Tuesday, October 28, 2014

On the Importance of Voting

It is hard to underestimate the importance of voting.

As you are well aware, here in the US, the silly season is in full swing. Candidates are filling the airwaves and making media appearances in an effort to solicit your vote for this important midterm election.

PLENTY AT STAKEI realize this is not a Presidential election this year, so voter turnout won’t be as high as two years ago. Nonetheless, this election season will have a big impact on the country.

On top of control of the US Senate, governor races, House of Representative seats, and Senate spots are up for grabs. These candidates could possess tremendous power if (re-)elected.

A governor can determine judge appointments, veto state bills, and sign bills into state law, for instance. Elected Congressmen can go on to chair Congressional committees, and vote on national laws, as well. Such decisions impact all of us at some level.

WE ALL HAVE A MORAL OBLIGATION TO VOTEWe have an obligation to vote, as stated by the Catechism of the Church, 2240:

“Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country.”

Voting serves the common good, and thus it serves the Natural Law, as well.

We all should seek justice, liberty, and peace for all members of our nation. We must discern the best candidates and vote for them, so as to help them to win. Then we must hold them accountable to enact laws and fulfill their duty to serve.

CATHOLIC VOTING RECORD HISTORICALLY AN INDICTMENTAs great as the importance of voting is, sadly Catholics, at least here in the US, do not have a good track record. This must change!

Five of the last six Presidential candidates who won the popular Catholic vote also won the election. This means that the majority of self-identifying Catholics voted into office Barack Obama (twice), George W. Bush (once), and Bill Clinton (twice). The lone exception was in 2000, when Al Gore won the popular Catholic vote (by two points), but lost the election in the electoral college.

That is frightening.

In 1998, the US Council of Catholic Bishops issued a document called, “Living The Gospel Of Life: A Challenge To American Catholics.” I think it sums up perfectly why Catholics have failed at the ballot box.

I want to direct your attention to the spot-on observation in section 24 of this “Challenge:”

“Today, Catholics risk cooperating in a false pluralism. Secular society will allow believers to have whatever moral convictions they please—as long as they keep them on the private preserves of their consciences, in their homes and in their churches, and out of the public arena.

“Democracy is not a substitute for morality. Its value stands – or falls – with the values which it embodies and promotes. Only tireless promotion of the truth about the human person can infuse democracy with the right values. This is what Jesus meant when he asked us to be a leaven in society.

“American Catholics have long sought to assimilate into U.S. cultural life.

“But in assimilating, we have too often been digested. We have been changed by our culture too much, and we have changed it not enough.

If we are leaven, we must bring to our culture the whole Gospel, which is a Gospel of life and joy. That is our vocation as believers.

“And there is no better place to start than promoting the beauty and sanctity of human life. Those who would claim to promote the cause of life through violence or the threat of violence contradict this Gospel at its core.”

We would do well to recall the words of our bishops and to heed them. We can start with this election.

IN CLOSINGWithout the right to life, no rights exist or matter. That’s why it is the foundational criteria by which any candidate must be measured by a faithful Catholic. If a candidate does not support the right to life from conception to natural death, he or she is disqualified from properly serving office.

I hope you agree on the importance of voting. Now, get out there and vote pro-life!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Synod on the Family - A Commentary

Synod Surprise

by MARK BRUMLEY10/21/2014 Comments

– Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Those expecting big changes in Catholic teaching in the final report of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family just encountered the “God of surprises,” to use Pope Francis’ expression. No big changes.

Of course, the interim report surprised people, too. Apparently, someone “adjusted” it to fit a certain approach to issues concerning homosexual persons, civilly remarried Catholics, and Communion and cohabitation. This approach wasn’t generally shared by the synod fathers, despite everyone’s desire to be inclusive and merciful. That made the report a misrepresentation. Surprise.

Media “spun” the story, essentially saying that the Catholic Church had “caved in,” to use George Weigel’s expression. The Church is changing her teaching, they said. The story was wrong. No surprise.

What surprised many was the bishops’ pushback. Many openly criticized the interim report. They began taking more responsibility for their own “messaging.” Even some of the so-called “progressive” voices severely qualified things:

Mercy, inclusivity and respect for human dignity doesn’t mean anything goes, many bishops noted. Human dignity isn’t a blank check to do as we please. Disapproving of certain things doesn’t mean we don’t know that people do other, praiseworthy things. Even bad actions sometimes have positive elements, which don’t, of course, make the bad things good. None of this needs to compromise Catholic teaching. We should praise faithful Catholic families. And so on.

