Monthly Archives: May 2013

I don’t go to Mass for the preaching.

I’ve heard bad homilies, mediocre homilies, good homilies and even great homilies, but I do not go to Mass for the homily.

I don’t go to Mass for the music.

I’m not even going to get into the “Gather” debate….

I don’t go to Mass because it’s expected of me.

“Good” people go to church, and “good” Catholics go to Mass, so the thinking goes. Well, I’m not a “good” person. None of my neighbors would have a stroke if I didn’t go to Mass, and I could use the extra sleep on Sunday morning.

I don’t go to Mass to see and be seen.

There are nice people at my parish, but if I wanted to see some really interesting people I’d go to the local Baptist church where Tim Tebow has been a guest speaker.

And believe me, nobody comes to Mass to see me.

I don’t go to Mass for the fellowship.

I think we have some pretty good fellowship at our parish, but everyone has their own dream team of personal encouragers, and I could hang out on Sunday morning with them in my kitchen over homemade blueberry strudel. Or better yet, in their kitchen.

I don’t go to Mass because they’ve got a great children’s ministry.

Or a great youth ministry, or a great singles ministry, or a great couples ministry, or a great seniors ministry. I don’t go to Mass for the Ladies of Charity, or the Knights of Columbus, or the RCIA team, or the Social Ministries Outreach.

I don’t go to Mass to please family or friends.

My family and a lot of my friends would be much happier if I’d stop going to Mass and start going to their Methodist-Baptist-nondenom-charismatic affair. I’m really not pleasing much of anybody I know by going to Mass.

I don’t go to Mass because I like robes and incense, or because I’m rebelling against my upbringing, or to show support for the reforms of Pope Francis, or because it makes me feel better about myself as a person.

I go to Mass because Jesus Christ, the creator of the universe and my Savior, is physically present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist.

If that isn’t true, then there is no reason to go to Mass.

The sanctuary lamp glowing red before the Tabernacle says it all – He is here! Eucharistic miracles cannot be explained. The demons flee before the consecrated Host. At every hour of the day, Mass is being offered somewhere in the world to fulfill the prophecy of Malachi 1:11: For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts. At every hour of the day, people somewhere in the world are kneeling in worship before the physical Presence of Jesus Christ the King, the One Who insisted that unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you have no life in you.

If you’ve left the Catholic Church, Jesus in the Eucharist is what you’ve left behind. It is His Real Presence that we celebrate today.

Your Lord is as close as the nearest Catholic church, and
He is waiting for you!

I believe in my heart and openly profess that the bread and wine placed upon the altar are, by the mystery of the sacred prayer and the words of the Redeemer, substantially changed into the true and life-giving flesh and blood of Jesus Christ our Lord, and that after the consecration, there is present the true body of Christ which was born of the Virgin and offered up for the salvation of the world, hung on the cross and now sits at the right hand of the Father, and that there is present the true blood of Christ which flowed from his side. They are present not only by means of a sign and of the efficacy of the Sacrament, but also in the very reality and truth of their nature and substance.

Come home! We’ll leave the lamp burning….


On the solemnity of Corpus Christi

Deo omnis gloria!

Photo credits: Lamp in sanctuary of Immaculate Conception Church in St. Helena, Nebraska, by Ammodramus

“Doctrine”, to many people, is a four-letter word, pronounced \ˈdäk-trən\ but spelled b-o-s-h. They eschew it, and they believe that if you were a real Christian, you would eschew it as well.

This belief originated, as did so many peculiar notions, in the 16th century. Not that the Reformers wanted nothing to do with doctrine. Luther and Calvin set up complex, mutually conflicting doctrinal systems. But in common they pared down the canon of Scripture and revamped the prevailing Catholic belief system for their own use, meanwhile keeping what some would call “the outward trappings,” i.e., the sacraments and the liturgy. The iron corsets of their respective doctrinal systems remained firmly cinched in place.

Those protesting what they saw as the timid reforms of the Reformers axed the sacraments (keeping only baptism and communion, and renaming them “ordinances” because they regard them as mere signs of one’s faith) and the liturgy. Churches like this fly “no-frills,” but they still have one non-negotiable: doctrine.

Those protesting the timid reforms of those who reformed the reforms of the Reformers have a problem with that. “Doctrine, schmoctrine!” is their battle-cry. They view any interest in doctrine as a symptom of spiritual distraction from the Main Event, the Real Deal. To heck with doctrine! Just gimme Jesus!

And that makes the Catholic Church, packed to the gills with 2,000 years’ worth of doctrine, look suspicious. Unfortunately, when someone like Pope Francis then declares that even atheists are redeemed, Believers United Against Schmoctrine (BUAS, Int’l) holds a (poorly attended) press conference raging against this Catholic travesty of true Biblical teaching, until Lutherans or Methodists or anyone with a little more interest in doctrine points out that Francis didn’t say that atheists are all “saved,” but that they have been “redeemed” by Christ’s death on the Cross, which is what BUAS members also believe if they sit down and think about it – they just never really sit down and think about it. BUAS spokespersons then skulk from the stage invoking their patron, St. Emily Litella: “Never mind….”

