Friday, August 18, 2006

I'm a survivor

This post at HMS reminded me of a story I heard about Blessed Mother Teresa (perhaps apocryphal, source anyone?):

When asked why God hadn't sent someone yet to cure cancer Mother Teresa replied, "God did, but he was aborted."

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Honesty regarding human embryos

I've discussed here and here the need to be honest when debating beginning of life issues (e.g. embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, and abortion). The question is NOT when human life begins, but rather what value we should recognize in nascent human life. I also contend that this is not a religion vs. science debate that can be dismissed with a wave to "the separation between church and state."

Dr. Robert P. George, joined by Dr. Alfonso Gómez-Lobo, of the President's Council on Bioethics wrote a statement as an appendix to Human Cloning and Human Dignity: An Ethical Inquiry (2002). In it, he argues with perfect logic and clarity that human embryos deserve full moral respect. It is the best argument I have encountered against human cloning, ESCR, et al.

The most important starting point in debating the moral respect owed to human embryos:

A human embryo is a whole living member of the species homo sapiens in the earliest stage of his or her natural development. Unless denied a suitable environment, an embryonic human being will by directing its own integral organic functioning develop himself or herself to the next more mature developmental stage, i.e., the fetal stage. The embryonic, fetal, infant, child, and adolescent stages are stages in the development of a determinate and enduring entity – a human being – who comes into existence as a single cell organism and develops, if all goes well, into adulthood many years later.

...The combining of the chromosomes of the spermatozoon and of the oocyte generates what every authority in human embryology identifies as a new and distinct organism. Whether produced by fertilization or by SCNT or some other cloning technique, the human embryo possesses all of the genetic material needed to inform and organize its growth. Unless deprived of a suitable environment or prevented by accident or disease, the embryo is actively developing itself to full maturity. The direction of its growth is not extrinsically determined, but is in accord with the genetic information within it. The human embryo is, then, a whole (though immature) and distinct human organism – a human being. (emphasis added)

This point is based upon what the embryo is according to science, and not upon any religious beliefs. We MUST acknowledge that embryos are human beings before proceeding in any further debate.

Since this is true, it immediately follows:
To deny that embryonic human beings deserve full respect, one must suppose that not every whole living human being is deserving of full respect. To do that, one must hold that those human beings who deserve full respect deserve it not in virtue of the kind of entity they are, but, rather, in virtue of some acquired characteristic that some human beings (or human beings at some stages) have and others do not, and which some human beings have in greater degree than others.

Dr. George goes on in depth to argue why he believes this position to be untenable. You may disagree with his conclusion about the morality of using human embryos as mere instruments in scientific research (I think his argument is irrefutable), but you MUST admit that your position casts certain human beings into a sub-category undeserving of even life itself. In the words of Dr. George, "The proposition that all human beings are created equal would be relegated to the status of a superstition." There is then nothing in principle that would prevent casting other classes of human beings into the same category.

I am not willing to make this step in the name of science. If you are, please be honest about what is up for debate.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Divisions in the body

Dave Armstrong over at Cor ad cor loquitur has posted a detailed discussion of the problem of authority in Protestantism. His thesis is that sola scriptura logically and inevitably leads to an individualism that cannot resolve doctrinal disputes. In the end, a Protestant can always appeal to his own interpretation of scripture against that of another Christian and be acting logically from a sola scriptura position.

When faced with this dilemma,

the Protestant is forced to appeal to one of two equally insufficient and most unsatisfactory solutions:

A) Claim (on no persuasive or compelling grounds, once adequately scrutinized) that their own brand of Protestantism is the true one and to be believed above all others. This was, of course, the standard approach taken by virtually all the early Protestant factions. But since they denied apostolic succession as historically understood, the appeal to one's own truth became entirely arbitrary and a-historical (the very grounds which could make such a claim believable or plausible in the first place, per the methodology of the Church Fathers and Catholicism).

B) Pretend that doctrines where Protestants disagree (which are almost all doctrines other than where they agree with even Catholics and Orthodox) are "secondary" and not important enough to fight over in order to arrive at and determine truth in those matters. I have argued that this is a de facto relativizing of a host of doctrines, whereas the Bible shows no such indication that this should be done.

I discussed this briefly here with my friend Matt who I consider to be a very thoughtful Protestant Christian.