Told by synod leadership that the bishops’ small-group reports wouldn’t be available to the public, the bishops balked. The small-group reports were published.

The final report of the synod aligns with Catholic teaching.

Some observers compared the synod’s discussion to Vatican II. Good comparison. The Roman Curial leadership at the Second Vatican Council wanted the bishops to “rubber stamp” the prepackaged documents. The bishops said, “No.” Similarly, some synod fathers tried to get a “rubber stamp” on a misrepresentative interim report. The bishops said, “No.”


The African bishops, who a few European participants seemed to want to marginalize, spoke out. Why shouldn’t their contributions to the universal Church be considered? The Pope added South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, one of the most outspoken critics of the interim report, to the final report’s writing team.


The synod upheld Catholic teaching but was eager to find new ways to present it. Call that groundbreaking if you want — it seems more like “Let’s do better.” The hot-button issues were there — holy Communion for civilly remarried Catholics, cohabitation and how to reach out to same-sex attracted people — but the final report addressed them in a more coherently Catholic way.


The evangelical thrust of Pope Francis (and his predecessors) permeated the final report. The Church should reach out to struggling families, not wait for them to come to her. What’s more, the Church is to cure wounds, not just bandage them and pretend they aren’t there. The Church must “meet people where they are” — going to the highways and byways. Yet we mustn’t “leave them where they are.”

Sounds like the New Evangelization.

One “surprise” never came: a call for collective repentance. Pope St. John Paul II renewed Catholic teaching on marriage and family life through his theology of the body, yet his teaching was often ignored, even resisted, by some Church leaders. Consequently, God raised up other people to spread it. Many of them are “JP2 Generation” people. Yet they have often faced resistance at the diocesan and parish levels. Is it any surprise most Catholics haven’t heard the case for Catholic teaching, much less been transformed by it?

Some mea culpas seem in order.

Some synod fathers called for a new “language of love” with which to present the gospel of the family. Surprise! We have “new language” in the teaching of Pope St. John Paul II. Much, though certainly not all, of the necessary work of adapting it for popular audiences has begun. Maybe it’s time to get more of the institutional Church behind it. Fortunately, the God of surprises is also the God of second chances.

The final report from this year’s synod will be the basis for the discussion at next year’s ordinary synod. It’s no surprise that, in the coming year, other input will likely be added. Things may become contentious, as problematic proposals get repackaged and promoted for next year’s synod. The Holy Father called for open and frank (but charitable) discussion at the extraordinary synod. As we go forward, let’s hope and pray for a discussion without rancor, misrepresentation and the false choice either of standing for truth or standing for mercy.

In Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton compares his rediscovery of Christianity to a man who sails from England only to return after many days to the place from which he started. He thinks he has found a new land. The journey has transformed his vision of the familiar. He sees with new eyes. Surprise!

Pope Francis described the synod as a kind of “journeying together.” As it turns out, the place from which we started is the place to which we’ve returned. Even so, the journey should have given us new eyes to see what has been before us: Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever. The Church, ever ancient and ever new, and people needing the Gospel.

In the coming year, let’s explore a renewed vision of Jesus, the Church and people in need. What does the New Evangelization mean for the family?

In answering the question, let’s avoid the temptations of “hostile inflexibility” and “deceptive mercy,” of which Pope Francis spoke in his closing synodal address. We need new methods, new ardor and new expressions to address today’s situations, as St. John Paul II insisted. We need a new openness to reach out to others. But it is still the same Jesus, the same Church and the same life-transforming gospel of the family we bring to people.

Wouldn’t it be a surprise, both pleasant and challenging, if the “new message” some seek turns out to be a freshly presented gospel of the family we’ve had all along?