I majored in Modern Languages, and taught English as a Second Language for many years. My students in Taiwan were always quick to insist that their language, Chinese, had no grammar. They were used to breaking their brains on the peculiar rules of English grammar, and since the grammar of Chinese was to them as simple as living and breathing, they were blissfully unaware of it – they just spoke Chinese. Speaking English, of course, was an effort – thanks mostly to the convolutions of our evil English grammar. Try as I might, I could not convince them that Chinese, like English and all other languages, has a grammatical system.

Likewise, many Americans would say that I speak English without an “accent.” As a point of reference, I pronounce English words the same way Ronald Reagan pronounced them. Jimmy Carter’s accent (Southern – although there is no one “Southern” accent in the U.S.) and John Kennedy’s accent (Bostonian) were different from mine, but I have an accent. One’s “accent” is merely the particular way in which one pronounces the words of a given language. You simply cannot not have an accent, unless you never speak. Only silence has no accent.

Similarly, it is impossible not to have “doctrine.” Doctrine simply means “A belief or set of beliefs held and taught” by a particular person or group. Got beliefs? You’ve got “doctrine!” Set that to music and you’ll be singing: “I’ve got doctrine, you’ve got doctrine, all God’s chillun got doctrine!

Some folks just have a real bias against the concept of doctrine. They scorn it. The anti-doctrine contingent consists of folks who basically spend megatons of time “in the Word” and praising God. Their idea is to read the Bible, and then go do it. They are generally ablaze with love for God, and quite vocal about their relationship with Him and your need to have the same relationship. Their worship is exciting! Drop everything and throw your hands in the air! Praise Jesus!!!

Who wouldn’t get carried away? Christians from other denominations are often enchanted when they encounter this heartfelt enthusiasm, which may very well be absent from their church-going experience. It’s easy then to convince yourself that the presence of “doctrine” equals the absence of the Holy Spirit (Who we all know is noisy, boisterous and impulsive). Want to set yourself ablaze for Jesus? Burn the Enchiridion Symbolorum et Definitionum!

Reading Scripture in order to “go do it” is in all reality a fantastic idea. Look at dear St. Francis of Assisi, who when told by Christ “Rebuild my church,” immediately set about sprucing up the chapel he was meditating in. All too often Christians are “hearers of the Word” only. We can tell you all about it, and someday we are definitely going to go out and do some of it… probably… maybe…, like that ever happens. Reading Matthew 28:18-20, and then going out to make disciples, is the ideal response.

But anyone who devotes time to Scripture-reading needs also to become a ponderer, like the Virgin Mary. What do these things I read in Scripture mean? And not just “what do they mean to me?” but what was Jesus trying to make His Church understand when He did things like allowing Himself to be baptized, and then going out to baptize others? If grace cannot be conferred through matter, why be washed in water? Why not just let believers make a declaration of their faith (which is what most despisers of doctrine believe baptism boils down to anyway)? Why get water involved at all? Why allow some woman to be healed when she touches the hem of His garment? Why spit on the ground and rub the dirt paste on the eyes of a blind man, instructing him to go wash it off in a certain pool? Why not just “say the word” and heal the guy? Why heal people through the agency of Paul’s handkerchiefs and Peter’s shadow? Why tell the apostles to anoint the sick with oil? What kind of circus act are Jesus and the apostles putting on, if grace cannot be conferred through matter? What’s going on here exactly, and why?

Connect the dots….

The fruit of all that thought, the conclusions you reach, will be your doctrine of grace working through matter. You see, having doctrinal beliefs just means that you’ve taken the time to think things through, to think things out, rather than just hollering and laughing and crying, and then tripping over your own ignorance because you never bothered to tie together your thoughts about God. Not that the Almighty is a killjoy Who is only happy when you’re getting all cerebral about the Incarnation and the Ascension, but remember, He did ask us to love Him not only with our whole heart and our whole soul and our whole strength, but also with our whole mind. Do that, and you’ll be up to your hallelujahs in doctrine. And that’s a good thing.

Keep doing that, and you may wanna buy yourself another copy of that Enchiridion you burned….


On the memorial of St. Augustine of Canterbury

Deo omnis gloria!

Photo credits: Camp worship by Paul M. Walsh

For a couple of years now, I have felt drawn to consider joining the Marian Catechist Apostolate founded by Servant of God Father John A. Hardon, presently under the direction of Raymond Cardinal Burke. There is a three-year formation period, at the completion of which one can become either an active or contemplative member of the Apostolate. According to their website:

The mission of the Apostolate is to form and nurture catechists for the teaching and sharing of the Catholic Faith. Marian Catechists must be heroic souls whose spiritual and doctrinal formation equips them for active participation in the new evangelization of America. Understanding that the foundation of all true and effective catechesis is a vibrant spiritual life, the spiritual formation of each Marian Catechist is vitally important; our efforts to share the Faith will be futile unless our lives attest to its beauty and richness. We become authentic witnesses to Our Lord Jesus Christ through a holiness of life and a life of prayer that develops and is nurtured slowly over time.

