Monthly Archives: December 2013

From time to time I try to write about the truths of the Faith shared by Catholics and Protestants, the many doctrines on which we find ourselves in glorious agreement.

This is not one of those times. But, dang it, it should be!

The subject of controversy in this case is the Catholic appellation for Mary: “the Mother of God.” We Catholics are so keen on this title that we have actually dedicated the first day of every calendar year to Mary under this name, not surprising, since Catholic theology teaches that all of Mary’s prerogatives stem from this divine maternity of hers. According to the Catholic Church:

Called in the Gospels ‘the mother of Jesus’, Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit and even before the birth of her son, as ‘the mother of my Lord ‘. [Lk 1:43; Jn 2:1; 19:25; cf. Mt 13:55; et al.] In fact, the One whom she conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Father’s eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Hence the Church confesses that Mary is truly ‘Mother of God’ (Theotokos).” [cf Council of Ephesus (431): DS 251.] CCC 495

Compare and contrast that explanation of Mary as “God-bearer” (Theotokos) with two pretty standard-issue criticisms made by anti-Catholics:

Criticism #1: Catholics worship Mary, claiming that she has “divine maternity” (“Dogmatic Constitution…,” 1964, 8.3).

Criticism #2: There is not a single verse in the Bible that describes Mary as the ‘Mother of God.’ In fact, none of the inspired writers of either the Old or New Testament gave even a hint that she should be regarded as such.

Seems like no matter how many times Catholics reiterate that we do NOT worship anybody but God, that old canard keeps refluxing, the “Big Lie” which people will believe when they might be skeptical of smaller ones; repeated frequently enough, it becomes “common knowledge.” This particular quote purports to give proof of this iniquity from a Catholic source, the “Dogmatic Constitution” (they mean the document known as “Lumen Gentium“). I can guarantee you, dear reader, the folks who spew this goo are counting on the fact that the average reader isn’t going to actually read Lumen Gentium, because Lumen Gentium explains the opposite of what they are claiming. So, lest we be counted as average, let’s read a bit of it for ourselves. The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) 8:3 informs us:

This maternity of Mary in the order of grace began with the consent which she gave in faith at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, and lasts until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this salvific duty, but by her constant intercession continued to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and cultics, until they are led into the happiness of their true home. Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked by the Church under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix, and Mediatrix. This, however, is to be so understood that it neither takes away from nor adds anything to the dignity and efficaciousness of Christ the one Mediator.

For no creature could ever be counted as equal with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer. Just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by the ministers and by the faithful, and as the one goodness of God is really communicated in different ways to His creatures, so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source.

The Church does not hesitate to profess this subordinate role of Mary.

There’s more, but before we continue please note that in Catholic parlance the word “cult” means “a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure,” and not “a suspicious group of weirdos trying to brainwash your children and bilk them out of their money.”

Lumen Gentium 8:4 gives us this to understand:

Placed by the grace of God, as God’s Mother, next to her Son, and exalted above all angels and men, Mary intervened in the mysteries of Christ and is justly honored by a special cult in the Church. Clearly from earliest times the Blessed Virgin is honored under the title of Mother of God, under whose protection the faithful took refuge in all their dangers and necessities. Hence after the Synod of Ephesus the cult of the people of God toward Mary wonderfully increased in veneration and love, in invocation and imitation, according to her own prophetic words: “All generations shall call me blessed, because He that is mighty hath done great things to me”. This cult, as it always existed, although it is altogether singular, differs essentially
from the cult of adoration which is offered to the Incarnate Word, as well to the Father and the Holy Spirit, and it is most favorable to it.
The various forms of piety toward the Mother of God, which the Church within the limits of sound and orthodox doctrine, according to the conditions of time and place, and the nature and ingenuity of the faithful has approved, bring it about that while the Mother is honored, the Son, through whom all things have their being and in whom it has pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell, is rightly known, loved and glorified and that all His commands are observed.

See the part about worshipping Mary? Of course not – WE DON’T. Never have. That’s something that those who have a vested interest in scaring you away from Catholicism won’t tell you. She’s not God, she’s not a goddess, she isn’t even a godlet. There’s no “fine line” here – there is a vast chasm between worshipping and adoring the Eternal Creator of all things, and honoring and loving the Blessed Virgin above all other creatures. We venerate Mary, something which is essentially different from worshipping her, because we are well aware that while she is the Mother of God, she is not God. To worship her would be to break the First Commandment. How can the statement “… no creature could ever be counted as equal with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer” ever be reconciled with the assertion that “Catholics worship Mary”?

Yet that’s the entire basis for the fear-mongering that goes on whenever Mary is addressed by this title – the hysterical insistence that if Catholics refer to Mary as the Mother of God, they must be worshipping her! The people who insist this despite all evidence to the contrary feel that they are boldly defending their version of Christianity against Catholic error. A 4th-century Catholic bishop, St. Gregory Nazianzen, claimed however that anyone who denied Mary the title “Mother of God” wasn’t opposing the Catholic Church, but rather “If anyone does not agree that Holy Mary is the Mother of God, he is at odds with the Godhead.”

NOT something you want to be at odds with! But how does denying Mary’s divine maternity put you “at odds with the Godhead”?

I’m so glad you asked, because this is the reason that Protestants and Catholics should all be in agreement on this point.

