Monthly Archives: October 2013

I still remember the conversation with my Mom and Dad – But, honey, are you sure that you want to major in Modern Languages? What kind of a job are you going to be able to get? Wouldn’t you rather become a computer guru like George Sipe at Convert Journal?

But, I was 18 and I was foolish. While I was busy conjugating verbs in Turkish:

seviyorum (I love)

seviyorsun (you love)

seviyor (he, she, it loves)

seviyoruz (we love)

seviyorlar (they love)

George was learning how to produce stuff like this:


His closing monologue is even better than mine….

Imagine, if you will, a world outside of which is unknown to man. It is a flexible dimension as vast as printed words permit and as timeless as 5 centuries. It is the uninterpreted ground between light and shadow, between opinion and divine revelation, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his unrestrained desires. This is the dimension of Sola Scriptura. You’ve just crossed over into… The Bible-Only Zone.

Mom and Dad were right. But hey, if I can’t be a computer genius, I can at least have friends who are!!

Happy Halloween!

(Cue the bongo drums….)

Imagine, if you will, a world beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of sola Scriptura theology. You’ve just crossed over into… The Bible-Only Zone.

As an Evangelical Protestant, my beliefs all came “straight from Scripture.” If there was no “chapter-and-verse” for a particular doctrine, I felt myself to be under no obligation to buy into it. I looked down on groups which “added” to the Bible by attempting to integrate their own “man-made” theologies into the teachings of the inerrant Word of God to produce something other than what (I thought) the Bible actually said. Of course, I wished that God had been a tad more explicit on several occasions; some verses could be taken more than one way, and some – I had to admit – did not clearly state the case that I as an Evangelical was making. What really bothered me, though, wasn’t what the Bible didn’t state clearly enough; what bothered me were some of the things that the Bible stated all too clearly, things that should have been impossible, theologically speaking, if my Evangelical theology was actually correct. Sometimes the Bible said weird things, things that just gave me the willies….

It started way back in the Old Testament, in a book that is as old or older than those of the Pentateuch: the book of Job. Job’s tale is pretty familiar to most people. He was a man who loved and served God. God had blessed him immensely, and Satan claimed that Job loved God only because of those blessings. When God stripped Job of everything that made his life worth living, Job remained faithful to God. As an Evangelical I had no problem with that lesson! A great story of faith in God – “the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord!”

No, the problem lay in what that man of God was doing as the story opens:

His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually.

Job offered sacrifices; in other words, he made reparation for his children’s sins. This activity is presented as being part of what made him a righteous man. Now clearly this was before the establishment of the New Covenant, so we shouldn’t be shocked at the image of God’s faithful servant offering up burnt sacrifices for the sins of his offspring. The problem is, why did God allow that kind of loving parental intercession in the Old Testament, but not in the New? (For a poignant discussion of this, go here. A Protestant dad is wishing there were some way he could make reparation for the sins of his children as Job did – he is told that he can’t.) Isn’t the New Covenant superior in every way to the Old? And didn’t this pious act of Job’s fit in suspiciously well with John’s advice in the book of 1 John, advice that – I had to admit – did not really mesh with anything in my Evangelical belief system?

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. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death. We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.

Why would John tell us that we can intercede for others and God will “give life” to them, just as Job was doing thousands of years earlier on behalf of his children, if that system of reparation had been “abolished,” as my theology told me?? And what was Paul muttering about in his letter to the Colossians?

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church….

Didn’t Jesus come to fulfill, and not to abolish the old system?


(The bongos reverberate a little more insistently at this point…)

And speaking of fulfilling, not abolishing, what was the deal with the priesthood? In the Old Testament, God set up a hierarchical system of priests with a High Priest in charge. In the New Testament, Jesus is our High Priest – and the part of the ministerial clergy is played by the laity, as explained in 1 Peter 2:9.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

The Old Testament ministerial priesthood was replaced by something even better: the universal priesthood, something unheard of in the Old Testament!

But wait… What’s that verse in Exodus?

Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine, and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

Every Israelite under the Old Covenant was a “priest” and yet still subject to the ministerial priesthood God established under the leadership of Aaron and his successors! The royal priesthood of believers existed in the Old Testament alongside the ministerial priesthood? Then how could the New Testament fulfillment of that system be the abolition of the ministerial priesthood?

(Hey, somebody needs to tell the bongo guy to take five….)

And there were equally spooky New Testament passages. John 20: 19-23 was pretty disconcerting to me as an Evangelical. Jesus appears to His apostles for the first time after His resurrection, He shows them His hands and His side, and He tells them to have faith alone – (wait, no.) He tells them that no matter how they live, they can’t lose their salvation – (no, that isn’t it, either.) He appears to His apostles and grants them the ability to forgive sins. Not only that, He gives them the prerogative of refusing to forgive sins!

So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 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.”

Dearie me –
that can’t be right!

We had all kinds of ways of explaining that passage (away), each one as dumb as the next. But how could that verse be in the Bible when every Evangelical KNOWS that no man has the power to grant absolution???

(Sounds like the bongo guy must have downed a couple of Red Bulls before coming to work….)

Almost as spooky as Jesus’ announcement to his apostles were the priorities of those apostles in the first chapter of Acts. Jesus ascends into Heaven, and we find these men busily hashing out bureaucratic minutiae! Peter is insisting that Judas’ place MUST be filled. Why, pray tell? Aren’t there more important things to be doing? What is the thinking behind the absolute necessity of filling Judas’ position, as if it were an “office”? Oh, wait, the Bible actually says it was an “office!”

For it is written in the Book of Psalms, “‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and “‘Let another take his office.'”

An “office,” meaning that when the man who held the office died, another man would fill the office, kind of like apostolic succession….

And then there was the infamous “Handkerchief Incident.” Handkerchiefs touched to Paul’s apron healed the sick. An Evangelical has got to draw the line very clearly, and that was where I drew it.  That sounds like the Catholic teaching on relics – the idea that an object in contact with the body of a saint can be used by God to perform a miracle!

So what was that verse doing there in Acts 19:12?

(Those bongos are plucking my last nerve!)

And don’t even get me started on the book of Revelation. We Evangelicals, with our “end-times” obsession, LOVED the book of Revelation – well, certain parts of it, anyway. There were parts that were distinctly un-Protestant in their theology, like Revelation 19:7-8

…the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.

Now, seriously, every good Christian knows that we are “clothed in the righteousness of Christ,” (but where is THAT verse in the Bible?) not in our good works!! How Catholic can you get??? We tried to explain that away by pretending that the “righteous acts” were each believer’s decision to follow Christ. No, really – we actually stooped to that level of tortured exegesis, because the dang verse didn’t say what it was supposed to say….

Which sheds light on the decision by the committee of our New International Version of the Bible to translate the word “works,” which Jesus uses over and over again in chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation, as “deeds.” Otherwise, those comments that Jesus made to the churches would read:

I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance (Rev 2:2)

I know your works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but you are rich) (Rev 2:9)

I know your works and where you dwell (Rev 2:13)

I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first (Rev 2:19)

‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. (Rev 3:1)

I know your works. (Rev 3:8)

I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. (Rev 3:15)

Talk about an obsession with “works!” But Jesus would never have said a thing like that!  Jesus wasn’t about “works!”  He was about “faith alone”!  Why, it is upon our faith alone that we will be judged!  All the New Testament judgment scenarios emphasize that fact!

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’ Mt 7:21-23

For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and then he shall reward everyone according to their works. Mt 16:27

But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. ‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. Mt 25:31-46

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 2 Cor 5:10

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. 1 Pet 1:17

Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done. Rev 22:12

So where’s the faith alone?? Nowhere to be found in any judgment scenario in the New Testament! How is it possible that Jesus never, ever made any mention of the most important theological principle of all – faith ALONE?