That sounds wonderful. I cannot imagine any better way to spend my life! The Apostolate is under the patronage of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and all members are encouraged towards a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary – absolutely no problem there. They even have a Writers’ Apostolate (I could live with that!!)

Just one drawback…. I read the list of expectations for those preparing for consecration at the end of the three-year formation. They include:

Holy Mass and Holy Communion – daily

Holy Rosary (five decades) – daily

Morning Offering to the Sacred Heart of Jesus – daily

Memorare for the intentions of our International Director – daily

Angelus – twice daily

Way of the Cross – daily

Spiritual Reading – 15 minutes daily

Meditation – 15 minutes daily

Examination of Conscience and Act of Contrition – each evening before retiring

Sacrament of Confession – every two weeks


Umm… I work! Both of my kids are in college, but still I can’t just abandon my family responsibilities entirely. This religious commitment is looking like a full-time job! Mass – every day? The Rosary – all five decades? Spiritual reading? Meditation? The Stations of the Cross – when it isn’t even Lent?

Are you trying to kill me?

There is of course Catholic precedent for this kind of lifestyle. Read the lives of the saints. Daily communion was a must. The physician St. Joseph Moscati was a daily communicant, and it is said that on days when he was not able to receive Communion, he did not have the courage to attempt to help the sick, claiming, “Without Jesus, I do not have enough light to save my poor patients!” St. Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England, wrote, “My distractions are numerous, and with Jesus I learn to recollect myself. The occasions of offending God are frequent, and I receive strength every day from Him to flee from them. I need light and prudence to manage very difficult affairs, and every day I can consult Jesus in Holy Communion. He is my great Teacher.”

Okay, but St. Joseph died before World War II, and St. Thomas even farther back, during the reign of Henry VIII. Modern life has brought with it certain pressures that they didn’t have to deal with!

Well, how about St. Gianna Molla, the Italian pediatrician who died in 1962? She wrote in her youth a program of spiritual life for herself which included morning and evening prayers, Mass and Holy Communion, at least 10 minutes of meditation a day, visits to the Blessed Sacrament, and the recitation of the Holy Rosary. When her fourth pregnancy was complicated by a uterine fibroid, she refused an abortion and demanded that the physicians save her unborn child even if it should cost her her life. It did. St. Gianna was ready when the moment demanded heroic virtue.

Do you think her spiritual program may have had something to do with that readiness?

Too far back in history? How about 2011? Arizona’s Federal District Court Judge John Roll, arguably an exceedingly busy man, was a daily communicant and a lector at St. Odilia parish in Tucson. After Mass on January 8th he went to Representative Gabrielle Giffords’ constituent meeting to congratulate her on her re-election. When a gunman opened fire, Judge Roll shielded a man in the crowd, saving the man’s life, and giving his own. Roll’s colleague, Justice James Teilborg, himself an Evangelical, said of this tragedy, “None of us were ready for John Roll’s death, but John Roll was.” When the moment came, Judge Roll was ready.

I’m starting to run out of objections….

Daily Mass attendance, Bible reading, the Rosary, the Stations, examination of conscience, confession…. Whenever I think of these things as “obligations,” my heart sinks. How am I supposed to add more duties into my already too-busy schedule? But when I see them for what they really are, my outlook changes radically. I am a Christian. Jesus never declared that He was the butter-and-jam of life, to be smeared atop whatever Christians are already engaged in. Jesus is the very Bread of Life, in other words, He is my life, and that changes everything.

Our devotions, our prayer life, are meant to form the skeleton of our lives. Most of us treat them as if they were our “hair” rather than our bones. We arrange them to our liking; we grow them long or we cut them short, we curl them, style them, color them…. But rather than trying to “fit our devotions in” somewhere, we are meant to BEGIN with our spiritual life, to build upon its framework. No, that doesn’t mean that every person is going to incorporate the Stations of the Cross into her daily spiritual routine, but it does mean that every person is going to have a daily spiritual routine, and that it will be more than a 5-minute chat with God as we fall asleep every night….

I’m sure you’re aware that, as stewards, we’re accountable for how we spend our time. St. Turibius of Mongrovejo (who baptized both St. Rose of Lima and St. Martin of Porres) was wont to insist that “Time is not our own, and we must give a strict account of it.” For some of us, there’s going to be some serious ‘splaining when we give that account! The problem is that our minds are “occupied with earthly things,” as St. Paul put it in Philippians 3:19. He also said that those of us thus occupied are living as “enemies of the cross of Christ.” Harsh? When we insist on living for ourselves, setting up our own agendas and demanding that our will be done, in other words, refusing to be crucified with Christ, that description is pretty accurate.

When I think of prayer as something I’ve got to squeeze into my already-too-busy schedule, my heart sinks. But that’s as foolish as trying to squeeze breathing into my busy daily routine. I have been born again; I am a new creation – and this new creation is sustained by prayer. Prayer isn’t something to be squeezed into my schedule – it is what I do to continue living. Try surviving for a while without your skeleton. I hope you enjoy your life as a shapeless blob. I doubt you’ll get much accomplished.

