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.