Monthly Archives: August 2013

A few years back, a classmate of my daughter’s was killed in a car accident. That was when my daughter learned the meaning of the word “hagiography.” According to the dictionary, hagiography is “idealizing or idolizing biography.” According to my daughter, the idealizing and idolizing that went on when the boy died was nearly unbearable, as everyone at their school suddenly claimed him as their dearest friend and spiritual next-of-kin. My daughter remembered the boy (who had marched with her in the drum corps of the school’s band and whom she counted among her friends) as foul-mouthed and impious, as well as energetic, funny and good-natured. Yet after his reputation had been hagiographically bleached, it shone like the sun. The boy had purportedly never done anything objectionable. My daughter said it was nauseating.

A lot of people find hagiography nauseating, particularly when employed in a discussion of Catholic saints. Reading Alban Butler’s The Lives of the Saints will cause them to gag as they wallow through all the extravagant praise and wanton hyperbole:

In the person of St. Lewis IX. were eminently united the qualities which form a great king, and a perfect hero, no less than those which make up the character of a wonderful saint. Endowed with all qualifications for government, he excelled equally in the arts of peace and in those of war; and his courage, intrepidity, and greatness of mind received from his virtue the highest lustre; for ambition, or a view to his own glory, had no share in his great enterprises, his only motive in them being religion, zeal for the glory of God, or the good of his subjects. Though the two crusades in which he was engaged, were attended with ill success, he is certainly to be ranked among the most valiant princes, and understood war the best of any general of the age in which he lived; in the most dangerous battles which he fought he beat the enemy, how much soever superior to him in numbers and strength: and his afflictions set his piety and virtue in the brightest light.

Where are the warts?? people want to know. The truth lies in the warts!!

Because that’s what life is really all about – the warts. After all, look at the New Testament! It is brutally honest about the failings of the followers of Christ: Thomas’ unbelief, Peter’s cowardice, the apostles’ overall spiritual dimwittedness. My gosh, thinking about my own life – warts galore. It seems that everything about me, as well as about everyone of my acquaintance, is either objectionable or tragicomedic. We bumble and stumble our way through just about everything. Consider my ten years of Catholic experience. It has not been marked by “courage, intrepidity and greatness of mind” – not even remotely. Looking back, I note no marks of distinction whatsoever.

As a Protestant-turned-Catholic, I had a lot to learn when I first started attending Mass 10 years ago – all that standing up, and sitting down, and kneeling, and genuflecting, and blessing oneself with the sign of the Cross, all those responses, new hymns, new accoutrements, new faces. That last part, the new faces, was hard for me as a socially challenged individual – all those strangers to get to know, some stranger than others. One thing I quickly learned as a Catholic neophyte was that most of the men in the parish would either be named Jim or Joe. To be sure, there’s the occasional Ken or Brian, but chances are those guys are converts like me. No, real Catholic men are named Jim or Joe; the trick is figuring out which is which. Like the last time I went to confession – two men were standing in the foyer talking. One of them kindly introduced himself; he was Jim. The other man I recognized as someone I knew by sight from Adoration and holy days of obligation, the kind of guy you can always count on to be there. He introduced himself as Joe. Now, how was I going to keep that straight? (And sure enough, the next time I saw Jim, I called him Joe….) Anyway, after some chit-chat which left Jim singing “Just Walk Away, Renée,” I proceeded to the Adoration chapel which connects to the confessional. As usual, there had been no stampede to the sacrament, so I went on in, made my confession, and received the grace to go out and get it right this time. Back in the chapel, I knelt before the Tabernacle to pray. It suddenly dawned on me that this was my chance to do something I have long desired to do – prostrate myself before Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. Joe (the one I had just been introduced to in the foyer) had done that last Holy Thursday, and I had longed to imitate him, but I was wearing a skirt at the time and after pondering the logistics of lying down on the floor in a ladylike and unrevealing manner without calling undue attention to myself… well, I had just continued to kneel. But now, in the empty Adoration chapel, here was my chance. Not only was I wearing pants, not only was the chapel empty so that I would distract no one, but our church is blessed with 120-year-old wood floors that creak like nobody’s business. When you’re in the chapel you can hear folks coming from a mile away, so I’d have a good chance to get up off the floor before anyone saw me (I have a horror of calling attention to myself in the presence of the Eucharist – if the Host is indeed the Creator of the Universe, God forbid that someone should enter into His presence and then be distracted by me or anyone else). It was now or never, so I proceeded to lie face down in the middle of the aisle and thank God for His mercy and His grace poured out in the sacrament of Reconciliation.

And in less than 10 seconds, two of the light-footedest men God ever created entered the chapel.

So there I am, lying face down in the middle of the aisle in the Adoration chapel, my nose mashed into the carpet, thinking to myself that it’s truly a mercy that in this day and age this is probably one of the few places left in America where two men can find a middle-aged woman lying face down on the floor, and not dial 911.

They seated themselves. I righted myself, genuflected, and left the chapel as discreetly as I knew how. I recognized neither man, although I can say with certainty that there is a good chance that one or both of them was named Jim or Joe.

So, how’s that little incident going to look when they open the cause for my canonization? Seriously, there will have to be a MAJOR rewrite of the facts, something along the lines of “And as St. Renée lay prostrate before her Lord in the Tabernacle, two strangers entered the chapel. Stricken by the obvious intensity of her devotion, they were at once convicted of their sins, and henceforth were moved to lead lives of notable piety.”

Something like that. After all, that’s how hagiography works, isn’t it? Religious cryotherapy is applied to the warts in the saint’s life, smoothing out the rough edges and making saints appear a breed apart from everyday folk like you and me. Let’s face it, goobs and doofuses don’t get canonized. Hagiographists get paid not to talk about the crankiness, the fender-bender (seriously, officer, I did not see that tree!), the break-up with the fiancé, the hammer and the bad language, the mind-wandering during Mass, the social contretemps, the bouts of depression, or any neglect of the niceties. Hagiographists blather instead about the saintly characteristics which the person under discussion purportedly possessed: the zeal, the piety, the courage, the intrepidity, and the greatness of mind.

Yadda, yadda, yadda….
The truth is in the warts!!

Well, no, actually the truth is in the truth, warts and all. To make saints sound as if they never got distracted during prayer (ask St. Teresa of Avila) or spoke sharply to someone (St. Jerome wanders into my mind) is to do them a disservice. Yet, far from being a crock, hagiography is actually good in that it offers us another perspective on the lives of the saints, a necessary perspective on the truth.

Take the example of soon-to-be St. John Paul the Great. It was revealed after his death that the pope would spend all night lying on the bare floor with his arms outstretched, fasting and praying before the ordination of bishops. Sounds saintly, right? Think about how this played out in real life. John Paul would first lie down in bed, shifting from one side to the other, to make it look like he had slept there – wouldn’t want people to talk…. The bed was comfortable, and the thought crossed his mind that he was getting kind of old for the self-mortification stuff. He pulled himself out of bed and onto the cold floor, which got colder after a half an hour had passed. He prayed, and prayed, and realized that he had dozed off. He prayed some more. The floor was awfully drafty, and he began to think idly about perhaps doing some remodeling to cut down on heating costs. Realizing that his mind had wandered, he also realized that he had to go to the bathroom. He wasn’t getting any younger, and neither was his prostate. My goodness, his legs were stiff as he arose from the floor. When he returned from the bathroom, his soft bed called to him. He knelt beside the bed. Why was he doing this? Was it really going to make a difference? All-night vigil or no all-night vigil, those bishops would be ordained tomorrow. If he showed up bleary-eyed and haggard, there would be no end of talk in the media about how ill he looked and whether or not he should consider resigning….

He lay back down on the floor, stretching his arms out to form a living cross. Hour One was behind him; only seven more hours left to pray for those men he was ordaining.

So what’s the truth? Is it the old guy lying uncomfortably on the floor all night, getting up for periodic bathroom breaks? Is it the saint imitating His Lord’s all-night prayer vigil before He announces His choice of apostles the next morning (Lk 6:12-14)?