So you work? Can you pray the Angelus while you prepare the kids’ lunches? Can you recite the Rosary (reverently!) in your car on your commute? Can you sneak off on your lunch break for Mass? Can you devote your 10-minute afternoon break to the Stations? You walk your dog, don’t you? – think of it as an opportunity for prayer! The time you spend cleaning up the kitchen after dinner can be a great opportunity for an examination of conscience – your hands are busy, but your mind and heart are free!

Remember the cardinal rule of Biblical body-building: Seek ye first the kingdom of God. Our spiritual life needs to be the foundation upon which we build our day. We have to have a defined shape to our lives, and the structure of our prayer life provides that shape.

So, yeah, I’ve applied. I’ve got three years to study the materials, which will give me three years to ease into the requirements for consecration, requirements which I believe will become increasingly dear to me as they become a regular part of my day. I’ve gotten tired of life as a shapeless blob. Check back often as the Holy Spirit builds the new me.


On the memorial of Mary, Help of Christians

Deo omnis gloria!

Photo credits: Picture of old woman in Normandy (France) by Nicolas Laurens

Hey, how about those Dominican Sisters of Mary? They’ve made it all the way to the final round of the American Bible Challenge!! What winsome ambassadors those ladies are – radiantly Christian and really, really good with a Bible. We can hope that this will serve to allay some of the Evangelical concerns about the Catholic Church’s stance vis-à-vis Bible-reading. Let’s just say there’s a lot of weirdness out there. Many Evangelicals “know” that Catholic nuns are ignorant of Scripture (of course they must be, the thinking goes – if the Church allowed nuns to read the Bible, the Church wouldn’t have any nuns!) If you google around, you can find testimonies by former nuns who claim that the Church discourages or makes difficult or even forbids Bible-reading by religious sisters. Three former nuns tell their stories:

In fact, during the whole 10 years I was in the convent with 200 other nuns, we had one Bible between us. But – we never opened it.

When I had those quiet times in my room, I remember one time trying to read the Bible but found it very boring. I was in the convent for almost two years and I can only remember picking up that Bible that one time.

Following her operation she awoke praising the Lord for sparing her life and asked me to read aloud from the Bible. I began to shake all over for, as a Roman Catholic nun, I was never allowed to read the Bible.

Two of these stories demonstrate a lack of interest in the Holy Scriptures on the part of some nuns, which is sad but plausible. The third, however, corroborates the suspicions of Evangelicals who have been told that the Church would really, really rather that Catholics not crack open the Bible lest they find out how badly they have been hoodwinked. The Bible-smart Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, with their glowing faces and Christ-like demeanor are hard at work laying that myth to rest. It’s kind of hard to support this story of the “forbidden Bible” when comparing it with the success of the sisters on the Bible Challenge, or with the historical record, for that matter. After all, Pope Leo XIII, who reigned from 1878 to 1903, made no secret of the fact that he thought that Bible reading is kinda important:

…it is well to recall how, from the beginning of Christianity, all who have been renowned for holiness of life and sacred learning have given their deep and constant attention to Holy Scripture.

Those who believe in the putative diabolical conspiracy to keep religious sisters ignorant of the Scriptures have a hard time explaining words like that; the pope was basically exhorting anyone who wishes to lead a holy life – like nuns – to immerse herself in the Bible. Of course, a variation of the myth claims that the Catholic Church, which USED TO forbid nuns to read the Bible, has been forced to change its tune by the constant clamor of Bible-loving Protestants against this obvious injustice. The historical record, again, makes that claim look pretty dopey. Take St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who lived and died in 19th-century France:

In my helplessness the Holy Scriptures and the Imitation are of the greatest assistance; in them I find a hidden manna, genuine and pure. But it is from the Gospels that I find most help in the time of prayer; from them I draw all that I need for my poor soul. I am always discovering in them new lights and hidden mysterious meanings.

So I sought in holy Scripture some idea of what this life I wanted would be, and I read these words….

It has long been the custom among men to reckon experience by age, for in his youth the holy King David sang to His Lord: “I am young and despised,” but in the same Psalm he does not fear to say: “I have had understanding above old men, because I have sought Thy commandments, Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my paths; I have sworn, and I am determined, to keep the judgments of Thy Justice.”

We live in an age of inventions; nowadays the rich need not trouble to climb the stairs, they have lifts instead. Well, I mean to try and find a lift by which I may be raised unto God, for I am too tiny to climb the steep stairway of perfection. I have sought to find in Holy Scripture some suggestion as to what this lift might be which I so much desired, and I read these words uttered by the Eternal Wisdom Itself: “Whosoever is a little one, let him come to Me.”

I opened, one day, the Epistles of St. Paul to seek relief in my sufferings. My eyes fell on the 12th and 13th chapters of the First Epistle to the Corinthians. I read that all cannot become Apostles, Prophets, and Doctors; that the Church is composed of different members; that the eye cannot also be the hand. The answer was clear, but it did not fulfill my desires, or give to me the peace I sought.
Then descending into the depths of my nothingness, I was so lifted up that I reached my aim. Without being discouraged I read on, and found comfort in this counsel: “Be zealous for the better gifts. And I show unto you a yet more excellent way.” The Apostle then explains how all perfect gifts are nothing without Love, that Charity is the most excellent way of going surely to God. At last I had found rest.”