That noise you just heard was me shooting the bongo player….

All of those “bizarre” verses and passages fell into the category of, well, not exactly paranormal activity, but still from an Evangelical Protestant standpoint, pretty darn weird. It was sufficiently strange to make me uncomfortable whenever I came across those verses. And if that wasn’t enough – the deuterocanonical books (which I would have called the Apocrypha) contained a particularly eerie passage. The Angel Raphael is explaining to Tobit:

“I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand and serve before the Glory of the Lord.” Tobit 12:15

Yawn! That’s not Holy Scripture – that’s just a fairy tale somebody made up.

Just a fairy tale? The supposedly uninspired author who made up this “fairy tale” about St. Raphael just happened to be right about this hitherto unknown factthere are seven angels who stand before God’s throne. Hundreds of years later it is confirmed in the book of Revelation:

Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne (Rev 1:4)

And I saw the seven angels who stand before God…. (Rev 8:2)

If the hair isn’t standing up on your Bible-only neck yet, it should be….

There are passages in the Bible that defy Evangelical explanation; by rights, those verses and the theology that underlies them simply should not be there. Those passages are danced around, kept under wraps, and explained away by a belief system that fails to account for significant Biblical themes such as redemptive suffering, auricular confession, apostolic succession, the concept of relics, and the insistence on faith (as opposed to faith alone) – in short, things that shouldn’t exist, but do, in The Bible-Only Zone….


On the memorial of Blessed Maria Restituta

Deo omnis gloria!

Halloween nears, and I can’t explain to you what a vast relief it is to me to be Catholic. I embrace wholeheartedly the sentiment expressed by the late Servant of God Fr. John Hardon:

[The Catholic Faith] ‘fits together’ in such a way that each truth we believe sheds light on other truths; the result is a marvelously coherent unity.

The absence of any kind of marvelous “coherent unity” in Evangelical thought was something that had really started to bother me back before I became Catholic. A lot of it stems from Protestantism’s break with historic Christianity. There is simply no continuity with the beliefs of the body of Christ down through the ages. When you bypass the Church’s understanding of Scripture and seek truth solely in Bible verses lifted out of their Scriptural context and separated from historical Christian understanding, you end up with a choppy theology composed of compartmentalized “truths,” a patchwork belief quilt sewn together with Bible-only thread. Catholic convert Steve Ray commented on this disjointed, piecemeal approach to theology:

Without continuity with the early Church and the intervening centuries, Protestantism was like a branch without a tree, a wing without a bird.

In other words, Protestant theology has much of the truth, but it has been disconnected from other truths, so encountering it is like finding a perfectly good bird’s wing – but where’s the rest of the creature? I thought of it, rather gruesomely, as shaking a hand outstretched in welcome, only to find that that hand was connected to… nothing. Considering that we were talking about my belief system, it all seemed just short of macabre.

Contemplate for a moment the Evangelical acceptance of artificial contraception. Evangelicals break with 2,000 years of Christian condemnation of contraception because this practice is nowhere forbidden in so many words in the Bible. The thinking goes like this:

  1. Abortion is clearly evil because you are ending a life. Remember, thou shalt not kill (the 6th Commandment for Protestants – Catholics follow St. Augustine’s system and consider this the 5th commandment).
  2. Euthanasia is clearly evil because you are ending a life. See #1.
  3. The death penalty is clearly SUPER because the Bible teaches that God gave the state the power to end the lives of certain people. THOU shalt not kill, but your elected officials certainly may.

In this scheme of things, contraception is fine because you are not killing; you are merely preventing life from coming into existence. There is no “thou shalt not prevent the conception of a new human life” in Scripture. Of course, we’re talking about contraception within marriage. Contraception outside of marriage isn’t a sin per se, but:

  1. SEX outside of marriage IS a sin. Thou shalt not commit adultery! Flee fornication!
  2. Christian kids are taught abstinence in sex education classes and given chastity rings because God has commanded chastity until marriage.
  3. Masturbation is not prohibited in the Bible and therefore is not a sin – unless you experience lustful thoughts when committing the act. Lustful thoughts ARE mentioned in the Bible and are condemned. That’s why pornography is wrong.
  4. Homosexual acts are a sin. God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. God didn’t rain fire and brimstone down on Sodom and Gomorrah because He disapproved of their system of municipal lien certificates!!
  5. Polygamy is seriously wrong. Serial monogamy, however, is fine, as long as your divorces have been “biblical.”
  6. Celibacy is just kind of weird.

See how it goes? It’s a set of rules based upon verses or compilations of verses in the Bible. No verse – no rule.
No real connection between them – God has for our own good simply prohibited certain things; He makes the rules, and we must inform ourselves of the rules and be careful to keep them.

Compare that approach with the teaching of the Catholic Church on the subject of “human life” and the 5th commandment:

Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.

In the account of Abel’s murder by his brother Cain, Scripture reveals the presence of anger and envy in man, consequences of original sin, from the beginning of human history. Man has become the enemy of his fellow man. God declares the wickedness of this fratricide: “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.”

The covenant between God and mankind is interwoven with reminders of God’s gift of human life and man’s murderous violence:

For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning. . . . Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.

The Old Testament always considered blood a sacred sign of life. This teaching remains necessary for all time.

Scripture specifies the prohibition contained in the fifth commandment: “Do not slay the innocent and the righteous.” The deliberate murder of an innocent person is gravely contrary to the dignity of the human being, to the golden rule, and to the holiness of the Creator. The law forbidding it is universally valid: it obliges each and everyone, always and everywhere.

In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord recalls the commandment, “You shall not kill,” and adds to it the proscription of anger, hatred, and vengeance. Going further, Christ asks his disciples to turn the other cheek, to love their enemies. He did not defend himself and told Peter to leave his sword in its sheath.

The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. “The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one’s own life; and the killing of the aggressor. . . . The one is intended, the other is not.”

Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:

If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful. . . . Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one’s own life than of another’s.

Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others.
The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.

The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people’s rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people’s safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party.

Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”

The fifth commandment forbids doing anything with the intention of indirectly bringing about a person’s death. The moral law prohibits exposing someone to mortal danger without grave reason, as well as refusing assistance to a person in danger.

The acceptance by human society of murderous famines, without efforts to remedy them, is a scandalous injustice and a grave offense. Those whose usurious and avaricious dealings lead to the hunger and death of their brethren in the human family indirectly commit homicide, which is imputable to them.

Unintentional killing is not morally imputable. But one is not exonerated from grave offense if, without proportionate reasons, he has acted in a way that brings about someone’s death, even without the intention to do so.

Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.

My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth.

Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law:

You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.

God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.

The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation:

“The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being’s right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death.

Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.

Those whose lives are diminished or weakened deserve special respect. Sick or handicapped persons should be helped to lead lives as normal as possible.

Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable.

Thus an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator.
The error of judgment into which one can fall in good faith does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded.

Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of “over-zealous” treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one’s inability to impede it is merely accepted. The decisions should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected.

Even if death is thought imminent, the ordinary care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted. The use of painkillers to alleviate the sufferings of the dying, even at the risk of shortening their days, can be morally in conformity with human dignity if death is not willed as either an end or a means, but only foreseen and tolerated as inevitable. Palliative care is a special form of disinterested charity. As such it should be encouraged.

You see? The Church knows the Bible verses – no question about that. But she has spent 2,000 years thinking about the 5th Commandment, “pondering these things in her heart,” and presents us with a seamlessly woven teaching on human life, encompassing the connections between abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty along with “usurious and avaricious dealings” leading to “hunger and death,” and the sin of self murder (and much more – I was forced to condense this), explaining to us that it is wrong to take a human life, yet showing us why under certain circumstances self defense, the death penalty, and the refusal of “overzealous treatment” can be legitimate options, whereas abortion and euthanasia can never be. These seemingly unconnected issues are all intertwined, because Human life is sacred – it is a gift from God.