And that’s why hagiography isn’t to be discounted out of hand. A supernatural reality underlies all that a Christian does when he is not conformed to this world, but is being transformed by the renewing of his mind. Remember the words of the angel to Daniel the prophet, who had prayed and fasted for 3 weeks:

He said to me, “O Daniel, man of high esteem, understand the words that I am about to tell you and stand upright, for I have now been sent to you.” And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling. Then he said to me, “Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart on understanding this and on humbling yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty-one days; then behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia. Now I have come to give you an understanding of what will happen to your people in the latter days, for the vision pertains to the days yet future.”

Had the angel not disclosed the behind-the-scenes supernatural struggle, Daniel would have gone on fasting and praying, thinking, “Gee, this sure is getting old. I wonder if any of this really makes a difference. Who do I think I am, anyway, that God should take special notice of me and my prayers?” This dual reality, the natural and the supernatural, is the warp and woof of a Christian’s life – both the “who do I think I am?” and the “Oh. That’s who I am.” Both are real, and both are worthy of contemplation. You prayed for me, and through your prayers you obtained graces for me that I would not have obtained otherwise. Yes, you forgot my name and had to pray for “that woman with the blog about off-roading,” but God knew who you meant! Two realities – you are a fallible, foible-ridden human, and you are a co-heir with Christ = one truth.

So, yeah, the warts are true and deserve a mention. The writers of the New Testament realized that and pulled no punches – doubting Thomas, cowardly Peter, disappointing disciples. But remember, when speaking of the irritating, inept but determined children of God clinging to His promises like drowning rats, the New Testament also confesses: The world is not worthy of them.

And that’s true, too.

Which bodes well for the cause for the canonization of this messy bumpkin. I hope the iconographers remember to depict St. Renée in profile, with her nose still a little mashed from the carpet. Warts and all.


On the memorial of St. Narcisa de Jesús Martillo Morán

Deo omnis gloria!

My father was raised Lutheran, although as far as I know he never attended a Lutheran church as an adult. He never attended any church at all when I was little, leaving my mother to take my sister and me with her to her Methodist church. Then for some reason, when we started high school Dad suddenly decided that we all needed to attend church as a family. This was no conversion on his part; it may have dawned on him that children with solid religious grounding are less likely to end up on drugs or pregnant, or my mother’s nagging may finally have gotten to him. Anyhow, we found a church that was acceptable to both parents, the nondenominational Scottsdale Bible Church (this was the 1970s, so it had not as yet gone mega), and every Sunday morning Dad would put on a suit, crown his balding head with one of his cowboy hats, and pile us into the Lincoln for the 10-minute ride to church.

Once we girls left home, Dad reverted to his former routine of getting up, about the time Mom was leaving for church, to spend the morning watching Meet the Press and Face the Nation, and to work in the yard if it wasn’t too hot out there. God just didn’t much interest him. He used to drive my mother, a fervent charismatic, right round the bend. I believe he didn’t so much have his own beliefs about God, as he had reactions to my mother’s beliefs about God. Had she been among the Frozen Chosen, I doubt he would have cared, but her charismatic inclinations grated on him. Whenever she would bring up the subject of God, he was ready with a stock objection.

“What about suffering?” he would demand. “The existence of suffering pretty much proves that there is no good, loving God!”

And she was stymied. He pulled this stunt on her over and over again, because it worked. She would try to explain the mystery of suffering from a Christian perspective and would get bogged down in his objections, rejections and imperious what-ifs. One day when she was complaining to me about this, I had what now seems pretty obvious but what at that moment, after years of trying to explain the mystery of suffering to his satisfaction, amounted to an epiphany for both of us.

Stop trying to explain suffering to him! I urged her. Insist that the conversation begin at the beginning! After all, if your kindergartner asked you to explain indefinite integrals to her, you wouldn’t sit down and try to do that – you would tell her that she needs to learn how to add and subtract, multiply and divide. With no grounding in the basics of mathematics, calculus will simply be mumbo-jumbo as far as she’s concerned, no matter how well you think you’re explaining it.

My recent posts on two Marian feast days, the Assumption and the Coronation, reminded me of this discussion, and I realized that just as you can’t begin with theodicy when explaining Christianity to a skeptic, in the same way when we try to explain Catholicism to Protestants, the Marian doctrines are not the place to start. We need to explain that to Protestant inquirers. This will most likely strike them as a dodge; after all, their objections to “Mary worship” are the first thing they want to talk about – if we won’t talk about it, it’s because we know it’s indefensible! But starting there is like starting an explanation of Christianity with a discussion of why a good God allows suffering, or like explaining calculus to a kindergartner, like beginning your examination of a magnificent old oak tree way out on a high limb, rather than starting the discussion at the base of the tree, talking about the roots. The Marian doctrines really are a natural extension of things Protestants already believe – the doctrine of the Incarnation and the doctrine of the communion of saints. However, WHY the Catholic conclusion should be believed is the real question. The doctrine of the authority of the Church Jesus established is the sticking point, and they will hear you saying that you believe the Marian doctrines because you think the Church has the authority to invent doctrine out of thin air. Properly explained, the Marian doctrines make a great deal of sense, but to properly explain them, we must begin at the beginning, with the authority of the Church.

So, if anyone asks, just tell them that, no, we don’t worship Mary – that would be breaking the First Commandment – but we do venerate her because we believe that is her due. If they’re honestly interested and have some time to devote to the subject, you can sit down with them and discuss why Catholics are convinced that God never intended for His Church to depend on the Bible alone, despite what Protestants contend. That will be a shock to them, and very hard to grasp. I know it took me weeks to wrap my mind around the idea that the Bible does not teach the doctrine of sola Scriptura, but that it does teach that Jesus established an authoritative Church. That is why that Church, the Catholic Church, was able to successfully defend the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus when it was challenged by the Arians. A sola-Scriptura church never would have been up to that challenge, since the Scriptural argument against Jesus’ divinity can appear just as compelling as the argument for it. Seriously, Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are modern-day Arians, can wrestle a sola Scriptura Christian to the mat on that issue. Don’t believe me? Go find a Jehovah’s Witness and try it out for yourself! (I did – that’s one of the reasons I’m Catholic now!) It was by wielding the authority vested in them by God that the successors to the apostles declared the Arian understanding to be wrong (just as the apostles, upon whom the Church is built, had wielded their God-given authority at the Council of Jerusalem nearly 300 years earlier and declared the Judaizers’ understanding of the necessity of circumcision to be wrong), not because the Church has the authority to invent doctrine out of thin air, but because the Church has the authority to declare the truth about God, and the ability to declare it infallibly. An authoritative Church is NECESSARY, which is why Jesus established one. As that same Church pondered the mystery of Mary, her role in salvation history became clearer and was formally defined, doctrine by doctrine. The Church is not making up the Marian doctrines as we go along; the Church is, like Mary, “pondering these things in her heart” and then disclosing to the world the fruit of that contemplation. When Protestants level at the Church the charge that Catholics are proposing doctrines which were unknown to the first Christians, we can tell them that the same charge was (and still is) leveled at the successors to the apostles when they declared that the Holy Spirit is God. Where does the Bible say that?? And why did it take the Church over 300 years to formally proclaim the Holy Spirit to be God?

Look for a pattern here:

The Old Testament nowhere states explicitly that a male desirous of joining the People of God can avoid circumcision, yet the Church circa A.D. 48 proclaimed that baptism has replaced circumcision, confident that the Bible does not contradict this understanding, thereby enabling the Church to successfully defend the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith against the erroneous beliefs of the Judaizers. A sola Scriptura-based decision? Hardly.

The Bible, Old Testament or New, nowhere states explicitly that God is a Trinity of Persons, yet the Church in A.D. 381 defined the doctrine of the Trinity, confident that the Bible does not contradict this understanding; thereby enabling the Church to successfully defend the doctrines of the deity of Christ and the deity of the Holy Spirit against the erroneous beliefs of the Arians and the Sabellians. A sola Scriptura-based decision? Well, no – you have to admit that it wasn’t.

The Bible nowhere states explicitly that the Blessed Virgin Mary was assumed into Heaven, yet the Church in A.D. 1950 proclaimed the doctrine of the Assumption, confident that the Bible does not contradict this understanding, thereby enabling the Church to defend a belief held by Catholics since the early days of the Church against the erroneous beliefs of those who claim that Mary was just some random unit in the economy of salvation. A sola Scriptura-based decision? Not any more than the decisions reached by the Council of Jerusalem (A.D. 48) or the First Council of Constantinople (A.D. 381), yet every bit as legitimate.