In a nutshell, St. Thérèse had a Bible and she knew how to use it, unlike the ex-nuns quoted above.

Bible-literate nuns could be found wherever and whenever female religious orders existed. Sister Juana Inés de la Cruz of 17th-century Mexico wrote a letter (now known as “A Reply to Sor Filotea de la Cruz”) in which she cites or alludes to Lk 1:43, 1 Sam 9:21, 2 Cor 12:4, Jn 21:25, Ex 33:13, Est 5:2-3, Ps 50:16, 2 Cor 12:11, Dan 9:21-27, Job 38:31-32, Gen 18:23-33, Mk 3:6, Jn 11:47-57, Ex 34:30, Jn 11:47, Isa 11:10, Lk 2:34, Mt 27:28-31, Job 1:7, 1 Pet 5:8, Jn 12:31, Gen 3:18, Lk 23:27-28, SoS 3:11, Jn 11:8-9, Jn 10:1-31, Jn 11:16, Jn 10:32-33, Lk 22:54, Lk 9:33, Lk 22:57, Lk 22:56, Judges 4:4-14, 1 Kings 10:1-3, 1 Sam 1:1-20, 1 Sam 25:2-35, Est 5-9, Josh 2:1-7, 1 Cor 14:34, Titus 2:3-5, Wis 1:4, Rom 12:3, Ps 141:5, Joel 2:13, Pr 31:23, Lk 7:44-45, SoS 1:2, Ps 116:13, 1 Tim 2:11, Mk 16:1, Jn 12:3, Lk 10:40-42, Acts 17:28, Titus 1:12, Lk 1:46-55, and Ex 2:1-10.

A letter!

Imagine if she had been writing a book….

By the way, where did she get all that from if the Catholic Church allowed her no access to a Bible?

The case of St. Teresa of Ávila needs no comment; she is said to have quoted from Scripture over 600 times in her writings. St. Teresa lived in 16th-century Spain, at the time of Martin Luther who as everyone knows spent a great deal of time studying the Bible, which the Church made no attempt to keep from him, when he was an Augustinian monk.

Of course many religious sisters have been unable to read the Scriptures for themselves; in that case the Church herself taught them the Scriptures. St. Clare of Assisi, who lived in the 13th century, was “unlettered” and learned the word of God from the friars who preached at her abbey. As the Golden Legend tells us:

On a time it happed that the pope Gregory defended that no friar should go to the house of the ladies without his leave. And when the holy mother St. Clare knew that, she had much sorrow in her heart, because she saw well she might not have that which was needful, which was the nurture of Holy Scripture, and said to her sisters with a sorrowful heart; Now forthon well may the pope Gregory take from us all the friars, when he hath taken from us them that nourished our souls with the Word of God. And anon she sent again all the friars of her house to the master or minister, for she said she had nothing to do to have friars to get them bodily bread, when they failed them that nourished her and her sisters with the Word of God. Anon as the pope Gregory heard this tiding he repealed that which he had defended, and set all at the will of God.

Other nuns were better educated. History records that St. Gertrude the Great, a nun in 13th-century Germany, devoted herself to studying the Scriptures, patristic writings and theology, and wrote simplified versions of difficult scriptural passages in Latin and in her native German. Her devotion to the Bible comes as no surprise, because her abbess, Gertrude of Hackeborn, required her nuns to be well-educated in the Scriptures.

St. Leoba, an 8th-century native of England, traveled with St. Boniface to the court of Charlemagne, where she was a good friend of and tremendous influence upon his queen, Hildegarde. St. Leoba’s Vita tells us that “So great was her zeal for reading that she discontinued it only for prayer or for the refreshment of her body with food or sleep: the Scriptures were never out of her hands…. When she lay down to rest, whether at night or in the afternoon, she used to have the Sacred Scriptures read out at her bedside, a duty which the younger nuns carried out in turn without grumbling.” And the Vita Sanctae Geretrudis tells us that the Belgian St. Gertrude of Nivelles was very familiar with Holy Scripture, to the point where she had much of it memorized. Perhaps these were exaggerations, but they are strange claims for contemporaries of Sts. Leoba and Gertrude to put into writing if the 7th– and 8th-century Catholic Church did not permit nuns to read the Bible.

Examples stretch from the 19th-century American St. Elizabeth Ann Seton who “prayed her way through life’s joys and struggles using Sacred Scripture,” to 5th-century French abbess St. Caesaria of Arles who insisted that her nuns be literate so that they could read the Scriptures, because “There is no doctrine which could be better, more precious and more splendid than the text of the Gospel.  Behold and retain what our Lord and Master, Christ, has taught by His words and accomplished by His deeds!” Saints like Thérèse, Elizabeth Ann, Teresa, Clare, Gertrude, Caesaria and Leoba, and run-of-the-mill sisters like Juana and Gertrude of Hackeborn lived in different parts of the world in different centuries over the past 1500 years – where and when exactly did the Catholic Church keep the Scriptures from its religious sisters??

