Tag Archives: apologetics

Divine Design

2 Jun

CCCThis Sunday, St. Paul reminds us that the Gospel he preached was of divine origin. As it was true for Paul 2,000 years ago, it is true for the Church today. Nowhere is this point more relevant than in the current cultural debate about marriage and human sexuality.

While there is much misunderstanding over what we believe as Catholics, an essential point is that we do not have the power to change what we did not create. Marriage certainly is a human institution, but it has a divine design. Like most things, if we do not understand an aspect of Catholic teaching, it is good to sincerely seek the authentic teaching rather than the caricature that popular culture perpetuates.

“The intimate community of life and love which constitute the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws” (CCC 1603). In other words, marriage is not an accident. If you have legitimate questions about what the Church believes about marriage and want to go straight to the source about it rather than through the filter of someone else, a good place to start is the Catechism of the Catholic Church, starting at paragraph 1601.

The foregoing is this week’s installment of the “Marriage Minute,” produced by the Marriage and Family Life Office of the Archdiocese, which attempts to view the Sunday readings through the lens of the Sacrament of Marriage.

Reasons to Believe

6 Apr

aaaa“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

“We must obey God rather than men.” St. Peter boldly proclaimed these words as he was questioned by the authorities 2,000 years ago. In a certain sense, not much has changed. Modern popes and faithful Catholics are asked frequently to deny Jesus or the teachings of His Church on so many issues, but especially when it comes to matters of marriage and family life, and we also have to say, “We must obey God rather than men.”

Mostly, confusion arises because the “why” of the Church’s teaching has never been explained well. Many are often unaware of the beauty that stands at the foundations of “controversial teachings” such as same-sex “marriage,” contraception, pornography, and divorce. It is important for us to understand the “why” of the Church’s teachings as much as the “what.”

For common sense explanations on Church teachings regarding marriage and family life, go to www.archkck.org/family. Then click on “defending marriage.”

St. Ignatius of Antioch

17 Oct

I’m especially partial to today’s saint, Ignatius of Antioch. I’m sure part of it is because it’s my 56th birthday, so I’ve always claimed him as one of “my” saints. But even more, St. Ignatius, who is recalled in the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer 1), is a vitally important witness to the faith of the Apostles, which of course is the faith of the Church.

St. Ignatius (c. 50-107 A.D.) was the third Bishop of Antioch (St. Peter himself was the first, by the way). Antioch is the place where Our Lord’s followers were called Christians for the first time (Acts 11:26). St. Ignatius heard the preaching of St. John the Evangelist, and he also knew St. Polycarp, another significant apostolic Father who eventually became the Bishop of Smyrna in what is now Turkey.

What makes St. Ignatius such a significant figure in Church history is that when he was to be martyred in 107 A.D. during the reign of the Emperor Trajan, he was brought to Rome for his execution. During this journey he wrote seven letters to different Churches that are extant and indeed have been precious gems of the apostolic faith for Christians of every generation.

In honor of St. Ignatius, I will now give the following “top ten” list of some of my favorite quotes from this great bishop and martyr: Continue reading

The Book of God

30 Sep
St. Jerome

St. Jerome, Doctor of the Church

One of the central documents of the Second Vatican Council was its Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum. This pivotal conciliar document has called Catholics to draw more effectively upon the life-changing power of Sacred Scripture.

And yet, Dei Verbum is not simply about the Bible. The title of this document itself is instructive. The Council Fathers did not call it Dei Liber (“Book of God”) but Dei Verbum (“Word of God”). The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us why this distinction is important:

“The Christian faith is not a ‘religion of the book.’ Christianity is the religion of the ‘Word’ of God, not a written and mute word, but incarnate and living. If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, open our minds to understand the Scriptures” (no. 108, footnotes omitted).

For All the Saints

One of the principal themes of the Second Vatican Council was the universal call to holiness. The renewal of the Church hinges on the ongoing sanctification of all her members. This is the work of God, but all the faithful must be personally engaged in the process.

Dei Verbum takes us to the point of entry into this new life in Christ Jesus. It comes down to the “obedience of faith” that we give to God as He reveals Himself to us (DV, no. 5). As our Lord Himself says, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk 11:28).