The Catholic Church has always maintained that while the Scriptures are “God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” they are not necessarily easy to understand. Christians spent the first few centuries arguing over how best to understand who and what Jesus really is. Early on, some folks misunderstood Jesus’ humanity, claiming that He was God, but that He wasn’t really a man – He only appeared to have a body (the heresy of Docetism). Others veered off to the opposite conclusion, claiming that while of course Jesus was a real man with a real body, He wasn’t really God (the heresy of Arianism). Jesus was God’s greatest creation, they said, not a Divine Person, not consubstantial with the Father. Arians took the Bible verses which appear to call into question Jesus’ divinity (like John 17:3, John 20:17, 1 Corinthians 8:6, Philippians 2:5-7, 2 John 1:3 and Revelation 7:10) as their starting point, and then built a theology which forced them to tweak the Scriptural evidence for His divinity (Matthew 9:2, John 1:1, John 20:28, Colossians 2:9, 2 Peter 1:1) to make it mesh with what they thought the Bible was really trying to say about Jesus. After all, Jesus Himself never said, in so many words, that He was God.  Yet despite this, Christians firmly believe that He is God (after all, St. Thomas cried out to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ and Jesus accepted his words without rebuking him). Thus St. Ignatius, a Catholic bishop in 2nd-century Syria, referred to Jesus as “God” over and over again in his writings. When the concept of Jesus’ divinity was challenged in the 4th century, the Church came out with a definitive statement to that effect: “God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father.” All that fuss really wouldn’t have been necessary if Holy Scripture stated unequivocally that Jesus is God. Anti-Trinitarians see this doctrine of the divinity of Christ as a late invention and claim that it’s a perversion of the obvious meaning of Scripture. The 4th-century Council of Nicaea was forced to issue their statement to protect the deposit of faith written and unwritten. Catholics and Protestants of the 21st century join forces in proclaiming this truth of the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Yet Protestants balk when confronted with similar difficulties surrounding the doctrine of Mary’s divine maternity. Never in Scripture is Mary referred to, in so many words, as the “Mother of God” (which is partially attributable to the fact that nowhere in the Bible does Jesus call Himself “God.”) Yet, Mary is the Mother of God precisely because her Son, Jesus, is God. St. Irenaeus, a Catholic bishop in 2nd-century France, referred to Jesus’ conception thus: “… so did the latter [the Virgin Mary], by an angelic communication, receive the glad tidings that she should bear God, being obedient to his word.” The doctrine of the Theotokos was solemnly defined in circumstances similar to the solemn definition of the divinity of Jesus. The 5th-century Council of Ephesus felt compelled to issue a definitive statement defending this truth: “If anyone does not confess that God is truly Emmanuel, and that on this account the Holy Virgin is the Mother of God (for according to the flesh she gave birth to the Word of God become flesh by birth), let him be anathema.” Many Protestants decry this doctrine as a late invention and a perversion of the obvious meaning of Scripture. On the contrary – it is a defense of the hypostatic union of Jesus’ two natures, under attack by 5th-century heretics called Nestorians who claimed that the human person and the Divine Person of Christ are separate, and insisting that Mary be referred to as the Mother of Christ, as she was the mother of His human nature only. The Church, however, teaches that Jesus possesses two natures united in one Person, meaning that Mary must properly be referred to as the Mother of God, as summarized in the Creed of Ephesus:

Before the worlds begotten of the Father according to the Godhead, but in the last days and for our salvation of the Virgin Mary according to the Manhood; consubstantial with the Father in the Godhead, consubstantial with us in the Manhood; for a union of two natures took place, wherefore we confess one Christ, one Son, one Lord. According to the understanding of this unconfused union, we confess the Blessed Virgin to be Theotokos, because the Word of God was incarnate and made man, and through her conception united to Himself the temple He received from her. And we are aware that the words of the Gospels, and of the Apostles, concerning the Lord are, by theologians, looked upon some as applying in common [to the two natures] as belonging to the one Person; others as attributed to one of the two natures; and that they tell us by tradition that some are of divine import, to suit the Divinity of Christ, others of humble nature belonging to His humanity.

When the Scriptures do not speak absolutely plainly concerning the divinity of Christ, the Church insists that He is consubstantial with the Father, and when the Scriptures do not speak absolutely plainly concerning the two natures of Christ united in one Person, the Church insists that there is “one Christ, one Son, one Lord” and insists that therefore the Blessed Virgin bore God. The doctrine of Mary as the Mother of God does not glorify Mary – it glorifies Jesus and defends the doctrines of His humanity, His divinity and the hypostatic union of those two natures, something every Christian in Heaven and on earth should be eager to defend. Attacking the divine maternity is aiding and abetting the enemies of the Faith, putting one “at odds with the Godhead” as Gregory Nazianzen warned. Asserting Mary’s divine maternity is not the same as asserting that she is God – it’s asserting that HE is God, and she’s His mother. That’s something that Catholics and Protestants can surely agree upon.

Because the second ‘criticism’ proves to be as bogus as the first: “There is not a single verse in the Bible that describes Mary as the ‘Mother of God.’ In fact, none of the inspired writers of either the Old or New Testament gave even a hint that she should be regarded as such.”

Aww, come on! Not even a hint?

Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.” Mt 1:23

The Virgin shall bear God.


On the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God

Deo omnis gloria!

Catholicism is soooo countercultural. On the day that the world unwraps the presents and then packs all the decorations away for another year, declaring Christmas to be OVER, Catholics unwrap the presents and then trot off to Mass to declare to the world that Christmas has finally BEGUN. I have to admit, the world’s fierce determination to institutionalize the insane commercialization of the holiday, and then toss the whole thing out with the empty boxes and used wrapping paper on the 26th is pretty discouraging; I long to live in a world where my neighbors understand why I answer the question, “Did you have a good Christmas?” with a hearty “I’m still having a good Christmas!”