Okay, so all this ties together beautifully, but where’s the connection to the Church’s prohibition on contraception? Isn’t that just arbitrary?

The tradition of the Church has understood the sixth commandment [thou shalt not commit adultery] as encompassing the whole of human sexuality.

Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman.

The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person and the integrality of the gift.

The chaste person maintains the integrity of the powers of life and love placed in him. This integrity ensures the unity of the person; it is opposed to any behavior that would impair it. It tolerates neither a double life nor duplicity in speech.

Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom.  The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy. “Man’s dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint. Man gains such dignity when, ridding himself of all slavery to the passions, he presses forward to his goal by freely choosing what is good and, by his diligence and skill, effectively secures for himself the means suited to this end.”

Whoever wants to remain faithful to his baptismal promises and resist temptations will want to adopt the means for doing so: self-knowledge, practice of an ascesis adapted to the situations that confront him, obedience to God’s commandments, exercise of the moral virtues, and fidelity to prayer. “Indeed it is through chastity that we are gathered together and led back to the unity from which we were fragmented into multiplicity.”

The virtue of chastity comes under the cardinal virtue of temperance, which seeks to permeate the passions and appetites of the senses with reason.

Chastity represents an eminently personal task; it also involves a cultural effort, for there is “an interdependence between personal betterment and the improvement of society.” Chastity presupposes respect for the rights of the person, in particular the right to receive information and an education that respect the moral and spiritual dimensions of human life.

Chastity is a moral virtue. It is also a gift from God, a grace, a fruit of spiritual effort. The Holy Spirit enables one whom the water of Baptism has regenerated to imitate the purity of Christ.

Charity is the form of all the virtues. Under its influence, chastity appears as a school of the gift of the person. Self-mastery is ordered to the gift of self.  Chastity leads him who practices it to become a witness to his neighbor of God’s fidelity and loving kindness.

All the baptized are called to chastity.  The Christian has “put on Christ,” the model for all chastity. All Christ’s faithful are called to lead a chaste life in keeping with their particular states of life. At the moment of his Baptism, the Christian is pledged to lead his affective life in chastity.

“People should cultivate [chastity] in the way that is suited to their state of life. Some profess virginity or consecrated celibacy which enables them to give themselves to God alone with an undivided heart in a remarkable manner. Others live in the way prescribed for all by the moral law, whether they are married or single.” Married people are called to live conjugal chastity; others practice chastity in continence.

Lust is disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure.  Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes.

By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. “Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.” “The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose.” For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of “the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved.”

Fornication is carnal union between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman. It is gravely contrary to the dignity of persons and of human sexuality which is naturally ordered to the good of spouses and the generation and education of children.  Moreover, it is a grave scandal when there is corruption of the young.

Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other.  It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.

Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life.  They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual communion. Marriage bonds between baptized persons are sanctified by the sacrament.

Sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is not something simply biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and woman commit themselves totally to one another until death.”

“The acts in marriage by which the intimate and chaste union of the spouses takes place are noble and honorable; the truly human performance of these acts fosters the self-giving they signify and enriches the spouses in joy and gratitude.” Sexuality is a source of joy and pleasure:

The Creator himself . . . established that in the [generative] function, spouses should experience pleasure and enjoyment of body and spirit. Therefore, the spouses do nothing evil in seeking this pleasure and enjoyment. They accept what the Creator has intended for them. At the same time, spouses should know how to keep themselves within the limits of just moderation.

The spouses’ union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple’s spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family.

So why is contraception wrong? Because we’re not just talking about “life.” Plants have “life.” Animals have “life.” We are talking about “human life.” “Human life is sacred” – remember? Why?

Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, Who is its sole end.

There is a fundamental difference between our lives and the lives of animals – God is our end. He has created us in His image for Himself. It is His will that human beings become what He has created them to be; in order to do that, we must live truly human lives (see above).

We humans were not created to live for ourselves; we were created to live as God lives, in a constant pouring out of ourselves for Him and for others. To give ourselves to God and to others is the purpose for which we were created, because God is the Eternal Giver and Eternal Gift. Human life exists that it may pour itself out as a gift, in imitation of the Holy Trinity, the Persons of which give Themselves completely and unceasingly to each other. The Trinity is, in other words, Three Persons, One Life.

Married persons make a gift of their body and their life to their spouse, to the extent that they become one body. Celibate persons make a gift of their body to God, while making a gift of their life to their fellow man. No one is to keep his or her body or life for himself or herself; all are meant to give themselves, because we were created to give ourselves away. Animals procreate. Our sexuality becomes truly human when and only “when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman,” that is, when it is both “procreative and unitive.” We must lay down our claim to our own life, giving all that we are, withholding nothing – including the capacity for creating new life that God gave us. Truly human sexual acts must be open to the gift of life. What would make withholding your fertility from God and your spouse acceptable when everything that you have and are must be given in love? Your “total gift” would be a sham….

Contraception is wrong because “Human life is sacred.”

The reason the Evangelical system of dependence on explicit Bible verses breaks down is that the Bible is not explicit in many instances. Take 1 Corinthians 6:18 – most Bible versions translate this as “Flee immorality.” Fine. Define “immorality”! It is being actively redefined in our day, to the point where many Christians can remain firmly ensconced in their sins and yet feel no twinge of conscience when reading that verse – as the Protestant acceptance of artificial contraception demonstrates! And under the “Bible-only” system, a great deal has to be fudged – for example, the Bible nowhere actually condemns polygamy. The Old Testament speaks positively of it, and the New Testament is basically silent on the subject. Without a coherent system of thought such as the Catholic Church possesses, Christians really are adrift, fending for themselves, clinging to isolated pieces of theological driftwood floating in our modern-day sea of moral relativism….

The Catholic Church has a Theology of the Body, a Theology of Life, and a Theology of Work, just as the human body has a nervous system, a circulatory system and a respiratory system – all systems serving the same body and all interdependent. Bible-only Christians have Bible verses that teach them what they can and cannot do, like parts on a factory assembly line. Put them all together and you’ve got a theology – but it’s got no soul.

Which is why every year around Halloween, my thoughts drift back to this subject. Evangelical teaching is a bit like Frankenstein’s monster, a hand sutured onto an arm sewn onto a shoulder. Catholic teaching is organic; it is a living body of doctrine.

It is theology as God meant it to be.


On the memorial of St. Frumentius of Ethiopia

Deo omnis gloria!

Photo credits: Patchwork Girl by André Koehne/Wikimedia Commons

You reporters say the darnedest things! At least once a week now those of you in the media report on the comments and activities of Pope Francis, which means at least once a week you err. And we Catholics spy a pattern – your erroneous pronouncements almost always stem from a misconception of Catholic teaching. For example, last February we all awoke to reports along the lines of:

News Flash! Pope Benedict XVI announces unprecedented resignation!!

There are, of course, several problems with such claims. First of all, Benedict did not “resign” – he “renounced the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter.” He was not the first pope to do so – there was a precedent for his actions. To be fair, when the world awoke on the morning of February 11 to the news that Benedict was stepping down, a lot of Catholics asked the question, “Can he do that?” The knowledge that prior popes have renounced the Petrine office was basically relegated to history books. It had been, after all, nearly 600 years since the last such incident.