Authority is the root of the oak tree. To whom did God grant authority – to a Book, or to His Church? Your answer to that question will impact every other area of your doctrine. We need to familiarize Protestants with the Catholic answer to that question before we even think about discussing anything else. Higher mathematics are not gobbledygook, nor are they hocus-pocus, despite the fact that to kindergartners they may appear to be. The Marian doctrines fall into place when we grasp the concepts of Sacred Tradition and development of doctrine, and the authority of the Church to define doctrine and to do it infallibly.

The doctrine of the authority of the Bible alone, however, is a conjecture with no basis in Scripture and no support in the writings of the Church Fathers. The promulgation of the Marian doctrines, as we have seen, follows the process documented in Scripture (as well as in history) of the Catholic Church, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, declaring her understanding of orthodox doctrine. This is nothing new, and nothing strange. The Marian doctrines are a normal development, just what you would expect on a healthy, growing tree.

But the Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura – that’s way out on a limb!


On the memorial of St. Monica

Deo omnis gloria!

Photo credit: Century oak tree on the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, by Ed Schipul/Wikimedia Commons

We shall forget the roads and what they are like, forget ourselves and abandon ourselves entirely to the wisdom, the goodness and the power of our Guide, and remember only to love You and avoid the slightest sin and fulfill all our obligations. This, my Beloved, is all Your children have to do. You take charge of everything else. Jean-Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence

It all started when my daughter was asked to write a guest post on her G.A.’s blog on the topic of being Catholic at the local Baptist university. The first comment on that post was by Russ Rentler, whose name I recognized from the Crossed the Tiber blog. I wrote to thank him – he and his cohorts from Catholics are Christians provided sorely needed support when several Baptists got twisted out of shape over the fact that a Ca-Ca-Catholic had been allowed to write a guest post on a Protestant blog. Dr. Rentler suggested that I write our family’s “conversion” story, and very kindly posted it on his blog. He also asked if I had a blog. I told him I did not, but I said that if I had a blog, I would write about the unexamined assumptions that underlie so much of what I had believed as a Protestant.

It was that factor that finally pushed me into blogging. For nine years I had waited eagerly for Protestants of my acquaintance to inquire as to why I felt it necessary to become Catholic. Yet everyone I knew fell into one of two camps: those who believed that it didn’t matter what I believed – if Catholicism floated my boat, then who were they to argue about it? – and those who believed that I must be loony. I actually thought more of those who questioned my sanity than of those who felt that God was such a divine Doofus that He just doesn’t care what anybody believes, as if diametrically opposed doctrines (like the Evangelical belief in the purely symbolic nature of baptism and Holy Communion vs. the Catholic belief in regenerative baptism and the Real Presence) were merely different ways of saying the same thing! Neither group, however, wanted to discuss Catholic beliefs.

Nine years is a long time to wait.

So I started blogging, one year ago today. I was a teensy bit worried that no one would ever read what I wrote (a major concern considering that blogging, at least the way I do it, amounts to something like a part-time job), but with some great advertising from Crossed the Tiber and Why I’m Catholic (which is being updated and will return this fall!), readers started dropping by. One hundred and sixty-three posts later – here we are.

In honor of the anniversary, a few minors changes: at the top of the blog there are two new tabs, one with my series on the Mass (written to introduce Protestants to the subject) and another with my series on the discernment of the canon.

My most popular post this past year, by far, was one that was picked up by The, entitled “Former Catholics.” The secret to its popularity is in the title. Apparently everybody and his brother googles “former Catholics” and stumbles upon this post. Blogging brethren, if you ever want something you wrote to get read, entitle it “Former Catholics.” Even if it’s about creamed corn. People will read it.

After that, my most-clicked-on posts have been:

Protestant Jeopardy (thank you for the link, Mark Shea!!)

The Canon Controversy (the first post in my series on the canon)

The Objection to Relics (also picked up by The

A Formal Pronouncement on the Canon (for those who didn’t want to wade through nearly 40 posts to find out how the canon series ended)

What were my favorite posts? Well, the ones I most enjoyed writing were my favorites. Bible Surgery was great fun, as was “If” For Catholics, The Scarlet O’Hara School of Devotion, Nun of the Above, and Tom, Dick and Teri Think Things Through as well as Tom, Dick and Teri Talk Again. I poured my heart into Stripped of His Garments, In The Beginning: Love, and Why I Don’t Go to Mass.

It’s interesting to note how people get to this blog in the first place. What do they search for that leads them here? A good number of people have visited the blog looking for information on Robert C. Girard, my pastor years ago at Our Heritage Wesleyan Methodist Church in Scottsdale, whom I discussed in Pastor Bob and the New Testament Church. Many people are looking for information on one of the martyrs in my sidebar. Others want to know more about the Marian Catechist Apostolate which I wrote about in Why My Life is a Shapeless Blob. And there are those who stumble by because they are searching for proof of their Protestant misconceptions, such as “magical properties of relics” or “Lent is unbiblical” or “when the Catholic Church started teaching false doctrine.” Glad you’re here, folks – you are the very reason this blog was started! You might want to check out Christians Who Really Believe, Catholic Ping-Pong, Serious Lipstick, Psyche in Hell and/or Those Medieval Monks You Were Warned About.

I always have to laugh when people can’t quite remember the name of the blog and start googling what they think it should be called. Forget the Roads or Forget the Road? I Forgot the Road? One person googled “leave the road Renée Lin.”

When they start googling “Renée Lin, GET OFF THE ROAD!!” – that’s when I’ll start having second thoughts!


On the memorial of St. Louis

Deo omnis gloria!

Photo courtesy of

One week ago today Catholics were celebrating a holy day of obligation, a solemnity honoring the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, body and soul, into Heaven. Similarly, although today is not a holy day of obligation, it is the day set aside to contemplate the Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and of the Angels. Protestants tend to get a tad cranky at the mention of these commemorations. After all, they huff, none of this is in the Bible!! All this talk of Mary detracts from the Main Point, Jesus! That’s what Catholics just don’t understand! MARY IS NOT THE POINT!!

And Protestants are absolutely right about that – to a point.

Many Evangelical difficulties with Catholic theology stem from a reluctance to think the Incarnation through, which is odd, since the Incarnation is a doctrine which Evangelicals embrace. You can’t find an Evangelical who denies the Incarnation. Jesus Christ, God Eternal, became man. It is a solid point of agreement between Protestants and Catholics – no problem there. Yet, Evangelicals want to leave it at that, while Catholics have taken the Incarnation and run with it, connecting it to all of our other doctrines. It behooves the inquirer to always keep the Incarnation firmly in mind when puzzling over the Marian doctrines.

That said, these Marian doctrines aren’t found in Scripture – and yet, they are.

A quick review of the Incarnation: in order to redeem mankind, God sent the archangel Gabriel to a virgin to ask her permission to bring His Son into the world, using her DNA to form His body just as every mother’s DNA is part of the formation of their children’s bodies. That’s as far as the Evangelical understanding of the Incarnation usually goes (if it goes that far – some Protestants insist that, had Jesus’ body been formed using Mary’s DNA, He would have inherited Original Sin from His mother, and therefore the Blessed Virgin was actually just a surrogate mom to the Son of God, an “incubator,” if you will. Had that been the case, however, Jesus would not have been a member of our species, but rather a species unto Himself – and would not have been able to offer up His life as one of us to redeem mankind). The Catholic understanding is that Jesus received a human body from His mother, Mary, so that all human beings might become a part of His body. It should come as no shock to anyone that St. Augustine expressed this far more beautifully than I ever could:

All men are one man in Christ, and the unity of Christians constitutes but one man. Let us rejoice and give thanks. Not only are we to become Christians, but we are to become Christ. My brothers, do you understand the grace of God that is given us? Wonder, rejoice, for we are Christ! If He is the Head, and we are the members, then together He and we are the whole man.