Have there been nuns who were ignorant of the Scriptures? I’m sure there have been, and still are. The point is, there has never been a Church conspiracy to keep them that way.

Former nuns hoping to sell horror stories to those with a conspiracy-theory bent have fallen on hard times. While there have always been (and sadly, always will be) religious sisters who find the Bible boring, the Church has never stood between them and Jesus. History is full of biblically literate, Christ-honoring religious, and the Dominican Sisters of Mary put a modern-day face on that. And I say, God bless them!! All the best to them – if the Bible Challenge would quiz the contestants on the 7 books Protestants removed from the Old Testament, I know the sisters would have the competition all sewn up!

Does or did or will the Catholic Church ever keep religious sisters from reading the Holy Scriptures?

Nun of the above.


On the memorial of St. Mateo Correa Magallanes

Deo omnis gloria!

Flies on the wall have all the fun. Imagine being present in the Upper Room during the period between the Ascension and Pentecost. Nine intense days of prayer, and then an explosion of power that makes the atom bomb look like a fizzle.

According to Scripture:

They went up to the upper room where they were staying; that is, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.

I wish I could’ve been there. I imagine the apostles, one-by-one or as a group, going to the Blessed Virgin and saying something along the lines of:

“Hail, Mary, mother of Jesus Who is the Christ! We have heard the story you tell of the Annunciation, and we proclaim with the archangel Gabriel that you are indeed full of grace! The Lord is with you! There has never been another woman like you, and never shall there be! We, the apostles of Jesus Christ, recognize that our apostolate is rooted in your “fiat”! You are holy, and because of this you merited to bear the Incarnate Son of God, blessed be His Holy Name!

Mary, you whom Jesus gave to John the beloved disciple as his mother, and who therefore are by extension the mother of all of us who believe, we ask you now to pray for us – we are sinners. God will hear your prayers. Ask Him to send us the Comforter Who was promised to us. Ask Him to provide the Power to go out and make disciples of all nations. Ask Him to give us all that we need to bear witness to His resurrection.”

And she did.

And the rest, as they say, is His-Story. The Church recognizes the nine days that the apostles spent in prayer with the Blessed Virgin as the first novena. The world is still reeling from God’s answer to that prayer.

So if you feel like your prayers aren’t going any farther than the ceiling, try bringing in the big guns. EWTN has many novenas you can pray for your intentions. Entrust those intentions to the Mother of God, who always prays in perfect conformity to the will of God.

And then stand back….


On the solemnity of Pentecost

Deo omnis gloria!

Incredible HulkMy daughter, who entered the Church as a 10-year-old, is now a senior at the local Baptist university. She has come up against something that all Catholics face sooner or later – dumb-as-dirt anti-Catholic bias. It turns out that she has professors who harbor the wish that she will be saved by rejecting key elements of Catholic doctrine, thus rendering her a Protestant in Catholic clothing. This is not really surprising; she has had some wonderful teachers these past couple of years (including an art professor who took the time to explain to the class the Biblical basis of the Catholic doctrine of relics, and a choir director with some very positive things to say about Pope Francis). Some professors, however, have not been so positive. Those professors would agree with the phrase, “The only good Catholic is a former Catholic.” My daughter, who was offended to have her Christianity called into question, told me sadly, “Mom, if they think I’m not a very good Christian, it’s because I need to be a better Catholic, not a worse one!”

Well put. Protestants often think that what Catholics need to do is to break from the official teachings of the Church, to adopt more Protestant ways of looking at things, more Protestant approaches to theology, more Protestant methods of worshiping God. There’s just one little thing they’ve overlooked – When we Catholics become more Protestant, we simply become part of the problem. To paraphrase the Hulk’s alter ego, David Banton:

You won’t like me when I’m Protestant.

Those Evangelicals tend to want to overlook the points of
agreement between orthodox Catholics (meaning those faithful to the teaching of the Church) and conservative Protestants. As a faithful Catholic, I am bound to confess my belief:

–    in the Trinity, with God as the Creator of the universe

–    the Incarnation of the God-Man, Jesus Christ, conceived miraculously by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, Who literally suffered, died and rose from the dead before ascending to be seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to resurrect the dead

–    in the Holy Spirit Who is the third Person of the Trinity

–    in the evil one who is a being we call the devil

–    in salvation by grace through faith

–    in the inspiration and infallibility of Holy Scripture

and in many other doctrines to which an Evangelical can only respond with a hearty “Amen!” These points of agreement are very often overlooked by people who want to tar Catholics with the same brush that they use on non-Christian cults, despite the fact that an excellent case can be made from a Protestant standpoint that anyone who worships the Triune God cannot be considered a non-Christian.

The root of the word “Protestant” is the verb “to protest.” Hoping that Catholics will begin to “protest” the authority of the Church might not turn out the way that you had hoped, my Evangelical friend. I know that you are hoping that we will embrace sola Scriptura and sola fide, 7-Day creationism and the doctrine of the secret rapture as you do when we protest the authority of the Church – but you realize that other results might be forthcoming, don’t you? Remember Victor Frankenstein? He too meant no harm, but experiments with multiple variables can be hard to control….