Mark Brumley is president of Ignatius Press and author of The Seven Deadly Sins of Apologetics.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

USCCB Voting Guide


By Randall Smith
Thursday, 25 October 2012

Twice now I’ve published articles here arguing that: a Catholic with a properly formed conscience cannot vote for a candidate who favors allowing abortion over one who favors restricting it – any more than a Catholic with a properly formed conscience could have voted for a candidate who favored allowing slavery over one who favored restricting it.
Several people since have asked about the USCCB voter’s guide: “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” My answer: while I have rather strong reservations about some wording in the document, and although I think the approach the document takes eviscerates its rhetorical force, all-in-all, it’s hard to accuse the authors of not beating the drum against abortion.
In a thirty-page document with very large type, abortion comes up no fewer than fourteen times – indeed, it shows up on nearly every page. You can’t read far before you find a sentence prohibiting abortion. Permit me a few examples:
·         “There are some things we must never do, as individuals or as a society, because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. Such actions are so deeply flawed that they are always opposed to the authentic good of persons. These are called “intrinsically evil” actions. They must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned. A prime example is the intentional taking of innocent human life, as in abortion and euthanasia. In our nation, “abortion and euthanasia have become preeminent threats to human dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental human good and the condition for all others.” (22)
·         "Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights – for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture – is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.” (26)
·         “Two temptations in public life can distort the Church’s defense of human life and dignity: The first is a moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity. The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed.” (27-8)
·          “The Holy Father, in a particular way, called on Catholic politicians and legislators to recognize their grave responsibility in society to support laws shaped by these fundamental human values, and urged them to oppose laws and policies that violate life and dignity at any stage from conception to natural death.” (39)
·         “A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. Yet a candidate’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support.” (42)
Is that clear enough?
Some have faulted the USCCB document for equating abortion with other issues. That’s not entirely fair. The document states repeatedly that “some issues involve principles that can never be violated, such as the fundamental right to life. Others reflect [a] judgment about the best way to apply Catholic principles to policy issues.” (63) The latter, admits the document, are matters “for principled debate and decision.”
Above all, though, the document insists: “It is essential for Catholics to be guided by a well-formed conscience that recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions.” (37)
The document seeks repeatedly to affirm the priority of abortion while not diminishing the importance of the other important issues we face. Doesn’t that make sense? We can’t cease concerning ourselves with health care, concern for the poor, the debt crisis, and marriage and family issues until and unless the scourge of abortion is ended: “Although choices about how best to respond to these and other compelling threats to human life and dignity are matters for principled debate and decision,” says the document, “this does not make them optional concerns or permit Catholics to dismiss or ignore Church teaching on these important issues.” (29)
Of course not. What if there were two pro-life candidates running against one another? Can we just forget that election or the issues involved? Absolutely not.
In that regard, however, consider this: What would happen if the pro-abortion party in the country – the one dedicated to keeping out any pro-life candidates or voices – were guaranteed to lose 90 percent of the Catholic vote given their stance on abortion? There is an odds-on chance that the pro-abortion party might not remain entirely pro-abortion.
We might finally have a real election again between two parties and candidates with roughly equal claims on our moral concern. And then we could consider those other important issues. We’ll never get there, however, as long as some people keep bellying up to the bar with the guy we all know is a sad, dangerous, and self-destructive alcoholic who, when he gets a few drinks in him, kills babies.
Randall Smith is associate professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas, Houston.
© 2012 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to: info@frinstitute.org

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Apostolic Succession in History

Apostolic Succession

The first Christians had no doubts about how to determine which claimant, among the many contending for the title, was the true Church. The test was simple: Just trace the apostolic succession of the claimants. This simple procedure worked every time. (Why not try it yourself?)

Clement of Rome
"Through countryside and city [the apostles] preached, and they appointed their earliest converts, testing them by the Spirit, to be the bishops and deacons of future believers. Nor was this a novelty, for bishops and deacons had been written about a long time earlier.... Our apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry." (Epistle to the Corinthians 42:4-5, 44:1-3 [A.D. 80]).

"When I had come to Rome, I [visited] Anicetus, whose deacon was Eleutherus. And after Anicetus [died], Soter succeeded, and after him Eleutherus. In each succession and in each city there is a continuance of that which is proclaimed by the Law, the Prophets, and the Lord" (Memoirs 4:22:1 [ca. A.D. 180]).

"It is possible, then, for everyone in every church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the apostles which has been made known to us throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the apostles and their successors down to our own times, men who neither knew nor taught anything like what these heretics rave about....Surely they wished all those and their successors, to whom they handed on their authority, to be perfect and without reproach" (Against Heresies 3:3:1 [inter A.D. 180-199]).