I noticed my across-the-street neighbor, Ridley Munridley, out in his yard on Christmas morning assembling the bicycle he had purchased for his son and heir, Ridley Munridley, Jr. At least, I thought he was assembling the bicycle. When I saw him out there again on the 26th, and on the 27th, and then again today, I realized two things: that he gets a lot more time off around Christmas than I do, and that he had merely been attempting to assemble the bike – and still was attempting. I decided to mosey on across the street to see if I could help. Not that I know anything about the assembly of bicycles, or the assembly of anything, but my moral support skills are phenomenal.

So I moseyed. Ridley, good neighbor that he is, waved a welcome at me and motioned to me to come and sit with him on his front steps where he was puzzling over the instruction manual. I noticed a little figure in the bushes; it appeared to be the sad little owner of the bike, Ridley, Jr., spying on his dad’s progress, or lack thereof.

“A very good morning to you!” Ridley greeted me affably. “I hope you’ve brought your bicycle assembly skills with you!” he laughed heartily. I apologized for my deficiency in that area, but offered to perhaps read the instructions to him as he worked if he thought that might be of any help.

“Why, thank you!” Ridley enthused. “Ridley Junior is reading at a 3rd-grade level, and he was helping with that on Christmas morning, but he became distracted and wandered off.” I glanced at the boy in the bushes; he looked more like he had become dejected and wandered off.

“So,” my neighbor continued, “I’ve got all the parts out of the box and ready to go – let’s get going!”

And all the pieces were certainly there, all thirty-three of them, strewn across Ridley’s walkway, the crank arm, the rear sprocket, the seat-post binder bolt, the chainstay, and the front fork, to name but five. He had tentatively connected eight of them; the rest lay waiting for assembly.

Ridley stared intently at the instructions in the manual. “Okay,” he said, “It is recommended that the threads and all moving parts in the parts package be lubricated prior to installation”I did that. “Turn the fork of the bicycle to face forward. Note that “forward” means that the wheel mounting slots are in the furthest forward position. So the wheel axle will be in front of the fork when assembled.” “Hmm…” Ridley hesitated. “The fork of the bicycle – let me see that illustration again.” I held the instruction manual so that he could check the drawing. “‘Forward’ means that the wheel mounting slots are in the furthest forward position” he muttered to himself. “‘The wheel axle will be in front of the fork’ – that’s where I went wrong yesterday…. Okay, now “Check the stem clamp bolts to make sure they are properly tightened” – is that these, or those?” he wondered aloud.

I glanced at the illustration as Ridley held up the handlebars he had assembled. Something just didn’t look right, and he agreed with me on that.

“Where do you think I went wrong?” he asked.

Channeling my inner feminine genius, I made a suggestion. “Look, Ridley, there’s a toll-free number here on the back of the instruction manual. Have you called them? I’m sure they could walk you through this!”

Ridley stared at me as if I had suggested betraying atomic secrets to the Soviets. “There’s no need to panic, Renée. I’ve got this. The instructions are quite clear – we just need to work our way through them in a calm and orderly manner!”

“Just trying to help,” I mumbled.

“Well, you can help,” he retorted, “by reading me the next paragraph in the manual!”

“You must determine if your handlebar mounting is a quill stem or a threadless stem” I read in what I hoped was a calm and orderly manner. “A quill stem is a handlebar assembly that has a wedge-shaped part at the bottom of the stem that is inserted into the fork steer tube. Loosen the center bolt enough so that the wedge and stem can slide into the fork steer tube.”

“Loosen the center bolt?” Ridley mumbled. “What center bolt?”

“Maybe your handlebar mounting is a threadless stem,” I whispered.

“Maybe…” he agreed. “Maybe,” he declared as he lay the handlebars on the ground, “we should assemble some other parts first, and then come back to this.”

I heard a monumental sigh issue forth from the depths of the bushes, but I was not about to argue. “Which part did you want to work on?” I asked.

“What looks easy?” Ridley asked me.

I flipped through the manual, but all the parts in need of assembly seemed to involve different options – the handlebar mounting could be either a threadless or a quill stem, the saddle assembly involved either a bolted seat clamp or a quick-release seat clamp, and the manual likewise informed me that there were two types of front wheel hubs, nutted or quick release. We’d have to figure all that out first. All those options were accompanied by stern warnings that improper assembly could result in irreparable damage and/or loss of bicycle control resulting in injury, or death, or both. Merry Christmas, Ridley Jr.

“Maybe we could work on the pedals,” I suggested hesitantly, reasoning that the two of us together should be able to distinguish the right pedal from the left. And we were, even managing to attach the right-hand pedal to the chainwheel side crank arm with a right-hand thread, only to discover that Ridley was going to need a 15mm narrow open-ended wrench to tighten the pedal into place, a wrench he didn’t have and would have to borrow from someone – certainly not from me. I hammer nails into the wall with the heel of my shoe, because I don’t own a wrench….

Our near success emboldened my neighbor. “You see,” Ridley began pontificating, “the people who wrote this manual did so in the most straightforward and easiest-to-understand manner possible. They WANT us to succeed in the assembly. It should NOT be necessary to call them and force them to walk us through this. If we just go about this in a logical and well-reasoned manner, we will be able to assemble this bike on our own. That’s why the bike comes with an instruction manual!”