It is the great mission of the Holy Spirit, the “soul of the Church,” to reveal Christ to us and bring us into communion with Him and all His holy ones. As St. Paul says, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (2 Cor. 12:3). The gift of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles and to the entire Church surely includes the singular blessing of Sacred Scripture, but encompasses the totality of what Christ bequeathed to His Church, including the sacred liturgy. In this regard the Holy Spirit “is the Church’s living memory” (Catechism, no. 1099), making present and effective in our lives the saving works of Christ. Dei Verbum, no. 9 therefore affirms that Sacred Tradition and Scripture are bound closely together and flow from the same divine wellspring, which is none other than the Holy Spirit.

Bible Christians

While Catholics do not limit God’s self-revelation to the Bible alone (“sola scriptura”), we must affirm with St. Jerome, whose feast we celebrate today, that “ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”

The fact of the matter is that Catholics have not been well “versed” in Sacred Scripture. Surely, Catholics know much more of the Bible than we think we do–to the extent we’ve stayed awake at Mass and catechism class. Still, we experience something of an “inferiority complex” when it comes to the Bible. When challenged on the more controversial aspects of our faith with the dreaded “Where in the Bible…?” questions, we are needlessly bewildered and intimidated. Continue reading

The Beloved Disciple

27 Dec

Over 20 years ago I attended St. John (the Evangelist) Seminary in Southern California. On the parking circle there was a huge statue of St. John holding a pen in his hand. And that makes sense, since John wrote five of the 27 books of the New Testament: his Gospel, three letters, and the Book of Revelation. But the seminarians jokingly suggested that St. John was actually holding a dart that was aimed at the office of the rector of the seminary.

So much for private interpretation!

The Church has always identified the Apostle John as the author of the fourth Gospel and as the “beloved disciple” described in that Gospel. This common belief is richly reflected in the Church’s liturgy.

That’s why the universal Church celebrates today the Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist. The readings, prayers, and antiphons unmistakably reflect the belief of the Church concerning these issues. For example, one of the antiphons for morning prayer on this feast day provides: “John, the apostle and evangelist, a virgin chosen by the Lord, was loved by the Lord above the others.”

There are sound biblical and historical arguments as well for the identification of St. John as the author of the fourth Gospel and the “beloved disciple.” Continue reading

Evangelizing Church

11 Dec

Pope Francis 4As we well know, our Holy Father chose as his patron and model St. Francis, who is known for the statement, perhaps apocryphal, that we should “preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.” While there is some wisdom in that statement, we cannot conclude (or perhaps rationalize) that words aren’t important in the work of evangelization. In fact, they are usually necessary!

Pope Francis surely thinks so. He opens chapter three of his apostolic exhortation on “the joy of the Gospel” (Evangelii Gaudium, “EG”) with the statement (quoting Blessing John Paul II) that “there can be no true evangelization without the explicit proclamation of Jesus and Lord, and without the primacy of the proclamation of Jesus Christ in all evangelizing work” (EG 110). He says that our “absolute priority” must be “the joyful, patient, and progressive preaching of the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

In today’s installment of our series on Evangelii Gaudium, we will unpack the first half of the chapter on the proclamation of the Gospel (EG 111-34), in which the Pope focuses on the role of all Catholics in the work of evangelization. He reminds us that evangelization is the work of the entire Church, understood as the pilgrim People of God (EG 111). Now, it may be daunting to hear that we are personally called to be on the front lines of the Church’s mission to bring the joy of the Gospel to all people, but the Holy Father quickly adds a few crucially important considerations:

  • It’s not about our own efforts, but about allowing God’s grace to work through us, so that the Church may be the sacrament of the salvation God offers the world (EG 112). Grace always comes first!
  • Drawing on a key emphasis of Vatican II, Pope Francis says that we are saved not as isolated individuals, but as a family (EG 113). The Church is our home, and all are welcome to share our joy.
  • As Church, we are have the dignity of being leaven in the world, offering hope, mercy, and encouragement to all (EG 114).

The Holy Father spends a considerable amount of time talking about “culture,” which has to do with “the lifestyle of a given society, the specific way its members relate to one another, to others, and to God” (EG 115). Grace presupposes and builds upon culture, and at the same time culture gives flesh to the faith. The Holy Father stresses that “Christianity does not have simply one cultural expression” (EG 116). He especially points out that European Christianity at a particular moment in history does not exhaust the richness and possibilities of our faith (EG 118). He does not see “cultural diversity” as a threat to Church unity or Catholic orthodoxy, but rather as a telltale sign of the Church’s vitality. After all, unity is not the same as uniformity (EG 117).