"For all these [heretics] are of much later date than are the bishops to whom the apostles handed over the churches, and this fact I pointed out most carefully in the third book. It is of necessity, then, that these aforementioned heretics, because they are blind to the truth, walk in devious paths, and on this account the vestiges of their doctrines are scattered about without agreement or connection. The path of those, however, who belong to the Church goes around the whole world, for it has the firm tradition of the apostles, enabling us to see that the faith of all is one and the same" (Ibid. 5:20:1).

"Polycarp was instructed not only by the apostles and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also appointed bishop of the church in Smyrna by the apostles in Asia. I saw him in my early youth, for he tarried a long time and when quite old departed this life in a glorious and most noble martyrdom. He always taught those things which he learned from the apostles and which the Church had handed down and which are true. To these things the churches in Asia bear witness, as do also the successors of Polycarp even to the present time" (Ibid. 3:3:4).

"It is necessary to obey those who are the presbyters in the Church, those who, as we have shown, have succession from the apostles, those who have received, with the succession of the episcopate, the sure charism of truth according to the good pleasure of the Father. But the rest, who have no part in the primitive succession [of bishops] and assemble wheresoever they will, must be held in suspicion....The true gnosis [knowledge] is the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient organization of the Church throughout the whole world, and the manifestation of the body of Christ according to the succession of bishops, by which succession the bishops have handed down the Church which is found everywhere" (Ibid. 4:26:2, 33:8).

"But what is his error and how great his blindness....who does not remain on the foundation of the one true Church which was founded upon the rock by Christ, can be learned from this, which Christ said to Peter alone, 'Whatever things you shall bind on earth shall also be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth, they shall also be loosed in heaven'; and by this, again in the Gospel, when Christ breathed upon the apostles alone, saying to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive any man his sins they shall be forgiven, and if you retain any man's sins they shall be retained.' The power of forgiving sins was given to the apostles and the churches which these men, sent by Christ, established and to the bishops who succeeded them by being ordained in their place" (Epistle to Cyprian 75:16 [Inter A.D. 255-256]).

"Far be it from me to speak adversely of any of these clergy who, in succession from the apostles, confect by their sacred word the Body of Christ and through whose efforts also it is that we are Christians" (Epistle to Heliodorus 14:8 [inter A.D. 374-379]).

Gregory I
"The disciples receive as their lot the preeminence of celestial judgment, so that, in God's stead, they retain sins for some and for some they forgive them [John 20:22-23]. . . . Certainly it is now the bishops who hold their place in the Church. They receive the authority of binding and loosing, who have as their lot a degree of governing. It is a magnificent honor, but that honor carries with it a heavy burden."(Homilies on the Gospels 2:26:4 [A.D. 590-591]).



God Bless

Friday, October 3, 2014

Priests in the Church (part 2)

OBJECTOR: I just don’t see any texts in the New Testament that teach what the Catholic Church is saying. I agree with all you say about Christ’s priesthood, but God designed the Church to have pastors who care for the flock. These men were not supposed to be priests. The idea of a special priesthood is just not in the New Testament.

CATHOLIC: I can offer you at least four lines of evidence. But first, do you agree that Christ called some men to be his special representatives, such as in Matthew 4:19, Luke 6:13, and John 15:16? Do you agree that these men are called apostles and they are the human foundation of the Church (cf. Eph. 2:20)?

OBJECTOR: I agree, but where is the idea of a ministerial priesthood in those texts?

CATHOLIC: Consider first Matthew 28:18–20, where Jesus commissioned the apostles to go "baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." This twofold ministry of baptizing and teaching can be summarized in the phrase "the ministry of word and sacrament." In other words, the apostles and those after them were to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments.

OBJECTOR: Many forms of Protestant theology—for instance, Lutheran and Calvinist—would agree with this ministry of word and sacrament, but they don’t agree that this constitutes a priestly function.

CATHOLIC: Then let’s look at the second and third lines of evidence. The easier of the two is expressed in John 20:19–23, where Jesus empowers the apostles with the authority to confer forgiveness on the penitent. For the sake of brevity, I quote only verse 23: "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." This power to forgive sins, to convey God’s forgiveness through the sacrament of confession, is clearly a part of the priestly function of Christ. In this text, Jesus is conveying this authority to his apostles.