I couldn’t resist. “Then why does the instruction manual come with a toll-free number to the ‘Quick Assembly Hotline’?”

“That’s for losers,” Ridley growled. “Let’s find something else easy that we can work on. Hand me that manual.”

Ridley flipped from page to page, apparently disheartened by the intricacies of the braking system and the derailleur gears. Ridley has a Ph.D. in International Comparative Economic Systematology, but the bike assembly seemed to be more than he could handle. “Are you sure this bike even has derailleur gears?” I asked, but Ridley was deep in contemplation. “My left or their left??” I heard him mumbling.

I caught a glimpse of little Ridley’s face; he looked about ready to fall out of the bushes in despair. I lost it.

Call the number, Ridley!” I sputtered. “Look! Read the back of the manual – ‘Our friendly and knowledgeable operators are standing by to help you assemble your new bicycle in no-time-flat!’ Call the number!!

A little face protruded from the bushes. “Call the number, Dad! Call the number!”

Ridley stared at me as if he were Winston Churchill and I had snatched his cigar right out of his mouth. He sat fuming as I plowed ahead.

“It seems to me that we’ve had this discussion before,” I reminded him. He responded with a blank look. “Remember, we talked about the perspicuity of Scripture?” Ridley and his wife are Evangelicals, and they’ve been trying to convince me that anybody can read the Bible and understand what God wants them to know about salvation and the Christian life. “You told me that everything we need to know is laid out there in Scripture; all we have to do is read the Word and ask God to illuminate our minds.”

Ridley sat up very straight. “I stand by that!” he assured me.

“Yet,” I continued, “you have to admit that you, and your neighbor next door, and the folks across the street, and the people around the block are all following the same Instruction Manual, and yet you’ve all assembled your theological “bicycles” quite differently.”

“You’re talking about the non-essentials,” Ridley assured me dismissively.

“Non-essentials??” I asked him, “like – what must I do to be saved?? Because you, and our Methodist neighbor, and our Pentecostal neighbor, and our Lutheran neighbor all give different answers to that Question of all Questions: you have to believe and be baptized; you don’t have to be baptized – all you have to do is believe; you were baptized as an infant, so you’re okay; your infant baptism doesn’t count for anything – you’ve got to be rebaptized; you must speak in tongues or you don’t have the “Spirit of Christ” and can’t be saved; you must persevere to the end or you won’t be saved; you WILL persevere to the end – otherwise you were never saved to begin with…. Sure, the Manufacturer meant what He said when He wrote the Instruction Manual, but many of the directions are open to interpretation. He compensated for that by training His managers Himself – those men knew what He meant to say and they “entrusted those things to faithful men” who can now interpret the Manual according to His intention! The only way to know for sure what was meant is to consult with the staff trained by the management of the company!”

Ridley stared at me as if I’d had one too many butter-rum jelly beans in the run-up to New Year’s Eve, but I was undaunted.

“I realize that many people manage to get their bicycles assembled all by themselves, but which is more complicated, Ridley – the assembly of a kid’s bike, or the ins and outs of justification, predestination and eschatology?? You can’t with a straight face tell me that anybody can just pick up the Manual and figure it out without assistance! That’s why there’s a toll-free number, Ridley – that’s why Jesus established the teaching authority of the Church!”

Ridley shook his head and shrugged. “We’ll just have to agree to disagree on that,” he grumbled. “Looks like it’s going to rain,” he noted, and he was right – in central Virginia the closest we get to a white Christmas is freezing rain. He thanked me for my efforts and assured me that he and Ridley, Jr. would take it from there. I knew I had overstayed my welcome, and took that as my cue to leave. As I walked back across the street, I turned and saw little Ridley helping his dad collect the thirty-three pieces from the walkway and carry them up onto the porch. Still no working bike. So close, and yet so far….

Maybe tomorrow, little Ridley. Maybe tomorrow.


On the memorial of the Holy Innocents

Deo omnis gloria!

Photo credits: Shimano Deore XT Schaltwerk hinten (am Mountainbike) by C. Corleis/Wikimedia Commons

Winston Churchill 1941 photo by Yousuf Karsh/Wikimedia Commons

en: Jelly Belly en: jelly beans by Brandon Dilbeck/Wikimedia Commons

I send you a very little word, the Word made little in the crib, the Word Who was made flesh for us, the Word of salvation and grace, of sweetness and glory, the Word that is good and gentle, Jesus Christ and Him crucified, raised up on the Cross, raised in praise to the Father’s right hand; to Whom and in Whom do you raise up your soul and find there your rest unending forever and ever. Read over this Word in your heart, turn it over in your mind, let it be sweet as honey on your lips; ponder it, dwell on it, that it may dwell with you and in you forever.

Blessed Jordan of Saxony

Deo omnis gloria!

Back in my Baptist days I attended the church which was home to the lyricist of the popular modern-day Christmas song, “Mary, Did You Know?” The words to the song were penned in 1984; it wasn’t until 12 years later that music was added to create the song that we know today. “Mary, Did You Know?” is now as much a staple of the Advent season as “Deck the Halls” and “What Child is This,” although a tad more controversial, at least in Catholic circles. You see, many Catholics have an objection to the words of this Evangelical carol, pointing out that the Evangelical Protestant concept of Mary and the Catholic understanding of the Blessed Virgin are two very, very different things.