That is the meaning of the Incarnation. The Incarnation wasn’t just a blip on the salvation radar screen, necessary solely to make Christ’s death on the Cross for our sins possible. The Incarnation lay at the root of God’s inscrutable plan to make us His children and heirs, “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4). In order for the creature known as man to participate in the life of the Holy Trinity, he has to become a member of the body of the Second Person of that Trinity. That body goes by various names: the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, the household of faith, the Church of the living God.

In that body, Catholics believe, Mary occupies the place closest to Jesus; that is to say, Mary is the “neck” of the body of Christ. As St. Bernardine of Siena put this: “‘For she is the neck of our Head, by which all spiritual gifts are communicated to His Mystical Body.” In the sadly all-too-common Protestant understanding of the believer’s relationship with Christ as “me and Jesus,” the idea that one member of the body might be closer to the Head than the other members rankles. Yet, we are not particles floating through space, unconnected one to another; participation in the Divine life is impossible for a disembodied particle. Christians are a body; that body has a defined shape and parts. Understanding Mary as the metaphorical “neck” of the body helps to put into perspective Catholic claims that she mediates graces. Just as electrical impulses from the brain must pass through the neck (via the spinal cord) to get to the little toe of the left foot, so also do the graces God distributes to members of His body pass through the hands of Mary on their way to us. Just as it is God’s will that I, at certain times, may be His instrument in conducting grace your way, so also is it His will to route all graces through Mary, the body’s “neck.” In that light, St. Louis de Montfort’s “To Christ through Mary” makes a great deal of sense; if she is the “neck” of the body, then the other members’ connection to the Head is necessarily through her.

Catholics further believe that Mary is a “type” of the Church, just as King David in the Old Testament served as a “type” of the Messiah. That sheds light on the feasts of the Assumption and the Coronation. The Assumption and the Coronation are, simply put, down-payments on Christ’s promises to the Church.

Take the Coronation as an example (Rev 12:1). Evangelicals howl at the mention of all the preposterous, undue honor paid to Mary in this scenario – yet they themselves firmly declare
that believers will receive crowns in Heaven. A popular Protestant singing group has named itself “Casting Crowns” in reference to the fact that we will cast our crowns at the feet of Him Who gave them to us (riffing off Rev 4:10). So why should the fact that Catholics insist that Mary, “type” of the Church, has received her crown in Heaven cause a stir?

Same with the Assumption of Mary into Heaven. Protestants and Catholics profess the belief that Christians will, in the words of St. Paul

…be caught up together with [the dead in Christ] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.

From this perspective, doctrines like the Assumption and the Coronation, far from being preposterous, are examples of exactly what all those who believe God’s promises should expect will happen! We will be resurrected (1 Cor 15:42-44), we will be assumed into Heaven (1 Thess 4:16-17), and we will receive crowns (1 Pet 5:4) and rule (Lk 22:30, 2 Tim 2:12, Rev 20:4-5), even judging angels (1 Cor 6:2-3). The Bible says quite clearly that God will reward us according to our works (Mt 16:27, Rev 22:12). The Catholic Church is simply saying that Mary, as the preeminent member of the body of Christ by virtue of her fiat and sinless life, went first. What the Church is NOT saying is that Mary is somehow equal to her Savior, or more important than her Lord, or that she is a goddess whom the Church has deified. God forbid! Mary is NOT the point, but Mary is NOT beside the point, either – anymore than the head of a man is the “point,” while his body is merely “beside the point.” Mary is NOT beside the point because the Incarnation of Jesus is NOT beside the point. Jesus’ relationship with her as her Savior (Lk 1:47) made possible her incorporation into the body He is preparing for Himself, and that made possible the events in her life which Catholics celebrate in the month of August. The Incarnation is what makes possible our participation in the supernatural life of God as well; only as members of Christ’s body can we experience that participation. The reality of the Incarnation animates the body of Christ in the world today, and is the guarantee of our place in Heaven for all who are found to be members of that body.

And THAT’S the point of the Assumption and the Coronation.


On the feast of the Queenship of Mary

Deo omnis gloria!

Artur Rosman’s intriguing blog, Cosmos The In Lost, recently featured a beautiful, beautiful quote from Catholic convert Evelyn Waugh (you know, the guy who wrote what Father Barron called the greatest Catholic novel of the 20th century – Brideshead Revisited). Apparently when his friend Nancy Mitford (who, like Waugh, was one of the Bright Young Things of 1920’s England) complained to Waugh that despite his conversion to Catholicism he was, well, still such a jerk, Waugh answered forthrightly, “You have no idea how much nastier I would be if I was not a Catholic. Without supernatural aid I would hardly be a human being.”

That quote took me, oddly enough, right back to my college days, riding home from youth group with my Lutheran friend, Holly, whom I accompanied to church on occasion back then. “Why are Christians such jerks??” she ranted. She was complaining bitterly about one young man in particular, an enthusiastic Lutheran who held some pretty objectionable opinions and wasn’t shy about publicizing them. He drove her crazy with his gauche remarks and behavior. If he was a Christian, why didn’t he act like one???

So, it’s not just Evelyn Waugh, apparently. Why are Christians such jerks?

Yeah. Why?

Well, there are several possible explanations, the most obvious being that there is no God and therefore when one “gets religion,” basically no change occurs. Small wonder that there is little evidence of reform. Just t-r-y-i-n-g, by sheer force of will, to live up to all those pious expectations laid out in Scripture gets some people farther than others, but since there is no “supernatural aid” to be had, you may turn over a new leaf or two, but it’s nothing for the world to get excited about.

Protestants offer other perspectives on the conundrum. There is, of course, a God, and He does, of course, provide supernatural aid. So, how to explain the “jerk factor”? Some Evangelicals basically overlook sin in their lives and in the lives of their co-religionists, provided, of course, that the sin falls into certain pre-approved categories (which is to say, the sins of gluttony and gossip get a free pass, but swearing and alcohol abuse will not be tolerated; marital infidelity can be forgiven, but homosexual acts cannot; cohabitation is unthinkable, but divorce for just about any reason is no problem.) “Sanctification” isn’t a popular topic in these circles; “evangelization” is. Christians shouldn’t sin, but the important thing is evangelization – even if your “Christian walk” isn’t what it should be, you need to convince others of their need for a Savior. This perspective leads to the interesting personal anecdote told by Evangelical Bill Bright of how he took the opportunity to evangelize the police officer who pulled him over to give him a ticket for breaking traffic laws. Let’s not talk about my transgressions, officer – let’s talk about yours….

Many Protestants, of course, take a decidedly less cavalier approach. They are very, very serious about sin. Former Church of Christ minister Bruce Sullivan wrote about the torment habitual sins caused him:

We had a song in our Church of Christ hymnal entitled “Did You Fully Repent?” I would often reason to myself that, surely, if I had fully repented, I would not find myself so beset by habitual sins. I honestly cannot recall how many times I walked the aisle of a church seeking the spiritual strength I needed in order to live the faith I professed. More than once I thought that something was lacking at the time of my baptism. Consequently, I was baptized on three different occasions within the Church of Christ. (Bruce Sullivan, Christ in His Fullness)

As Sullivan (who was reconciled to the Church in 1995) explains it:

The problem, however, was not so much the ability to accept the forgiveness of Christ after initial justification as it was determining whether initial justification had actually been received based upon the reality of subsequent moral failure. This left me in the agonizing position of trying to determine whether my faith was truly a saving faith.

Translation: I’m still a jerk! Am I really saved???

How I would like to appear to others

This is where the sacraments come in. The Church teaches that we are born again in baptism; therefore, as baptized Christians we need never question the reality of our initial justification. The Catholic Church would never “rebaptize” someone who felt that “something was lacking” in his baptism. The truth is, though, that SINS are washed away in the baptismal font – habits are not. Grasping this distinction between sins and proclivities was a real problem for me when, as a new Catholic, I began frequenting the Sacrament of Reconciliation; I insisted on confessing tendencies, as in “When the going gets tough, I just tend to wimp out…” or “I’m not a very loving person, but I know God wants me to be,” leaving the poor priest muttering something that sounded like “Number and kind! Number and kind!” What I was trying to confess was that I was a sinner with sinful inclinations – what did I expect the priest to do for me?? Jesus gave His apostles (and by extension, their successors and those ordained priests by their successors) the authority to absolve penitents of their SINS: actual acts of disobedience against God. Sinful inclinations are a whole ‘nother kettle of concupiscence.

