Monday, December 30, 2013

Apologetics Online II

Please forgive my absence from posting more regularly. Some bloggers keep up with a better regimen and react to news more quickly. I'm beginning to feel as if I'm more in St. John's camp. At the end of his second letter he states that he wishes to speak with his brothers face to face. I'm perhaps the same way.

As I work on other pieces during my break I thought it would be nice to share with you some of my other encounters online doing apologetics. These are a few selections from a number of various topics selected. I give them to you all for your scrutiny and hope we can discuss similar questions together. If you have any additional questions, please ask away.

Much obliged.
As with last time, the person who asks me a question/makes a comment will be in italics. My responses will be in plain text.


 When someone slags off the church (IE calling them paedophiles) what do you say to them?

Well, it's upsetting because it's ignorant--not ignorant in that there are no pedophiles in the clergy (sad and regrettable)--but sometimes these people only want to be listened to.

The ones who say it as a joke or as slander don't want to be told anything. The best response is patience, really,

Others simply have been hurt by it and need to be heard. Other than that there are plenty of statistics to show that the rate among clergy, especially Catholic clergy, is lower and less frequent than nearly any other populations (e.g., fathers, teachers, etc.).

[2] Note: the wide area a simple question opens up to. It shows, I think, how ready we have to be to approach these subjects specifically and then see the larger picture. In this instance infallibility opens up to questions about truth, veracity, certainty, (Medieval) history, philosophy, and Church procedures. It goes on and on.

(I've done some editing and down-sizing)

Do you believe the pope's word is infallible spiritually or otherwise and how con someone who allegedly have a direct link to an omniscient being be wrong about one thing and not another?

First and foremost Papal Infallibility is limited to the Pope speaking authoritatively on matters of faith and morals to the whole Church, not just one part. His comments on local affairs or specific concerns in a field, while they carry weight by virtue of his authority, are not considered infallible.

The "direct link" to Omniscience is not like a phone call to God. The Holy Spirit works in the Church and ultimately Christ, rather, the Trinity, leads the Church. The Pope is the living authority of the Church who by virtue of His stature, is said to be incapable of error or deceit when it comes to the contents of faith.

This has been misinterpreted for centuries, even after clarification in the 19th century, and has been taken to mean that whatever he says is free from error. The pope has only invoked infallibility according to our definition about 30 times in our whole history. Likewise, as Scripture states "the one who is wise seeks council." Very rarely, if ever, has the pope just come out and said "I infallibly say..." In fact he never has. He consults with his fellow bishops on matters of faith that concern the peoples from all over the world and when conflict arises they discuss this conflict's subject matter and how it relates to the whole of the faith. It's a very long process and never done flippantly.

Again isn't he supposed to be god's mouthpiece on Earth; why would he need to do all that if he can contact the "all mighty" himself?

Well we would first have to examine any assumptions one would make about it. First, I don't recall us calling him "God's mouthpiece." It's not an official or even theological title.

It assumes how God speaks to men or through men. It assumes how men listen for God. I wish I could give you a formula for how it happens but it's not subject to human control (or invocation). The Pope is elected as leader of the Church by his fellow brothers because they see in him a spirit of governance. He is not perfect, he's human. By virtue of his position he is given great responsibility but also a great number of graces--should he choose to accept him.

Describing how the Holy Spirit works through men is not an easy task, nor is it one many Christians wish to reflect on or think through.

I know it might be hard for you to process but has it ever occurred to you that it's most likely all made up?
Of course, but then again how much effort have you dedicated to seeing if it's true?

Most of my adolescence and all of my early adulthood. There is a logical tool that is used to determine the veracity of a claim called Occam's Razor. I'm sure you heard of it.It is a line of reasoning that says the simplest answer is often correct. [someone else, atheist it seems, steps in to say, "Not quite. Occam's Razor is more like "the answer that makes the least amount of assumptions is often correct".]
I've also found that that's the extent of people's knowledge of Ockham.

Let use it in an example then!
Which is the simpler claim: that someone can truly be infallible or that it's a lie?

Asking if he's claiming that it's more probable to tell the truth than a lie he response, "No it is much more likely that someone is telling a lie; especially when making an extraordinary a claim as "selective infallibility". If we are to believe any claim we require evidence and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." [I also ask if he's read Ockham]

Can you give me the probabilities on that? If you call what I described as "selective" you might as well call any truth claim "selective truth claiming."

As for evidence in general, who requires it and why? What makes a claim extraordinary? Likewise, are claims of logic, philosophy, or similar branches subject to the same criteria as the physical sciences, or are their various forms of demonstration according to their proper field?

I also like the notion of "extraordinary claims." Extraordinary has a very emotional ring to it, doesn't it?

You see, Ockham's Razor is very popular except people seem to have forgotten that he did believe in God--did he not follow his own rule? That, and his use of the "Razor" was more concerned with the discussion of universals than every time someone wanted to talk about God.
[Here it gets a bit more complicated:]

[1] Truth as most commonly defined as that which is in accordance with fact or reality.
What you are claiming is that the pope isn't just selectively telling the truth but as I was getting at that the pope is allegedly capable of selectively dictating without error the word of an alleged all powerful being that created the universe.

[2] A claim that is mundane or a commonly observed or experienced occurrence (like: I walked my dog) is an easily determinable as either true or false there should be no reason to doubt me and if you do I could present to you evidence that I have a dog. Simply by presenting my dog. That would be considered ordinary.
Extraordinary (despite your attempt to call me on an appeal to emotion) is something that is as the word describes extra-ordinary. Which is defined as going beyond what is usual, regular, or customary.
Infallibility would fall under the category of an extraordinary claim.
[3] Because just like Sir Isaac Newton, Ockham's scientific contribution is irrelevant to his religious beliefs. 

Ockham believed that  "only faith gives us access to theological truths. The ways of God are not open to reason, for God has freely chosen to create a world and establish a way of salvation within it apart from any necessary laws that human logic or rationality can uncover." His theism was based solely on private revelation and faith and that god was an ontological necessity. Which given the century he lived in there was literally no alternative theory of how things came to exist. Essentially Ockham granted god special pleading because when you apply the Razor to the claim of god it really does a number on it.
[I quote what I'm responding to:]
Truth as most commonly defined as that which is in accordance with fact or reality.

Philosophy is often quite good at challenging even these claims as being self-evident, but I won't argue semantics here.

But regardless of our views about the value of fact or the precise definition of reality you seem to be adding complications to it by your evaluations of a given pope's actions, i.e., I don't understand  "selectively dictating without error the word of [x]." It leads me to believe that you take his action to be some sort of prophecy or divination which it isn't. I can't really argue against things I don't believe or the Church doesn't teach/proclaim.

It doesn't quite answer my question about your comment about the probability of truth.
Extraordinary (despite your attempt to call me on an appeal to emotion) is something that is as the word describes extra-ordinary. Which is defined as going beyond what is usual, regular, or customary.Infallibility would fall under the category of an extraordinary claim.

Then again, given your dog example, you could claim that you've spoken infallibly about your dog. I only say it's "emotional" in that there usually is some wonder in confronting something extraordinary. The vastness of the universe, stellar motions, and the like can provoke wonder. Sub atomic structures, the formation of organisms from single cells, mitosis, etc. may also be extraordinary in a certain sense. Then again even the act of walking our dog or observing the harmony of an animal's motions can be very captivating. Even something as "ordinary" as ourselves--we are with ourselves most of the time after all--is subject to a great deal of contingency and wonder.

Perhaps this serves as a small example of how easily ordinary and extraordinary can sometimes be confusing, even emotional insofar as they cause us to wonder.

Infallibility is not so extraordinary when one is certain. People seem to infallibly claim things all the time such as:

-the universe is infinite
-the universe is only material (and thus finite)
-any evaluation of the Middle Ages seems to be very extraordinary and many non-historians/Christians/etc. claim many fantastic, infallible things off of weak/unfounded/biased/unhistorical evidence

I use that last example of the ordinary way everyday people speak infallibly about things much larger and more complicated than themselves.