So we can’t be too hard on you media types for struggling with your verbiage on that one – it caught most Catholics off-guard as well. However, when reporting on more recent comments made by Pope Francis, news outlets often betray a thoroughgoing lack of comprehension of basic Catholic doctrine – not good when you are trying to interpret the Pope’s statements to a public which for some reason might entertain the fond notion that the media knows what it’s talking about. I realize that the name of the game is market share, so it is not entirely incomprehensible to me that reporters should produce teasers along the lines of “News Flash! Pope changes the whole entire direction of Catholicism!” That, of course, will sell papers. But so many of those putative “changes” you guys trumpet don’t amount to a hill of Italian broad beans. On any given day the world might awaken to headlines such as these:

News Flash! Pope Francis admits he’s a sinner!


Luke 18:13 – “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified….”

Romans 3:23 – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”

1 John 1:8 – “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

Confiteor – “I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do, [And, striking their breast, they say:] through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault….”

Pope Benedict’s final tweet – “We are all sinners, but His grace transforms us and makes us new.”

Pope John Paul II in an address to U.S. bishops – “Sin is an integral part of the truth about the human person. To recognize oneself as a sinner is the first and essential step in returning to the healing love of God.”

Write this down, those of you tempted to write on the subject of religion in general and Catholicism in particular. The pope speaks infallibly (under certain, very carefully defined conditions), but no pope is impeccable (sinless). Like every other Catholic in the world, at every Mass he admits that he has sinned.

News Flash! Pope Francis admits he was mistaken!!

Reporter folks, Catholics don’t believe that the Pope is a demigod. We certainly hope that the man chosen to lead the Church is polite, educated and socially adept – but there is nothing in our belief system that would insist that he must be. Of course he’s going to make mistakes and missteps – that’s pretty predictable. The doctrine of papal infallibility only kicks in when the pope is making a solemn declaration on a matter of faith or morals. It’s pretty easy to recognize when this is happening – popes tend to get all dressed up for the occasion, put on a big ceremony and preface infallible remarks with words like “We hereby solemnly pronounce, declare and define….” It happens exceedingly seldom. Short of that, anything Francis says may or may not be correct – just like when a reporter says something.

Okay, maybe not that iffy….

News Flash! Pope Francis apologizes for sins of the Church!

Well, actually, there probably isn’t much left for Francis to apologize for – Blessed John Paul II beat him to most of it. In fact, there’s a Wikipedia article entitled “List of apologies made by Pope John Paul II,” with expressions of regret concerning the conquest of Latin America in the name of the Church, the execution of Jan Hus, Church participation in the “Stolen Children” policies in Australia, the trial of Galileo, the 1204 Crusader attack on Constantinople…. It’s obviously not unthinkable for a pope to apologize for the sins of the Church. John Paul II felt that he was opening the lines of communication to communities who had long held grudges over wounds inflicted centuries earlier. By beginning to lay these incidents to rest with an apology, the pope hoped to open a dialogue with people who had previously felt that to talk to the Church meant to betray their ancestors. What is more Christian than to attempt to be reconciled to your brother? So if Francis ever does apologize for something done by the Church, it wouldn’t be unprecedented, and it certainly doesn’t somehow contradict Catholic doctrine for him to do so.

News Flash! Pope Francis changes Catholic practice!!

That is entirely possible. If, for example, the Pope declared that Catholics no longer have to fast on Good Friday, he would be changing a “discipline.” That’s not unthinkable – the Church has done this before. Mass used to be celebrated in Latin; now it is generally celebrated in the vernacular. That practice could change because the Church has never believed that it was divinely revealed to her that Mass must be celebrated in any particular language. Other practices are likewise subject to change. In fact, some wonder if the U.S. bishops shouldn’t reimpose the obligation to abstain from meat on Fridays which was lifted after Vatican II. It isn’t as if most American Catholics already engage in too much penance….

So the idea that Pope Francis is changing a practice or a discipline isn’t really headline news. However, if you find yourself writing a headline similar to the following, I can already tell you you’ve got a problem:

News Flash! Pope Francis changes Catholic dogma!!

Okay, here’s where your MSM message hits the fan.

I can understand why you guys are constantly proclaiming that doctrinal change is on the Catholic horizon. You are comparing the Church to Protestant denominations who change their doctrine all the time. You think of Catholics the way you think of Anglicans, the people who faithfully endorsed the 1,900-year-old Christian teaching that contraception is a moral evil, only to wake up one morning and declare out of the clear blue sky that now it isn’t evil. Try to understand – in a Catholic context, that could never happen. Catholic doctrine can grow and develop, but it can never transmogrify into something fundamentally different. It can never contradict itself. So when you read words like these in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (you have familiarized yourself with the Catechism before shooting your mouth off, right?), you should be able to read the handwriting on the wall of the Vatican:

Fecundity is a gift, an end of marriage, for conjugal love naturally tends to be fruitful. A child does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfillment. So the Church, which is “on the side of life,” teaches that “it is necessary that each and every marriage act remain ordered per se to the procreation of human life.” “This particular doctrine, expounded on numerous occasions by the Magisterium, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.”


Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.

My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth.”

Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law:

“You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.”

God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.


Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

If you refuse to do your homework (what? Too “old school” for you?) before reporting on Catholic issues, don’t be surprised when people start believing that MSM stands for “Monumentally Stupid Misinformation.”

Allow me to make a suggestion: Consider the next papal interview from this angle – this could be your big break! No matter what you think you heard the Pope say, no matter how you think you could turn his message on its head: refrain. Simply assure your audience that “Catholic dogma CANNOT change.” When other reporters start floating the possibility that the Church may do a 180 and sanction contraception, abortion or homosexual acts, be the one who calmly insists that it will never happen in a million years because “Catholic dogma CANNOT change.” As people start to notice that you’re always the one to call the Pope’s decisions before he announces them, your remarks will be found prescient, even psychic. Just remember that one fundamental principle, and you’ve got it made.

So there you have a few handy tips for dealing with Catholic issues. Maybe jot them down on a notecard and keep it in your pocket; pull it out when you need a refresher. Pope is not impeccable – Pope can make mistakes and apologize – Infallible statements will be prefaced by a big, big buildup, will involve “solemn definitions” and will never be off-the-cuff, airplane-interview type affairs – Catholic disciplines and practices can certainly change – Catholic dogma certainly CANNOT change.

Pssst!  One more hot tip: The cost of a paperback copy of the Catechism? $8.00. The value of accurate reporting?



On the memorial of The Six Welsh Martyrs and their Companions

Deo omnis gloria!

Do you ever worry about yourself? Like the time the timer on the microwave went off, and you opened it and realized that the food was sitting on the counter, and you were microwaving nothing? Like the time your 10-year-old was running so late for dance class, and you frantically ran around the house searching for her lost tap shoe, found it, jumped into the car and got halfway to dance class before realizing that you’d left your child at home? Like the time you finally forced yourself to get to the gym so you could start using the membership you paid good money for last January, only to find out that it was a six-month trial membership and had expired already? Times when you began to suspect that there must be a screw loose somewhere?

I had that kind of moment the other day when I realized that four different readers have recently asked me a variation on the same question, and yet there I was sitting in front of the computer drumming my fingers, staring off into space, waiting for inspiration to strike. What should I blog about?

It was a Major Duh Event.

The basic question was: do Catholics think that Protestants can be saved? And the basic answer to that is: honey, Catholics don’t think that Protestants can be saved – we KNOW they can be saved.