Perhaps the “heart” of this section of the apostolic exhortation is the Holy Father’s insistence that we become not mere missionaries and not mere disciples, but “missionary disciples” (EG 120). He challenges all of us, right now, in the present moment, to be agents of the new evangelization. He says we can’t be “passive observers” so as to leave the work of evangelization to so-called ”professionals” (EG 120). He doesn’t deny that we need to mature in the faith through ongoing catechesis, but nonetheless we should not “postpone” evangelization until some later time (EG 121).

One way that the Gospel gets “inculturated” is through expressions of popular piety and devotion (EG 122).  The Pope affirms things such as taking children on pilgrimages, fingering the Rosary, lighting candles, praying before a crucifix and other simple yet profound expressions of the Holy Spirit at work in individual hearts and in our culture (EG 123-26).

The Pope also discusses the person-to-person dimension of evangelization, even in the midst of conversations with strangers (EG 127). In paragraph 128, he describes how we can share our faith in dialogue with others. Some of the adjectives he uses are “respectful,” “gentle,” “humble,” and “willing to learn.” We can’t lose sight of the fundamental message: the personal love of God who became man, who gave Himself up for us, who is living and who is offering us His friendship and salvation.  When the circumstances are right, he encourages us to pray with people and to remember that we don’t have to have “fixed formulations” memorized in order to communicate our faith (EG 129).

He encourages us to be open to various charisms or gifts of the Holy Spirit, which build up the entire Church (EG 130). We seek the Holy Spirit to build unity amidst our diversity and to heal divisions. We ask for the Spirit’s grace to be open to differences that at times can be “uncomfortable” (EG 131).

The Holy Father promotes apologetics in the work of evangelization—perhaps not so much in the traditional sense of responding to Protestant arguments, but in the sense of putting reason and the sciences at the service of evangelization (EG 132). In that regard, Pope Francis is very supportive of the work of theologians, yet he does remind them that theology exists for the purpose of evangelization (EG 133). He ends this section with a brief mention of Catholic universities and schools, which combine education with the explicit proclamation of the Gospel, so as to foster the evangelization of culture (EG 134).

In the next post, we will turn to what Pope Francis has to say about the role of the Sunday homily in the work of evangelization!

What Did Jesus Know?

27 Aug

Finding in the TempleThe constant teaching of the Church is that Christ, in His human intellect, from the moment of His conception, knew all things that a created intellect could know.

This question of Jesus’ human knowledge points to the great mystery of the Incarnation, when, “in the fullness of time,” God took on human nature. In doing so, our God, in the Person of Jesus Christ, united Himself in some fashion with every human person. As we consider the mystery of Christ’s being fully human and fully divine, we are filled with wonder and joy. God is truly with us; He has visited His people (cf. Is. 7:14; Mt. 1:23; Lk. 7:16), offering salvation to all the nations.

Going a little deeper, we find that the Church affirms that human nature was “assumed” and not “absorbed” in the Incarnation. Christ is true God and true man, not some hybrid of the two (Catechism, no. 464). In trying to come to grips with this truth, many great minds throughout history have fallen into error by embracing only part of this magnificent reality. Many people today, in rightly affirming Christ’s humanity, have failed to leave room for the complementary truth that Christ is also fully divine. Indeed, “today, because of the rationalism found in so much of contemporary culture, it is above all faith in the divinity of Christ that has become problematic” (Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter at the Close of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 Novo Millennio Ineunte, no. 22).

It within this context that we examine Christ’s human knowledge. It is legitimate to ask how God could at the same time be one like us (cf. Heb. 4:15) and yet know everything. However, the answer to this question must be faithful to the data the Lord has revealed to us through the Church.

We must confess, as the Church has done consistently throughout her history, that Jesus Christ is fully human. This truth is summarized in the Catechism, which in turn quotes Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, no. 22: “The Son of God . . . worked with human hands; he thought with a human mind. He acted with a human will, and with a human heart he loved. Born of the Virgin Mary, he has truly been made one of us, like to us in all things except sin” (no. 470). Continue reading