Whenever the Pope speaks infallibly, however, it is not apart from a careful examination of the faith of the people, the content of tradition, and the content of revelation--claims rarely made (as I said) flippantly.

Perhaps you're introducing more extraordinary things into the process.
Because just like Sir Isaac Newton, Ockham's scientific contribution is irrelevant to his religious beliefs.

The thing is that Ockham's claim with the "Razor" was not scientific, but philosophical--a bit of a difference. Likewise Newton's physics (Paschal's too) were motivated by both genuine curiosity, genius, and their faith. It was their belief that creation was orderly, not chaotic, that inspired them to find that order in creation (that's how they would see it--how you see it for them is beside the point).

His theism was based solely on private revelation and faith and that god was an ontological necessity. Which given the century he lived in there was literally no alternative theory of how things came to exist. Essentially Ockham granted god special pleading because when you apply the Razor to the claim of god it really does a number on it.

Are you saying that as a scholar of this particular period of theology and philosophy or just an educated opinion?

Given that he was a member of the Catholic Church he believed in some capacity of revelation throughout history and also through the Church, not just privately. A private faith apart from the Body, the Church did not share clearly or accurately with revelation because a private faith alone is not a part of the Body.

As for alternative theories have you read Anselm, Aquinas, Bonaventure, Scotus, Nicholas of Cusa, or Ockham on their own terms to see if your purported truth claim is, well, true?

I thought the same when I started philosophy, that the Middle ages just said "God" was the answer without any real thought behind it. As it turned out I had to be humbled by my peers and by actual reading to find that, all along, I (me personally) had been the arrogant one and I was wrong. There's a richness and variety that we deny these men by assuming what their arguments are all about.
 [This is the conversation thus far....]



Apologetics is a task where one has to get to the heart of what one is asking. In matters of making a defense the first claim is the gateway into a number of further disagreements. If we can be civil and honest about such disagreements we can go a long way. Likewise, we have to carefully see how the other uses his vocabulary--eek out certain assumptions and premises. Very often philosophy is misunderstood, let alone medieval philosophy.

Humility always plays a role in evangelization; we don't know everything. Some people want to argue with us and compete while others simply are interested in how we process the many things that happen. I'm learning to approach both these moments with gratitude. God speaks through our enemies and detractors just as He does our loved ones.

Thanks for reading!


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Apologetics Online (Discussion)

Doing my best "Paul in the Greek Forum" routine, I went to a forum of a website I do apologetic work at and simply told people that if they'd like to inquire about my Catholic faith to ask away.

I'd like to share with you a few exchanges. Feel free to correct me if I've made a mistake, add your own thoughts, or  share any similar experiences.

Note: My responses are in normal text, their questions will be in italics.


I have several questions for you, as a Protestant Christian.

1. Why do you pray to the saints as opposed to praying directly to God? What makes the saints "special?"

Prayer to the saints is expressed in the form of seeking their intercession, such as "St. Maximilian, help me overcome my addiction to alcohol." While the syntax makes it seems like Benedict is doing the work, the meaning of the common phrase is "St. Maximilian Kolbe, patron of sufferers/addicts, pray to our Lord Jesus on my behalf that, through his grace, I may overcome this addiction and stay dedicated to the means necessary to fight it."

We faithful, even in life, look to examples of holy men and women not just to emulate them but to ask them to help us know God and grow closer to Him. Prayer to Jesus Christ, the High Priest, is always good. The problem is that we in our sinful state can't even see the depth and depravity of our sin and, as such, we fail to ask for what we really need. We rightly seek the help of others in our life. For example: we seek a doctor to diagnose our symptoms (e.g., fever, soreness in certain areas) are he finds that we have an infection, so he prescribes the proper medicine. A holy man or woman, learned in Scriptures and the soul, is able to find the root of our sin and ask Christ to send the appropriate cure.

Some may say, "But Christ knows what we need." He does know, but He also wants us to know and understand. How did he help His people know and understand His word that he preached? Through the prophets who proclaimed His word. Through judges, kings, and scribes who parsed out and educated others about the Law. Through the Apostles charged with preaching the Gospel. God, Jesus, used men as His messengers. The Apostles also would inform Jesus of the plight of His followers. Of course Jesus knew, but He encouraged and sought that His disciples had an awareness of this.

The saints in heaven were Jesus' faithful servants on earth. They, having received the fullness of His promise (life forever with Him) carry out His work with Him. The saints, in a sense, assist us as being both personal friend and spiritual icon by which we can more clearly see Christ and the conduit through which we can receive His grace more effectively. Scripture tells again and again the powers holy ones can achieve through their prayer. We sinners, though our prayers are true, may not be powerful. When we pray we seek, in some fashion, the power of God--this can come through consolation, correction, and many other ways. We are asking the saints, as followers asked John the Baptist, "who is the one who will save us?" We saw that John preached alongside Jesus for a short while, and he preformed powerful deeds. But all in service of pointing us to Christ, especially when we don't know how to do it ourselves.

Saints have been given a special power in the Spirit to guide others to Christ.

2. Is it true that you have to be baptized as an integral part of your salvation?

This is tough on a number of levels. If you believe in Christ, yes. Baptism in the foundation of eternal life, the waters by which we die to death and are born to eternal life. It's forming a covenant, one that cannot be undone but, like a covenant, can be broken.

3. Why are there extra books in the Catholic Bible as opposed to Protestant Bibles? (Like Maccabees.)

Many ways to go about this. One reason is to observe why those books were taken out of the Christian canon in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Many Protestants point to the Jewish Council (of Jerusalem? I think) where the Jews banned books like Maccabeus and Sirach because they were written in Greek.

Some other sources claim that those written after the cutoff, which is Ezra and Nehemiah (post-exilic), were too new to be accepted. The basis for this wasn't founded on any understanding of revelation and was, some argue, done simply for the purity of the language. Luther argued the same way for Sirach and Maccabeus, but we've found Hebrew manuscripts of Sirach and Maccabeus I. Is the late authorship a problem? Then then New testament poses a problem since it is a continuation of revelation in between which Sirach, Maccabeus, and the others were written.

Some claim, "Shouldn't the Jews decide what their canon is?" Yes, but we should also be scrupulous about how the canon came to be--which requires a lot of research.

There were actually numerous canons proposed by Jerusalem, Alexandria, and diaspora communities. The same goes for the New Testament.

The NT actually stopped the period Scripture could be added at about 115AD (I think), since John the Apostle died in 105/8 AD. Revelation ended with the Apostles, those directly taught by Christ, who is the Revealer and ultimate Revelation in one. Many of the "new Gospels" like Thomas, Peter, Judas were written after the death of the Apostles, often in the 140-180AD period, where the name of the Apostles were being invoked in order to grant legitimacy to their Scripture. This was debunked by a combination of cross-referencing Scripture with many Gnostic-infused claims in those new Gospels and an appeal (first) to the Tradition of the communities founded by the Apostles that didn't preach what these Gospels said. Historical they may be, but they were deemed to be not Inspired.

Maccabeus and Sirach, on the other hand, came from the community of the faithful and were recognized as such by many of the faithful. They were in line with what many believed. It should be noted that the Sadduces, I believe, established that canon that excluded those OT books. They also denied the resurrection, angels, and demons, all of which Christ affirmed.

Christ is also shown when he quotes various OT passages to prefer the Greek (Septuagint) and Scriptures of the Qumran tradition, their canon is what Christians adopted, which did in fact have the books that remain canonical in the Catholic Bible.

4. Why do we need the Pope as a head of authority?

The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, the diocese of the great Apostles and Martyrs Peter and Paul and a host of martyrs. The Pope's role is not one of "master" but of pastor, just as Jesus established the Apostles as shepherds alongside him. This is how the Apostles formed communities. They had the authority to teach and preach. All are charged to preach the good news, but is whatever they teach right and in accord with the whole of the faithful.

The pope is not there to be a dictator, but to govern the people, seek council from other pastors, and to speak with the spirit of authority handed down through Peter when matters of faith and morals are in a difficult dispute. He seeks council in these times but in the end there must be a voice that speaks, like Peter at Jerusalem, of a final say.