It’s pretty straightforward. The Church teaches that anyone who is baptized according to the Trinitarian formula (“in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”) is baptized into Christ (Gal 3:27) and is thus a member of the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:13). That is why when I, a lifelong Protestant, asked to be reconciled to the Church, no one suggested that I needed to be “re-baptized” or any such nonsense – for there is one body and one Spirit, one Lord, one faith and one baptism (Eph 4:4-5). The Catholic perspective on non-Catholic Christians is expressed in Chapter Two (On the People of God) of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium:

The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter. For there are many who honor Sacred Scripture, taking it as a norm of belief and a pattern of life, and who show a sincere zeal. They lovingly believe in God the Father Almighty and in Christ, the Son of God and Savior. They are consecrated by baptism, in which they are united with Christ. They also recognize and accept other sacraments within their own Churches or ecclesiastical communities. Many of them rejoice in the episcopate, celebrate the Holy Eucharist and cultivate devotion toward the Virgin Mother of God. They also share with us in prayer and other spiritual benefits. Likewise we can say that in some real way they are joined with us in the Holy Spirit, for to them too He gives His gifts and graces whereby He is operative among them with His sanctifying power. Some indeed He has strengthened to the extent of the shedding of their blood. In all of Christ’s disciples the Spirit arouses the desire to be peacefully united, in the manner determined by Christ, as one flock under one shepherd, and He prompts them to pursue this end. Mother Church never ceases to pray, hope and work that this may come about. She exhorts her children to purification and renewal so that the sign of Christ may shine more brightly over the face of the earth.

Hang on a second! Doesn’t the Catholic Church teach that “outside the Church there is no salvation”??? St. Francis de Sales, way back when the original versions of Protestant doctrine were fresh out of the oven, wrote:

We should deserve to be wrecked if we were to cast ourselves out of the ship of the public judgment of the Church, to sail in the miserable skiff of these new discordant private inspirations. Our faith would not be Catholic, but private.

Protestants are heretics! Unless they recant, they can’t be saved! Right?

Let’s break that down. First of all, it is correct that outside the Church there is no salvation, but what did we just say? The Church teaches that anyone who is baptized according to the Trinitarian formula (“in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”) is baptized into Christ (Gal 3:27) and is thus a member of the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:13). The Church is the body of Christ. Protestants, as Lumen Gentium puts it, “being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter.”

But aren’t Protestants heretics? Fathers Leslie Rumble and Charles Carty, in their “Radio Replies,” clarified this:

It would be better to say that the Catholic Church regards all forms of Protestantism as heretical. If you say, “But those who profess heretical forms of religion are heretics,” the Church replies that only those who know their Protestantism to be wrong are guilty of heresy if they continue to adhere to it. Those who know no better, and are quite in good faith are not guilty of the sin of heresy.

I suppose I was probably a pretty average Protestant back in the day. I certainly had no idea that my Protestantism was wrong – I thought my beliefs were those of the first-century Christians. I could show you from the Bible that all of my beliefs were correct! And I knew that Catholicism was a man-made religious system – after all, Catholics worship Mary and believe they can work their way to Heaven, whereas the Bible says that we are saved by grace through faith! All my fellow believers held views similar to mine. No, we did not know that our Protestantism was wrong. In fact, when I found out the truth about Catholicism, it was exceedingly difficult for me to accept the fact that I had been born into a heretical sect. I had spent 45 years of my life thinking that I was right, only to finally have to admit that I had been wrong.

Which Protestants would it be, then, who “know their Protestantism to be wrong”? Aside from the original Reformers and their cohorts (the folks St. Francis de Sales was talking about), the most obvious example would be former Catholics, well educated in the Faith, who left the Church because they wanted to contracept or remarry without an annulment. In the Protestant denomination of their choice, they are able to hold their heads high as they sing the praises of the Almighty with all the other remarried, contracepting couples, telling themselves that the doctrines of that Protestant assembly are just as conducive to salvation as the inconvenient Catholic doctrines they left behind. These people know what they are rejecting, and reject it because when push comes to shove, their selfish desires win out over their love for the Truth.

The question is – do you know many people like that?

I think most Catholics who have left the Church were poorly catechized. They didn’t reject Church teaching – they were never exposed to Church teaching! Frank Beckwith, a well-known revert to Catholicism, tells the story of his Catholic education:

My religion teachers often spoke of Catholicism as “our tradition” rather than as a cluster of beliefs that were true. This relativizing of the faith did not engender confidence in the young students under their tutelage. Moreover, basic Catholic doctrine was often presented inadequately. One day, for example, when discussing the issues of sin and salvation, one teacher told us that when you die and meet God, He weighs your sins and good deeds on a scale, and if the latter outweighs the former, one avoids eternal damnation. And because one did not behave perfectly, one had to spend time in purgatory, a place that is like Hell insofar as it is not pleasant. But it is also unlike Hell because it ends. That same teacher used the following illustration to explain the difference between these two posthumous fates: in Hell, there is a clock on the wall, and it never stops, but in purgatory, there is also a clock on the wall and it does stop. None of this, of course, is Catholic theology. It was as if this teacher had learned about Catholic theology from Protestant fundamentalist evangelistic tracts rather than from the works of her own theologians.

Dr. Beckwith asks the pertinent question, “…with a watered-down and intellectually vapid presentation of the Gospel, …is it any wonder that many of us made a mad dash to where we saw Christ lifted up in Evangelical Protestantism?”

I would say, no wonder at all.

The point is, if a person has been exposed to authentic Catholic teaching, understands it, and then rejects it for selfish or rebellious reasons, then yes, he or she is guilty of heresy when preferring Protestant error to Catholic truth. As for the average, run-of-the-mill Protestant who has no clue what the Catholic Church really teaches, he or she does not understand that Protestant doctrine is erroneous, and therefore is not culpably Protestant. He or she can certainly be saved.

But it will be difficult….

That shouldn’t be surprising. Jesus said that the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it, so we already know that salvation isn’t something that just happens to you while you’re busy doing other things. Catholics believe that being saved is difficult for Catholics as well as for Protestants. That’s why God gives Catholics so much help.

We have the sacraments. The sacraments are conduits of God’s grace, grace that we Christians desperately need if we are to avoid mortal sin. Anyone who hopes to die in God’s friendship needs to remain as close to Him as they can, and the sacraments make this possible. This helps to explain Jesus’ adamant insistence on the necessity of eating His flesh and drinking His blood in John 6:

“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.
He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.”

And that disproves the Catholic argument!” Protestants sometimes argue. If John 6 is to be understood literally, then what Jesus is saying it that Catholics, who believe that they receive His very Body and Blood in Holy Communion, have eternal life, and Jesus will raise them up on the last day. Protestants do not receive the actual Body and Blood in Holy Communion and therefore, according to this argument, have no life in them, ergo, Protestants cannot be saved! Yet, performing a quick reality check, we spy clueless, lethargic, Communion-receiving Catholics and fervent, God-fearing, Bible-reading Protestants. Therefore, what Pope Pius XII called “those many heavenly gifts and helps which can only be enjoyed in the Catholic Church” really don’t amount to anything at all. The Catholic argument is self-refuting, or so goes the Protestant counter-argument.

Not so fast….

The answer is found in the Gospel according to John, for not only did Jesus say:

“…unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.” Jn 6:53

He also said:

“…unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” Jn 3:3

Remember what we said about baptism – anyone who is baptized into Christ is thus a member of the body of Christ. Does that person have new life? You better believe it! But have you ever heard of peripheral vascular disease? Imagine a part of your body suddenly losing full access to your circulatory system. Do you feel that that wouldn’t be a problem?

A very kind reader shared his “aha!” moment with me, which came when he was reading John 1:4:

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.

The footnote to this verse in the “Ignatius Catholic Study Bible” offers this comment:

Earthly life is a gift that is given and sustained by God through his eternal Word (Heb 1:3). Ultimately, natural and biological life points beyond itself to the supernatural and divine life that Jesus grants in abundance to the children of God (10:10; 2 Pt 1:4; CCC 1997). This new life comes to us when we give ourselves to Christ in faith (3:16; 20:31), and Christ gives himself to us through the sacramental action of the Church (3:5, 6:53).

Protestants and Catholics alike receive new life when they give themselves to Jesus, i.e,. when they are born again in baptism. Jesus warned us, however, to avail ourselves of the sacrament of Holy Communion that He might give Himself to us.