The song poses a series of questions concerning Mary’s “fiat” – her “yes” or “amen” to the message of the angel. Some of the questions are quite innocuous: Mary, did you know that your baby boy would some day walk on water? Mary, did you know that your baby boy would give sight to a blind man? Not really controversy-provoking ponderings – unless you believe that the Almighty rendered Mary psychic, no, she didn’t know. Other questions, however, rub Catholic theology the wrong way: Mary, did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new? This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you!

Let’s parse that. Catholics and Protestants alike agree that Mary was saved by Jesus. After all, she declares plainly in her Magnificat that her spirit rejoices in God, her Savior. But while Evangelicals believe that Mary was simply a random woman (a “dirty, rotten sinner” as one rather rabid Protestant website puts it) chosen by God to bring His Son into the world, Catholic theology teaches that Mary was preserved from sin in anticipation of her Son’s redemptive work.

Mary benefited first of all and uniquely from Christ’s victory over sin: she was preserved from all stain of original sin and by a special grace of God committed no sin of any kind during her whole earthly life. CCC 411

The lyrics to “Mary, Did You Know?” claim that Her Son Whom she delivered would one day deliver her – Catholics would certainly not dispute the fact that Mary was “delivered” by her Son, but we would have to argue with the timeline!

Another Catholic quibble with the song is that because Mary, at the moment of her Immaculate Conception, was endowed with the same gifts that Adam and Eve possessed before the Fall, she would have had “infused knowledge,” meaning that she would indeed have understood the ramifications of the Incarnation. If this is correct, then the answer to many of the questions posed by “Mary, Did You Know?” would be an unqualified “Yes!” She did indeed know that her Baby Boy was the Lord of all creation, that the Child Whom she was agreeing to bear would one day suffer and die for the sins of the world, whereas the Protestant answer to those questions posed in the song would be “Of course she didn’t know! The angel told her that she was bringing the ‘son of the Most High’ into the world, but like every other Jew of that day, Mary thought the Messiah would be an earthly ruler who would set up the continuation of King David’s rule.” The Protestant take on Mary’s fiat is that God roped some woman (a godly woman, most likely, but nobody special) in off the street who then cluelessly agreed to bear God Incarnate, with no concept of the world of suffering she was getting herself into. She certainly didn’t “know,” Protestants will tell you, but as a sinner she often stubbornly said “NO!” to God – just (fortunately) not at the pivotal moment of the Annunciation.

Catholics, on the other hand, believe that Mary in her fiat said yes to everything – to the Incarnation, to the Virgin Birth, to the flight into Egypt, to the loss and finding of Jesus in the Temple, to the betrayal in the Garden, to the scourging, to the Crucifixion. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Mary knew all the details beforehand – while she may have possessed infused knowledge, she wasn’t clairvoyant. She wouldn’t have known when she gave her fiat, for example, which specific miracles her Son would perform. Yet Mary said yes to everything, we Catholics believe, because Mary always said yes to everything God proposed. His Will was her will. The Blessed Virgin, preserved from all stain of sin, lived in perfect conformity to the will of God. All the promises of God are “Yes!” in Jesus Christ, and so through Him, her Deliverer, the “be it done unto me according to thy word” was spoken by His Blessed Mother at every moment of her life, as well as at this incredible juncture in history in particular.

And this isn’t just arcane theological knowledge to be filed away in anticipation of your upcoming appearance on the American Bible Challenge. The import of St. Paul’s “amen” passage in 2 Corinthians 1:19-20 should make it clear to you that at each and every moment of your life the “annunciation” is taking place all over again. At every moment God is announcing His Holy Will to you – nothing so grand as the angelic messenger and the fulfillment of prophecy, yet an annunciation all the same. In your life, the messengers generally look more like a pink slip, a child vomiting in the night, an acceptance into grad school, a neighbor who’s learned that she is developing dementia, an opportunity to move overseas, a friend asking if you’ve ever considered religious life. Your annunciation may come through answered prayer, or even more often through unanswered prayer. When we experience these annunciations of God’s will, what we “know” isn’t the question; the important thing is that we do not “NO!” We are not clairvoyant; we have no way of knowing which of our fiats may be the one which changes the world. Honestly, it doesn’t matter, because each and every time a follower of God Incarnate participates in His “Yes,” the world is changed….

Which is why, going back to that song, we need to modify those lyrics slightly – the question asked of us is “Sherry, did you no?” “Gary, did you no?” “Larry, did you no?” “Carrie, did you no?” because each moment of our lives is our own personal annunciation. Did we know? Heck, no – but by the grace of God may our response to Him always be “Yes!”

“Renée, did you know?” No, of course I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for when I said “Yes” to Him. It was a blind trust, yet not a foolish one. It was in imitation of my Blessed Mother; it was a participation in the life of Him Who is the Great Amen to the design of God the Father. It cost me, which made it all the more precious. And because I said “Yes,” I have in my own obscure life done what my Blessed Mother did illuminated by the floodlights of history – I have brought Jesus into the world.

And you have, too. And on that note, a joyous Christmas to all you who have joined the Blessed Virgin in her fiat, her “Yes” to God.


On the memorial of St. Peter Canisius

Deo omnis gloria!

Our town has undergone some serious downtown revitalization over the past 15-20 years, with new businesses being established and loft apartments being built. I always rejoice when new restaurants open up downtown – I know people appreciate having another choice of where to dine. I really don’t eat out, but my neighbor, a nondenominational Protestant, loves to go out for brunch on Sunday morning. Recently a new restaurant opened its doors, one that she just had to check out – the Pick-N-Choose Cafeteria on Fourth and Main.