5. What is the point of purgatory and how does it fit into the scheme of eternity?

Purgatory, as its name implies, is a place of purgation and purification. Souls who are faithful to Christ in their life, yet remained mired by (venial) sins need to be cleansed of their sins. This "state of being" is a period by which a soul readies his heart to receive Christ. Since they could not do it through the blood of martyrdom or through an exemplary life of charity purgatory allows those souls who are all the same faithful to do a sort of penance to prepare themselves for heaven.

One more, from a different person.

How do you (personally) experience/sense God? I know the answer to that will be in multiple ways, but maybe the most striking one, or the most common one.

I personally experience God in prayer, doing penance before the Father, seeking the intercession of the Son, seeking inspiration by the Spirit. I experience Him physically in the reception of the Eucharist, praying as I process that God have mercy on me, a sinner, praying that "though the reception of your Body and Blood, fill up in me what is lacking in my own flesh and spirit."

I try to listen for God in whispers, not in loud clashes. In the quiet moments among friends, in the peace of walking outside, in bed while I was suffering when sick with nothing around me but darkness. I experience God after I sin because I know its our relationship I harmed and I experience Him in the joy and consolation people find in their children, spouses, and friends.

I experienced Him, although my experiences are limited, in the death of my grandparents--that He is loving and merciful and that a life lived according to His word is worthwhile and beautiful. Living with Him gives dignity even to the scandal of death.

I've experienced Him powerfully and personally only twice--and I mean in those earth-shattering ways. Other times I've found Him reaching for me when I've fallen low and I remind myself constantly to thank Him while things are well.
He answers my prayers. He gives and He takes away.


So, what are your thoughts? My answer on baptism was brief. It's one thing to parse out quotes and citations when organizing a text, but it's another thing trying to communicate one-on-one or in public. Do you find these answers to be effective, wrong, or a little of both?

I'd enjoy discussing it with you.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Problem with the New Evangelization

God bless the effort of the New Evangelization. It encapsulates, I think, what many of us faithful Catholics have desired to see (more) publicly for years. Even in my youth I always wondered how so many faithful Catholics relied on their opinion as opposed to integrating the words of the Church, words I found as very beautiful. This is, of course, a reflection in my adult years on my youth. Here's what it may look like:

"Mom, we learned at school today ..."
She replies, "That's great, honey!"
"What do you think?"
"That's good, I just think a little bit differently."
She then proceeds to explain that her experience or ideas tell her that things are different.

It teaches kids that personal experience trumps teaching--an ironic parenting technique. Kids grow up and learn many good things but then there's the real world. Sex is a reality, contraception is a safe reality, etc., etc. They grow up, they use what they've been taught that's useful and the rest is their best judgment.

"And the beat goes on...."
There's always room for experience in life. Experience teaches us and forms us. Experience, however, and our experiences, are not principles of action. Experience tests the limits of principle. They help us gather data in order to form principles or see patterns at work.

If one says, "In my experience no one ever listens to you if you use the Bible" is an experience stated as if it were a principle. One who says, however, "With Protestants I've found Scripture is effective but with atheists and agnostics reasoning and philosophy are more profitable." This is experience that indicates a certain prudence. Prudence is a virtue and a sort of principle (Always act prudently) and experience helps us see what that looks like.

I. Witness

This digression aside, I am happy Catholics are coming out in droves to defend the Church, to be public with their faith, to yearn for clarity and understanding, to confront evil in society, to desire God through prayer, to (gasp!) read Scripture, and to dedicate their intellects for the search of a truth greater than all of us as opposed to opinions which are less than themselves. This is a good thing. Lord, give success to the work of our hands!

My concern, however, is that we progress like soldiers to a battlefield as opposed to progressing like lemmings toward a cliff.

What do I mean? The word for witness is "martyr." Being a witness to the faith is being a visible sign of Christ's saving love to the world. Witness is public, it's living in such a manner that what you believe is evident from your life. In many cases this is a powerful tool for conversion: one learns in the most concrete way, that is by example, that the faith is livable and it can make you happy (regardless of your state in life). This is evangelization in its simplest form, right? I'm not inclined to think so.

In my view witness attracts and evangelization holds onto. No amount of well-crafted, balanced words will make someone Christian. Only God can produce that sort of effect in our lives and only He can penetrate our stony and prideful hearts. Witnessing to the faith reveals God to the world. It shows those who look on, those who are doubtful, that God is active in the world and personally in our lives. Recall from the Gospel of Mark that Jesus is declared the Son of God by a man only when He dies on the cross.
"Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. The veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. When the centurion who stood facing him saw how he breathed his last he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!" (Mk 15:37-39)
Truly Jesus Christ was the perfect witness, the perfect martyr. The cross symbolizes many things: sacrifice, love, and rejection. It symbolizes much more. The cross stands as a strange image. It draws people to it, whether by disgust or hatred for it, for sorrow of it, or admiration of it. That's the life we're called to lead: a life that is a witness to the cross. "But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Gal 6:14).

II. Evangelization 

Evangelization, however is different. Perhaps an image will illustrate what words cannot. Christian life is a fire. Witness is the light of that fire but evangelization is the warmth. We are drawn to a fire by its light yet we are compelled to stay by its warmth.

Evangelization contains with in it catechesis, apologetics, preaching, among other things. Various people have certain gifts given to them by the Spirit: some are able to teach and defend the faith while others are able to effectively convey the Gospel message. The USCCB has defined for us the goal of the New Evangelization:
In a special way, the New Evangelization is focused on 're-proposing' the Gospel to those who have experienced a crisis of faith. ... Pope Benedict XVI called for the re-proposing of the Gospel "to those regions awaiting the first evangelization and to those regions where the roots of Christianity are deep but who have experienced a serious crisis of faith due to secularization."

So many of us label our work, our millions of blog posts, and our efforts as "evangelization." This is simply not the case. There is always room for us to relay an experience of strength-in-crisis given to us graciously by Christ. There is room for us to lament insufficient theology, culture, or some offense, but it is not evangelization.

If we are to truly evangelize this culture we cannot simply propose a perspective or practice apologetics (i.e., defend the faith from attacks). We must proclaim the Gospel, that is proclaim the positive claims and truths of revelation, Scripture, and Tradition. If you want to evangelize you must study these things (studying history, science, philosophy, popular culture, etc. doesn't hurt either).

We would all do well to remember that "the wisdom of what a person says is in direct proportion to his progress in learning the holy scriptures--and I am not speaking of intensive reading or memorization, but real understanding and investigation of their meaning" (Augustine, On Christian Teaching, IV.para 7).

Likewise, "Eloquent speakers give pleasure, wise ones salvation" (Idem.)
Nothing will inflame our hearts quite like the Word. 
Not just in reading and memorizing, but penetrating, praying, and understanding.

Evangelization requires prayer, study, and reflection. It also demands a certain training in rhetorical arts, such as clarity of conveyance, force of images, and knowledge of what will speak to the listener.

So many of us, myself included, feel that we further the cause of evangelization by saying nice words about our experiences of grace and prayer. But this only serves as a light in the darkness. Without a serious commitment to Scripture we give a light without warmth.

The New Evangelization is, as many have pointed out, not new in its message. Rather, the "newness" of it all is perhaps best described as a new 'zeal' for the labor so badly needed.

So those who are attempting to try something new my recommendation would be: look to Scripture, look to prayer, and that beauty which is ever ancient, ever new. Thereafter look to Tradition, the Fathers, and the Church. In all this, being an active member of the Church is all the more important: support your local church, your priest, and make yourself a public witness there for our charge is to not only draw new souls to Christ but strengthen those whose spirit fails within them.

Continue to shine the light of Christ to the world by your witness and do not cover it with anything. But in order that they might say, Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us? (cf. Lk 24:32) it is necessary that we begin with Moses and all the prophets, interpreting them what refers to Him in all the Scriptures (24:27).

We can do this in many ways. How you decide to do so is your task. Do not draw anyone to the light but leave them cold.