My question is this: If all that Jesus intended to teach with clarity was a "mere Christianity" and all other doctrines (e.g. nature of the sacraments, church governance, disputed moral issues, forms of worship) are matters of speculation without hope of final resolution, why don't Protestant churches unify so as to provide a clear witness to the world of the truth of Jesus Christ (cf. Jn 17:20-23)? Can (orthodox) Protestants justify divisions in the Body of Christ for matters of preference?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Catholic Carnival at Tom Reagan's blog

This week's Catholic Carnival is now up, hosted by Tom Reagan. This is my first week participating, and it will be linked from here weekly. What is the Catholic Carnival?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Marriage and the common good

Ryan T. Anderson at First Things brought to my attention a newly published booklet entitled Marriage and the public good: Ten principles, referred to as simply "The Princeton Principles." It is the fruit of scholarly meetings in Princeton, NJ, begun in 2004 by professors of various discplines and institutions. It is a complete and concise document in defense of traditional marriage against current trends toward a culture of divorce, illegitimacy, cohabitation, and same-sex marriage. Traditional marriage contributes to the true common good in society.

You must go read this! It gives voice to those who wish to clearly defend marriage in the public square. Some nuggets:

Principles 9 and 10 (section II) -

9. The laws that govern marriage matter significantly.

Law and culture exhibit a dynamic relationship: changes in one ultimately yield changes in the other, and together law and culture structure the choices that individuals see as available, acceptable, and choiceworthy. Given the clear benefits of marriage, we believe that the state should not remain politically neutral, either in procedure or outcome, between marriage and various alternative family structures. Some have sought to redefine civil marriage as a private contract between two individuals regardless of sex, others as a binding union of any number of individuals, and still others as any kind of contractual arrangement for any length of time that is agreeable to any number of consenting adult parties. But in doing so a state would necessarily undermine the social norm which encourages marriage as historically understood - i.e., the sexually faithful union, intended for life, between one man and one woman, open to the begetting and rearing of children. The public goods uniquely provided by marriage are recognizable by reasonable persons, regardless of religious or secular worldview, and thus provide compelling reasons for reinforcing the existing marriage norm in law and public policy.

10. "Civil marriage" and "religious marriage" cannot be rigidly or completely divorced from one another.

Americans have always recognized the right of any person, religious or non-religious, to marry. While the ceremonial form of religious and secular marriages often differs, the meaning of such marriages within the social order has always been similar, which is why the state honors those marriages duly performed by religious authorities. Moreover, current social science evidence on religion and marital success affirms the wisdom of the American tradition, which has always recognized and acknowledged the positive role that religion plays in creating and sustaining marriage as a social institution.4 The majority of Americans marry in religious institutions, and for many of these people a religious dimension suffuses the whole of family life and solemnizes the marriage vow. It is thus important to recognize the crucial role played by religious institutions in lending critical support for a sustainable marriage culture, on which the whole society depends. And it is important to preserve some shared idea of what marriage is that transcends the differences between religious and secular marriages and between marriages within our nation's many diverse religious traditions.

The intrinsic goods of marriage (section IV) -

Marriage offers men and women as spouses a good they can have in no other way: a mutual and complete giving of the self. This act of reciprocal self-giving is made solemn in a covenant of fidelity-a vow to stand by one another as husband and wife amid life's joys and sorrows, and to raise the children that may come as the fruit of this personal, sexual, and familial union. Marriage binds two individuals together for life, and binds them jointly to the next generation that will follow in their footsteps. Marriage elevates, orders, and at times constrains our natural desires to the higher moral end of fidelity and care.

The marriage vow by its nature includes permanence and exclusivity: a couple would lose the very good of the union they seek if they saw their marriage as temporary, or as open to similar sharing with others. What exactly would a temporary promise to love mean? Would it not reduce one's spouse to a source of pleasure for oneself, to be desired and kept only so long as one's own desires are fulfilled? By weakening the permanence of marriage, the contemporary culture of divorce undermines the act of self-giving that is the foundation of marriage. The marriage vow, seen as binding, is meant to secure some measure of certainty in the face of life's many unknowns-the certainty that this unknown future will be faced together until death separates. At the same time, marriage looks beyond the married couple themselves to their potential offspring, who secure the future from this generation to the next.

Marriage is thus by its nature sexual. It gives a unique unitive and procreative meaning to the sexual drive, distinguishing marriage from other close bonds. The emotional, spiritual, and psychological closeness of a married couple is realized in the unique biological unity that occurs between a man and a woman united as husband and wife in sexual intercourse. In marital sexual union, the love of husband and wife is given concrete embodiment. Our bodies are not mere instruments. Our sexual selves are not mere genitalia. Male and female are made to relate to and complete one another, to find unity in complementarity and complementarity in sexual difference. The same sexual act that unites the spouses is also the act that creates new life. Sharing of lives is, in sex, also a potential sharing of life. In procreation, marital love finds its highest realization and expression. In the family, children find the safety, security, and support they need to reach their full potential, grounded in a public, prior commitment of mother and father to become one family together.

