Monday, December 31, 2012

End of year reflections...

I'm really not any good at writing journal-type entries or being reflective to any extent, so I think I'll keep this one short and sweet; a sort of summation of thoughts and observations for this year 2012.

What have I learned this year? Well, a great deal. I've been doing this apologetics and blogging thing for over three years now and I've found that no matter how much I read, how much I pray, how much I reference or research, I find myself often not knowing enough and needing to know more. It reminds me of 'Johnny 5' from the Short Circuit movies: "Input. More input!" I've somehow managed to have the answers when I've needed them and I've never been afraid to say, "I don't know, but I'm going to find out for you".

This feeling of intellectual inadequacy was not due to anything I had done wrong nor for any lack of any effort on my behalf, no, but it was inspired by the people I have had the privilege to hear speak and read the wonderful content they've had published over the last 12 months. Three speakers/authors have made a substantial impression on me over the course of the year (in no particular order):

- Jimmy Akin
- Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers
- Dave Armstrong

Late last year Jimmy Akin published Mass Revision, a book looking at the Latin Rite of the Mass in more detail and breaking down the revisions that came to the Novus Ordo Missae also late last year. By my own admission I was a bit lazy with getting through the book, but I finished reading it some time in May this year. Akin's ability to explain in simple and pithy terms for many what is a complex and for others a sensitive issue, reminded me of why I go into apologetics in the first place: to teach in an uncompromising but approachable and Christ-like manner. If you aren't familiar with any of Jimmy Akin's material, then the best first port of entry would be Catholic Answers. Get on iTunes, search for the Catholic Answers Live podcasts and download any segment with Jimmy Akin as guest.

In October this year I had the great privilege of being on a speaker's panel with Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers as part of this year's Society of Catholic Teachers Australia conference here in Perth. Deacon Harold isn't called the "dynamic deacon" for nothing! It wasn't just about what Deacon Harold spoke about, but more so how he delivered it. It was in your face, un-compromised, hard-hitting, impassioned, and of course edifying. Not to sound haughty, but most of what Deacon Harold spoke about I already knew, but I had never considered putting it all forward like the way he did nor had I ever engaged with people the way he did and does and effectively evangelise through apologetics. Deacon Harold has inspired me to be a more bold and knowledgeable defender of the Church.

Dave Armstrong is a hard-working Catholic apologist. He published a book earlier this year entitled 100 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura and I took great pleasure in both being allowed to review it and publish that review here on the blog. I've long been a fan of Armstrong's work and when I read his blog and through each entry he puts up on Facebook, it reminds of how lazy I can often be as an apologist myself and as a writer; I still have much to learn and I need to give more time to this work. Dave Armstrong is an apologist I aspire to be like and I humbly pray for the opportunity to be granted the time to do this sort of thing more often.

So what have I learned this year? I've learned that I need to dedicate more time to blogging and writing, and this - at least at the start of 2013 - shouldn't be a problem as I've already been invited to speak at a conference in January and write material for a Catholic street evangelisation ministry based the USA. I pray for more opportunities like these to arise so that I may use these talents that God has given me.

What have I done well this year? I believe that I have taught well this year and that I have learned to be a better listener and a more patient debater. I've lost count of the time when I've been engaged in fairly heated discussions but not once have I lost my cool even when my antagoniser(s) have deliberately gone out of their way to make me look stupid or misrepresent what I have said. I have learned that all it takes is a quiet prayer for patience said in my head and a slow and steady repetition of 1 Peter 3:14-17...

"But even if you do suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defence to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence; and keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behaviour in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing right, if that should be God's will, than for doing wrong."

What have I done poorly this year? I haven't given enough time to writing. My usual goal is to write on blog entry per week and as you can see I've fallen short of that quota this year and it's not for lack of anything to write about, no, it's due to a bit of laziness. Yes, life gets busy, but writing one or two paragraphs per evening shouldn't be a difficult task; I've managed to pump out six paragraphs this evening so far in the space of 25 minutes. I need to be more proactive with my writing and no get side-track. I need to be able to prioritise my work here and better manage the side-projects I'm working on right now; there are a couple I haven't touched for months and I'm hoping that they'll be done by June 2013 (stay tuned!).

What does 2013 hold for me? Opportunities, opportunities, opportunities. I vow to make the most of them and to put everything into God's hands. As Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, “I'm a little pencil in the hand of a writing God, who is sending a love letter to the world.”

I would like to say and send a very sincere and warm thank you to all my readers and supporters this year. Without you and your encouragement, all of this work would not be worth it and I could not go on without your support. I would also like to thank my critics too and the "haters"; you're the other reason I'm doing this and I just want to let you all know that God loves you and that there's nothing you can do about it. 

