matters a great deal. The truth is especially important when we're talking about the most important Being there is, and the Church will never shy away from seeking that truth.

(Incidentally, the debate between St. Cyril and Nestorius makes quite a big difference, but I don't think I'm qualified to go into much depth about it right now.)

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Cardinal Arinze on marriage

As someone who is preparing for marriage myself, I was interested in what Cardinal Francis Arinze, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, had to say about marriage in an article on A sample:

"'If the family is OK, if marriage is established according to the Creator’s laws, there is hope for the Church and society,' the cardinal said. 'Otherwise we are in trouble, because all of us come from a family.'

"The 74-year-old prelate said he spoke about the 'importance of looking at the Creator’s "instructions." For example, if someone buys a computer, they read the instructions of who made it. If someone buys an airplane, it is in his best interest to follow the instructions of who built the plane.'

"'If we look at marriage and family, we see that they are not invented by man,' he continued. 'The Creator is God and if we want . . . them to function well, we must follow the Creator’s "instructions." In this way we will be on the right path, because God knows what is good for us.'"

Whose coat of arms is more awesome, mine (left) or Pope Benedict XVI's?

For the record, I give the edge to mine.

(The Holy Father's is in color, but his only has one bear, whereas mine has five.)

Vote for your favorite in my poll on the right side of the screen.

UPDATE: The poll was an utter failure and has thus been prematurely discontinued.

Monday, October 1, 2007

A journey through John - 5:2-6

"Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Hebrew called Bethzatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay a multitude of invalids, blind, lame, paralyzed. One man was there, who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, he said to him, 'Do you want to be healed?'"

Jesus' question to the sick man seems, at first glance, completely ridiculous. This guy's been lying around with a bunch of invalids for thirty-eight years, and Jesus has to ask him if he wants to be healed? Come on.

If we understand this man's sickness as symbolic of the spiritual sickness of sin that afflicts us all, however, Jesus' question isn't quite so surprising. We know we're sinners, we know we're sick, but it's a comfortable sickness, and if we're honest with ourselves, we don't always want to be healed.

Jesus is always there, offering us His healing grace, but we have to want to be healed, we have to accept His grace. And when we do, He will heal us, just as he healed the sick man at the pool.