Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A little more on Medj

Catholic Culture has a good summary article about Bishop Ratko Peric's reiteration of how the "messages" and "apparitions" at Medj are to be treated. The summary also contains two links for further information.

It is interesting to note that Bishop Peric "has emphasized that the alleged apparitions and messages of Medjugorje are not to be treated as 'worthy of faith' and that he "has imposed a series of restrictions on activities in Medjugorje, clearly designed to discourage interest in the supposed apparitions."


Last weekend I had the immense joy of being able to go to Ohio to see my girlfriend for a few days. For the ride there and back and I took a bunch of Catholic CDs - Scott Hahn, Christopher West, John Martignoni, and one I was unfamiliar with about the Pope and the Papacy. I was really excited about the Pope and Papacy one and so I saved it for the ride home. Much to my dismay, not only was it NOT a Catholic CD, it was very much an ANTI-Catholic CD. I don't know who the speaker was but he began the CD by blasting the "heretical" Catholic Church for everything she does wrong - and I might add that everything he said was unfounded, uneducated, and almost laughable. Among other things, he was railing against the Church's invention of Purgatory.

The speaker believed that purgatory is the only thing that makes Catholicism work because without it "it's a hard sell." The fact that, as far as our faith goes, Catholics are never assured of their salvation was too much for him and he believes that only the idea that we might not go straight to hell keeps people from leaving the Church. For beginners, the idea of "maybe not going to hell right away" isn't what keeps me in the Church. I'm Catholic because of the chance that I might go to Heaven! That is enough for me.

Outside of scriptural references to a post-death / pre-Heaven state, Purgatory just makes sense. First off, if we assume we our saved, or are assured that we are saved once and for all, why should we continue to be good people, let alone good Christians? In what world would it make sense that we could go on sinning without fear of punishment because we "knew" we were saved? In all of history there was only one person who was assured his salvation - the good thief. Did Jesus not say him: "Amen, I say to you, this day you shall be with me in Paradise." But just as we are not assured of salvation, neither are we "assured" of damnation. If Hitler, in his final moments, had truly repented of his sins and asked forgiveness, would God not have been overjoyed at the return of the prodigal son? Yet I believe Hitler would have not been ready for eternal joy in Heaven.

And so we get to Purgatory.

Purgatory is where we are purified and perfected. If we believe our God is a just God, does this not seem fitting? I see Purgatory as an extension of His Divine Mercy and Justice. No one but God can know the state of someone's soul and so who are we to judge others based on their actions or what we think we know of them. GOD IS MERCIFUL! I remember always thinking that those who committed suicide went to hell, and maybe that is the case, but only God knows what went through their minds at the last second. Only God knows their struggles and miseries and do you not think that He would take that into account?

As for Catholicism being a "hard sell" without Purgatory, well, to be honest, it's a hard sell with it! Our faith is not easy and no one ever said it would or should be. Catholicism is not for the faint of heart - it requires self-sacrifice, suffering, humility, and service to others. It is a difficult, life-long quest for holiness and perfection in and through Jesus Christ. If this quest is not finished on earth then it will be finished in Purgatory. And if we persist, what is our reward? To behold the very face of God and to be counted among his saints in Heaven!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Now this is helpful. No, really.

One of the biggest contributors to the loss of Catholic identity is the media's coverage of "devout" Catholics who are anything but. The term devout is thrown around too much and more often than not confuses the heck out of Catholics and even non-Catholics. The problem is that by calling someone a "devout" anything, you label them as a sort of poster child. This wouldn't be a bad thing if the people the media tend to call devout were in fact just that. Alas, that is not the case and so we have the media labeling all sorts of people as "devout Catholics" when in truth they simply are not. Here is a good article from getreligion.org about journalism's use of the term devout. Below is a section of that article where the author listed feedback from "religion-beat veterans and observers".

There is no question that the term “devout” is used far too often and in a sloppy manner, said Richard Ostling, a religion-beat veteran best known for his work with Time and the Associated Press. This fact could be a comment on how little exposure many mainstream journalists have to religious life and practice.