Our love will keep others close but those who struggle are not looking for us and we are not anyone's fulfillment. Rather we are like John the Baptist, a voice crying out in a world that denies truth and embraces the self.

Rather, the Law of the Lord is their joy (Ps 1:2a) and O God, you are my God--for you I long! For you my body yearns; for you my soul thirsts, like a parched land, lifeless, and without water (Ps 63:2). Give them this. Do not show them that it exists, but say to them as John did, "Behold the Lamb of God" and do it in such a way that those who listen hear what you say and follow Jesus (Jn 1:36-37). Only then will our joy be complete (3:29-30).

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Marriage as Status

When marriage is viewed as a sacrament, the one who affirms gay marriage is simply wrong. But this is because the sacrament is clearly (or to some, narrowly) defined. There are those who do not recognize the sacred, however, and there are those who see no value the vocabulary of sacrament. That's fair, and it's also the world/culture we happen to live in. It requires those of us to who see it as both religious and social to further reflect on what we mean by marriage in the social sphere.

Marriage as a legal concept is a status, and since many have condemned and pushed aside any religion—perhaps justly or unjustly—their main thrust in the arguments surrounding this situation is equal status among heterosexuals. It's not so much that I feel homo- and heterosexuals do not have equal status in the United States insofar as I think good strides have been made to reaffirm that homosexuals (all persons for that matter) are, in fact, human beings and treating them with dignity and respect is a right. Those who don't, for “religious reasons,” do so at the peril of their souls— those who bully, mistreat, attack others, and marginalize people do violence to their brothers and sisters. They deface the very image of God. But there is also a difference, let's be clear, between arguing for marriage and against gay marriage as opposed to doing violence to someone (spiritual, psychological, physical, or otherwise).

Marriage as a foundation for a natural, nuclear family is something based on natural potential. Marriage is a status only insofar as it affirms this natural union—both social and sexual. Hence saying “marriage is between a man and a woman” describes a relationship, but that it is also a relationship for a purpose. The status that attends this relationship also indicates publicly what the couple is supposed to be in private.

Marriage, however, is being redefined as a “relationship between persons.” Is it two? Is it more? The language is by design ambiguous or, at the very least, one cannot truly defend any sort of clarity. One may say “a consensual relationship between persons” implies adults, but does it? Does the moment of consent imply a lifetime, or is the duration of consent the contract itself?—once I no longer consent to being in a relationship is the marriage hereby dissolved? Law is silent on this issue and divorce solves this dilemma, clearly.

Nevertheless, “a relationship between persons” is descriptive of an event. The potentiality of marriage in this instance (i.e., that plateau one could reach) points to a social status. Legal aspects come into play (e.g., finances, visiting privileges, etc.) but the prospect of family makes this even more difficult.

Many homosexuals no doubt desire the stability of what marriage offers for their lives and for the sake of raising their own family. A woman or man's desire for progeny likely exists in some equal fashion for homosexuals as it does heterosexuals despite the easily recognized fact that a child requires a sperm and ovum. In these relationships adoption or some form of in vitro fertilization is necessary—already it adds third parties to the process of having a family in the first place. One can perhaps only guess the difficult legal battles that might lie ahead. Regardless of this aspect marriage opens up a whole new set of questions regarding family, custody, and child-rearing.

People are generally swayed by the very emotionally-convincing speeches given by children or young-adults who speak before politicians or debates extolling the good life they have with two mothers or fathers. This is, for them, some proof that there is simply no difference between one's situation growing up. In the case of homosexual families it seems as if lesbians have an easier route—they can be inseminated and develop the child in their own womb. For men, however, neither of them can easily be involved in the process.

Yet it is also odd for me to hear the common reply that whether from gay or straight households the child can grow up healthy. I certainly suppose that the child can grow up healthy, but we simultaneously hear (especially on the radio here in Chicago) of the importance of the father's positive role in a child's life. The government website on the well-being of children likewise indicates this fact (Child Welfare). So we hear both that “it doesn't matter” and that “it matters.”

I suspect that many will begin arguing that these facts are, in the end, simply an assumption about what perspective we want children to grow up with (that is, with their natural mother and father).

Those of us who believe in God often get run out of the argument for allegedly forcing God into this argument, but I think we have real points in the argument of gay marriage on legal grounds (what will it look like when expanded upon?) and family grounds (children growing up with parents).

Objectors may bring into light the fact that there are deceased parents, deadbeat fathers, drunk mothers, etc. as an indication that heterosexual marriage isn't all beautiful and perfect—a valid point. But in this argument it ceases to be valid when it takes the weak example of marriage and compares it to a normal or strong example of gay marriage. It becomes a false comparison and simply refuses to acknowledge that there is a way marriage and family should be. If there were 20 toys, but 19 were broken, would we reassess how the toy actually functions because the data tells us that 19 are simply broken after all. Rather, wouldn't we judge the 19 by the 1 that actually did work as it was intended? So too with marriage in arguments like this—we cannot judge what is less than right and proper as normative.

There are many other situations that I would like to treat but require greater space: impotent couples, couples that do not want children, couples that do not value marriage (though they are married), among others. Many advocates of gay marriage that I've come across are only concerned with the legitimacy of their own definition and that their views on marriage are protected and sanctioned by the law. Many others, however, realize that many different ideas of marriage cannot simply be reduced to every last person thinking marriage is something different. Everyone would do well to distinguish particular expressions of marriage (which are as numerous as people, e.g., Hindi, Muslim, Christian, secular, etc.) and the purpose of marriage (something that is far more unified among a great number of peoples).

Is marriage something that demands equal status? In the case of gay marriage and marriage I answer no. This comes with the caveat, however, that civil marriage as it stands has no standard by which it says this or that person should get married. In the legal world marriage is simply the desire of two individuals and they are then bound legally to one another. There is very little “quality control” (so to speak) nor is there counseling that goes into determining whether or not a couple are prepared emotionally and relationally for marriage. This is a weakness of our system.

The benefit of the religious conception of marriage, alongside its insistence on it being sacred and for the family, is that there is certain counseling and guidance along the way that helps couples understand the conflicts that arise from living together and raising a family. It is a system with weaknesses, to be sure, but one that often produces more stable marriages. That it urges self-sacrifice that mirrors Christ on the cross while also emphasizing that their union mirrors the love of the Trinity is itself something of great importance.

Marriage, when used as a status, often leads people to say that their love is now validated, but marriage viewed in this way seems less about the triumph of love and more about the triumph of how one wants the world to view them. The desire of many is to be treated equally under the law but this desire extends beyond equal treatment. The argument is that “My view of marriage is equally as valid as yours and thus it deserves to be protected by law” but this argument only has legs when marriage is reduced to a piece of paper. Marriage reduced to a status produces this argument. One ought to look, rather, at what he means by marriage and not what he wants to get out of it. In this manner I feel more fruitful dialog can begin.

Similarly, I personally would care less about my view or “opinion” on marriage because I don't raise my opinion to the level of belief on matters social and sacramental (should you see it that way). I trust rather in what I've been given by my Tradition on the one hand while also applying what I've been given with reason and experience. Does everyone's opinion carry the force of “belief”? I don't think so—but such is the way many people see it.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

SR: Gay Marriage in Illinois

So the House here in Illinois just passed (61-54) Senate Bill 10 which legalizes 'gay marriage.' The flood of Facebook messages: "Finally" and "I'm so happy" and "#equality." Politicians coming out as gay, companies contorting their image so as to appear inclusive, and anyone who would dare oppose something such as gay marriage are hit with salvo after salvo of "equal protection under the law" and "human/civil rights."

In all the breakdown of certain values, such as "marriage is not a natural institution" and "marriage is not sacred" among other things lawmakers and individuals alike have decided that the former view of marriage is limiting and prejudiced. Regardless of what you believe I imagine any thoughtful reflection on the whole situation reveals a rather odd phenomenon.

Whereas it seems that everything that was once held as common-sense and true is now irrational and false, the invocation of a universal truth has taken form, not of God or of nature, but of the Constitution.