Remember, Protestants are not entirely cut off from the life Christ continues to pour out upon us. The Church believes that Jesus is spiritually present wherever two or three gather in His Name, meaning, He is present at Protestant worship services. No, they do not receive the graces that we receive in Holy Communion – certainly not. BUT, they DO receive grace in spiritual communion. The difference between the graces available to Protestants through the sacrament of baptism, plus the grace of spiritual communion, plus immersion in the Scriptures versus the graces available to Catholics through the sacraments of baptism, Reconciliation, Holy Communion, and lectio divina is often explained as being comparable to working out with a set of dumbbells versus working out in a fully equipped gym – it is truly awe-inspiring what some Protestants achieve with their dumbbells! Sadly, many Protestants do more with the grace they have access to than Catholics do with the graces from the reception of the Eucharist! This in no way disproves the Catholic notion that John 6 is to be taken literally, however, because remember – no one is forced to accept or act on the grace that Jesus pours out. St. Paul emphasized that fact:

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 1 Cor 15:10

We must cooperate with grace. God pours it out lavishly upon Catholics, but we can spurn it. Christians are free to choose to hide their light under a bushel and bury their talents in the ground. Catholics have a special incentive to avoid doing that – we are the slaves who received 5 talents in the parable of Matthew 25 – we are the ones to whom more has been given, the ones from whom more will be required. A dire judgment awaits so many of us because we have received so much, and yet our response is tepid. Let’s not forget that the Church teaches that not only Protestants but also Catholics CAN be saved….

Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Mt 25:30

It may be time to start worrying….

Let me put this bluntly: Get off your tush. Your gym membership is going to expire, and you will be held accountable for the use you’ve made of it. Did you, as a faithful Catholic with full access to the sacraments, avail yourself of those sacraments? And, having availed yourself, did you “work harder than any of them (though not you, but the grace of God that was with you)”? Or has God’s grace towards you been in vain? When you stand in line for your judgment, will there be buff-looking Protestants ahead of you? Will you be the 97-pound Catholic weakling? And what excuse do you propose to give? You had free access to all the fitness equipment you could ever need, and you failed to use it….

You started strong, O Catholic. Finish strong….


On the memorial of St. Phaolô Buòng Viêt Tông

Deo omnis gloria!

Photo credits: Cardio Room at Cole Harbour Place developed in 1999/Wikimedia Commons

Over the past 20 years or so, Protestant leaders have grown awfully uncomfortable with a growing trend: Protestant traffic heading in the direction of Rome. And not just any Protestants – while Joe and Jane Pewwarmer may be comfortably ensconced at the corner Baptist or Presbyterian church, Joe and Jane’s pastor and the theologians who taught him may very well be suiting up to swim the Tiber. Over the past few decades such Protestant theologians, philosophers and educators as Francis Beckwith, Thomas Howard, J. Budziszewski, Reinhard Hütter, Bruce Marshall, Trent Dougherty, Robert Koons, Jay Richards, R.R. Reno, Joshua Hochschild, Leroy Huizenga, Richard John Neuhaus, Robert Wilken, Paul Quist, Richard Ballard, Paul Abbe, Thomas McMichael, Mickey Mattox, David Fagerberg, Jason Stellman and many more have left Protestantism for the Catholic Church – and I know this from Protestant articles and websites expressing shock at their conversion. At a loss to explain the defection of these once solidly Protestant luminaries, and unwilling to admit that these people might be reconciling with the Church because they have found the fullness of the Truth therein, Protestant apologists have latched onto a common thread in many conversion stories. Converts to Catholicism often complain that as Protestants they were kept in the dark regarding Church history. Take as an example the tales of those who studied theology at Protestant seminaries:

Over the next year I read several books on Church history. I read the works of men I had never heard of before: Anthony of the Desert, Cyril of Jerusalem, Clement of Alexandria, Basil, Ambrose, Eusebius, Ignatius of Antioch. It felt like finding new friends, Christians who knew my Lord so intimately. But their words also profoundly shook my Evangelical theology. The fact that these men were Catholic made me embarrassed and indignant. In all my years as a Christian I had never heard of these people, let alone studied their writings. I didn’t know much about the early Christian Church. In seminary (we attended Biola, in Southern California) we had been taught to believe that after the death of the Apostles, the Church slid immediately into error and stayed that way until Luther nailed his Theses to the door, and then the “real” Christians came out of hiding. (Kristine Franklin)

Occasional references to St. Augustine did not obscure the fact that the majority of church history was ignored. (“Anthony“)

I had studied some early Church history, but too much of it was from perspectives limited by Protestant history textbooks. I was shocked to discover in the writings of the first-, second- and third-century Christians a very high view of the Church and liturgy, very much unlike the views of the typical Evangelical Protestant. (Steve Wood)

We had never been taught any church history between the time of the apostles and Luther. I first heard of the “Church Fathers” in a Greek class in college. As I translated Irenaeus’ writings from the Greek, the truth of what he had written amazed me. I wondered why I had never been told of him before. None of my theology courses in college ever mentioned the Church Fathers. We were never given any devotional readings beyond what Luther wrote. (Kathy McDonald)

Hmmm… so Church history is the virus behind Catholic fever? They’re demanding access to Church history? Can we manufacture some sort of vaccine against that?

And thus today’s Protestant apologists have to know not only their Augustine, but their Athanasius, their Cyril (of Alexandria and of Jerusalem), their Irenaeus and their Vincent of Lerins (okay, maybe not Vincent of Lerins – “Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est” and all that). These brave souls familiarize themselves with the Fathers not so that they can explain the actual theology of the early Church to fellow Protestants (that would never do), but so that they can extract certain quotes from their writings and distill them into a “proof vaccine,” purporting to demonstrate that core Protestant doctrines were theological staples of the early Church, thereby inoculating potential upstarts (who then believe that they know what the Fathers taught) against Catholicism.

Epidemic contained.

It’s kind of funny, and it’s kind of sad. Because Protestants have their own version of what they think the Catholic Church teaches (you know, works-righteousness, Mary worship, a sinless pope, the Bible is wrong when it contradicts Holy Mother Church, etc.), they believe that by finding remarks in the Church Fathers which indicate that we are indeed “saved by grace through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (which the Church has been insisting for, oh, about 2,000 years or so now), or that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (there’s never been any argument from the Church on that, either), they have proved Catholicism wrong. It is this fundamental refusal to hear what Catholics are saying when we profess that we can’t work our way to Heaven or that “the Sacred Scriptures contain the Word of God and, because they are inspired they are truly the Word of God” that causes Protestants wielding the Church Fathers to make themselves look so silly. The Fathers were Catholic, you know. There’s just no getting around that point.

Consider the writings of the Church Fathers on the subject of the Holy Scriptures. Modern-day Protestant authors, believing that it is Catholic Church policy to hide the Bible under a bushel whenever it “contradicts” Catholic doctrine, will gladly dish up quotes which are supposed to “prove” that the Fathers were every bit as “sola Scriptura” as Luther or Calvin, quotes like these:

Since, therefore, the entire Scriptures, the prophets, and the Gospels, can be clearly, unambiguously, and harmoniously understood by all, although all do not believe them; and since they proclaim that one only God, to the exclusion of all others, formed all things by His word, whether visible or invisible, heavenly or earthly, in the water or under the earth, as I have shown from the very words of Scripture; and since the very system of creation to which we belong testifies, by what falls under our notice, that one Being made and governs it,—those persons will seem truly foolish who blind their eyes to such a clear demonstration, and will not behold the light of the announcement [made to them]; but they put fetters upon themselves, and every one of them imagines, by means of their obscure interpretations of the parables, that he has found out a God of his own. St. Irenaeus of Lyons, 2nd century Church Father

Scripture can indeed be understood by Luther’s proverbial ploughboy – so says Irenaeus!