“Perhaps, to someone with only secularist experiences and friends, any level of religious interest of any type might seem ‘devout,’ ” he said. But, in the end, “reporters can only observe outward behavior, not the inner soul. … There’s usually a connection between observance and personal faith, so generally it makes sense to assess personal belief by externals.”

Many of these common labels used to describe believers — terms such as “serious,” “practicing,” “committed” and, yes, “devout” — are completely subjective, agreed Debra Mason, director of the Religion Newswriters Association at the University of Missouri.

Different people define these words in different ways. With the “devout” label, there is even the implication that these believers may be fanatics.

When in doubt, reporters should simply drop the vague labels and use plain information, she said, echoing advice offered by Ostling and others.

“Since journalists do not have a direct line into the soul to discern a person’s faith, it is far better to use precise descriptions of a person’s religious practice and observance,” said Mason. For example, a reporter could note that, “Joe Smith attended Mass every day” or that “Jane Smith attended worship every week, even when ill.”

The goal is to use clear facts instead of foggy labels, an approach that Mason admitted may require journalists to add a line or two of context or background information. Non-Catholics, for example, may not understand the importance of a Catholic choosing to attend Mass every day.

However, she stressed, this extra work is “a small price to pay for more accurate and precise reporting.”

Now isn't that helpful?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Catholic Evangelicals? I don't think so

A little while ago I had the great opportunity to go to a discussion at Wheaton college between a Catholic, Francis Beckwith and and an Evangelical Baptist, Timothy George. The topic of the talk was basically what it means to be evangelical and whether or not it is possible for someone to be an "Evangelical Catholic." The reason this was the topic is because Francis Beckwith, who converted to Catholicism about three years ago, had been president of the Evangelical Theological Society. After converting Mr. Beckwith saw no need to drop the term "evangelical" and so considers himself an Evangelical Catholic - that is, a Catholic who is also evangelical.

The point of this post however isn't to summarize the talk but to elaborate on my reflections of it. To me the most interesting part of the talk was when Timothy George referred to himself as an Evangelical Catholic. His reasoning for this is that he believes the path he is on (i.e. being an Evangelical Baptist) enables him to be Catholic in the sense (as he perceives it) that the apostles were Catholic. This blew me away. What he was saying is that he doesn't have a problem with Catholicism, he has a problem with the Catholic Church. He believes in the faith of the apostles and he believes that faith is the true, pure Catholic faith and so he also believes that the established Church has distorted and complicated "original" Catholicism and become something separate.

As Mr. George himself said, the key then is the Primacy of Peter and Apostolic Succession. The barrier (or at least the main barrier) between him and the Catholic Church is that he does not believe that Jesus appointed Peter as the head of the Church and therefore as the first pope. My thoughts are a little scrambled here so I will do my best to write what I'm thinking. The connection I can't make is how he accepts the apostles' faith but refuses to acknowledge apostolic succession. Why does he apparently accept everything else but that? Something doesn't fit. Now I don't know specifically what Timothy George's arguments against Apostolic Succession and the primacy of Peter actually are, so I can't say much more. I'm sure he is familiar with the scriptural references which we Catholics believe clearly point to these two points and he, being an intelligent man, presumably has intelligent reasons for not accepting them.

Below is a passage from the Gospel of Matthew chapter 16 which clearly (to me at least) indicates the primacy of Peter. The writing in blue are notes from ScriptureCatholic.com

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do men say that the Son of man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." 15 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" 16 Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." [Peter is first among the apostles to confess the divinity of Christ] 17 And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. [Peter alone is told he has received divine knowledge by a special revelation from God the Father] 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church [Jesus builds the Church only on Peter, the rock, with the other apostles as the foundation and Jesus as the Head], and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven [only Peter receives the keys, which represent authority over the Church and facilitate dynastic succession to his authority], and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

