Thursday, August 28, 2008

St. Augustine

City of God


The confessions

Two works that changed Christianity forever. They shaped us and continue to shape us. We need to let them keep shaping us by keeping them in mind.

I think that's why the Pope keeps directing us to the patristics.

We believe we are the body of Christ, we have been the body of Christ and we will continue to be the body of Christ because Jesus Christ said so. We have to remember those who have been in order to continue to be.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Setting the record straight on the church's record on abortion.

If you didn't hear, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the house who is also Catholic, said this Sunday in an interraction with long-time NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw...
MR. BROKAW: Senator Obama saying the question of when life begins is above his pay grade, whether you're looking at it scientifically or theologically. If he were to come to you and say, "Help me out here, Madame Speaker. When does life begin?" what would you tell him?

REP. PELOSI: I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition. And Senator--St. Augustine said at three months. We don't know. The point is, is that it shouldn't have an impact on the woman's right to choose. Roe v. Wade talks about very clear definitions of when the child--first trimester, certain considerations; second trimester; not so third trimester. There's very clear distinctions. This isn't about abortion on demand, it's about a careful, careful consideration of all factors and--to--that a woman has to make with her doctor and her god. And so I don't think anybody can tell you when life begins, human life begins. As I say, the Catholic Church for centuries has been discussing this, and there are those who've decided...

MR. BROKAW: The Catholic Church at the moment feels very strongly that it...

REP. PELOSI: I understand that.

MR. BROKAW: ...begins at the point of conception.

REP. PELOSI: I understand. And this is like maybe 50 years or something like that. So again, over the history of the church, this is an issue of controversy. But it is, it is also true that God has given us, each of us, a free will and a responsibility to answer for our actions. And we want abortions to be safe, rare, and reduce the number of abortions. That's why we have this fight in Congress over contraception. My Republican colleagues do not support contraception. If you want to reduce the number of abortions, and we all do, we must--it would behoove you to support family planning and, and contraception, you would think. But that is not the case. So we have to take--you know, we have to handle this as respectfully--this is sacred ground. We have to handle it very respectfully and not politicize it, as it has been--and I'm not saying Rick Warren did, because I don't think he did, but others will try to.

The Bishop's of this country respond...

In the course of a “Meet the Press” interview on abortion and other public issues on August 24, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi misrepresented the history and nature of the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church against abortion.

In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, "Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law." (No. 2271)

In the Middle Ages, uninformed and inadequate theories about embryology led some theologians to speculate that specifically human life capable of receiving an immortal soul may not exist until a few weeks into pregnancy. While in canon law these theories led to a distinction in penalties between very early and later abortions, the Church’s moral teaching never justified or permitted abortion at any stage of development.

These mistaken biological theories became obsolete over 150 years ago when scientists discovered that a new human individual comes into being from the union of sperm and egg at fertilization. In keeping with this modern understanding, the Church teaches that from the time of conception (fertilization), each member of the human species must be given the full respect due to a human person, beginning with respect for the fundamental right to life.

Two things come to mind. First, the same people that will use some theologians' opinion of post-conception ensoulment are the ones who criticize us for being anti-scientific. The theologians were using bad science when they were making these pronouncements. It was the best stuff out there at the time but it's clear that the church was wise in never promulgating, never endorsing, never teaching any of it. That was the Holy Spirit not letting the gates of hell take over us.

Secondly, the very idea that Speaker Pelosi would comment on this the way that she has shows that she really doesn't believe her own hype. She says that religion shouldn't be part of government and advocates a strict separation of church and state but, when asked about abortion, she not only misrepresents Catholic teaching but she sprints to do so. Why not just say that she believes this? Why lie about what the church teaches in an effort to involve religion?

Lastly, we need to applaud the bishops of this country for taking a stand. We whine when we think that they didn't respond harshly enough. Let's let them know that we appreciate this one.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

In case you needed yet another reminder that a priest is, in fact, still human...

Last night, around 11:30 or so, I got called out for a visit. It happens about four times a year in this current assignment so I was kind of nervous and worried about finding the right house. I went out to my garage, pushed the button to my door, and then walked through the open door of the stall next to mine. I got into my truck and turned the truck on. When the motor of the garage door stopped running, I started my truck, put it in reverse, and took out the board that I write my mileage on. Notice the one thing that is missing from that list...checking my rear view mirror.


That was when I checked my rear-view mirror and noticed that I had backed into my unopened garage door. For some reason, the thing must have gone part way up, stopped and gone back down.

I pulled forward, got out, and got the door open enough so that I could get to my visit. I felt like such an idiot! I'm sure it showed.

The only good news was that ruining the garage door didn't stop me from remembering that today is the release date for Heroes season 2 on DVD! So, I stopped at Walmart at 12:05 and became the first customer to get it. I watched one episode and remembered the excitement I had when last season was still new. It wasn't a great season overall but I can't give up on it.

Monday, August 25, 2008

From First Things Magazine

A friend told me that I really need to read First Things Magazine this month man was he right. It tells you why the church will never accept contraception and why the Episcopal communion's movement towards gay marriage and gay clergy started when it accepted contraception. You can find the whole text here.