This deeper understanding of marriage is not narrowly religious. It is the articulation of certain universal truths about human experience, an account of the potential elevation of human nature in marriage that all human beings can rationally grasp. Many secular-minded couples desire these extraordinary things from marriage: a permanent and exclusive bond of love that unites men and women to each other and to their children.

The main point to take away is that civil marriage is an institution based upon human nature, not sectarian religious grounds. As such, it is justly privileged and encouraged by the state.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Logical end: same-sex "marriage" to polygamy

Robert George posted at First Things:

A group of self-identified “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender and allied activists, scholars, educators, writers, artists, lawyers, journalists, and community organizers” has released a statement explicitly endorsing “committed, loving households in which there is more than one conjugal partner.” Got that? More than one conjugal partner.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The morning after pill as economic exploitation

Posted by Pamela Pilch at HMS:

[W]omen are being economically exploited by the morning after pill. Because women can only become pregnant for a few days per cycle, many women will use the morning after pill on days on which they couldn't have gotten pregnant anyway. For each dose of the morning after pill, they are paying as much as they would pay for a whole month's worth of regular birth control pills ...

This burden will fall most heavily on young girls who are too scared to go to a physician for regular BCPs, but who engage in unprotected sex several times a month. ...

So...women will be ingesting higher levels of hormones, and spending several times as much money, without the monitoring from a doctor that would be required for regular ingestion of lower levels of hormones for less money. ... (Never mind the free availability of NFP, the freedom from doctor visits for monitoring for health risks and the absence of artificial hormones...) ...

Women should be very angry about this. This is not "reproductive health." This is economic exploitation - and the commodification of women's bodies.

I find the argument convincing that providing the MAP over-the-counter to teenagers would provide a way for teens to engage in what they believe is "safe sex" without having to endure the perceived embarassment of talking to an adult. We would further cut teens off from the much needed guidance of parents and trusted elders.

Pilch also makes the good point that the use of the MAP relies on the ignorance of women toward the way their bodies work. Far fewer women would have to purchase and take the MAP if they knew that it wasn't a fertile day! Ironically, the more a women emphasizes the use of her body for purely sexual entertainment the less she needs to know about it. Such a disconnect and use of the body leads to the abuse of "commodification" Pilch mentions.

However, NFP views the person holistically - mind, will, soul and body. Once the body is not merely an instrument of pleasure, the more a person (especially a woman, I think) can see and understand the purpose of the human body. And the more it is respected and appreciated.

Family pics

Pictures from July of my family, courtesy of Amy at Against the Grain. Photos taken outside were before it was crazy hot!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Mel Gibson's heart

Dennis Prager commented today about Mel Gibson's drunken anti-Semitic remarks by stating, "There is no doubt that he has anti-Semitic beliefs." Mr. Prager reasoned that when drunk, a person's inhibitions are removed and his words reveal what's truly in his heart. With this I agree. But what of Gibson's interviews surrounding the release of The Passion of Christ where he claimed that he is not an anti-Semite? Also, in his most recent apology Gibson says, "But please know from my heart that I am not an anti-Semite. I am not a bigot."

Some may think that Mel is being insincere when sober and secretly harbors hatred towards the Jewish people. His recent explosion confirms the fears of those who suspected The Passion was just another excuse for Christians to blame Jews for the death of Jesus.

But I don't think so. His inexcusable words don't necessarily reveal his deeply held beliefs, but merely his thoughts and feelings. (Perhaps Mr. Prager would agree if given the chance to clarify.) If we're honest with ourselves, each of us thinks and feels things of which we are ashamed. While these evil thoughts are temptations to sin, they are not sin themselves. It is possible to feel or think in a way contrary to one's beliefs. The path towards virtue involves rising above our fallen minds and hearts, and praying for God to purify them by the fire of his indwelling Spirit.

Mel Gibson's behavior was inexcusable. He is right to take responsibility for it, to repent and to seek reform. But his critics would do well to remember that, one way or the other, they can't know from this unfortunate episode the beliefs of his heart.

(Robert Gotcher has similar good thoughts over at Heart, Mind & Strength.)

Monday, July 31, 2006

Purification of reason

Greg Sisk at Mirror of Justice has posted some good insights regarding the relationship between Church and State from a Catholic perspective. He refers to this article by Laurie Goodstein of The NYT.

Goodstein writes about the discomfort some evangelicals feels toward their churches' ties to republican policy, particularly Pastor Greg Boyd of Woodland Hills Church in Maplegrove, MN. Boyd seems to think that Christians should stay out of public debates regarding morality, culture and politics.