Not everyone believes in God. No one can quite agree on what nature is, far less what is natural in light of technological advances (whether theory or medicine). Not everyone can quite agree on what the Constitution means either, but it does have one advantage--so it seems--to the other two: we all must live under the law.

How is the Constitution a universal truth? It's universal because it's impartial; no one belief or value trumps the other. The way that some base their decisions is on a document they actively try to strip of any concrete value. The value that must pervade all public life is that everyone must respect the values of another.

How does one respect the value of another? Praising it? Ignoring it? Giving to each what he demands and expecting the same for yourself?

We all seem to agree that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are good things until we realize that we don't agree on what life means, we aren't coherent about what liberty is, and we expect that whatever we pursue will undoubtedly make us happy. As long as we agree they're good, right? As long as the law doesn't choose sides, right?

When we as individuals give lawmakers the power to be arbiters over any value we come to see ourselves as masters of any value. No one lawmaker is more powerful than the law, but the law is also a tool.

We can finally be happy, since we believe marriage is a ticket to happiness.
We can finally be equal, unless you don't agree with me to my liking.
We can be public with what we believe, but it's always secondary to the law.

By casting off God and nature as the bedrock of value law will not so much be at the service of man but the only remaining candidate to rule and guide him--and we all know how permanent the law is. Look on any popular page and see the opinion be the same: the power of law will make us all equal, by choice or by force.

What is marriage? A contract between [two?] persons.
What is marriage? A relationship with certain legal benefits.
What is marriage? Certainly not something we can assign any sort of value.
What is marriage, then? Not much, it seems.

(If you're interested in this topic you may enjoy  my follow-up to this article "Marriage as Status."

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Early Church III-2: Christology in Scripture

 (Note: My sincere apologies for the giant hiatus on the following part. These were written in April and May of 2013. I had intended to heavily revise parts III and IV, only because as an academic I was dissatisfied with the lack of detail and nuance. I reminded myself that these pieces were intended for general audiences, meant to inspire them to discover the richness of the subject on their own. I have made some revisions, but now plan--against my former wishes--to post them as originally written)

Missed part III-1? I don't blame you! See it here. See also parts I here and II there.
I've edited III-1, taking and revising the Christology section and putting it here.


Christology is the study of Christ, specifically the person of Christ and his role as Messiah. The Church began reflecting on the phenomenon of Jesus—His incarnation, life, ministry, passion, death, resurrection, and ascension—almost immediately. The earliest written records we have of such activity comes from St. Paul.

Paul, who wrote from about 40AD to 65AD, is a powerful indication to the understanding of the faithful as it developed. Much like the office of bishop, priest, and deacon the understanding of Christ developed over time. Why wasn't the understanding of Christ immediate? Christ is both the savior of all as well as a personal savior. Christ came to call sinners, yet each one of us sins differently. He approaches Christ differently, struggles differently, and lives differently. For indeed he "called us out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet 2:9). Just as the sun rises and its light spreads gradually over the horizon, so too is the life and light of Christ who dawns on each man. But it is not enough that we should simply experience God or even understand Him. Rather, we must also respond to Him. The encounter is important, yes, but so is the journey. In learning and growing with Christ we learn about ourselves in a profound way. This is why there is no immediate understanding of Christ as if one became privy to a secret knowledge. We are not so much called to know as we are called to become pilgrims.

Paul offers to us a window into the Church as a whole and at the same time was himself a master theologian. Scripture will provide the data for our understanding of Christ for the early Christians.

In his letter to the Philippians (written about 49AD) Paul quotes the famous lines, “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God, something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness … he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. ...[So now may] may every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (cf. Phil 2:5-11). This quote here is said to be a hymn, and hymns in Scripture are often said to be older than their composition date. We see in this shortened form how aspects of Christ's life are mixed with the significance of His life—e.g., he died on the cross and as a result God “greatly exalted him” (2:9).

The structure of this is believed to be a hymn because (1) the style of composition is not Pauline, and (2) it doesn't read like normal prose and ends with a doxology, typical in sung prayer.

This is significant because we have in our possession a prayer of the early Church. Paul writes to the Philippians after doing some significant travel as well as living the life of a Christian for 15 or so years. Paul came to Philippi on his second missionary journey, which would mean that this prayer was already a part of life in many other churches. Similarly, this prayer was given to the people of that church as an exhortation and edification of a life in Christ. We can be confident in this prayer reflecting how the early Christians viewed Christ.

The letter to the Colossians presents a different angle. Whereas Philippi was a growing Church in need of instruction, Paul's letter to the Colossians is meant to safeguard the faith. Paul approaches Christ from a different angle, namely his divinity. Paul here says “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and invisible … he is before all things … he is the head of the body the church … for in him all fullness was pleased to dwell” (cf. Col 1:15-20).

The first passage I've presented emphasizes Jesus' earthly ministry and its significance. In Colossians Paul mentions these things but goes at length to express Christ's divinity here.

Paul was an example of one so saturated in the love of his Jewish faith that the event of the Messiah, the fulfillment of an ago-old promise, prompted him to consider and evaluate a future after the fulfillment of such a promise. What had Christ revealed about God, the world, man, and salvation the the prophets and patriarchs longed for? No easy task.

These were early 'Christologies' and ones that were made to both help others understand Christ while also protecting those same believers from what was false.

As time progressed more elaborate and precise understandings emerged. For our purposes we shall look at one of the most famous: John's Gospel. His Gospel, a work that “soars like an eagle above the clouds of human infirmity, and gazes upon the light of the unchangeable truth with those keenest and steadiest eyes of the heart” (Augustine, De consensu evangelistarum 1.6.9, courtesy of

It is here that we are introduced to the notion that Jesus is the Word, the Logos. John states clearly that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life … grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn 1:1-4, 17).

John's words incorporate what came before him but more clearly identify who Jesus is. His whole Gospel is dedicated to that prologue and Benedict XVI himself had said that this is the primary creation account in Scripture. Jesus is the Word, the Greek word being “logos,” which carries—intentionally—a Jewish and Greek understanding. In Greek, logos would signify reason, order, harmony, and completeness in certain contexts. In Scripture and Judaism, a word carried power. In Psalm 29 it states “The voice of the Lord is over the waters” which hearkens back to the moment of creation. It continues “the God of glory thunders … the voice of the Lord is power; the voice of the Lord is splendor” (Ps 29:3-4). In creation God speaks and so it is. The “word” is power and might, and creation does not resist the Word or the master who speaks that word. As such, this was the dual-sense of John when he calls Jesus the Word: reason and power, order and splendor. This is just the surface of John's bottomless wisdom on Christ.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Kuma's Corner: At the Corner of Ignorance and Profits

(Edit: 10/13/2013--currently, I'm working on a follow-up to clarify and/or revise some of my points. Also, I hope to make it shorter and more reflective)

Now that nearly a week has passed and my generally angry response to what happened has subsided, I thought I would share my thoughts on this sorry-yet-expected story about Kuma's Corner, a "gourmet burger" place in Chicago, where at this restaurant they made a burger in honor of the Swedish metal band Ghost by garnishing the burger with a wafer (that looks like a communion wafer) and red wine sauce.

Sadly, even in my writing this I realize that I give them more publicity and run the risk of being a sensationalist myself. Make no mistake, unlike Kuma's which has used a symbol held sacred by Catholics (and many Christians) in order to turn a profit, I do not write this for my own popularity or for profit.

This restaurant, a metal bar-grill, has bands or some movie playing on its TVs and images all over its walls. It has a sort of pub look to it, with a sort of wood and metal interior typical of small businesses. It's as busy at 1pm as it is 1am, typically, and the wait to get in can sometime be 1-2 hours. It's well known and well liked, catering to people who like metal and/or burgers. This is why, to me, it's curious that such a successful business would resort to this sort of publicity stunt yet, all the same, the "F the man" mentality makes one wonder why this isn't done more often by establishments like it.