How I actually appear to others

The Catholic Church takes quite seriously St. Paul’s command to the Philippians, and instructs the faithful to work out their salvation. We are NOT a finished product. Our sins are forgiven when we receive the sacrament of Baptism; of that we can be sure. Through baptism we have entered the body of Christ. Our sinful inclinations, however, stay with us. We have accumulated habits aligned with those inclinations that come far more naturally to us than does Christ-like behavior. And so we often revert to type, and sin. For that reason, the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion were instituted, whence the Christian, born again through baptism, receives the grace to begin chipping away at those nasty habits and to start the long, slow process of healing the self-inflicted wounds that our sins have left in their wake – and to stop sinning. This is what distinguishes our efforts from self-help programs, for as St. Augustine assures us:

Hence also that grace of God, whereby His love is shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us, must be so confessed by the man who would make a true confession, as to show his undoubting belief that nothing whatever in the way of goodness pertaining to godliness and real holiness can be accomplished without it.

You see, the question isn’t, are we perfect yet? There’s simply no question about that for the vast majority of us; the answer is NO. The question is, are we okey-dokey with the status quo? I’m okay – you’re okay? That’s NOT okay. If we are struggling against our tendencies towards gossip, lust and covetousness, availing ourselves of the Sacrament of Penance when we succumb, and sustaining the new life within us through our reception of Holy Communion, then we are actively working out our own salvation, as St. Paul commanded. Anything short of that struggle is not Christianity.

If you entered the Church in possession of, or rather, possessed by an ego the size of a barn, you won’t become instantaneously humble – that’s why we pray the Litany of Humility. Perhaps you’re best known at the time of your conversion as a major whiner; the notion that you’d best stop may not dawn on you for years. Praying the Psalms should help redirect that impulse. You may be – by nature or by upbringing – an inordinately suspicious person with a low threshold for frustration, someone who is not in the habit of keeping his promises and even less likely to admit his mistakes, a piker, a potty mouth, and a fraud. Join the club. The sacraments give us the grace to endure the rock tumbler into which are placed those ugly, common stones known as Christians. Through the seemingly endless process of tumbling and scraping known as “life,” we lose our rough edges. Some of us begin to shine a little, although it depends on what kind of stones we are to begin with, as well as our commitment to the process. Others of us keep hopping out of the tumbler because the polishing process hurts, particularly when we get scratched by other rocks in the barrel. How can they act like that? The jerks!!! And there are those who simply refuse to continue to participate because, since instant gratification (in the form of holiness) isn’t part of the package deal of “getting saved,” the claims for Christianity have supposedly been proved bogus by their own experience, or rather, lack of it.

Yet the Church has never touted instant holiness as a by-product of conversion, for the simple reason that the Church believes conversion to be a lifelong process. Catholics, in fact, believe this process to be so necessary yet so potentially lengthy that anything not fully addressed in this life will be completed after death in Purgatory. The Church openly advertises herself as a hospital for sinners, though what we all desperately want it to be is an art gallery – with saints on display. Saints are the finished product, the fruit of a life lived under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit Who indwells the sinner. There ARE saints in the Church, alongside the Evelyn Waughs, alongside the you’s, alongside the me’s. To those you’s and me’s, as well as to the saints, the author of Hebrews penned an urgent reminder:

Your protest, your battle against sin, has not yet called for bloodshed; yet you have lost sight, already, of those words of comfort in which God addresses you as his sons; My son, do not undervalue the correction which the Lord sends thee, do not be unmanned when he reproves thy faults. It is where he loves that he bestows correction; there is no recognition for any child of his, without chastisement. Be patient, then, while correction lasts; God is treating you as his children. Was there ever a son whom his father did not correct? No, correction is the common lot of all; you must be bastards, not true sons, if you are left without it. We have known what it was to accept correction from earthly fathers, and with reverence; shall we not submit, far more willingly, to the Father of a world of spirits, and draw life from him? They, after all, only corrected us for a short while, at their own caprice; he does it for our good, to give us a share in that holiness which is his. For the time being, all correction is painful rather than pleasant; but afterwards, when it has done its work of discipline, it yields a harvest of good dispositions, to our great peace. Come then, stiffen the sinews of drooping hand, and flagging knee, and plant your footprints in a straight track, so that the man who goes lame may not stumble out of the path, but regain strength instead. Your aim must be peace with all men, and that holiness without which no one will ever see God.

The Christian life is one long life of correction, one long “battle against sin” – some, enabled by grace, embrace the battle and flourish; some reject it and wither. But we must always bear in mind that when we lie, cheat and steal, no one can ask “Why don’t you act like a Christian???” We ARE acting like Christians – check out the epistles to the Corinthians if you doubt that. We ARE NOT acting like Christ.

Jesus is the Fount of all Holiness, and fortunately for us, He is also the Vine. When we branches are grafted onto the Vine, we begin to produce the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, in other words, the beginnings of “that holiness without which no one will ever see God.” I may not evidence much self-control, for example, when I first enter the Church. Check back with me later. After a while, I may still not evidence much self-control, but if I am grieved by this, if I still struggle, and pray, and work for this fruit, then I am still connected to the Vine and there is hope. As Hebrews puts it, I am protesting and battling against the sin in my life. The fact that I am not yet perfect simply illustrates that God’s work in me has not yet come to full fruition. If you are concerned about my continued lack of self-control, for Christ’s sake pray for me, as St. John advised:

If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death.

The stones in the tumbler have been commanded to pray for each other as the grit grinds down the imperfections. If you refuse to pray for me because you find my remaining imperfections off-putting, you clearly have a few remaining imperfections of your own that you need to address….

I have two children. My son was an easy baby who grew into an easy child. Gentle, polite, solicitous, well-mannered – I received no end of compliments about how well I’d raised my son. His sister, who suffered from full-blown obsessive-compulsive disorder in her youth (she is doing much better now, thank you), was a pain-and-a-half: difficult, uncooperative, bright as a penny but very, very hard to deal with. When people complimented me on my well-behaved son, I had a terrible urge to blurt out, “It’s none of my doing – that’s his nature. If you want to compliment me, compliment me on what a great job I’ve done raising his temperamental sister! You have no idea what a disaster she would be if it weren’t for me and my love for her!

And God looks at me and says the same thing.

So pray for us, Evelyn Waugh – you who bumbled and grumbled your way to God, you who were also a work in progress, you who, like us, would have been “much nastier” had it not been for the redeeming power of Christ in His sacraments. Pray that our apathy may not make us appear to be evidence against the grace of God poured out through His Church. Pray for fervor, and for a horror of sin that stiffens our resolve. Pray for a daily, and even moment-by-moment commitment to the battle as we tumble in the barrel that is our life in Christ. And pray for perseverance, that with the aid of the sacraments we may be found, perhaps not perfect, but ready when the Bridegroom comes to call.


On the memorial of St. John Eudes

Deo omnis gloria!

A Protestant friend of mine considered entering the Catholic Church a couple of years ago. She had a very good grasp of Catholic teaching, and tried to connect this with praxis by attending Mass at several parishes in her part of the country. Sadly, after making the rounds of the local parishes, she became truly confused concerning what the Church teaches in the area of morals, specifically concerning reproduction. A priest told her that she and her husband should continue using contraception. A member of a marriage tribunal told her the same thing, advising her that she needed to make her own decision on the issue of contraception; as long as she did not trespass against the dictates of her own conscience, she was okay. In desperation, she looked online for guidance, and found a supremely unhelpful article by Catholic theologian Daniel C. Maguire, a man with a profound misunderstanding of Catholic teaching as it pertains to reproductive issues, who presented the Catholic understanding of “conscience” in a very misleading way, elevating dissenting Catholics to the position of role models:

The birth rates in so-called “Catholic” nations in Europe and in Latin America are close to or below replacement levels and, as Gudorf wryly puts it, “it is difficult to believe that fertility was cut in half through voluntary abstinence from sex.” Such dissent from hierarchical teaching by Catholic laity is actually well provided for in Church teaching. The sensus fidelium, the sense of the faithful, is one of the sources of truth in Catholic theology. This means that the consciences and experiences of good people are a guidepost to truth that even the hierarchy must consult.