There are Catholics who are doing exactly what you think you want Catholics to do – breaking from the official teachings of the Church. That, in essence, makes those Catholics “protestant” because they reject the exclusive authority of the Catholic Magisterium (the teaching office of the Church) to interpret Holy Scripture. Those folks have got “a better idea,” just as Martin Luther did when he decided to teach that justification is NOT by faith (as the Church teaches), but rather by faith ALONE. They’ll tell you, just as Luther insisted, that they won’t let the Catholic Church do their thinking for them! They think for themselves! Just what you are hoping Catholics will say!

Cue the sinister music, because this is where things start to get ugly. You think Catholics should reject the authority of the Church, just as you do? Well, these folks agree with you completely; they reject any claims the Catholic Church makes to the exclusive authority of interpreting Scripture. They therefore deny the Virgin Birth, the literal Resurrection of Jesus from the dead as well as our own future resurrection, the existence of Satan, and the infallibility of Scripture, while proposing a host of other doctrinal novelties that will curl your Protestant hair! In this they are not alone; there are plenty of liberal Protestants who will gladly join hands with them in insisting that God is whatever they happen to believe She is. This scary little group will merrily deconstruct the narrative of salvation history, disassemble the canon of Scripture, and decry the belief in a future life as a holdover from medieval foggery. They will agitate for abortion, euthanasia and same-sex everything and anything. These men and women will be only too happy to join with Protestants in affirming the one and only doctrine all Protestants can agree on – the Catholic Church is WRONG!

But they are NOT your friends, dear Evangelical. Trust me. They are your worst nightmare.

The Catholic Church teaches that Protestants are our fellow Christians, our separated brethren. Might you come to the point where you can consider us your friends in Christ? Just remember, inciting protest can backfire. Some very volatile chemicals react in that mix. I would rethink that wish that Catholics might become more Protestant, if I were you. Because sometimes wishes come true…

… and you might be creating a monster!


On the memorial of St. Paschal Baylon

Deo omnis gloria!

Photo credit: The Incredible Hulk by Jeremy Thompson

Nøkken by Theodor Kittelsen

SwordIn a way, the Jehovah’s Witnesses really are the ones who first nudged me in the direction of the Catholic Church back when I was an Evangelical. They nudged me hard. That’s because the Jehovah’s Witnesses insist that their “gospel” is the original one. When they come to your door, they will hand you a pamphlet addressing one of their doctrines and urge you to sit down with the pamphlet in one hand and the Bible in the other hand and document from Scripture that everything that they say is true. It’s very impressive. They have Scriptural backing for absolutely everything they teach. Protestants cannot refute Jehovah’s Witness doctrine by telling them to “just read the Bible” because that is exactly what they are doing – every doctrine of theirs is backed by multiple references from the Old and New Testament, and some of it looks mighty convincing, most especially their denial of the Trinity. Some people have always found the doctrine of the Trinity to be unbelievable. How can Jesus be God if He was a man? How could God die? How can there be three Gods and yet at the same time one God???? It’s easy to see why Jehovah’s Witness teaching on the Trinity is so appealing to them, because it confirms what they have always suspected – that God cannot be Three in One! I was appalled when I realized that Protestants could not prove the doctrine of the Trinity from the Bible. For every verse that I gave the Witnesses (and no verse in the Bible states directly that Jesus is God), they have a counter-verse which demonstrates that Jehovah is God, Jesus is the being whom God created, and the holy spirit is “God’s active force.” Isaiah and Jeremiah are absolutely chockfull of verses in which Jehovah insists with great vehemence that He alone is God; there is no other. He is the only Judge; He is the only Righteous One; He brought all things into being. “Are you saying that God was lying?” they ask you….

They then direct you to Philippians 2: 5-11 –

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth: and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

They see this as proof that Jesus was NOT God, but merely IN THE FORM OF GOD (i.e., merely an exalted, created being). They are not denying Scripture, they say; they are taking it at face value. There are many, many other verses like this. They also can “prove” from Scripture that there is no such thing as a literal Hell – when unbelievers die, they will tell you, they will merely cease to exist. Of course, Protestants can pull out many verses demonstrating that unrepentant sinners will go to a literal Hell. But it’s our verses against theirs. What it finally boils down to isn’t “Who has the most Bible verses?” – the real question is:

Who is interpreting those Bible verses the way they were originally meant?

When I was struggling with how to refute Jehovah Witness claims, I stumbled upon a book called Jehovah’s Witnesses on Trial: The Testimony of the Early Church Fathers by Protestant author Robert U. Finnerty. Dr. Finnerty writes:

The Bible, which can be a challenge to understand, is easily misinterpreted by those who rend its parts out of context to “prove” their doctrinal presuppositions…. The writings of the apostolic fathers are less susceptible to such misinterpretation. The Fathers often state quite plainly those things upon which the Scriptures (particularly individual verses taken out of context) seem at times to equivocate.