OBJECTOR: I am sure you know that many Christians don’t agree with this interpretation. We believe that Jesus is giving his apostles the authority to proclaim his forgiveness to all, not to forgive them in the way you say, since he himself is the only one who can do that.

CATHOLIC: Yes, I know this interpretation, but if you study the text carefully, I think you’ll agree that the common interpretation among non-Catholics simply does not fit the text. That is, it doesn’t take the text seriously. Jesus speaks of "the sins you forgive" and "the sins you retain." We Catholics take this text seriously and believe that the forgiveness that comes only from Jesus can be conferred on those who repent because Jesus himself gave that authority to the apostles and their successors.

OBJECTOR: Well, perhaps we’ll have to agree to disagree on that one. What is this third piece of evidence you mentioned?

CATHOLIC: The third line of evidence has to do with the Eucharist. At the Last Supper, Jesus told the apostles with him "Do this in memory of me." When Jesus gave them this command, he was making them priests of the New Covenant.

OBJECTOR: That’s a strange idea. What makes you think that the phrase "Do this in memory of me" has anything to do with being a priest? Those words are addressed to every Christian and apply to our celebrations of communion in church. I just don’t see any connection between those words and the priesthood.

CATHOLIC: You’re not alone. But consider first to whom these words were addressed. Jesus did not say they apply to every Christian. If that is true, it could be so only by an extension of the original situation. A more historically responsible interpretation sees the fact that it was just the apostles at that Last Supper.

OBJECTOR: Even if I agree with you on that score, that doesn’t mean that Jesus is making the apostles priests. All these words mean is that we should remember Jesus when we have communion.

CATHOLIC: If that’s what the words really meant, your conclusion would be true that "Do this in memory of me" has nothing to do with being a priest. But they mean a lot more. As I noted, they were first spoken to the apostles. I don’t have time to go into detail here, but let me at least say this: "Do this in memory of me" was a command from Jesus for the apostles to do exactly what he did that night. They were to repeat this action in perpetuity. It is also clear that his actions were priestly because he was offering the bread and wine just like Melchizedek did (cf. Gen. 14:17–20). As you know, Hebrews makes it abundantly clear that Jesus is a priest in the line of Melchizedek. In a higher sense, Jesus was acting as a priest at the Last Supper by giving the apostles his body and blood. Therefore, his command to his apostles involves them performing priestly actions. They could perform such actions only if he were making them priests to stand in his place and to give the people of God his body and blood.

OBJECTOR: Well, I must say, I have never heard this interpretation before, but it seems like a stretch to me to see all that in the account of the Last Supper. It just doesn’t fit with the rest of the New Testament.

CATHOLIC: Remember that we all read the Bible through the eyes of our communities of faith. I can understand why such an interpretation will seem strange to you if you have little or no experience with a priestly ministry in your church. Perhaps my last line of evidence will help you to get thinking in that direction. But first, let me sum up the first three. What we see in the Old Testament is a three-fold priesthood. There is the common or universal priesthood of all Israelites at the bottom (cf. Ex. 19:6), a ministerial priesthood above them (cf. Ex. 19:22, 24; Lev. 1:5), and a high priest at the top (cf. Num. 35: 25). We thus should expect to find a similar three-fold priesthood under the New Covenant, and we do. There is the common or universal priesthood of all Christians (cf. 1 Pet. 2:5, 9), a ministerial priesthood above them (cf. Rom. 15:16), and a high priest at the top (cf. Heb. 3:1). Rather than varying from the biblical model of priesthood, the Catholic understanding copies it exactly. It is the two-fold model that departs from what we see in the Bible.

OBJECTOR: You said you have a fourth line of evidence. What could that possibly be?

CATHOLIC: You believe, I am sure, that the whole purpose of the eternal Word (Logos) becoming flesh was to reconcile us to God. Now, in order to have a ministry of reconciliation, Christ had to be a priest as well as a prophet and king. In fact, his act of reconciling death highlighted his priestly office more than anything else. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:18–23 that the same God "who through Christ reconciled us to himself" is also the one who "gave us the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18). "The message of reconciliation" in verse 19 is that God does not hold men’s transgressions against them. That is the ministry of the priests in the Catholic Church: They are to be agents of reconciliation by carrying Christ the Reconciler to others. That ultimately is why God chooses some men from among his people to be his priests. Priests reconcile people to God.



God Bless