The sensus fidelium is “the sense of the faithful” (also referred to as sensus fidei or “the sense of faith”); Dr. Maguire is right about that at least. Pope Benedict XVI described the sensus fidei as “that capacity infused by the Holy Spirit that qualifies us to embrace the reality of the faith with humility of heart and mind. In this sense, the People of God is the ‘teacher that goes first’ and must then be more deeply examined and intellectually accepted by theology.” Maguire’s claims, however, that “dissent from hierarchical teaching by Catholic laity is actually well provided for in Church teaching, ” and “the consciences and experiences of good people are a guidepost to truth” are based on a seriously flawed assumption. Sadly, it is his definition to which multitudes of Catholics cling in their search for a Catholicism that will wholeheartedly endorse the lifestyle they have chosen.

The doctrinal reality of the sensus fidelium was addressed by the Second Vatican Council in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium. Note how the Council’s definition differs from Dr. Maguire’s:

The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole peoples’ supernatural discernment in matters of faith when “from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful” they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals.

To put it succinctly, Catholics believe that the Church – that is, “the entire body of the faithful…from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful” – cannot err in matters of belief. This is the concept of infallibility upon which Catholics insist: God will not allow His Church to authoritatively teach error; if His Church were to teach error as truth, the gates of hell would have prevailed. But we must pay careful attention to the qualifying statement: the ENTIRE BODY of the faithful. This is what keeps the concept of sensus fidelium from becoming a Barna poll with results which uproot Tradition and rewrite Catholic dogma, something which theologians like Dr. Maguire are betting is going to happen. The Church’s understanding of the sensus fidelium serves to affirm the calling of the laity to full participation in the life of the Church, but does not somehow make the claim that it is disaffected laity (or dissenting clergy, for that matter) who from here on out will be steering the Barque.

Benedict XVI emphasized the importance of the sensus fidelium in 2012 in an address to the International Theological Commission:

The Second Vatican Council, while confirming the specific and irreplaceable role of Magisterium, stressed, however, that the whole People of God participates in Christ’s prophetic office, thus fulfilling the inspired desire expressed by Moses, “If only all the people of the LORD were prophets! If only the LORD would bestow his spirit on them!” (Num 11:29).

This gift, the sensus fidei, constitutes in the believer a kind of supernatural instinct that has a connatural life with the same object of faith. It is a criterion for discerning whether or not a truth belongs to the deposit of the living apostolic tradition. It also has a propositional value because the Holy Spirit does not cease to speak to the Churches and lead them to the whole truth.

To give a concrete example of sensus fidei in action, this “criterion for discerning whether or not a truth belongs to the deposit of the living apostolic tradition” came into play in a big way in Venerable Pope Pius XII’s decision to “pronounce, declare and define” the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, body and soul, into heavenly glory – the basis for the solemnity which we celebrate today. The pope knew that the belief in Mary’s Assumption was ancient; in the 5th century the Feast of the Assumption of Mary was already being celebrated in Syria. According to the writings of St. John Damascene, “St. Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem, at the Council of Chalcedon (451), made known to the Emperor Marcian and Pulcheria, who wished to possess the body of the Mother of God, that Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles, but that her tomb, when opened upon the request of St. Thomas, was found empty; wherefrom the Apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven.” The pope knew that many Church Fathers had professed a belief in the Assumption, including St. John Damascene, St. Germanus of Constantinople, St. Andrew of Crete, St. Modestus of Jerusalem and St. Gregory of Tours. Great Catholic theologians and saints had championed the doctrine, among them St. Anthony of Padua, St. Albert the Great, St. Bonaventure, St. Bernadine of Siena, St. Robert Bellarmine, St. Francis de Sales, St. Alphonsus Liguori and St. Peter Canisius. Venerable Pius was aware of the absence of any definitive statement in Scripture concerning the completion of Mary’s life here on earth (although no passage in Scripture serves to rule out the dogma of the Assumption); he also was familiar with an important correlated doctrine, the traditional Christian understanding of Mary as the New Ark of the Covenant:

At that time, the Savior coming from the Virgin, the Ark, brought forth His own Body into the world from that Ark, which was gilded with pure gold within by the Word, and without by the Holy Ghost; so that the truth was shown forth, and the Ark was manifested. St. Hippolytus (c. 170-c. 236 A.D.)

As Christ our priest was not chosen by hand of man, so neither was His tabernacle framed by men, but was established by the Holy Ghost; and by the power of God is that tabernacle protected, to be had in everlasting remembrance, Mary, God’s Virgin Mother. St. Dionysius of Alexandria († 264 A.D.)

The ark is verily the holy Virgin, gilded within and without, who received the treasure of universal sanctification. Arise, O Lord, from the Father’s bosom, to raise up again the ruined race of our first parent. St. Gregory Thaumaturgus (c. 213-c. 270)

O noble Virgin, truly you are greater than any other greatness. For who is your equal in greatness, O dwelling place of God the Word? To whom among all creatures shall I compare you, O Virgin? You are greater than them all O (Ark of the) Covenant, clothed with purity instead of gold! You are the Ark in which is found the golden vessel containing the true manna, that is, the flesh in which Divinity resides. St. Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 296- 373 A.D.)

The Ark would be the type and image of Christ : for if we look back to the way of the Incarnation of the Only-begotten, we shall see that it is in the temple of the Virgin, as in an ark that the Word of God took up His abode. For in Him dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, as the Scripture saith. But the testimonies in the ark were the word of God, and the wood of it was imperishable, and with pure and choicest gold was it beautified within and without. St. Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 313-386 A.D.)

The prophet David danced before the Ark. Now what else should we say the Ark was but holy Mary? The Ark bore within it the tables of the Testament, but Mary bore the Heir of the same Testament itself. The former contained in it the Law, the latter the Gospel. The one had the voice of God, the other His Word. The Ark, indeed, was radiant within and without with the glitter of gold, but holy Mary shone within and without with the splendor of virginity. The one was adorned with earthly gold, the other with heavenly. St. Ambrose (c. 339-397 A.D.)

Mary as the New Ark of the Covenant wasn’t just the theological rhapsody of a few early Church Fathers – the early Christians arrived at the concept by comparing the narrative of the Visitation in Luke 1: 39-45 with the story of the journey of the Ark to Jerusalem in 2 Samuel 6:11-19. The events were separated by centuries, but the geographic locations were quite close; both took place in the “hill country of Judah.” Among the parallels:

  • Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah.
  • And David arose and went with all the people who were with him to Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God.
  • And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me?
  • How can the ark of the LORD come to me?
  • When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb.
  • Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD.
  • And Mary stayed with her about three months.
  • Thus the ark of the LORD remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months.

The glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle in the Old Testament. The archangel Gabriel announced to Mary that “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” The early Christians couldn’t help but see the twin “overshadowings” as evidence for Mary as the New Ark. This concept has a direct bearing on the dogma of the Assumption, for the book of Revelation tells us:

And the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple, and there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder and an earthquake and a great hailstorm. A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth.

The early Christians understood this Ark and this Woman to be one and the same. Since Mary was the New Ark, and the Ark had appeared in the temple of God in Heaven, then it seemed clear that Mary had been assumed into Heaven.

And there was strong earthly corroboration of this miracle which should not be overlooked. The early Christians were very, very keen on relics; the “Martyrdom of Polycarp” from the mid 2nd century makes this clear. Christians risked their lives to secure relics of holy men and women. By the time Christianity was legalized, churches in far-flung areas of Christendom were advertising the relics they possessed, relics of the apostles and other martyrs, relics of the Cross and the manger. Of course, no one ever ventured to claim that they were in possession of a first-class relic (a piece of bone, for example) from the body of Jesus, since it was a non-negotiable tenet of the Faith that Christ was risen and had ascended into Heaven. The apostles, the martyrs, St. Joseph, St. Mary Magdalene – they were all fair game. Yet in all of relic-collecting Christendom, no one EVER claimed to possess a first-class relic (except of her hair) of the Blessed Virgin. There is only one explanation for that – everyone KNEW that she had been assumed bodily into Heaven. Even those tempted to fakery knew that claiming possession of the bones of the Blessed Virgin would never fly.