She told me that last Sunday morning she opened the door of that establishment to a frightful din, the sound of dozens of voices all crying out at the same time. Startled, she pulled back, but a customer who was leaving assured her that the food was great – “best meal I’ve had in ages!” he said as he exited the establishment. She proceeded cautiously up to the counter and selected a tray and silverware. Strangely enough, the first server, a big, meaty guy, seemed to have a full meal waiting for her. He was set to dish out infant baptism with regeneration, sacramental union, episcopal polity, and liturgy, all served on a bed of faith alone and the Bible alone. He held out his hand, waiting for her plate, as if he were used to being obeyed.

“Hand it over,” he commanded in a thick, old-fashioned German accent, “I’ll fill it up.”

“Umm… thank you,” she said hesitantly, “but I’d like to see what the other offerings are before I make a decision.”

The man’s jaw jutted out imperiously. “I shall not have my food judged by any man, not even by any angel! Look at you – you look scrawny! What have you been eating? Give me your plate!

To my neighbor’s surprise, the server suddenly lunged at her, and she quickly stepped back. Had the counter not been between them, she told me, she believes he would have come after her.

“You will regret this!” he thundered, “The rest of the food in here is nothing but in-deviled, over-devilled, and through-devilled refuse!” (although she told me that he used a much earthier term for “refuse”). Rattled, she hurried on to the next server, a tall man with a long, thin beard wrapped in a hairnet. He looked decidedly no-nonsense.

“Hold out your plate!” he barked. She looked over the selection: infant baptism, presbyteral polity, total depravity, limited atonement, once again served over sola fide and sola scriptura. It smelled appetizing. “Yes,” she said, “I’ll have some of that presbyteral polity, please.”

“We’ll have none of that!” the man insisted, pouring infant baptism into a bowl and holding it out to her. “Here!”

She hesitated. “No, thank you – that’s not really what I want.”

My neighbor told me she thought the man was going to rap her knuckles with his ladle. “What do you think this is, a cafeteria? You WILL have infant baptism, and you will LIKE IT!”

Just then the first server began to bellow, “AND baptismal regeneration!”

“How foolishly he errs!” the second server hissed. “You want the sign and seal of covenant status – his baptismal regeneration is just leftover hash from his upbringing! Give me your plate!” the man demanded as he rapped the counter with his ladle.

My neighbor hurried on.

The third server seemed a little more laid back. He was offering believer’s baptism (much more to my neighbor’s taste), congregational polity, with a memorial meal and the obligatory solas. As the server was asking my neighbor how much polity she would like, a crusty roll came sailing through the air and knocked him in the side of the head. “Whoever does not accept my menu may not be saved!” she heard the first server yell. The third server slammed down his spatula and stalked off in the direction of the roll-slinger. The second server rolled his eyes and motioned to my neighbor with his ladle. She pretended not to see him.

According to my neighbor, the offerings became much more appealing from that point on. Most of the food was à la carte, and the plain fare that the first servers (who were now loudly anathematizing each other) had tried to feed her gave way to spicier offerings. No one seemed to care what she took or what she left behind. She picked and chose her way to the cashier, where she was pleasantly surprised to find out how cheap her brunch was going to be. She recommended the cafeteria to me in glowing terms.

“You can get pretty much anything you like!” she enthused as she pulled a roll of Tums from the pocket of her cardigan. “I’m going back for the pan-fried glossolalia next Sunday!”

I mentioned to her my concern that the Health Department, according to recent news reports, hasn’t been allowed onto the premises to conduct an inspection.

“Oh, pshaw,” my neighbor reacted. “I know good food when I eat it! After all, we learned about the Theology Pyramid in school. As long as your meal is solidly grounded in faith alone and the Bible alone, you’re okay. I like to try new things, and as the menu plainly states, there’s a Bible verse for every dish they’re offering over there! Really, you’ve gotta try it!”

I explained to her that I have a firm commitment to getting my food from the same establishment every Sunday morning. She rolled her eyes.

“Yeah, I know – don’t you get tired of that same ole, plain ole Body and Blood Sunday after Sunday? Seriously, I couldn’t do it.”

I was about to tell her that I actually eat there on weekdays too when I can, but she interrupted me.

“I saw some of your fellow mackerel-snappers at the cafeteria!” she announced triumphantly.

“Eating there?” I asked her, although I was not surprised.

“No, serving!” she answered. “They looked like politicians I’d seen on TV. Their free contraception with Hollandaise sauce smelled good, but I draw the line at the abortion-rights ratatouille. Some things just aren’t edible!”

I had to agree with her on that.

She belched and asked me if I could recommend a good gastroenterologist; she’d been having a few digestive issues recently. “I really think,” I warned her, “that the first thing a gastroenterologist would advise you would be to watch what you eat! If you’re having stomach problems….”

My neighbor held up her hand to cut me off. “Nobody’s told me what to eat since I was a kid! I’ll be darned if I’m going to go on a bland diet! I eat what I want!”

I gave her the name of a local doctor, and fired one parting shot.

“You know, the Greek word for ‘pick-and-choose’ is ‘heresy.'”

Her face brightened. “That reminds me! Next Sunday I’ve got to have some more of that health-and-wealth gyros they serve down there! Delectable!”

I shook my head as I watched her walk back to her house. What could I say? How could I explain my aversion to cafeteria-style dining? You never know what you’re going to get in those places. She thinks that’s great; I think that’s a matter of great concern.