Another part of the talk that threw me for a loop was during the Question and Answer section afterward. Someone asked him about sola scriptura and how he believes in it when it isn't mentioned anywhere in the bible. His answer was what to me had always been a refutation of precisely what he was defending! He said there are plenty of things not mentioned in the bible which we believe, such as the Trinity. Until now that had always been a reason against sola scriptura, not a reason for it! However, he did elaborate and give good reasoning. He said that when sola scriptura was "coined" it wasn't intended as just that, scripture alone. To the reformers of the time it really meant the primacy of scripture and the meaning has become somewhat lost through the ages. I accept that. Granted though, there are those who believe literally in sola scriptura. To them you should ask, well you believe in the Trinity don't you? And when they respond yes (as all Christians must) ask them to show you a reference to it in the bible.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Nourishing Your Faith at College

This is a "guide" that myself and two good friends (my best friend and girl friend, to be exact) have compiled on how to nourish your faith while at college. The three of us attended Franciscan University so that is where most of our advice applies, but there is advice for those not attending a Catholic university.

There are so many wonderful opportunities at Franciscan and the key is to really take advantage of them while you're there. It's mentioned a few times below, but I want to state again what the biggest obstacle to nourishing your faith is - YOU. You must make the decision to grow. You must find time to do what it takes. You must be disciplined enough and have the will power to continue to pray daily, to go to Mass daily, and to always strive towards perfection in and through Christ. If you make the effort you will be greatly rewarded.

Specifically at Fransiscan:

- first and foremost we must all recognize our need for Christ. This isn't easy and it doesn't come quickly. Reflect on God's will for you and how He is working in your life. For me, spending the semester in Austria helped me in this more than anything else. Especially freshman year it is easy to get caught up in everything that's going on - it seems like there's always something to do. Be sure to spend time with Christ, to hear His voice, and feel His embrace. Pray for a desire to love Him more completely.

- pray without ceasing! This is an absolute must. You have to find time during your day to pray. Trust me, the time is there, you just have to make it a habit. I found that the best way to get into a habit of praying daily is to sign up for a holy hour.

- I am no expert on prayer but one of the things you will always hear people say or advise is to pray in a silent, holy place - if you can. Fortunately there are several such places on campus. Probably the most convenient being one of the chapel's found within each dorm. Each chapel has access to the Blessed Sacrament and is a great place to go and pray.

- Remember that prayer is a dialogue, not a monologue. We will never hear God speaking if we do all the talking. Sometimes the best prayer is one of silence, from the heart.

- If you're having trouble with how to pray find a "manual of prayer" to get you started. Read the lives of the saints during your prayer time or recite a Novena or Rosary. Find what works for you.

- this is one of the most powerful and beautiful things you can do. Developing a love for Christ in the Eucharist is of infinite worth. Sign up for this early in your college career. I waited until my last semester senior year and it is one of my biggest regrets. If you're a little intimidated by the whole thing just sign up for one hour a week. You can find a time that will be convenient for you but that isn't really the point either. Our faith shouldn't "happen" only when it's convenient for us. Make a sacrifice.

- go to Mass as often as you can. There are a few daily Masses on campus as well as off. Go to Mass both on and off campus to see which you prefer - they are very different. This is another one of my big regrets. I waited until my senior year to start going to daily Mass on a regular basis. You will be amazed at how wonderful it is. The biggest obstacle to overcome is your own will. Simply realize that any time you set aside for God will be rewarded. And with daily Mass it isn't going to be long, at most an hour. Again, make a sacrifice.

- Along with Mass, frequent the sacrament of confession on a fairly regular basis. Just because you are at Franciscan does not mean that you, or anyone else, will be free from sin and temptation. The difference is that at Franciscan there are always priests around willing to hear a confession. The more you frequent the sacraments the more grace you will receive and you will notice a difference in your life.Grace is life changing and life saving.

- one of the great blessings of going to Steubenville is the number of wonderful priests and religious who are always around. Even if you don't go to one specifically for spiritual direction, it will definitely be worth while to get to know them. If you are particularly attracted to one person, think about going to him/her for spiritual direction. This is especially important early on as they can really help with your spiritual formation during your time at college.