Add to that the fact that Mary was seen as a “type” of the Church. Did Jesus not promise that each member of His body would be resurrected and caught up to meet Him in the clouds at His return? And was this Assumption not a “down-payment” on that promise? When confronted with the absence of earthly remains, and with the knowledge that this woman had been hailed as “full of grace” and “blessed among women,” remembering that the Old Testament figures Enoch and Elijah had themselves been taken up to be with God, why would the notion that Mary had been assumed into Heaven strike you as implausible?

The belief in Mary’s bodily Assumption into Heaven had been held all over Christendom from antiquity to the 20th century. According to Venerable Pius, “for a long time past, numerous petitions (those received from 1849 to 1940 have been gathered in two volumes which, accompanied with suitable comments, have been recently printed), from cardinals, patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, priests, religious of both sexes, associations, universities and innumerable private persons have reached the Holy See, all begging that the bodily Assumption into heaven of the Blessed Virgin should be defined and proclaimed as a dogma of faith. And certainly no one is unaware of the fact that this was fervently requested by almost two hundred fathers in the Vatican Council.” This is truly a case in which “the whole People of God,” not just the laity, nor solely the members of the hierarchy, not just contemporary Catholics, nor merely a handful of Church Fathers hundreds of years ago, but all the faithful concurred in their belief. This was the sensus fidelium upon which Pius XII relied when defining the dogma of the Assumption.

Great! So now that we know that the Vatican takes the sensus fidelium seriously, so seriously that it was a major factor in the 20th-century promulgation of a dogma, all that Catholics have to do is agitate, dissent, protest, whine, flaunt and rebel, and the next thing you know Pope Francis will do a 180 on contraception! It’s inevitable! So goes modern-day dissenters’ logic.

What’s seldom mentioned about the process that Venerable Pius XII went through before defining the doctrine of the Assumption is that he wrote to his bishops, asking them for input. In his request he wrote the following:

…we earnestly beg you to inform us about the devotion of your clergy and people (taking into account their faith and piety) toward the Assumption of the most Blessed Virgin Mary.

The phrase in red is the key to understanding the slippery concept of sensus fidelium. In other words, Venerable Pius was a just a little bit picky about who had a say in this. According to Servant of God John Hardon, S.J.:

…whether they realize it or not, all who agree on the revealed truth, under the guidance of the sacred magisterium, belong to the faithful.

What are the requirements for a genuine sensus fidelium? To begin with, you have to be one of the faithful. Father Hardon continues:

Their agreement on the truth and allegiance to the magisterium gives them universality, i.e., spiritual unity. The truth interiorly possessed gives them consensus, and not the other way around, as though their consensus on some doctrine made it true.

So, Professor Maguire’s concept of “the consciences and experiences of good people” being a “guidepost to truth” runs into a major roadblock – define “good people!” As he would define them, good people are Catholics who realize that the Church forbids the use of artificial contraception, yet don’t give a fig. In other words, the truth doesn’t really interest them. And that’s the crux of the whole issue. It’s not “truth by majority vote” – it’s Truth, eternal, unchanging Truth that we submit to. It forms us – not the other way around! That’s the secret that people like Professor Maguire don’t get….

Pope Benedict warned:

It is particularly important to clarify the criteria used to distinguish the authentic sensus fidelium from its counterfeits. In fact, it is not some kind of public opinion of the Church, and it is unthinkable to mention it in order to challenge the teachings of the Magisterium, this because the sensus fidei can not grow authentically in the believer except to the extent in which he or she fully participates in the life of the Church, and this requires a responsible adherence to her Magisterium.

So, no, the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin isn’t just some goofy “assumption” by biblically ignorant Catholics. Yes, the sensus fidelium did play a part in the definition of the dogma. But, no – the sensus fidelium isn’t going to somehow be instrumental in overturning Church teaching on women priests, homosexuality, abortion or contraception, no matter how many liberal Catholic theologians tell you that it is. Because the sensus fidelium – the REAL sensus fidelium – owes its allegiance to the Magisterium of the Church. So don’t fret – Truth will prevail.

He promised that He would.


On the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Deo omnis gloria!

Tom, Dick and Teri are friends who all work at the same big company. Although each is a member of a different Protestant denomination, they meet for lunch to encourage one another in their Christian walk. On this particular day, Tom arrives last, and is surprised to find Teri and Dick glaring at each other over their macaroni and cheese.

“Hey guys! What’s up?

Dick looks down at his plate as Teri pipes up.

“Oh, not much! I just found out that Dick here is a heretic, that’s all.”

Tom does a double-take and seats himself across from Dick. “Dude,” he asks in a stage whisper, “Why didn’t you tell me?

Dick scowls as Teri chatters. “Well, don’t feel bad – he didn’t tell me, either. It seems our friend here is calling into question the reliability of the Word of God!

Tom refuses to take the bait. “Aw, come on, Teri! You know that isn’t true. What are you talking about?”

Teri stabs at her mac-and-cheese as she continues to glare at Dick. “Our friend Dick is an evolutionist!”

Dick squares his jaw and struggles to keep his voice down. “You know that’s not what I said, Teri!”

“It most certainly is!” Teri shoots back. “You said the first two chapters of Genesis can’t be taken literally – that makes you an evolutionist!!

“Whoa! Whoa!” Tom cautions. “Let’s just calm down here. Start from the beginning. What did you actually say, Dick?”

Actually,” Dick emphasizes as he scowls at Teri, “what I said was that it isn’t absolutely necessary to take every word in the first two chapters of Genesis literally. In other words, when it talks about ‘days,’ it may not mean literal 24-hour days, just as Peter said that 1,000 years are like a day to the Lord….”

“Copout!” Teri calls out. “You don’t believe the creation account, and you’ve found some kind of ‘proof text’ in another part of the Bible to justify your unbelief!”

“That’s called ‘allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture!‘” Dick protests. “We know from the Bible that when God talks about a ‘day,’ He doesn’t always mean a 24-hour period!”

“Well,” Tom points out as his macaroni and cheese cools, “that’s not exactly what that verse says….”

Dick’s mouth drops open. “Are you siding with her?” he asks.

“I’m not ‘siding’ with anybody!” Tom protests, ” I’m just saying that 2 Peter 3:8 actually says ‘With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.’ That’s not the same as saying ‘When God talks about a day, He doesn’t always mean a 24-hour period!'”

Of course it is!” Dick insists, but Tom holds up his hand and turns to Teri.

“So I believe what Dick is saying is that he’s a Day-Ager – he believes the Biblical account of creation, but thinks that the 6 ‘days’ of creation are much longer time periods than normal days. That doesn’t make him an evolutionist, Teri.”

Teri snorts. “People who believe that are already half-way down the slippery slope. Once you compromise the truth of the Scriptures, you start to question everything the Bible teaches.” She leans towards Dick, and her eyes narrow. “I bet you think it’s okay to baptize by pouring, don’t you?”

Dick’s mouth drops open. He starts to answer, but Tom interrupts. “Teri, no Christian takes every single word or phrase in the Bible literally. For example, you…”

Dick cuts him off. “It would be crazy to take every word of Scripture literally! You’d end up like the people who read Psalm 91:4 and think that God is a celestial chicken!!”

It is Tom’s turn to scowl. “Come on, Dick! Nobody believes that God is a chicken!”

“You know what I mean!” Dick insists. “People who take the last chapter of the book of Mark literally, with all the snake-handling and poison drinking!”

Teri stiffens. “My church takes the last chapter of Mark literally.”

Tom and Dick stare at Teri, glance at each other, and fall silent.

“If you’re a Christian, you HAVE TO take the Bible literally!!” Teri announces loudly, and several people at the surrounding tables glance in her direction. More quietly, she hisses at Dick, “The Bible says it – I believe it – that settles it!!

“Teri, be reasonable!” Tom implores. “There are many, many passages in Scripture that you don’t take literally!”

Name one!” Teri challenges incredulously.

“I can name several!” Tom responds. “1 Peter 3:21 – Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

Dick grins at Teri. “Yeah, see, you have to take that figuratively, Teri. Baptism obviously doesn’t save us!”

“Yet that’s exactly what that verse says,” Tom comments softly.

Dick frowns. “Well, no, Tom – I mean, the verse says that baptism is an appeal to God for a clear conscience, so we understand that it’s our FAITH that saves us, and baptism is just the outward sign of our obedience!”