After all – you are what you eat.


On the memorial of St. Phaolô Nguyễn Văn Mỹ

Deo omnis gloria!

Photo credits: La Feria del CCCT, Chuao, Caracas by Liliana Amundaraín/Wikimedia

Few people have a biography as interesting as Rosalind Moss’ life story. Born into a Jewish family, Moss grew up considering herself an agnostic – perhaps there was a God, she thought, but He made no difference in her daily existence. Then one day her older brother, David, told her about the Man he had accepted as his Savior. Rosalind initially thought her brother had gone off the deep end, but she soon joined David in Evangelical Protestantism. To her horror, within two years her brother entered the Catholic Church, which Rosalind considered to be a false belief system. It took over a decade and a half before she, too, became Catholic. Her journey, however, was only beginning – Rosalind Moss is now
Mother Miriam of the Lamb of God, O.S.B., and has become the prioress of a new religious community, the Daughters of Mary, Mother of Israel’s Hope.

One paragraph in Rosalind’s amazing conversion story really got my attention. Back when she was still agnostic, her brother told her about Jesus Christ:

David brought me an article that said there were Jewish people who believed that Christ was the Messiah. I asked my brother, ‘You mean to tell me that the Messiah was already here? That He was the only hope the world ever had, and yet the Jewish people didn’t know this? That He came and left and there has been no impact, no change, no peace? That’s just insanity.’

When I first read Rosalind’s reaction to what is, after all, the Good News, I laughed. It struck me as exceedingly strange that she or anyone should feel the way she did about the advent of the Messiah. Nobody knew? For Heaven’s sake, woman, the First Coming of Jesus Christ the Messiah changed the world! How can you say with a straight face that He came and left and there has been no impact?? Take the blinders off and perceive the 2,000 years of Christian history you are committed to ignoring!

Talk about missing the memo!

Of course, from Rosalind’s Jewish perspective, her attitude made a great deal of sense. It was taken for granted that Jesus was not the Messiah; therefore, 2,000 years of Christian history could be ignored without qualms. I realized that I of all people should not find this approach strange, given that as a Protestant I would have had exactly the same incredulous reaction had a Catholic walked up to me and claimed that Jesus Christ Himself established the Holy Catholic Church as the pillar and foundation of truth.

Really??? I would have laughed. What a novel approach to theology and Christian history! Where, pray tell, does Jesus say one word about the Catholic Church? Where is the word “Catholic” in the Bible, or the word “pope”? You have no biblical basis whatsoever for your laughable belief that Jesus established an earthly institution with a hierarchy, a Magisterium – a Church that teaches with authority!

Of course, I was right about the words “Catholic” and “pope” not being in the Bible. But the word “church” certainly is in there, and that was the concept that I was devoted to ignoring. Not that I was unfamiliar with verses discussing the importance of the body of Christ:

And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. Eph 1:22-23

Built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Eph 2:20-22

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. Col 1:16-17

But Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope. Heb 3:6

I liked those verses – they required nothing of me. Yet for all my familiarity with Scripture, there was one verse about the church that I was unacquainted with:

…so that if I am delayed, you will know how people must conduct themselves in the household of God. This is the church of the living God, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth. 1 Tim 3:15

Those words that St. Paul penned to Timothy, the bishop of Ephesus, were never really discussed at the Evangelical churches I attended. Taken literally, they subvert the very premise upon which Protestantism was founded. We Evangelicals would have told you that it was the Bible which was the pillar and foundation of truth! Yet the Bible says that the pillar and foundation of the truth is the Church….

That changes everything….

Interestingly, both Rosalind the agnostic and Rosalind the Evangelical Christian were committed to ignoring the same pivotal passage in Matthew. When she was Jewish, Rosalind would have rejected St. Peter’s confession of faith, for he told Jesus, “You are the Christ – the Messiah! – the Son of the living God!” This concept, that Jesus was the One foretold by the prophets, was rejected by many Jews in Jesus’ day and on down through the centuries. Rosalind’s ancestors discounted the possibility that Jesus could be the Messiah, thus leaving Rosalind and her brother clueless when it came to the Good News of the advent of Israel’s Hope – she could in good faith cry out, “Who knew?” By the grace of God, Rosalind accepted Jesus as her Savior and was able to affirm with St. Peter: You are the Christ, the Messiah! But all was not yet well – her newfound spiritual ancestors, Evangelical Christians, discounted the possibility that Jesus had established an authoritative Church, and so she thought it only right to reject the words that the Messiah then answered to Simon Peter:

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”… “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Mt 16:16, 18-19

Yet 2,000 years worth’ of Christians have taken those words at face value:

Our Lord, whose commands we ought to fear and observe, says in the Gospel, by way of assigning the episcopal dignity and settling the plan of His Church: ‘I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. And to you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatever things you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth, they will be loosed in heaven.’ From that time the ordination of bishops and the plan of the Church flows on through the changes of times and successions; for the Church is founded upon the bishops, and every act of the Church is controlled by the same rulers. Since this has indeed been established by Divine Law, I marvel at the rash boldness of certain persons who have desired to write me as if they were writing letters in the name of the Church, “since the Church is established upon the bishop and upon the clergy and upon all who stand firm in the faith.” St. Cyprian of Carthage, c. 250 A.D.

Two thousand years’ worth of Christians have believed in the very biblical concept of an authoritative Church, of bishops who had the right to absolve sins, to teach authoritatively, and to command, and of the bishop of Rome who was charged with feeding Christ’s sheep and strengthening his brothers in the Faith. Yet had you asked Rosalind or me, we would have asked you – where is this in the Bible??