As Greg Sisk ably writes:
Pope Benedict XVI, in his first Encyclical also affirms that the role of the Church is to form the conscience and “reawaken the spiritual energy,” while appreciating that “[a] just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church.” Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est ¶ 28a (2006)

At the same time, Catholic Christians are encouraged to participate in the political order and thereby to transform it. The Pastoral Constitution, Gaudium et Spes states: “All Christians must be aware of their own specific vocation within the political community. It is for them to give an example by their sense of responsibility and their service of the common good.” While we in the laity must never expect the Church to dilute its spiritual mission to support any worldly goal, we are called to bring Gospel values to bear on the political and legal matters with which we are involved.

In this respect, the anti-political movement that the New York Times article describes can swing too far in the other direction. In another part of the article not included in the excerpt Michael posted earlier, the evangelical pastor offered this disturbing response to a questioner:

One woman asked: “So why NOT us? If we contain the wisdom and grace and love and creativity of Jesus, why shouldn’t we be the ones involved in politics and setting laws?”

Mr. Boyd responded: “I don’t think there’s a particular angle we have on society that others lack. All good, decent people want good and order and justice. Just don’t slap the label ‘Christian’ on it.”

While understanding that salvation through Christ is of greater eternal value and while preserving the independence of the Church from secular trends and political campaigns, we also must stand against a radical separation of Gospel values from social justice. The very premise of the Mirror of Justice is that we indeed do have “a particular angle” on matters, drawn from the venerable sources of Catholic Social Thought and founded upon the Catholic Intellectual Tradition.

Amen. Pope Benedict goes on in Deus Caritas Est to remind us that Catholic social teaching is not only an "angle" directed to Catholics but to all men, as it is drawn from our common human nature:

In today's complex situation, not least because of the growth of a globalized economy, the Church's social doctrine has become a set of fundamental guidelines offering approaches that are valid even beyond the confines of the Church: in the face of ongoing development these guidelines need to be addressed in the context of dialogue with all those seriously concerned for humanity and for the world in which we live. (¶ 27)

The Church's social teaching argues on the basis of reason and natural law, namely, on the basis of what is in accord with the nature of every human being. ... As a political task, this cannot be the Church's immediate responsibility. Yet, since it is also a most important human responsibility, the Church is duty-bound to offer, through the purification of reason and through ethical formation, her own specific contribution towards understanding the requirements of justice and achieving them politically. (¶ 28a, emphasis added)

It is not by an authoritative appeal to religious dogma that followers of Christ should try to influence culture, but by bringing the light of pure reason to bear on the ordering of just society.

Friday, July 28, 2006

NFP Awareness Week, July 23-29, 2006

In honor of the anniversary of Pope Paul VI's landmark encyclical, Humanae Vitae (July 25) and the feast of Saints Anne and Joachim (July 26) this is Natural Family Planning Awareness Week! Woo-hoo!

Bishop Victor Galeone's pastoral letter entitled Marriage: A Communion of Life and Love, is a good introduction to the Church's positive teaching on marriage and its condemnation of contraception.

Bishop Galeone gives very clear, everyday explanations of the communicative power and purpose of sexual intercourse, the problem with contraception, and the virtue of "speaking the truth with our bodies":

According to Pope John Paul II, God designed married love to be expressed in a special language—the body language of the sexual act. In fact, sexual communication uses many of the same terms that verbal communication does: intercourse, to know (carnally), to conceive, etc. With this in mind, let’s pose some questions:

*Is it normal for a wife to insert ear-plugs, while listening to her husband?

*Is it normal for a husband to muffle his mouth, while speaking to his wife?

These examples are so abnormal as to appear absurd. Yet if such behavior is abnormal for verbal communication, why do we tolerate a wife using a diaphragm or the Pill, or a husband employing a condom during sexual communication?

Since God fashioned our bodies male and female to communicate both life and love, every time that husband and wife deliberately frustrate this twofold purpose through contraception, they are acting out a lie. The body language of the marital act says, "I’m all yours," but the contraceptive device adds, "except for my fertility."

So in actual fact, they are lying to each other with their bodies. Even worse, they are tacitly usurping the role of God. By thwarting the purpose of the marital love embrace, they are telling God, "You may have designed our bodies to help you transmit life to an immortal soul, but you made a mistake—a mistake we intend to correct. You may be Lord of our lives—but not of our fertility."

But how does natural family planning differ from contraception? And why bother, if their objective is the same? To understand the difference, one must realize that having a right intention for an action does not always justify the means.

For example, two separate couples want to support their families. The first couple does it through legitimate employment, while the other couple does it by trafficking in illegal drugs. Or two persons want to lose weight. The first accomplishes the objective by adhering to a strict diet, while the other person grossly overeats and then induces vomiting. Or to return to our analogy of the language of the body: To say that NFP is no different from contraception is like saying that maintaining silence is the equivalent of telling a lie.