May the peace of the Holy Spirit, the forgiveness of Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father Almighty be with you all this New Years Eve and may your 2013 be filled with many blessings. If your 2013 is filled with challenges, may the Lord lift you and help rise you up to meet them and overcome them.

Be good to one another and may you never fail to contemplate the face of Jesus Christ in all you encounter in this year of faith.


Saturday, December 22, 2012

My Chastity tip for teens

Towards the end of Spring I was teaching one of my Religious Education classes about sexuality and the question that came up often was "How far is too far?" There are a couple of ways to approach the question. One way would be give specific examples and yes, that would require going into some detail (trying to creep around the question with a vague non-descript response will not satisfy the student; they will appreciate your honesty and frankness), but you also don't want to be there running off a litany of "acts". The second way - and this is my preferred way - would be to engage the student's imagination and conscience.

I begin by asking the class to picture the man or woman of their dreams and to think about the qualities they have and to note these things on a bit of paper. Between the boys and the girls, they have a pretty good idea of who their ideal man or woman is and what qualities or characteristics they should possess. After doing this for a number of years in class the most common responses are:

From the boys (the woman of their dreams)
- attractive (knowing full well that beauty is in the eye of the beholder)
- funny
- smart
- loyal
- honest
- faithful
- good communicator
- affectionate
- understanding

From the girls (the man of their dreams)
- attractive
- funny
- smart
- loyal
- honest
- faithful
- good listener
- sweet/romantic
- not afraid to speak about how he's feeling

Teenagers these days aren't as superficial as we think. Deep down, after they've thought about it for a little while, they know what they want is something that you can't measure or quantify.

Next I ask the students to think about their best friend (of the same sex) and to hold that thought for a moment. I then ask them to think about the man or woman of their dreams again and to think about their appearance and their qualities. After that, after getting my class to think about the man/woman of their dreams and their best friend, I ask them to imagine now that their best friend is kissing the man/woman of their dreams.

... The reaction is priceless!

Despite it being an imaginary and hypothetical situation, the amount of times I see girls turning to their friend in the classroom or boys turning to each other in shock and saying either, "You wouldn't dare!" or "How could you?" never ceases to amaze me, and all we're talking about is a kiss! I usually follow up by asking my students by thinking about the reaction they may have had if it was sex instead of a kiss. Then I ask them to imagine they've done that to a number of people. Jaws usually drop to the floor; they realise that they really don't like this kind of behaviour.

This is where I wrap things up:

Somewhere out there - if you believe you'll be married one day - is the man or woman of your dreams; the person whose name God has written on your heart, the "one" whom you'll love for the length of your life. So when you ask, "how far is too far?" consider this: if you don't like the idea of your true love acting risqué,  immodestly or indecently with someone or any other number of other people, then is it okay for you to be doing the same thing? Believe it or not, you are someone's "one"; you are someone's dream man/woman. So it's not only about having a high regard and expectations of the person you'd like to marry some day, but it's also about having a high regard and expectations of yourself.

Treat yourself and others with dignity and respect.

Boys, treat girls and women as true daughters of God; princesses and heirs to the heavenly kingdom. Treat them as the heavenly Father would want them to be treated.

Girls, treat boys and men as true sons of God; princes and heirs to the heavenly kingdom. Treat them as the heavenly Father would want them to be treated.

"Shun immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the immoral man sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." - 1 Corinthians 6:18-20


Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Seal of Confession: If one confesses committing a crime...

I'm going to revisit this topic this week in light of the Australian government's recent announcement that a royal commission (a major government public inquiry into an issue in Commonwealth Realms) will be conducted to investigate sex abuse claims in institutions across Australia including the Catholic Church. Before I go on, allow me to make this one thing very, very clear:

I do not condone crimes that are sexual in nature (or any crime for that matter) no matter whom has committed them and from what institution they were affiliated with at the time. As a Catholic I am deeply ashamed and embarrassed by clergy and religious that have committed such crimes against the young and or vulnerable. These are despicable and reprehensible acts. I am in no way defending these clergy or religious. One instance of abuse or crime committed by a priest or church worker is one too many and I applaud the Australian Catholic Bishop's Conference's (and archdioceses around the country) cooperation and compliance with the government in bringing justice to those whom are guilty and closure to those that have been hurt by these vile acts.