Those who listen to metal and have a strong devotion to it are on the emotional side since that's what the music is about. It's a sort of music that wants to elicit some sort of visceral reaction or primal response. Those who live in such a world often have a hard time finding a filter for their thoughts in certain situations. When they're confronted about what they've done they're more likely to swear at or insult you before confronting the problem. The next level of response is either along the lines of "You just don't understand" or "I don't care." Other people be damned, am I right?

This is why the response by Kuma's is so amusing (if that's the right word). With my interpretation following each quote, I'll show it to you:

(1) Kuma’s Corner is aware that in some cases, people have unfortunately found reason to find offense at our recent special menu addition the Ghost. We make hamburgers for a living. We are a small nine table restaurant in [...]  Chicago. And we love heavy metal. There is a band doing music that we enjoy particularly called Ghost. They are from Sweden. As with all of our burgers, the Ghost was created to pay homage to the music they’ve created. We work very hard on coming up with creative combinations for our food just as a band would work very hard to be creative with their music and we think it shows in their regard so we found it appropriate that with them being on tour this month, and this month being October, we honor them in this way.

We are sorry that we're not sorry, since some people were offended by our recent menu choice. We'd like to remind everyone that we are a "small business" and thus barely get by every day, which is why we like to be edgy. Why is everyone angry at the underdog?

We could honestly think of no other way to pay homage to Ghost. Their music is so mediocre that only their imagery, one meant to offend anyhow, was the only proper way to act. We worked very hard to look 5 seconds at them, see how they imitate and deface clerical and ecclesial imagery and say, 'How can we imitate and deface it?' Honestly, it took a lot of hard work.

(2) That said, we appreciate the kind words of support from the vast majority of people who understand that we, in no way, created this as a commentary on religion or as an attack on anyones personal beliefs. In the past we have done a number of burgers dealing with this same exact topic to very little fanfare. Never in the spirit of offending anyone, and always in mindset of praising a band for the work that they do.

But so many of our customers who don't seriously practice religion found reason to praise us. We were shocked by the positive response, personally. We never meant to offend anyone, but if we do, isn't that your fault?

(3) However, in the haze of the past few days, we would like to express the following. We support the rights of every person in the United States as given to them by the Constitution, to do and say what they feel. 

But let's get to the real issue here.

(4) We are fortunate to live in a place where we are granted particular freedoms not available to most people in most locales and we feel it is our obligation to not stand down in the face of threats but instead to stand up for something we hold to be much nobler; the First Amendment. If you are not familiar with it, let us provide the text for you:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”


Let's appeal to something greater than personal beliefs: our personal belief in what the Constitution means and allows for. So many other countries are oppressive, stupid, and cruel. That's why it's our patriotic duty to wave Old Glory around in the form of a burger. It is our obligation and, yes, our pride to say and do whatever we feel because in doing so we honor the Constitution and those who died to protect our freedom. I dare say that those who gave their lives across the ages would shed a tear of joy at knowing our restaurant put a wafer and red wine-reduction sauce all in the name of freedom ["Red Wine Reduction (the blood of Christ) with Communion Wafer garnish (the body of Christ). Come pay your respects!"].

We've copied a portion of the text that helps justify our position.

(5) In standing with our policy of supporting charity and Chicago at large, we have made a $1500 dollar donation to the Catholic Charities of the Chicago Archdiocese as we understand that they share our mentality of serving anyone in need from any walk of life.

In order to show we're good sports in all of this, we'll give money to their charity. Hey, $1,500 is enough to show it's no big deal, right?


Thankfully, Catholic Charities rejected Kuma's generous offer. The general hubris present in this is almost as sickening as the burger itself.

A good marketing strategy nowadays is "Hey, they like what I like!" or "Hey, they're offending who I hate!" Find a group that you know people are biased against, insult and offend them, and then watch your customers praise your bravery and support you all the way--even with their money.

The brave example of Kuma's certainly seems promising for their business. After all, what's bravery without some sort of reward? A look at their Facebook page reveals "pastors" singing their praises and generally being pretty hip about the whole situation. Resident Catholic theologians are giving a good defense of the faith with quotes like, "I'm not offended at all!" or "Any educated Catholic knows that if it's not blessed it's just a wafer. Lighten up people!"

Others figured this was a good opportunity to say, "There are bigger problems going on here" or "Why care about what some anti-gay, hateful organization has to say?" or "They get offended at burgers but not pedophiles?"

Yes, because no practicing Catholic at any level has a problem with child abuse. It's just so obvious.

Christ and his followers continue to be persecuted by those who hate Him and His Church. Likewise, some who follow Him throw off his yoke when pressured. Nothing new here.

Is it really "no big deal" and should Catholics, let along other Christians and religious groups get offended? Should social groups also find no offense in a harmless burger? The question has been made by some as to whether Kuma's would make a "Quran Burger" or something to offend the Jews. Not only would that be offensive, they say, but would they face stricter threats or danger? Jews and Christians in the United States have long been a fairly tolerant towards such actions--certainly not violent. Many Muslims in this country bear public humiliation daily, especially since 9/11.

Anyone persecuted for what they believe is a cause for tragedy for me, in many ways more for the person who persecutes than the one who is persecuted.

Many in America operate off of the morality of "do it as long as it doesn't offend anyone." Here's a good case study in, 'It offends someone' with the response of 'It's not a big deal.' America. Chick-Fil-A claims it's against gay marriage: run them out of town. Kuma's Corner takes religious symbolism in order to offend: they're standing up for the good ol' U S of A.

My question is: is religion really a difficult target or the way to flex one's 1st amendment rights? One could argue that Kuma's exercise of that right is no different than the Westborough Baptist church's exercise of it. Would Kuma make a [N****r] burger, or a rape-victim burger? Would they claim that both were done in good fun and they did so in honor of a band whose subject matter revolves around that? I wonder.

One friend pointed out to me in my anger at this, and rightly so, that we ought to pray for them. Not just that the burger be removed, but for a conversion of heart in the proprietors and patrons of Kuma's. We're all sinners. Any self-respecting Christian can look at himself and see his many faults and the ways that he defaces God through slander, gossip, or hatred.

All the same, the anger I and many feel is not a "holier than thou" feeling, it's an anger that stems from our love for Christ and reverence we pay to His Body and Blood, and the symbols of bread and wine used sentimentally. Indeed, for Catholics that which was once bread and wine is transformed by the priest into His very Body and Blood through the working of the Holy Spirit. That the host isn't blessed is not an issue. It's taking what is sacred symbolism and part of my life, ridiculing it by making it a garnish on a burger for a band that defames us. Secondly, it's done in the name of making a dollar.

Am I asking Kuma's to close its doors? No. I'm asking it to see reason--make burgers respecting whatever bands you please. Do so without offending what others hold dear. Will some be offended you like the band? Probably. But your enjoyment of a band is a private concern. Your marketing symbolism people take to be holy is a public one.

You might claim that our stance against gay marriage is hateful and public, but in turn we are not in the business of making money off of that publicity. In fact we lost plenty of people for speaking out against gay marriage. We receive far less publicity for how we minister to homosexuals and in what manner we talk about marriage and sexuality, anyhow.

I am reminded of the procession of martyrs, from the time of the Apostles to the present day who have given their very lives in the midst of tortures, defamation, humiliation, and even worse. Who will stand with true honor in the end, the one who bore the Constitution for his private whims or the one who bore the Word in humility and sacrifice? I know which one makes me more money, and I'm learning which one makes me rich.

Needless to say I won't be supporting Kuma's any longer. Those who were indifferent to Kuma's before may very well take my place, so it's not like they lost anything. But I'm willing to give up something I enjoy for the sake of my belief. For many of us, we must struggle as to whether we'd be giving up our very lives, public image, and personal honor for the sake of Christ. An overpriced burger isn't really a big price to pay.


Some other articles worth reading:

John Cass, Chicago Tribune
Open Letter to Kuma's
Word on Fire

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Voice of God

Sometimes when I reflect on Scripture I only consider the words before me. I examine their origin, their context, their meaning, and their hidden meanings. In no way do I discourage this as there is a great deal of wisdom and fruit that comes from these things.