Paul VI expressed the same idea more poetically: "To experience the gift of married love while respecting the laws of conception is to acknowledge that one is not master of the sources of life, but rather the minister of the design established by the Creator."

To find out more about NFP, visit The Couple to Couple League for information, books, and home study or classroom courses. I personally think that an NFP course is a must for engaged or newlywed couples.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Stem cell veto, continued

My last post and the following discussion touched upon whether or not acting to restrict or ban the destruction of embryonic human beings is somehow an abandonment of science and reason for religion. University of Chicago law school professor Geoffrey Stone thinks it is. Joseph Bottum at First Things reveals the poor logic that Stone suggests, and Paul Horwitz (who disagrees with the president's veto) makes the case that 1) Bush did not make religious arguments in his veto statement, and 2) even if he had, while religious arguments may be unwise or unpersuassive, there is nothing illegitimate about them.

Let's engage arguments rather than ignoring them because of supposed motivations.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Muddle-headed thinking revealed in language

First Bush Veto Maintains Limits on Stem Cell Use
Republicans, even those who, like Bush, oppose abortion, are wrestling with the question of whether embryos that are no bigger than a typographical period but regarded by some as human beings should be destroyed to save lives.

The debate is not whether or not embryos created by IVF are human beings. They are. Nobody calls them "pre-human" embryos. Rather, the debate is whether these human beings deserve any rights, particularly the right to not be killed. Trying to obscure what human embryos are reveals a lack of candor from those in favor of embryonic stem cell (ESC) destruction.

Notice that the size of a human embryo is mentioned almost as a justification to disregard what "some" believe. Are short people less human than tall? Is my 2 year old, 3 foot tall son less human than me (5' 10")?

Finally, it is not a choice between saving lives by destroying human embryos or allowing sick people to die by forbidding it. The bill provides funding for a certain type of research that is already occurring. And to my knowledge no lives have yet been saved, nor even any treatments produced, by ESC research that might save or even improve other human lives.

Let's focus on factual reporting about what the debate is rather than hyperbolic sob stories about people dying due heartless pro-life republicans.

Editorial: Bush, Coleman miss the stem cell boat
...those surplus embryos have no wombs in which to grow into viable babies. The couples who created them have agreed to their destruction.

Brownback's argument -- and Bush's and Coleman's -- might make sense if they were offered in support of a ban on in vitro fertilizations, but no one would propose that.

...With or without stem cell research, they are doomed. That will not change. There are no mothers for them.

As usual, the logic of the argument against ESC research is left untouched. In fact, the valid conclusion - that IVFs which produce extra embryos should be illegal - is poo-pooed as absurd. And sadly the language seems to concede that these are orphaned children without a home, doomed to die. Yet this is ok, the "moral and common sense" position.

Small human beings are still human.

Contact your house representative and senators to tell them what you think of their votes.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The "History" Channel

I've had discussions with a few people regarding the harm in reading Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. I haven't read it, and I don't think that Christians should support an author who suggests that the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ is a sham that has been promulgated by his lying apostles and a corrupt Catholic Church. I rely on that incarnation, sacrifice and resurrection for my eternal salvation and don't find it "a good read" to postulate it's falsehood. But, my main concern is that it popularizes in the minds of many the lies that Dan Brown spins as historical fact.

"Dan, it's only fiction! People don't read it as history!"

How many real histories of Christianity has the average person, even the average Christian, read as an adult? I would wager it's close to zero. How many popular articles, novels, A&E specials, 20/20 reports, etc. have those same Christians been exposed to? Many. The skeptic's view of the veracity of Christianity and the Bible is the prevalent view in our culture, and it is by far the louder voice compared to any fair survey of history.

The problem is made worse by documentaries shown on The "History" Channel such as Illuminating Angels and Demons which aired yesterday (I watched long segments on it while at my in-laws' who have cable). It is based upon the book of the same name by Simon Cox. It was basically a re-hashing of all sorts of myths and conspiracies that Dan Brown includes in his novel Angels and Demons, given legitimacy by various "experts" interviewed: the Catholic Church burned Giordano Bruno at the stake for believing in a heliocentric universe, Galileo was executed for believing the same, the Church is hiding all sorts of secret gospels that contradict the canonical versions ... There was nobody interviewed who said, "Hey, a lot of historians think this is all bunk."

I'm not qualified to counter every statement made in the program, but there was one moment so awful that I can't take anything else the director presents as reliable. Lynn Picknett states that it is an "article of faith" in the Catholic Church that St. Peter is the ruler of the Church because he was the first person to see Jesus after the resurrection. She then points out (gasp!), that when one simply reads the gospel accounts in the Bible one sees that it wasn't Peter who was the first, but rather Mary Magdalene. At this point the documentary showed a painting of the Virgin Mary holding the child Jesus!