Hmm… then why did Irenaeus even bother writing his monumental “Against Heresies” if everyone could just pick up a copy of the Scriptures and understand them? Sure, there were bad guys who twisted the perspicuous Scriptures to their own ends:

Their manner of acting is just as if one, when a beautiful image of a king has been constructed by some skillful artist out of precious jewels, should then take this likeness of the man all to pieces, should rearrange the gems, and so fit them together as to make them into the form of a dog or of a fox, and even that but poorly executed; and should then maintain and declare that this was the beautiful image of the king which the skillful artist constructed, pointing to the jewels which had been admirably fitted together by the first artist to form the image of the king, but have been with bad effect transferred by the latter one to the shape of a dog, and by thus exhibiting the jewels, should deceive the ignorant who had no conception what a king’s form was like, and persuade them that that miserable likeness of the fox was, in fact, the beautiful image of the king. St. Irenaeus of Lyons

So, when heretics twisted the Scriptures, Irenaeus advised 2nd-century Christians to just pull a copy of the KJV out of their hip pocket and set the losers straight, right?

As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world. But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shines everywhere, and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master); nor, on the other hand, will he who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it. St. Irenaeus of Lyons

That quote from Irenaeus demonstrates Sacred Tradition in action. Note the unity of the Faith that Irenaeus is touting; exactly the opposite of the divisions that plague sola Scriptura adherents running around with KJV’s in their hip pockets. That’s because the Church that Irenaeus defended did NOT believe in sola Scriptura – all believed the same thing because all were taught the same thing by the authoritative Church which “clearly, unambiguously, and harmoniously understood” the Scriptures according to the Tradition handed down by the apostles!

The Catholic Church’s point exactly: Scripture? YES! Tradition? YES! Quotes 1 and 2 and 3? YES! YES! YES!

Undaunted, many Protestant authors trot out St. Athanasius in defense of the indefensible doctrine of sola Scriptura, using this quote:

The holy and inspired Scriptures are fully sufficient for the proclamation of the truth. St. Athanasius of Alexandria, 4th-century Church Father

Sounds pretty “sola!” Yet this was the same Athanasius who thundered:

But beyond these sayings [of the Bible], let us look at the very tradition, teaching and faith of the Catholic Church from the beginning, which the Lord gave, the Apostles preached, and the Fathers kept. Upon this the Church is founded, and he who should fall away from it should not be a Christian, and should no longer be so called. St. Athanasius

So, the Scriptures, rightly understood through Sacred Tradition, are fully sufficient for the proclamation of the truth – hardly a Protestant sentiment. When you harmonize ALL that a particular Church Father wrote, rather than pulling statements out of context, there’s simply no way you end up with a proto-Protestant 2nd-, 3rd, or 4th-century Church. Athanasius himself grumbled about the cherry-picking of the Fathers who had gone before him:

Yes, [Church Father Dionysius] wrote it, and we too admit that his letter runs thus. But just as he wrote this, he wrote also very many other letters, and they ought to consult those also, in order that the faith of the man may be made clear from them all, and not from this alone. St. Athanasius

Selective quoting got mighty tiresome even back in those days….

Protestant apologists will earnestly endeavor to persuade you that the Church Fathers held Scripture in high regard, proclaimed the authority of the Bible and believed Scripture to be sufficient in itself, citing passages such as “How can we adopt those things which we do not find in the holy Scriptures?” and “The sacred and inspired Scriptures are sufficient to declare the truth” and “There is, brethren, one God, the knowledge of whom we gain from the Holy Scriptures and no other source.” If you look into this, you will find that it is certainly true – the Fathers held Scripture in high regard, proclaimed the authority of the Bible, and believed Scripture to be sufficient in itself. Those same Protestant authors will, however, decline to inform you that those same Fathers held Holy Tradition in equally high regard, proclaimed the authority of the Church, and declared that when heretics came up with novel approaches to the interpretation of Scripture, Tradition was essential to protect the orthodox interpretation of those Scriptures. Holy Tradition, the Fathers claimed, makes it possible for the Church to say, “THIS is the interpretation of Scripture that the apostles taught and which has been handed down to us – that’s why your interpretation of Scripture is wrong” when heretics twist the Scriptures and devise new doctrines.

Which doesn’t stop Protestant apologists from propping the Fathers up like ventriloquists’ dummies to mouth the Reformers’ doctrine of sola fide (faith alone). As Frank Beckwith pointed out in his Return to Rome, St. Augustine is often pressed into the service of Martin Luther’s pet doctrine:

St. Augustine of Hippo: [Grace] is bestowed on us, not because we have done good works, but that we may be able to do them – in other words, not because we have fulfilled the Law, but in order that we may be able to fulfill the Law.

See? St. Augustine was Protestant in his understanding of justification!

Or, as Beckwith puts it:

Now, if that’s all one read from the Fathers, one may be led to think that the Reformation attempted to restore what the Church had once embraced, or at least implicitly held, from its earliest days.

And that is, obviously, the fervent hope – that that’s all a questioning Protestant will bother to read of the Fathers – the “proof-texts.” As Dr. Beckwith points out, the understanding of “grace” which St. Augustine propounded is consistent with Protestant theology as well as with Catholic theology. No Catholic would find that quote on the subject of grace at all disturbing, because justification by faith is what Catholics believe. Protestants, however, have a tough time reconciling other quotes from that same Church Father with the Protestant belief system:

St. Augustine of Hippo: We run, therefore, whenever we make advance; and our wholeness runs with us in our advance (just as a sore is said to run when the wound is in process of a sound and careful treatment), in order that we may be in every respect perfect, without any infirmity of sin whatever result which God not only wishes, but even causes and helps us to accomplish. And this God’s grace does, in co-operation with ourselves, through Jesus Christ our Lord, as well by commandments, sacraments, and examples, as by His Holy Spirit also; through whom there is hiddenly shed abroad in our hearts . . . that love, “which makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered,” . . . until wholeness and salvation be perfected in us, and God be manifested to us as He will be seen in His eternal truth.

As Dr. Beckwith points out, the sentiments in this quote from Augustine are reflected, not in Protestant theology (Calvin forbid!), but in a very Catholic statement on justification:

Now they (adults) are disposed unto the said justice, when, excited and assisted by divine grace, conceiving faith by hearing, they are freely moved towards God, believing those things to be true which God has revealed and promised,-and this especially, that God justifies the impious by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; and when, understanding themselves to be sinners, they, by turning themselves, from the fear of divine justice whereby they are profitably agitated, to consider the mercy of God, are raised unto hope, confiding that God will be propitious to them for Christ’s sake; and they begin to love Him as the fountain of all justice; and are therefore moved against sins by a certain hatred and detestation, to wit, by that penitence which must be performed before baptism: lastly, when they purpose to receive baptism, to begin a new life, and to keep the commandments of God. Concerning this disposition it is written; He that cometh to God, must believe that he is, and is a rewarder to them that seek him; and, Be of good faith, son, thy sins are forgiven thee; and, The fear of the Lord driveth out sin; and, Do penance, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost; and, Going, therefore, teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; finally, Prepare your hearts unto the Lord.

This disposition, or preparation, is followed by Justification itself, which is not remission of sins merely, but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man, through the voluntary reception of the grace, and of the gifts, whereby man of unjust becomes just, and of an enemy a friend, that so he may be an heir according to hope of life everlasting. The Council of Trent on justification


The point is that St. Augustine can get an “Amen!” from Catholics on both quotes 1 and 2. Protestants, on the other hand, would much prefer that St. Gus had quit while he was ahead, so to speak. From a Protestant standpoint, the “proof-text” was nifty; the other stuff, not so much….