The adversaries of Humanae Vitae (The Pope's 1965 encyclical that clarified the question of contaception) also could not have foreseen one important historical development that in retrospect would appear to undermine their demands that the Catholic Church change with the times: the widespread Protestant collapse, particularly the continuing implosion of the Episcopal Church and the other branches of Anglicanism. It is about as clear as any historical chain can get that this implosion is a direct consequence of the famous Lambeth Conference in 1930, at which the Anglicans abandoned the longstanding Christian position on contraception. If a church cannot tell its flock “what to do with my body,” as the saying goes, with regard to contraception, then other uses of that body will quickly prove to be similarly off-limits to ecclesiastical authority.

It makes perfect if unfortunate sense, then, that the Anglicans are today imploding over the issue of homosexuality. To quote (traditionalist) Anscombe (Society at Princeton University)

If contraceptive intercourse is permissible, then what objection could there be after all to mutual masturbation, or copulation in vase indebito, sodomy, buggery (I should perhaps remark that I am using a legal term here—not indulging in bad language), when normal copulation is impossible or inadvisable (or in any case, according to taste)? It can’t be the mere pattern of bodily behavior in which the stimulation is procured that makes all the difference! But if such things are all right, it becomes perfectly impossible to see anything wrong with homosexual intercourse, for example. I am not saying: if you think contraception all right you will do these other things; not at all. The habit of respectability persists and old prejudices die hard. But I am saying: you will have no solid reason against these things. You will have no answer to someone who proclaims as many do that they are good too. You cannot point to the known fact that Christianity drew people out of the pagan world, always saying no to these things. Because, if you are defending contraception, you will have rejected Christian tradition.

By giving benediction in 1930 to its married heterosexual members purposely seeking sterile sex, the Anglican Church lost, bit by bit, any authority to tell her other members—married or unmarried, homosexual or heterosexual—not to do the same. To put the point another way, once heterosexuals start claiming the right to act as homosexuals, it would not be long before homosexuals start claiming the rights of heterosexuals.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

What is a church without the bricks?

Dear Beloved in Christ

Our readings today, for Roman Catholics, are ones that are often referenced when it comes to one figure within the church, the Pope. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, the gospel, in particular, is the source of what we call papal authority. When Jesus handed the keys to Peter, we believe it was the first “handing off” that has continued, uninterrupted, through the centuries to Pope Benedict the 16th. I couldn’t help but think of a seeming parallel in today’s headlines. All week long, all the political shows that I’ve been listening to have been trying to figure out who the running mates of John McCain and Barak O’bama would be. In particular, Senator O’bama’s running mate was a huge source of consternation as it seemed he took forever to announce who it would be. Finally, at three o’clock on Saturday morning, O’bama supporters received their text messages or emails letting them know that Senator Joseph Biden would be his running mate. All the pundits had advice for Senator O’bama as to who should be his running mate and I have no doubt that that topic has been the subject of numerous meetings for both Senator O’bama and Senator McCain. And now the pundits can switch their focus to who Senator McCain will choose and continue offering advice.

I can’t help but contrast that with what happened in the gospel today. Jesus asks his disciples a simple question: “Who do people say that I am?” It’s direct. It’s simple. It’s a question that seeks to gauge how his ministry is going. The response is that people are comparing him to a prophet, a wise and learned individual who deserves admiration. But, Jesus then seeks their own opinion. He asks, “Who do you say that I am?” We know what Peter’s response was. I wonder what the other apostles were thinking. Maybe James and John were thinking, “You’re the guy that’s going to put us in charge.” Maybe Thomas was thinking, “I’m not sure who you are. I’m here to figure that out.” Judas may have been thinking, “You’re a self-important, pain in the behind faith healer who doesn’t know when to shut up.” But, who knows. Maybe they were all thinking the exact same thing that Peter was thinking but for some reason, it is Peter who says it. The others may have been thinking it. It may have been on the tips of their tongues but they were too afraid to say it. Peter, in typical fashion, is willing to put it forth, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And, just as God rewarded his faithful servant, Eliakim, in the Old Testament first reading from today with the keys to be able to control access to the King, so Peter and his successors have had the job of making sure that they make God accessible to us.

That’s why we, as Catholics, hold such high esteem for the Pope; because we believe that he wants to make God accessible to us not just as a concept but as a friend. There have been numerous times when this present pope has reminded us that the encounter with God that the Christian has is different because it is an encounter with a person, the person of Christ. The Pope wants us to be able to get in the door and he’s here to help us. The members of the clergy take our cues from him as to how to do that. And we, Christians, take great pride in the fact that the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. This means that, even though historically there have been bad successors to Peter, bad Popes, we trust that the Holy Spirit continues to bless us with the leadership necessary at any given moment in time to keep leading us to the gates of heaven and away from the gates of the netherworld.

By now, most of us have probably forgotten the fear that people had when Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger came out of those doors of the Vatican and was announced to the world as Pope Benedict XVI. People were afraid of das Panzer Kardinal, or the tank cardinal, as some referred to him and feared that he would ruin the church with harsh words and teachings. Four years later, on his visit to the United States, we cheered for Papa Bene, as some have called him and realize that Pope Benedict is less the blood-thirsty attack dog that everyone thought he would be, and more the German shepherd that we needed him to be. On this day, in this church dedicated to St. Peter, the Pope’s successor and St. Paul, whose festival year we celebrate as decreed by Pope Benedict, let us make this a year of prayer for our Holy Father, that he may continue to bring the church together in unity and be the gate keeper who helps us all come closer to God through Christ.