- regardless of your major, try and take at least a few theology courses. After all, it's kind of what Franciscan is known for. Learning about your faith is always a good thing and Franciscan has some of the best teachers.

- Do not be intimidated by how much others seems to know about our Faith and don't be ashamed by how little you may know. You must ask questions if you really want to learn. Asking questions takes courage and humility but you and everyone in the class will benefit from it.

- Amy, my girlfriend, specifically recommends Foundations of Catholicism with Sirilla.

- realize the importance of being in a Catholic community. You are all there to build each other up and draw each other closer to Christ. Some people may seem very "advanced" in their spiritual life but don't let that intimidate you. Remember to be humble and ask questions. If someone seems to you to have a great spiritual life, ask them what they do - always be learning and developing ways to grow closer to Christ. Everyone at Franciscan is at a different stage in their life, there is no right or wrong "level of holiness." What is important is that you are trying to grow.

- Community also means that you reach out to others who are struggling. You will be most Christ-like when you help those who may not be your first choice as friends, or even those people who you flat out dislike. Feeling alone is a terrible thing, and these people may be in your life so that you can help them. Remember the Golden Rule.

- Accountability is also an important aspect of community. Whether this be your roommate or just a good friend that you trust, find someone who will challenge you and be with you in your struggles. Whoever you choose, be sure to pray about it beforehand. You don't want to open yourself up to anyone, but to someone who can truly help you.

- Franciscan also has groups called households. These are not for all people but they may be for you. Check out different households to see if there are any you like, and pray about it! Members of households help each other to grow and be accountable to one another. Because the members are from different grades there is a variety of experience within each one.
- A great way to be part of the community is through the club and intramural sports. This an excellent way to meet new people and just have a lot of fun.

- between your textbooks, the great library, and the bookstore, there should be no shortage of books to read. The problem is in finding time to read them! Definitely, definitely, take advantage of the library! There are so many good books there and they often have great book sales. And of course, be sure to read your bible. The key to this is reading it with a guide or commentary. You will get so much more out of it and it will take on a new meaning in your life.

- make sure you get off campus everyone once in a while! Different groups sponsor all sorts of events in the surrounding area. Even if you just befriend someone who as a car - do it! As great as Franciscan is, sometimes you just need to get away.

- we truly must die to ourselves in order to live in Christ. Amy says it much better than I can:
We have to detach ourselves from the world and material goods to attach ourselves to Christ. You can't hold Christ's hand with your right while still holding onto an addiction with your left. It doesn't work that way. He expects all of you and nothing less. He expects total reckless abandonment given to Him every day. Without this, it's pretty much impossible to grow. You might be stretched a bit but you'll never be free. It's like the image of holding the Lord's hand with one hand but in the other hand is a rubber band that is tacked to the ground. The Lord is pulling you up to heaven, to Him, to experience eternal joy but tacked to the ground is that addiction that you can't let go of. You may have a hold on Christ and he may be stretching you a bit and you may be growing but you will never be free to be completely with Him since you are giving part of yourself to your attachments.

Not specifically at Franciscan
: [though as many of the above as possible should apply]

- if it isn't offered on your campus, search around and find a church where you can go as often as possible. The grace you receive through Mass and the Eucharist will strengthen you.

- Research the school's Newman Center in order to discover if this would really be an authentically Catholic resource center. Some schools have phenomenal Newman Centers, while many others can be spiritual wastelands.

- Associate yourself with genuinely good people. This does not mean that all your friends should only be Catholics. Rather, search for people who are authentically seeking to better themselves psychologically/morally/emotionally. You want to be with people who will help you foster real human development

- the more you grow and develop your faith, the more you will Witness to Christ and His Love. Especially in a place not specifically Catholic, or religious for that matter, this is so important. Lead others to Christ through your example. You don't have to be "holy" to do this, sometimes just the effort is enough to inspire others.