Other times I consider myself, the individual who hears these words. I, a student who is in the midst of this semester, who is experiencing beautiful fall weather, and who contemplates a life in service to God and others, hear the words of Scripture in a way unique to myself.

Some live in tropical climates, others live in frigid lands, some live in places at war, while others still live in prosperity. His voice reaches all the ends of the earth. It's incredible to think that I, in this place, with this or that disposition, and at this time, am hearing God's word as He intended me to hear it.

The Gospel is not just the words that are written but the words that are heard. "I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith" (Rom 1:16). "Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. ... [His detractors] could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke" (Acts 6:8, 10). A word, spoken in the Spirit and heard in the Spirit, produces in us a profound effect. We rightly reverence those words deemed necessary on revelation, but do we not also reverence those in whom we witness the Spirit? For we should reverence God wherever He is, not only on the page but among us and in the world too.

Likewise, God speaks one message, but we hear it in many ways. All the same, God asks us to respond in the same way: with love, all while praising His glorious name. Jesus emerges from the desert saying, "Repent! and believe in the gospel!" One voice demanding one response.

This one response happens in many ways. The one who suffers from lust must respond with chastity while the one suffering from pride must respond with humility. The one who despairs must respond with hope and the one who is angry must respond with patience. Often I find that all of us suffer from numerous things: pride, lust, despair, and anger. The cross seems to heavy to bear, and the response seems as if it would strain our voice.

At this time it would seem necessary to first take an inventory of our sins, our emotions, and our thoughts. It is not enough to say "I am tempted so I must be chaste." Rather, upon reviewing ourselves we say, "I am unchaste when I give into my anger." One may pluck the fruit of sin only to have it regrow. Finding the root is the surer means of conquering sin. The root, if deep, requires great effort and persistence to pull. That you are pulling at that root is a cause for thanksgiving. "Hermas, stop saying all these prayers for your sins. Ask also for righteousness, so that you may take part of it to your family" (Shepherd of Hermas, 9:6). Praying for forgiveness, while good, also makes us focus on ourselves. Praying for righteousness and strength allows us to share it with others.

Listen to His voice. When you decide where His voice is or isn't you have already hardened your heart. Did not King David find God's voice in the dissenting servant of his enemies house? Zeru'iah said to him, "Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and take off his head." David replied, "What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeru'iah? If he is cursing because the Lord has said to him, 'Curse David,' who then shall say, 'Why have you done so?" (2 Sam 16:9, 10) (cf. 2 Sam 16).

So too must it be with us. Do not say, "The Lord is only with this man" or "The Lord in only in Scripture" for you are then a liar and a deceiver. Do not say, "The Lord only speaks good things to me" for many of God's servants were treated severely before they were glorified. Furthermore do not say, "I should have never been born," for "before I formed you in the womb I knew you" (Jer 1:5) and "all the hairs of your head are numbered" (Mt 10:30).

God is speaking to every one but He is also speaking to you in the manner He sees fit. "My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding ... then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul" (Prv 2:2, 9-10).

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Experience of Translating

Foreign languages, I realize, are not for everyone. Many can go throughout their whole lives content to read Scripture in their native language. I certainly don't blame them for doing so. Translating Scripture can be like portaging through a swamp—a mire of depth, interpretation, and meaning. That being said, the ability to translate things such as Scripture offers valuable insight into the meaning and difficulty of the text that we take for granted. 

When the language is not our own (e.g., Latin or Greek) it forces one to scrutinize the grammar and the vocabulary and it forces one to reflect on the meaning of the text. Below, I'd like to share not only the experience of translating but also show how anyone, even those who just read English, can get more out of parables and texts that they thought were boring or easy.

I've been doing both ancient and koine [Biblical] Greek for some time. In no way would I consider myself a master of that language. For me, a master would look like some of my professors who can just look at the text, identify it, read it as if it were English, explain it, and teach it. Can I get there in 10 years? 30? I don't know. As it stands, I remain a beginner after almost 7 years. Learning the basics of a language and grammar are different than playing with the language, seeing how the language is used by various authors, and learning from context how certain words should be translated.

In order to translate well, in my opinion, the translator must do a few things: first, he must translate such that he puts the author in his [the translator's] own words, i.e., “Do I understand what I said, and do I understand what he said?” Secondly, the translator must write in such a way that his audience understands, both the author and the author in his transplanted language.

When I translate my goal is not never assume an idea is in the text—it tends to be more fun and accurate when what you expect out of the text is in now way what the text looks like. The words should be allowed to speak for themselves first, especially in Scripture. When the text is before us, however, we inevitably ask ourselves “What does this say?” and “Does it mean what I think it means?”

When interpreting and translating one might say, 'Jesus saved us from our sins and by his blood we are redeemed. Any work I do cannot aid me in my salvation. He died once for all, so when Paul talks about faith he must mean “you are saved by faith.” Moreover he means that we are saved by “faith alone.”'
No other way to look at it, right?

More complicated versions of this way of thinking can produce even more interesting thoughts and reasons for translating something this way or that. Catholics, Protestants, classicists, etc. can all enter in with some very grand ideas about how various phrases are supposed to look.

In the quote I offer below you can see how the same passage may be taken to mean something completely different. I've underlined sections where there is some significant difference, and made bold specific terms.

An example from Ephesians 1:3-6

King James Version
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.

New International Version
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

My Translation
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who blesses us in every spiritual blessing in the heavens in Christ, just as He chose us in Him from the beginning of creation to be holy and blameless before Him in Love, setting us apart for sonship through Jesus Christ in Him, according to His benevolent will, in praise of His glorious kindness which He freely bestowed on us in Him whom He loved.

Now I'll admit that even I made some mistakes along the way, and these other two translations corrected me. I had written the last phrase “whom He loved” originally as “in love” because I had simply forgotten to translate the participle. This little experience then caused me to reflect: the translators of other Bibles, typically, know their grammar and are careful. How, then, could such drastic differences emerge in translation?

The only key to understand such phenomena is “tradition,” both in the common and sacred sense.

When I translate which dictionary do I use? Oxford's Liddell and Scott or Walter Bauer's Lexicon—typically time period would tell me when, most of the time. Am I using the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd edition? Am I using something else? We as intermediate translators are subject to the texts we use, much like many students of many disciplines are at the mercy of the Encyclopedia they happen to trust.
What do you mean encyclopedias and dictionaries can contain errors or prejudice?

Then there's the matter of who taught you how to translate. Was he a strict grammarian or was he interested in making a readable translation? In all these things, “predestined,” as used by these two translations on Ephesians, is not evident from the text itself, but rather it is an interpretation on the text.

The Greek, in many cases, is a simple phrase or a mixture of concrete images that, over the course of time, became proper and specific terms. How does one determine what these simple terms mean? The truth is that it can only come out of a tradition that lives the faith, struggles with the content of revelation, and then tries their best to pass it on to the next along with all their wisdom and experience.

The tricky part becomes “Which tradition do I follow?” For many Protestants, this doesn't enter their theological reasoning, let alone their historical one (though, sadly, this is true for far too many Catholics). Tradition requires as much investigation and scrutiny as Scripture does.

Tradition is seen by some as only a “man-made” thing and never a thing concerning God. For man, God comes to replace human ingenuity, human thought, and human actions. God either “covers up” our humanity or “puts it aside.”

The Catholic Church teaches from her sacred Tradition that God has always been interested and involved in mankind, existing in human history, never more strongly than when He sent His only Son to live among us. God, for us, “lifts up our humanity” and transforms it by grace, thus restoring our human nature to be as God intended.

The act of translating, and sometimes disagreeing on what the passage means, is not human folly. One word may carry with it a variety of meanings. One phrase may carry with it a variety of effects. Those who are attentive to God's will and who are humble will still hear the same passage differently. Is this wrong, a fault of the listener, or a fault of the text? God gives to each of us what we need. “Give us this day our daily bread” (Mt 6:11). For one his bread is a consolation and for the other a reproof.