If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the Church; and if he refuses to listen even to the Church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Mt 18:17-18

The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me. Lk 10:16

Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers. Lk 22:31-32

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.” Jn 20:22-23

So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.” Jn 21:15-17

At this time Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren (a gathering of about one hundred and twenty persons was there together), and said, “Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was counted among us and received his share in this ministry…. For it is written in the book of Psalms: “Let his homestead be made desolate, and let no one dwell in it” and “Let another man take his office.” Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us— beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection. So they put forward two men, Joseph called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus), and Matthias. And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles. Acts 1: 15-18, 20-25

And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete. 2 Cor 10:6

We have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will continue to do what we command. 2 Thessalonians 3:14

For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 2 Timothy 1:6

The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. 2 Tim 2:2

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 2 Timothy 4:1-2

These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you. Titus 2:15

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Heb 13:17

We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. 1 Jn 4:6

Talk about missing the memo.

Taking for granted the Protestant claim that each man or woman’s private interpretation of Holy Scripture is the pillar and foundation of truth leaves Christians wandering in the dark, since of course the Bible nowhere teaches such foolishness, and no one believed such foolishness for the first 1500 years of Christianity.

So, you’re Catholic, and all of this is dead obvious to you, and you’re laughing. Well, it wasn’t dead obvious to me as an Evangelical – I had no clue. I believed what I’d been told, exactly as did everyone who attended our Evangelical church. We all missed the memo. When you see an Evangelical, never assume that “there goes a person who has rejected the truths of the Faith.” In nine out of ten cases, that person hasn’t ever had Catholic teaching clearly presented to him or her. Never think that that person will simply reject the truth if you present it to them. I certainly didn’t reject Catholic teaching when it was finally explained to me, and neither did Rosalind Moss. A lot of folks truly are just waiting for their Catholic friends to care enough to share the truths of the Faith with them. Really.

Please resend the memo.


On the memorial of St. Virginia Centurione Bracelli

Deo omnis gloria!

For the past 20-some years now, I have been a citizen of “Y’all” land, a world in which my habitual expression of the second person plural, “you guys,” sticks out like a sore Northern accent. “Hey” is the standard greeting here; I usually say “hi.” I once had an entire misadventure with a frustrated gentleman who asked me to get him a “pin” – he finally got what he wanted from a native Virginian who knew that the man was actually requesting what I tend to think of as a “pen.” The preposition “on” is, in this part of the world, a two-syllable endeavor (sounds like “owen”), and the hospitable folks of central Virginia will ask if you wouldn’t like to come over to “err house” rather than “our house.” Neither my children (my son was born here) nor I have succumbed to the charms of the local dialect, although my daughter had a close call in her childhood. I said something to her one day about Moses and his arch-nemesis, Pharaoh. She seemed not to know what I was talking about, and yet I knew that she had recently had a lesson at her Baptist Sunday School on this subject. I asked again, and the light dawned. “Oh!” she responded to her know-nothing parent: “You mean FAY-row!”

Central Virginia is about an hour and a half from the North Carolina border, where the southern accent thickens and congeals. One of my workmates hails from Johnston County, and she was telling us the story of her family, a rather sad tale of a bipolar, alcoholic father and a mother who fought determinedly to keep the family from going under. As my friend’s North Carolina drawl assured us, “Mama wattn’t skeered a’nuthin.”

I remember Karol Wojtyla, Blessed John Paul II, being described in similar terms: he was fearless. He insisted that we take to heart the words “Be not afraid!” – and proceeded to live by those words himself. He took on the Communist regime in his homeland – and it was the communists who backed down. He survived several assassination attempts, and kept coming back for more. He did not shy away from proclaiming to the world the truth of the nuptial meaning of the body, though the world rejected this teaching, or worse, ignored it. He faced his Parkinson’s disease with characteristic resolve, and taught all of us, his spiritual children, how to die with faith, hope and love ablaze in our hearts. What do you suppose the secret to the Pope’s fearlessness could have been?

I think he took after his Mother.

Remember, John Paul II was the “totus tuus” pope – “all yours,” the “yours” meaning Mary’s. Being “full of grace,” there is no room for fear in her heart, as many depictions of her attempt to convey. Some speculate that the first New World Marian apparition was actually called “Our Lady of Coatlaxopeuh” (pronounced something like “Guadalupe”), pointing out that this means in the Aztec language “She who crushes the head of the serpent.” Wow. We have copperheads in central Virginia, and I’m here to tell you, there’s no way I’m attempting to tangle with them. I’m afraid of them.

She’s not.

And she tells us, as she told poor, frightened Juan Diego, not to be afraid, either:

Am I not here, I, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need anything more?

Listen at her! as they say around here. Could any words bring more comfort in times of stress? Jesus gave this woman to us as our Mother, the woman who took to heart the angel’s command, “Fear not!” As children of the Father, we are under her shadow and protection. We can rely on our Mother to beat the tar out of whatever’s trying to harm us.

Great day in the morning!

Thus trusting children of Mary, like her son Blessed John Paul II, can live lives remarkable not just for their goodness, but for their heroic virtue. The Virgin trusted God her Savior, and that trust begat courage. Our Mother passes that inheritance of fearlessness down to us.

Mama wattn’t skeered a’nuthin.

Neither should her children be.


On the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Deo omnis gloria!