Ok, first off, someone making a documentary about how the Catholic Church has fought against the Illuminati throughout history for control of the world, which involves a number of discussions about Christian art and symbolism, should know which Mary is shown in the image of the Madonna and Child so often portrayed!

Secondly, it seems reasonable for someone - director, editor, producer, History Channel show chooser - to ask, "Are Catholics really this stupid? Why don't they realize the contradiction and ditch the pope? Something doesn't add up here."

If I were someone, I'd go ... hmmm, I don't know ... to the Catechism of the Catholic Church to see what the Catholic Church says about itself:

552 Simon Peter holds the first place in the college of the Twelve; (Cf. Mk 3:16; 9:2; Lk 24:34; 1 Cor 15:5) Jesus entrusted a unique mission to him. Through a revelation from the Father, Peter had confessed: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Our Lord then declared to him: "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it." (Mt 16:18) Christ, the "living Stone", (1 Pet 2:4) thus assures his Church, built on Peter, of victory over the powers of death. Because of the faith he confessed Peter will remain the unshakable rock of the Church. His mission will be to keep this faith from every lapse and to strengthen his brothers in it. (Cf. Lk 22:32)

553 Jesus entrusted a specific authority to Peter: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Mt 16:19) The "power of the keys" designates authority to govern the house of God, which is the Church. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, confirmed this mandate after his Resurrection: "Feed my sheep." (Jn 21:15-17; cf. 10:11) The power to "bind and loose" connotes the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgements, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church. Jesus entrusted this authority to the Church through the ministry of the apostles (Cf. Mt 18:18) and in particular through the ministry of Peter, the only one to whom he specifically entrusted the keys of the kingdom.

881 The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the "rock" of his Church. He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock. (Cf. Mt 16:18-19; Jn 21:15-17.) "The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of apostles united to its head." This pastoral office of Peter and the other apostles belongs to the Church's very foundation and is continued by the bishops under the primacy of the Pope.

882 The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter's successor, "is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful." "For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered."

883 "The college or body of bishops has no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff, Peter's successor, as its head." As such, this college has "supreme and full authority over the universal Church; but this power cannot be exercised without the agreement of the Roman Pontiff."

884 "The college of bishops exercises power over the universal Church in a solemn manner in an ecumenical council." But "there never is an ecumenical council which is not confirmed or at least recognized as such by Peter's successor."

There is no argument based upon Peter being the first to see Jesus, and none of the highlighted scriptures refer to the empty tomb or to Peter's first encounter with the risen Lord. Instead, the Catechism bases Peter's authority on Jesus' words to him in Matthew 16 and John 21.

Further the Catechism specifically teaches that Mary Magdalene was the first to see Jesus after the resurrection:

641 Mary Magdalene and the holy women who came to finish anointing the body of Jesus, which had been buried in haste because the Sabbath began on the evening of Good Friday, were the first to encounter the Risen One. Thus the women were the first messengers of Christ's Resurrection for the apostles themselves.

Neither the most recent ecumenical council of Vatican II (LG 19-23), nor Vatican I which defined papal infallibility, recall Peter's finding of the empty tomb or of seeing Jesus first. I don't think anybody uses this to justifiy papal authority! To include in a documentary the claim that this is important to the Pope maintaining his power and thereby suggesting ordinary Catholics are idiots is a poor example of "history".

Here is a brief article by a USCCB reviewer from when the show also recently aired on A&E. Who needs cable anyway?

Friday, July 14, 2006

Jake Shimabukuro's Ukulele!

Joseph Bottum makes a lighter post at First Things about the insanely skilled ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro.

I tend to like a fast banjo or bluegrass guitar song, so this is right up my alley.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Politics in the churches

I've had some discussions recently with my uncle who is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and involved in the Word Alone Network, a group which is working to counteract some of the current trends in the ELCA. In most (all?) Protestant churches there is usually some corporate statement of faith and a set of constitutional bylaws that govern internal church affairs. These statements come up for possible amendment at regular intervals, different in each church. The process is democratic whereby congregations elect representatives (usually a combination of lay and clergy) who go to the larger assembly to consider and to vote for changes that have been previously reviewed by church committees. Headlines are published to note remarkable changes from precedent. Great battles are waged either to defend tradtional orthodoxy or to lead progressive reform.

The problem is this: in Protestant churches there is no final authority to shut down further debate and amendment. Thus, corporate statements of faith produced by these processes are ALWAYS provisional. The only final authority is the Bible, and opinions of interpretation vary greatly, even within individual congregations. Furthermore, the corporate statements are rarely in my experience treated as catechetical. Noboby points to them to say, "See, this settles our dispute about this passage. The church has spoken." I would guess that few Methodists buy a newly revised Book of Discipline every four years for reference and study.