Back to Confession, and this is what outlined in the Church's Code of Canon Law about the seal (canons 983 and 984):

Can. 983 §1 The sacramental seal is inviolable. Accordingly, it is absolutely wrong for a *confessor in any way to betray the **penitent, for any reason whatsoever, whether by word or in any other fashion.     
§2 An interpreter, if there is one, is also obliged to observe this secret, as are all others who in any way whatever have come to a knowledge of sins from a confession.  
Can. 984 §1 The confessor is wholly forbidden to use knowledge acquired in confession to the detriment of the penitent, even when all danger of disclosure is excluded.  
§2 A person who is in authority may not in any way, for the purpose of external governance, use knowledge about sins which has at any time come to him from the hearing of confession.
*the priest
** you 

The seal is inviolable, but sadly there are some who hold position in public office that would like to see that changed especially where confessing to participation in crime(s) is concerned. Rescinding the seal would obviously change the nature of the Sacrament of Reconciliation irrevocably, and dare I say make the penitent think twice about approaching a priest for confession to confess any sin(s). But making comment about the future of this sacrament is for another time; I only desire to emphasise how Confession should work especially in the case of the penitent confessing to a crime.

A person whom approaches the Sacrament of Reconciliation is assumed to be truly sorry for the sins they have committed, otherwise why would they seek reparation in the first place? Before absolution is given, the penitent is asked to say the Act of Contrition prayer, and this is a prayer - as the title suggests - which demonstrates that the penitent is truly sorry for what they have done and genuinely desires to seek forgiveness. The Act of Contrition I was taught as a youngster and I recite to this day goes like this (other versions can be found here):

Oh my God,
I am very sorry that I have sinned against you.
Because you are so good, and with your help,
I will try hard not to sin again.

Before this step, however, the priest will offer us counsel and gives us penance to perform. In short, penance is an act of prayer or an act that will help make reparation for the harm we have done. The penance assigned by the priest is described this way (bolded for emphasis):

The penance the confessor imposes must take into account the penitent's personal situation and must seek his spiritual good. It must correspond as far as possible with the gravity and nature of the sins committed. It can consist of prayer, an offering, works of mercy, service of neighbour, voluntary self-denial, sacrifices, and above all the patient acceptance of the cross we must bear. Such penances help configure us to Christ, who alone expiated our sins once for all. They allow us to become co-heirs with the risen Christ, 'provided we suffer with him.'" - CCC, par. 1460

If, for example, I have confessed to giving in to my anger and said something hurtful to someone as a result of that, the priest might encourage me - as part of my penance - to approach that person and apologise for what I said/did. Otherwise the priest might instruct me to recite a prayer to allow me to reflect the peace we find in God in order to channel my emotions more appropriately.

Suppose a penitent (be they a lay person, clergy, or religious) during Confession confesses to committing a crime (and let's assume it's a serious crime, i.e. something a bit more serious than speeding or parking illegally... not that I condone such things!). By attending Confession it is assumed that the penitent is contrite and truly sorry for the sin(s) they have committed and by being contrite they express a willingness to make reparation for what they have done. It as this point during Confession that the priest assigns penance, and one would assume that based on what we read in the Catechism (see above) that a penance fitting for the penitent would be to turn themselves in to the authorities, right? As a matter of fact, a priest cannot actually assign such a penance. Such a penance would forcibly incriminate the penitent and indirectly violate the Seal of Confession. Under the confessor's counsel the penitent would be encouraged to turn themselves into the authorities so that the course of justice may be undertaken (this is separate to penance).

Once the Act of Contrition is made an absolution is given, the penitent, no matter what sin or crime they've committed, is forgiven and they have repaired their relationship with God and the Church; this is the effect of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. What happens from there on in, if a crime has been committed, rests in the recesses of the penitent's conscience. If they have committed a crime heinous in nature and harmed any number of persons then one would hope that the penitent would do the right thing and submit to the authorities.

The key thing to understand about the Seal of Confession is this: the only person in the confessional that is bound by the seal is the confessor (the priest). The sins confessed are the penitent's; they may at their own liberty divulge the sins they have confessed to and may tell anyone they please (including the authorities). As people of conscience and good will, it is our hope that if a penitent has committed a crime heinous in nature that they allow justice to take its course so that those hurt by that or whatever crime may be find peace and bring closure to that painful chapter in their lives.

"Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God's will that by doing right you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil; but live as servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the emperor." 1 Peter 2:13-17


Sunday, December 02, 2012

How one should disagree...

On the evening of Wednesday, November 28 this week I was given the opportunity to speak and share about a topic I'm very passionate about; it's the reason why this blog exists in the first place: Catholic apologetics. It was very pleasing on that evening to see so many young(er) Catholics present on fire and wanting to learn more about their faith. I left everything in God's hands and asked for the Holy Spirit to give me the right words to speak and what God would want these young people to listen to that evening.

I shared three stories - personal anecdotes - dating back to my younger years where I had apologetics encounters and spoke about other encounters where a sound knowledge of scripture had provided me with the opportunity to defend Catholic beliefs and other teachings. It was a great evening and I was very humbled to be given the opportunity.

It was, however, during question time in the end where a young man asked me a question and expressed a disagreement with something I had mentioned in my talk, and this is what has prompted this reflection tonight.