The Word of God is not only text, but a voice that permeates all dispositions, lives, cultures, and ages. Translating allows the words to speak more clearly, or less so, depending on what God intends. Indeed “you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to infants” (Mt 11:25).

The first principle of reading or translating Scripture, friends, is humility at the greatness that stands before you. Never be content to read Scripture once or understand it in only one way. “I sought wisdom openly in my prayer … I inclined my ear a little and received her, and I found for myself much instruction. … My heart was stirred to seek her, therefore I have gained a good possession. The Lord gave me a tongue as my reward, and I will praise Him with it” (Sir 51:13, 16, 21-22).

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Faith and not Religion? A Response

This was a response that someone, a non-Catholic Christian, wrote to me regarding my piece One Voice: Concrete Catholicism. I thought it would be worth sharing. I hope it is. The person who wrote to me is indicated by italics. My responses follow below.

A Response

That being said, I've noticed a trend that began years ago—I'm not sure exactly when it was; I personally became aware of it roughly 6-7 years ago. It's the whole "I have a relationship, not a religion" idea. Now, it's not so much the idea itself that I'm calling into question (that's another topic), but more so the motivation behind its appearance.

In effect, it's a trend that has its origins nearly 400-700 years ago. It can be linked to a trust in personal faith, a sort of "faith alone" and "Scripture alone" mentality. Religiously speaking these are primary suspects. Why? Whose faith is "faith alone" regarded as? The faith of the individual. If I only need faith, why do I need religion? Why do I need brothers and sisters in faith? Why do I really need a community, rules, disciplines, etc. if God forgives me anyway? Scripture alone likewise ties into personal interpretation. [Another person who commented on this piece], whom you've seen responding to you here, wrote a comment (that I need to get to) wherein one cannot err "if he has the Holy Spirit with him."

This is a fine sentiment, except it seems 20 people have the Holy Spirit with them with 25 different views. When one approaches Scripture as a rogue, a ronin, or an anti-religious he will almost always fail in interpreting Scripture. He may, and probably will, receive some personal, spiritual edification but Scripture is not a personal book, it's a book of the people of God--written for each while simultaneously written for all.

When we make faith a matter of "me" and the Bible "my Bible" we don't need religion, just ourselves.

Religion has come to have a negative connotation, especially in recent decades. At my university, on much of the television, in numerous academic writings, and in many other places, we learn about how dangerous religion can be. We're told how it started the bloodiest of wars and the darkest of ages.

Despite a rather elementary understanding of human history, where bloodier and more costly wars were waged in the name of the god called "the State" and "the King," the middle ages (so called) and the crusades were labeled as epochs and acts of cruelty in the name of God. In all ages there are cruelties justified by a number of things. Did religion motivate people to violence? Of course. But was all that violence by necessity unjust? Did religion only motivate violence while the indomitable human spirit and human goodwill motivate all works of charity and justice? I think we find these simple categories to be false.

Religion can be dangerous, perhaps, but individuals who are moral agents and who are ruled by either sin or vice are more dangerous. Religion is not harmful unless its precepts are harmful--the problem is that so many people today would rather just redefine what's harmful so that religion and harm to self/others/mankind are the same.

Religion, properly called, preaches discipline, measured thinking within boundaries, morality, and a balance between tolerance and conservation. If others laugh at that statement, I'm willing to bet they're less tolerant than any religion they make fun of.

This sentiment also comes from a hatred for humanity, which can also be seen in the sciences, though we hardly take notice of it. Science soon developed in such a way that our personal experience and perspectives ruined any chance at "objectivity." Science is conducted and perceived in such a manner that human beings more often "get in the way" of 'progress' than anything else. Those who abandon religion for a number of reasons see it as "man getting in the way of God" even though the origins of belief, faith, and the like are rooted in community, the same way that knowledge is linked, in part, to our communal experience of the world. Faith and science alike have communal aspects and individual ones.

A short time after all of this starts up, I see Christians distancing themselves from this by saying that what they have isn't a religion but a relationship with Jesus.

Some of them are afraid of being identified with what is labeled as "bigotry" or "antihumanism" preferring rather the safety of saying "I believe by myself, not any of that stuff." It's party timidness and partly cowardice, but it's likely inherited and cultured cowardice. Christians who distance themselves from a community of believers are not so much Christians as they are individuals who believe some things Christ taught. Christ formed a community, not a confederation of believers.

Perhaps "cowardice" is a bit uncharitable of me. It could also be faultless ignorance or simply a rejection of a communal faith. Any relationship with Jesus is always with His Church too, since the Church is His body. No relationship to the Church, no meaningful relationship with Jesus.

Monday, September 9, 2013

One Voice: Concrete Catholicism

One of the many things I've appreciated about Catholicism as I've grown up is how it concretizes Scripture. For some this may seem like a strange thing. With respect to atheists I believe in a “bronze-age myth” and the only value Scripture seems to have for most of them are some bland platitudes or fuel for a fire. Protestants, on the other hand, are fairly adamant that we are unbiblical hypocrites, whores of a man-made Babylon.

Being cousins in animosity they seem to not only hate what we believe but also how we live our faith. It turns out that many things they hate are what cause the most wonder in me. I'm not talking about their caricatures such as worshiping Mary, being blind adherents to medieval ideologies, or anything like that.

Catholicism embodies “I by my works will show you my faith” (James 2:18b). I'll offer a few examples that struck me as particularly inspiring:

One day at mass, with some 300 people present, we were all singing. 300 voices united as one voice—not for some rally, not for the new drm-free PS4, and not at some concert—but every voice singing in order to praise God. 

Video game conferences: the new Megachurches

In this particular Church, built to receive such praise, the sound rose up and when we paused you could still hear that one voice continuing. The same was true when we responded: “and with your spirit” and “Our Father, who art in heaven....”

(but video games, such as Civilization IV, can also give us some great music, such as Baba Yetu, the "Our Father" in Swahili)

My voice was indistinguishable from all those present. Indeed, “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another … that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rm 15:6). It's one thing to read it. It's altogether different to experience it.
(another example, in a different style)

Secondly, at my candidacy mass we were using incense, another thing that isn't just a distraction, but a reflection of Scripture. The time to incense the altar had passed. The cardinal, the other bishops present, and the priests lined in unity behind the altar of God. The one who held the thurible knelt before the altar. As I looked on the altar, the sanctuary, and the priests were covered in the slightest haze. “May my prayer stand as incense before you” (Ps 141:2).

From the floor to the ceiling everything was covered very slightly with a cloud of incense. Again, it was not only my prayers but the prayers of all of us present rising to heaven.

“And the Lord descended in the cloud” (Ex 34:5). All the same it was symbolic and concrete of God's presence among us, in our gathering and in the Eucharist.

The incense served a dual purpose: the joining of ourselves to God—our prayers rose and he descended.

These are just two things that struck me. Many other things, such as praying the Psalms daily, teaching, and the like bring Scripture alive. Service to the poor, the sick, and so forth are still far superior ways to understand what Catholicism really is. There are others who have dedicated their lives to service whereas my life has been more one of study. They certainly deserve more praise for their silent, word-less work than myself.

That being said, in mass both our voices, when united in purpose and heart, are one voice, the voice of the Church.

I, like so many today, grew up thinking of mass as something you go to and something you sit through. It's this passive way of thinking that drains the mass of meaning and destroys unity in the Church. The mass is not a theater where one is entertained. One goes to mass to give. Some can give money to further the ministry of the Church. Those who cannot give money give their prayers to those who suffer. Those who come give their time to God because it says, “God, you're worth my time.”

Church and mass is not so much a place to receive as is it to give. All the same we receive the consolations of community and the graces of prayer. The mass is something you give to the world and to God. The prayers that God desires from us and the prayers the world so sorely needs. Do not deprive yourself or the world prayer.

A Hebrew Rabbi wrote in the Midrash tradition (Rabbinic commentaries on Scripture) this: “Fear not, O worm of Jacob, O men of Israel' [Is 41:14]. Just as the worm can smite the tree only with its mouth, so Israel's only [weapon] is its mouth. That is: Israel's only weapon is prayer.”