Since Jehovah’s Witnesses can match Christians literally verse for verse on many disputed subjects, I recognized that it is absolutely imperative that we demonstrate that the earliest Christians did not hold Jehovah’s Witness doctrines. Not that the Christians of the first, second or third century were infallible, obviously, but if a particular doctrine is nowhere mentioned in their writings (and they left us TONS of writings) and if teachings to the contrary of Jehovah’s Witness doctrine are found in the writings of many if not all of the extant documents, then chances are pretty darn good that Jehovah’s Witnesses are proclaiming “another gospel.” It sounded like a plan….

Dr. Finnerty’s book led me to quotation after quotation from the writings of the early Church Fathers demonstrating their belief in the deity of Jesus Christ – exactly what my Jehovah’s Witness friends denied the Bible taught. I also found quotations on the subject of the reality of hell. And these quotations weren’t from the 5th or 6th century, when one might claim that heresy had crept in – they were from the first two centuries A.D. What I found was that the early Christians from east to west over a period from A.D. 70 to 185 and beyond believed that Jesus was God – Jehovah’s Witnesses can produce NO writings in which the early Christians clearly distinguished between Jehovah as God Who is to be worshipped and Jesus whom He created and sent to die for us. This leaves Jehovah’s Witnesses with one of two options:

Either the first Christians all apostatized from the very beginning, and these apostates were all teaching unheard-of doctrines such as the divinity of Jesus Christ and the existence of a literal hell


The writings of the earliest Christians when they concur on a given point must be said to provide an accurate reflection of ‘the faith once delivered to all the saints’ (Jude 3).

Therefore, we do not need to prove that the writings of the earliest Christians were Holy Scripture (which they were not) or that they wrote infallibly (which they did not). It is enough to show that they spoke unanimously, and that no denial of the deity of Christ or the existence of hell can be found in their writings. If Jehovah’s Witnesses tell us “The Scriptures clearly state …” we can answer with an authoritative “You are misinterpreting the Scriptures, and we can prove this because those Christians who lived in the same era as the apostles, spoke the same language as the apostles, and were of the same cultural background as the apostles knew nothing of the doctrines you teach! You are reading your preconceived theology into these verses!

As an Evangelical, I was tickled pink. What a wonderful way to settle the issues of the divinity of Christ and the reality of Hell! The first Christians SAID that Jesus was God. It was not until the end of the third century that the Arian controversy arose claiming, as Jehovah’s Witnesses do, that Jesus was a creature subordinate to God. The first Christians took for granted that the unrepentant were going to a fiery Hell – no one ever wrote any words to the contrary. I considered this witness of the early Christians a very powerful tool on the side of orthodoxy, and I loved it.

I had, however, forgotten a very pertinent old maxim:

A double-edged sword cuts both ways!

As I delved into the writings of the first Christians, I came to appreciate their tremendous unity on a number of topics. It was clear that the apostles had taught certain doctrines which that generation then taught to the next. The first Christians said that there is a literal hell to which unrepentant sinners will be consigned. The first Christians said that Jesus was God. The first Christians said that the Mass was a sacrifice, and that the bread and the wine of Holy Communion actually become the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

Say what???

The first Christians wrote that baptism regenerates, actually washing away sins, or as the Bible says, “Baptism… now saves you.”

Well, that’s awkward!

The first Christians wrote that works and final perseverance were quite necessary for salvation.

Okay, hold on just a minute! The writings of the first Christians weren’t infallible!!

Correct, the writings of the first Christians weren’t infallible, but remember our argument against the Witnesses: If a particular doctrine is nowhere mentioned in the writings of the first Christians (and they left us TONS of writings) and if teachings to the contrary of Protestant doctrine are found in the writings of many if not all of the extant documents, then chances are pretty darn good that….

Whoa… whoa… WHOA!!! What doctrines are you referring to??

A symbolic understanding of Holy Communion and of baptism are found NOWHERE in the writings of the first Christians. No early Christian ever even whispers anything reminiscent of the “faith ALONE” or the “once saved/always saved” doctrines. In every discussion of Holy Communion and of baptism, the first Christians express the beliefs taught by the Catholic Church. And as our argument further stated:

Either the first Christians all apostatized from the very beginning, and these apostates were all teaching unheard-of doctrines such as the sacrifice of the Mass and the necessity of faith plus works


The writings of the earliest Christians, when they concur on a given point, must be said to provide an accurate reflection of ‘the faith once delivered to all the saints’ (Jude 3).

Thus, Catholics do not need to prove that the writings of the earliest Christians were Holy Scripture (which they were not) or that they wrote infallibly (which they did not). It is enough to show that they spoke unanimously, and that no denial of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist or the necessity of final perseverance can be found in their writings. If Protestants say, “The Scriptures clearly state …” Catholics can answer with an authoritative “You are misinterpreting the Scriptures, and we can prove this because those Christians who lived in the same era as the apostles, spoke the same language as the apostles, and were of the same cultural background as the apostles knew nothing of the doctrines you teach! You are reading your preconceived theology into these verses!”

Dang, that blade is sharp!


On the memorial of St. Isidore the Farmer

Deo omnis gloria!