So the work of the church to teach "the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 5) is now hampered by the politics of deciding what to teach. And the results are not even taken as authoritative. The losing side doesn't pack up and submit to the decision of the greater body, but rather begins campaigning for the next cycle.

Now don't get me wrong. I think it is a worthy task to contend for the truth. However, one can't help but be discouraged by the anti-climactic outcome. Even when you win you can't relax your guard and take the victory as a staging point for the next battle. All prior doctrinal rallying points are subject to question and revision. Isn't this the legacy of the Protestant Reformation where so many of the past decisions were overthrown?

An apt example is the Church of England's recent decision to move forward with plans to ordain women bishops. The CofE has allowed/supported the ordination of women priests since 1992, and other churches in the Anglican Communion earlier than that. But even though the decision of the CofE and the Archbishop of Canterbury was to allow women priests, there is much debate still going on and provisions have been made for those churches/provinces who reject women in the priesthood as unbiblical and invalid.

To complicate matters, the Anglican tradition values its ability to accomodate a wide variety of views under the umbrella of its worldwide Communion. The Rochester Report (2004) laid out in detail the arguments and challenges to proceeding with the ordination of women bishops. Included is a discussion about the unresolved disputes surrounding women's ordination to the priesthood. The Church of England goes about making such changes by means of what it calls an "open process of reception" which is "a process of discernment by which the rightness or otherwise of a development is considered by the universal Church. Whereas previous uses of reception had described theway in which a development was received, the Anglican use described the process of discernment by which a development could be either accepted or rejected." (3.6.10) The church acknowledges that its position is merely the majority oppinion at the time and is subject to err. It has taken to trying out a "development" to see how it goes. Later, it may affirm or reject the earlier decision. Even worse, this process is itself being developed in the context of debating women's ordination and some Anglicans don't even accept the means by which the church is changing its doctrine (3.6.17).

The Report outlines this logical and problematic scenario:
7.2.14 If women cannot be priests then they cannot be bishops. Doubts about the orders of women priests would therefore necessarily lead to doubts about the orders of women bishops. This would in turn lead to doubts about the validity of the episcopal functions performed by women ministers, which would lead to doubts about the orders of any priests (even male priests) whom they ordained, which would eventually lead to questions about the validity of ministerial orders and sacramental assurance becoming endemic throughout the Church of England.
This is a very serious question! If the sacraments are not valid, then people who think they are adoring and receiving the Body and Blood of Christ are just bowing before bread and wine. Their sins aren't absolved in confession. Doubt arises as to the efficacy of the sacraments if nobody can say with certainty who is able to administer them validly.

Yet somehow, the church claims it could change its position in the future without affecting the validity of a woman priest's prior ordination!

3.6.25 However, it also needs to be noted that this does not mean that the orders of individual women priests currently ordained in the Church of England are open to question. As [Paul] Avis goes on to say: "It is not the ordinations (orders) of individual women clergy that is subject to the process of open reception. They are duly and canonically ordained and are on a par with their male counterparts."

3.6.26 It may sound paradoxical, if not contradictory, to say that the decision to ordain women priests is open to question, but the orders of those women who have been ordained are not. However, this apparent paradox is simply the result of the fact that the Church of England has to act on what it believes to be right at any given time, while at the same time remaining open to the possibility that its decision might in the end be judged unacceptable by the universal Church.
Now look folks: Does ordination confer upon a person the indellible mark of priesthood whereby he (she?) is given by God the authority to absolve sins and to transform bread into God or not? You can't say, "We think so now, but we may be wrong. If we're wrong now, then because we think we are right now your priesthood will be valid later even if we change our minds later because you were ordained now." That makes no sense, and the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales takes them to task for it:

...there seems to us to be a tremendous and intolerable ecclesiological risk involved in taking such a step without an assurance that it is right and irreversible. If the decision to ordain women as priests, and later bishops, is ‘hypothetically reversible’, how can it be maintained that ‘this does not mean that the orders of individual women priests currently ordained in the Church of England are open to question’ (3.6.26). The position presented in 3.6.26 and 3.6.27 is untenable from a Roman Catholic perspective: it is not only paradoxical but contradictory. If the decision to ordain women priests remains open to question on theological and doctrinal grounds, then the same must be true of the orders of those women who have been ordained. How could women priests be held to hold valid orders if it were one day discerned that the original decision to ordain them was not consonant with the will of God as expressed in Scripture and tradition? If the Church of England retains such a position, Roman Catholics are inevitably left asking serous questions about the nature of ordained ministry in the Church of England, and the notion of ‘valid orders’ being employed in the Report.
In essence, "If this makes sense to you in the CofE, then you mean something different by orders and ordination and priesthood than we Roman Catholics do, and we're now further from full communion than before."