“It says,” Tom reiterates, “BAPTISM now saves you as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus.”

“Well, then, what’s that part about the appeal to God for a clear conscience?” Dick asks.

“In Greek it’s eperōtēma, and it refers to the formal acceptance of a contract or covenant in which the terms of the agreement were proclaimed and the compliance with the terms was solemnly promised. It’s like what the early Christians pledged in their baptismal rites. They were asked to publically reject Satan. They were asked ‘Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty? Do you believe in Christ Jesus, the Son of God?’ and the answer they gave, their rejection of Satan and their proclamation of faith, was their “I do,” their pledge, which then served as their ‘appeal’ to God for a clear conscience. The early Christians definitely did take this verse literally. They believed that ‘baptism now saves you.'”

Teri has whipped her King James out of her purse. “Are you sure that verse is even in the Bible?” she demands.

“Trust me on this,” Tom retorts wryly. “And how about John 20:22-23? ‘And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.’ Taken literally, this indicates that the risen Lord appeared to His apostles to confer the authority to forgive and retain sins!”

Dick is grinning broadly. “Whereas we all know that Jesus was just explaining to them that they could assure believers that their sins were all forgiven – past, present and future – because of their faith in Christ, and they could likewise assure unbelievers that their sins were NOT forgiven!”

“Thereby making a hash out of what Jesus actually said,” Tom comments. Dick’s eyebrows shoot up. “Why did He even bother to make this special appearance, Dick, and breathe on them, filling them with the Holy Spirit, just to pass on a trite observation like that?”

Dick does a double-take. “Are you kidding? What do you think Jesus meant, Tom?”

“I think He probably meant what He said,” Tom observes quietly.

Teri is flipping furiously through her Bible. “Is that verse in John or in 1 John?”

“And what about Paul’s command in Philippians 2:12?” Tom continues. ‘Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling!‘ Teri, you don’t take that literally.”

Teri’s mouth opens as she thinks. “But…” she stammers, “but, you can’t take that literally!”

“That’s the point, Teri!” Dick crows. “If you take that verse literally, you’re admitting that you might be able to lose your salvation!”

Tom’s not finished. “And Romans 3:23, ‘For all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God.’ You know you don’t take that literally.”

Teri looks up from her Bible, shocked. “I take every single word of that verse absolutely literally,” she announces.

Tom tilts his head as he questions her. “Really? Really? Every single word?

Teri puts her Bible in her lap and leans forward in her chair. “EVERY SINGLE WORD. For ALL have SINNED, and FALLEN SHORT of the GLORY OF GOD.”

“All right,” Tom says quietly. “And you’ll agree that Paul is talking about actual sin here, not the original sin that we inherited from Adam.”

Teri nods emphatically.

“Okay, Teri – for ALL have sinned: Two-week-old babies.”

“Huh?” Teri and Dick respond in unison.

“Two-week-old babies – have they sinned?” Tom asks Teri.

There is silence as Teri and Dick contemplate this.

“Do you believe that infants sin?” Tom asks. “How about the profoundly mentally retarded – can they sin? How about the fetus in the womb? You would be the first to insist, Teri, that from the moment of conception the embryo is a living PERSON, and therefore falls under Paul’s blanket statement here. For ALL have sinned….”

Teri and Dick sit silently frowning, as Tom continues.

“Remember, when Paul was talking about Jacob and Esau in the womb of their mother, he said, ‘Yet before the children had been born or had done anything good or bad.’ He’s basically saying that the unborn can’t sin, right? So even if you do believe that newborns and the profoundly mentally handicapped can somehow sin, to say that an unborn child can sin contradicts Scripture. Teri, millions of those unborn children have lived and died without sinning! So how can you take Romans 3:23 literally?

Before Dick or Teri muster up a reply, Tom goes on. “And then there’s John 6:22-71. Jesus emphasized over and over that we must eat His flesh and drink His blood, or we have no life in us. ‘Whoever eats this bread will live forever’ – ‘Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you’ – ‘Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life’ – ‘My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink’ – ‘Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them’ – ‘The one who feeds on me will live because of me’ – ‘Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.’ Teri, you don’t take one word of that literally.”

Dick is beside himself with glee. “Of course you don’t, Teri! This is a prime example of why certain verses just can’t be taken literally! Jesus Himself told us not to take this discourse literally when He said ‘It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life,” meaning that we are to take this passage FIGURATIVELY!”

Before Teri can answer, Tom retorts quietly, “And this is a prime example, Dick, of how you have decided not to accept the literal meaning of a passage because it would demand too much faith, so you have found a “proof text” to justify your unbelief.”

Dick and Teri both gasp. Teri grins broadly as she recognizes her earlier objection being used to demolish Dick’s assertion. Dick defends himself. “Jesus said, ‘the words I have spoken to you are spirit and life!’ That means that His words were meant to be understood in a spiritual, not a literal sense! ‘This is My body’ is a figure of speech!

Tom explains, “When Jesus said ‘the words I have spoken are spirit and life,’ He couldn’t have meant ‘I have spoken metaphorically.’ You think you are using Scripture to interpret Scripture, but seriously, Dick, where in the Bible is the word ‘spirit’ ever used as a synonym for ‘symbolic’?? And if Jesus was saying ‘Take everything I’ve just said metaphorically,’ there’s another problem, because right in the middle of this supposedly metaphorical discourse Jesus mentions ‘My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.’ Is that a metaphor?? Did He not literally sacrifice His very flesh on the Cross for the life of the world?? How do you justify exempting the one passage you happen to believe from the metaphor?? And why, while we’re on the subject, didn’t Jesus take His disciples aside to explain this very hard saying in private? That’s what He did with every other hard saying – but with this one He just asked them ‘Are you leaving me, too?’ Kind of harsh, when He could’ve just explained the ‘metaphor’ to them….”

Tom leans back in his chair, pushing his untouched macaroni plate away. Teri, struggling to understand how her excellent argument has just been used to prove something she vehemently rejects, reaches for her water glass. Dick squints angrily at Tom. “Every one of your examples, but one, is a case in which we don’t take the Bible literally but Catholics DO, and Romans 3:23 is a case where we insist on a literal, rigid interpretation of the word “all” in order to disprove Catholic doctrine – an interpretation,” Dick admits uncomfortably, “which you’ve just shown to be unworkable.”

Teri chokes on her water, and Tom passes her a napkin.

“Cath-licks!” she gasps, and Dick pats her firmly on the back till she stops choking. “Catholics,” she repeats after she has cleared her throat, “don’t take the Bible literally! Catholics don’t believe a word the Bible says – the pope makes up Catholic doctrine! His worst fear is that people are actually going to read the Bible and find out what it really says!”

Ignoring Teri, Tom leans towards Dick. “My point is that all Christians take certain parts of the Bible literally while taking other parts figuratively. Every denomination does this. So the question isn’t ‘Should I take every word of Scripture literally?’ No, because then we’d end up with your ‘celestial chicken’ proposition. The question is, which parts of the Bible were meant to be taken literally, and which parts were meant to be taken figuratively,
and how can we know which are which?
It just so happens that Catholics take many passages of Scripture literally, which is what makes their doctrine distinctively Catholic – Protestants explain those verses away, claiming that they were meant to be taken figuratively. Yet, can we claim that we somehow know which verses were meant to be taken figuratively? We can’t even agree amongst ourselves on that! How can we be sure that we’re not taking these ‘Catholic’ verses figuratively because we lack the faith to take God at His word?”

“I wish you’d get off this Catholic kick,” Dick grumbles. Teri stands up.

“They’re not gonna believe me at church when I tell ’em,” she declares with a toss of her head as she picks up her tray to go. “I had lunch with TWO heretics!”


On the memorial of St. Jane Frances de Chantal

Deo omnis gloria!

Photo credits: Macaroni and cheese with panko topping and a Soju-based cocktail in a tumbler at Blue at 2337 Market Street in San Francisco, California. “Gourmet Mac & Cheese: Fresh mozzarella, sharp cheddar, Parmesan, elbow pasta, topped with Japanese bread crumbs.” Description from their online menu as viewed on 2007-05-27, by Rick Audet from San Francisco, California, United States /Wikimedia Commons