This kind of proof-texting is inflicted upon the writings of numerous Fathers. The moral of the story: Catholic fever is going around. If you have a vested interest in remaining Protestant, for Luther’s sake don’t sit down and actually read the Church Fathers to learn what they really thought! Get your vaccination against Rome disease: read a few quotes meticulously compiled by Protestant apologists and leave it at that. It’s safer, like a vaccine made of dead cells is a whole lot safer than the real living deal. Catholicism can be highly contagious; get your inoculation today, lest you come down with a bad case of the fullness of the Truth.


On the memorial of St. Isaac Jogues and Companions

Deo omnis gloria!


Photo credits: Woman receiving rubella vaccination, School of Public Health of the State of Minas Gerais (ESP-MG), Brazil, by Sandra Rugio/Wikimedia Commons

Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant, was jostled to a rude awakening a few years back. For some reason, the world seemed suddenly to be swarming with atheists. The predictable response was mounted – books defending the Faith, CDs pointing out the flaws in the atheist position, speakers explaining what atheists do and do not believe and how to talk them into or out of any given position. Catholic Answers even published a graphic novel aimed at debunking atheist reasoning (or the lack of it).

Who are all those atheists who have suddenly sprouted up over the past decade? The older ones, I imagine, were there all along; they simply feel more comfortable admitting their lack of faith now that atheism has gone mainstream. Many of the younger ones grew up in a world that gives them every reason to doubt, while offering them an overabundance of vapid belief systems in which to place any vestigial “faith” they may feel. In the 21st century, you are perfectly free to follow your heart, and you can even claim that there is a Higher Power guiding your heart, as long as that Power remains amorphous and unnamed. It’s when He is incarnate of a virgin and eats fish around the campfire with the rest of the guys that folks start to question your intellectual capacity.

I was never particularly tempted towards atheism; it always just seemed so dead obvious to me that there must be a Creator, and if there is one, then His name is Jesus. My closest brush with a loss of faith came one sweltering summer night when I was living in Taiwan. It was a day or two before graduation at the nondenominational Christian college where I taught back in my Protestant days. I had gone to bed with the window open, screen in place to keep the mosquitos out, in an effort to get some kind of a breeze going as the school simply couldn’t afford to air-condition the building. My room was on the second floor of a girls’ dormitory, so I felt pretty safe doing that; a ledge 10 inches wide, some 20 feet off the ground was the only thing outside the window – nothing to fear.

A half-hour after midnight I was awakened by the frantic barking of the little Pomeranian who slept on my bed. Apparently she smelled something outside the window. To quiet her, I sat up in bed and lifted her up to the window to let her sniff, in the hope that she would quiet down and let me drift back to sleep. As I lifted her up, the horrific realization swept over me that someone had removed the screen from the window.

I dropped the dog as a man leapt over the sill and onto my bed. It was dark, too dark to see his face, but I could clearly make out the silhouette of the knife he was clutching in his right hand. Ever since I was a little girl, I had wondered whether I would be able to scream if I were ever attacked, or if my vocal cords would be too paralyzed to squeak. At that moment I found out. I screamed bloody murder.

I guess the guy was unnerved. He shot, nimble as a monkey, back out the window. How he maneuvered on that tiny little ledge, and by what means he had climbed to the second floor in the first place I never found out – I ran screaming to the room across the hall where a married couple, Baptist missionaries, lived. They, like many of the people in the building, were still up, and hadn’t heard a thing. Fortunately, my attacker had had no idea that my screams had gone completely unnoticed in that noisy girls’ dormitory.

Every effort was made in the following days to comfort me. It was explained to me over and over again that God had quite obviously protected me from harm – other than a bad fright, I could complain of no injury. Each of the American pastors at the college came in turn to visit me, and each explained patiently that I just had to trust God; He would take care of me. I think each of them took it personally when I refused to be comforted. I was traumatized. The seniors graduated; classes were over for the school year. The Chinese staff went home for the summer, and the American teachers boarded planes back to the States. I had agreed months earlier to stay at the school helping the skeleton staff prepare for the fall semester. That meant that I had to spend nights alone in the now-abandoned dorm.

It was my own personal horror flick. Each evening the building was locked. I was assured that no one could get in, and even if they could, my door was locked and bolted. My window was of course tightly locked; thoughtful students had booby-trapped the ledge outside my window with a multitude of wickedly sharp objects before saying goodbye for the summer. The Baptist missionary’s wife had even tried to explain to me, before she left for the States, how to rig up a flamethrower using an aerosol can (watch out for those Baptist missionaries!!) Nothing calmed my fears. Each evening as the sun went down, I was reduced to a quivering bowl of Jell-O.

Sleep was impossible. The temperature in the locked room was approaching 90⁰, with humidity appropriate to the subtropical climate. I lay on my bed (now pushed to the center of the room), sweat staining the sheets, my ears straining to catch any hint of a footfall ascending the stairs outside my door. I cried as quietly as I could so as not to prevent my hearing my attacker when he returned to finish what he had started.

I begged God to help me, to give me a sense of peace, to fill me with trust in Him so that I could sleep. I really was safe all locked up like that. The guy was gone, never to return. I understood that God had protected me when I was attacked – not a hair on my head had been harmed – but I was filled with rage at the God Who had allowed me to be attacked at all….

And then it came to me – my atheist epiphany. There is no God. That’s why I had been assaulted, because no One was there looking out for me. It meant that I was free, free to go back to the States, free to just buy a plane ticket while looking the cheapskate college president who paid us little more than room-and-board for the privilege of bringing Christ to these college kids straight in the eye and announcing that promises are made to be broken. An enchanting Technicolor vision of life without God illuminated my aching heart, a vision of a life where I made the rules. A life where I only had to apologize when I saw fit, and never had to ask forgiveness. A life where I needn’t concern myself overly with what others might need, because, hey – I have needs, too, and mine outrank yours. A life where I wrote my own ticket. I could be as nice or as nasty as I pleased in my own little universe. The realization that there was no God was the answer to all my prayers.

There is no God, my heart whispered in the darkness.

Don’t be an idiot, my head thundered back. Of course there’s a God. Your not wanting there to be one doesn’t make it so!

My career as an atheist never even got off the ground. Despite myself, I was completely convinced that God is – what I needed to learn was how to live like that was really true….

Of course wishing God away will never work, but that doesn’t stop folks from trying. Wishful thinking is the technique commonly employed when college students suddenly realize that life without God might well be a heck of a lot more fun than whatever their Sunday School teacher has got planned for them. Theirs is an atheism of convenience – no God means no rules, and that’s what perpetual adolescence is founded upon. God just has to be dead; therefore, He is dead. Flawlessly infantile logic.

An awful lot of those atheists-of-convenience grew up in Christian homes, i.e., they should know better. They may well have lived their lives surrounded by faithfully sacrificial examples of devotion to a personally experienced Lord. Or not. All too many of them were raised by Sunday Christians, parents who would miss Mass or Sunday morning services for pretty much any reason if it wasn’t convenient for them to attend, teachers who preached Christianity until it got in their way, and then brushed it aside to introduce their own philosophies, role models who lived for Christ until they were called to die for Him – and then just signed off and walked out. Christians who were in this world, and of it.

“The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.'” This verse from the book of Proverbs is the one which will most often be waved under the nose of your formerly-Christian, 20-something, Richard Dawkins wannabes. The verse, of course, speaks the truth – it is indeed genuinely foolish to look up at the sky and categorically proclaim the absence of an Uncaused Cause. But tell me, who is more foolish, those who for whatever reason decide that there is no God, or those who proclaim to the world their belief in His existence yet continue to live as if He were not?

Who’s the fool?


On the memorial of St. Marguerite-Marie Alacoque

Deo omnis gloria!