I pray and hope for a turn around, but because the process is so convoluted many people must have a change of heart over the next number of years to change course. But we always remember, with God all things are possible.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Introduction and conversion story

"I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God."

This is the profession a person makes when he enters into full communion with the Catholic Church, and it summarizes my worldview. I believe it all and strive to live it with God's help. In this blog I intend to share my thoughts on matters of faith and life from a Catholic perspective.

I was raised United Methodist and my wife was raised Lutheran. Why are we now Catholic? Here (reproduced) is a brief explanation:

The decision to become Catholic ultimately boils down to accepting the authority of the Catholic Church to preserve and to teach faithfully that which God revealed in Jesus Christ. That is the commitment I made last December after a couple of years of thinking, reading and praying. After Amy and I were married, we had to decide which church to attend. I was raised Methodist while she was raised Lutheran, but neither of us were overly attached to the distinctive doctrines of either denomination. Amy had many positive experiences with the Caltech Christian Fellowship in college, so we also considered the possibility of joining a more Evangelical church. After visiting several congregations around the Twin Cities, we defaulted to the Methodist Church in which I grew up. However, I wasn’t quite settled about the decision.

For some reason I was not satisfied with just picking a church where we liked the music or the preaching or the people or felt comfortable. I didn’t want to join a church unless I agreed that what they taught was true. But, how was I to know what was true myself so that I could choose a church? Protestant churches rely on the Bible as their final authority for discerning what God wants us to believe and how to live. Through the prayerful study of scripture, each person tests doctrine against the Bible and trusts that the Holy Spirit will guide him correctly. The problem is that honest, prayerful and scholarly Protestants still come to different conclusions, and not just on peripheral issues. For example, once a person has become a Christian can he lose his salvation? I think that’s a very important question, but there is no consensus among Christians. Also, when Jesus took bread and said, “This is my body ... Do this in remembrance of me” what did he mean? Some believe that at Holy Communion the bread symbolizes Christ’s body and we simply remember his sacrifice as we eat it. Others (Catholics included) believe that the bread and wine cease to be bread and wine and become Jesus himself, fully human and fully God. It only continues to look like bread and wine. If the former is correct, then the latter is committing idolatry by worshipping a piece of bread. If the latter is correct, then the first is denying a truly miraculous manifestation of God. Again, it’s an important question. It’s either one or the other. What we BELIEVE has no effect on what something IS. I was faced with the fact that no matter how long I studied and prayed, if I relied on my own limited judgment there would always be someone who had studied and prayed more who honestly disagreed. The Bible alone doesn’t work.

I still believed in the reliability of the Bible and the historicity of Jesus life, death and resurrection. It just seemed like our ability to interpret it was flawed. What I realized was that Jesus made some strong promises to his disciples. “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” (Mt 16:18) “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” (Jn 16:13) “I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Mt 28:20) Later, the apostle Paul says he writes so that “you may know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.” (1 Tim 3:15) Whatever form the church took, it must in some way be led into that truth which Christ came to reveal, and which he promised to protect through the Holy Spirit. If Protestants were right about not needing an authority beyond the Bible, then one might expect to see some kind of progress toward agreement since the Reformation. Unfortunately, the opposite has happened with many contradictory denominations. Clearly, they cannot all be led by the same Holy Spirit.

Historically, the Christian Church was the Catholic Church. By that I mean that it believed the things that the Catholic Church today believes, and it recognized the authority of the Pope and the Bishops in union with him to be guided by the Holy Spirit and prevented from officially teaching error. This authority, as exercised in the early councils, established all of the foundational Christian beliefs including the divinity of Christ, the incarnation, the Triune nature of God, etc., as well as the canon of scripture itself. Based on Jesus’ words, whatever the Church was it must still be, or else God had failed. I recognized the need for a place of appeals in matters of truth and found that it existed within the Catholic Church.

To clarify, I’m just a plain Roman Catholic who accepts the Pope et al. I was received into the Church on December 19, 2002 at St. Agnes Church in St. Paul, MN and my wife came in a bit later at the Easter Vigil 2004 at Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul (along with Peter who was baptized). It wasn’t a matter of coming to my own conclusion about every doctrine and then joining the Catholic Church because she agrees with me. Rather, it was accepting the authority of the Church and thereby everything she teaches in the same way one accepts the Bible as God’s Word. Protestants and Eastern Orthodox reject part or all of this authority. Of course, I have found that the Church gives sound reasons for everything she teaches.