I didn't mind the disagreement, not in the slightest, and I informed the young man near the end of the question-and-answer section that he was/is free to disagree. What I did object to - and I believe I handled it well as I did not want to create a scene or exacerbate what had already become a very uncomfortable and awkward situation - was that disagreement being vocalised in such a way where the question/objection was deferred to another member of the audience (a priest) whom, in turn, was also put them on the spot. What made the matter that little bit more uncomfortable to deal with - and again I didn't mind the disagreement or being disagreed with - was the fact that no effort was made for the disagreement to be substantiated, i.e. it was a very impetuous "I disagree" and was not followed up with a rebuttal or at the very least an alternative answer/solution.

In the work that I do, if there's something that I always make sure I do when I come across someone that I can't agree with, I do one of two things:

1.) Explain why I don't agree with them; and
2.) Ensure that I disagree with exactly what they stated/believe and not what I think they stated/believe.

Clarity before agreement/disagreement.

If you disagree with me on something, telling me that you disagree just won't cut it. I would politely implore you to state your case and substantiate your claim. At the very least offer an alternative answer/solution so I can at least begin rationalise that response in my own mind.

At the end of the evening I made sure I approached the young man to thank him for his question and to clarify my position. Fortunately the question was on a topic where we were free to disagree. I was grateful that things could be kept civil.

In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas. 
"Unity in necessary things; liberty in doubtful things; charity in all things."

- - - - - - - - - -

"... but in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence; and keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame." - 1 Peter 3:15-16

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Quick Thought: Christ on Marriage

I remember Steve Ray saying when he came to my neck of the woods (Perth, Western Australia) in 2010, that when you begin to read the Bible with "Catholic eyes" things begin to jump out at you. What do I mean by that? I mean that things that weren't apparent during the first or second reading (or however many) become apparent in successive readings.

For me recently it was a "Oh wow!" moment when I was reading Christ's teaching on divorce and marriage in Matthew 19:4-6 (after being asked by the Pharisees if divorce is lawful under any circumstances), but the passage goes a whole lot more deeper than dealing with the issue of divorce. First, the passage:

"He answered, 'Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, `For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.'" - Matthew 19:4-6

In summary:

- God made "them" (i.e. us) male and female;
- male and females were made for each other;
- man and woman were made to fulfil and complement each other;
- when man and woman are joined they are no longer two but "one"; and
- this union between one man and one woman was ordained by God

We all know that, we all understand that, and we all believe that, but it's verse 6 that jumped out at me for reasons apart from the issue of divorce.

When Christ said, "What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder" (asunder = to divide; to undo; in pieces), he meant more than what he was actually saying at that given time; there is a much deeper reading to this verse of scripture alone. Ponder this in light of that statement: No man, no governance or principality has the right or the authority to tamper with marriage; to change it nor to redefine it. "What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder". This comes from Christ of whom all authority in Heaven has been given to (Matthew 28:18), so in other words: it's serious business!

This is one rationale we can't expect those in favour of same-sex "marriage" to understand or those who subscribe to a secular/post-modern world view, but at the very least we can hope they can respect it. But hey, I'm biased due to my religious beliefs and my respect for Natural Law and Divine Law, so here's something you can chew on if you're not of any religious persuasion:


"Let marriage be honoured among all and the marriage bed be kept undefiled, for God will judge the immoral and adulterers." - Hebrews 13:4


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Review: Dave Armstrong's '100 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura'

Let me just begin by saying first that I'm a big fan of Dave Armstrong's work. One of the first Catholic apologetics books I bought and read was Armstrong's A Biblical Defense of Catholicism. I was immediately drawn in by the title; it appealed to two loves of mine: the Bible, and my Catholic faith. And let me say something about something about Dave Armstrong: he's the kind of Catholic apologist that I aspire to be like: pithy in his deliveries, no bells or whistles yet filled with a humble zeal and conviction. From me to you, I highly recommend you read his other works and check out his blog for lots of great writing and material.

Before diving into this review, a quick run-down on what Sola Scripture is:

"Sola Scriptura" is Latin for "scripture alone" and - as the name would suggest - refers to an understanding that the Bible is the only/sole infallible source of authority for learning and developing the Christian faith and contains all that is necessary for salvation. The so called "doctrine" of Sola Scriptura can be attributed to Martin Luther whom, as Christians should know, heralded the Protestant Reformation and after rejecting the authority of the Catholic Church, went to the Bible and the Bible alone as the only infallible authority on the Christian faith and comprehending the means for salvation. There are, however, problems with Sola Scriptura in theory, in practice, historically, and biblically.

It's one thing to point the problems with Sola Scriptura in theory, practice, and from the point of history, but to do so using the Bible? How can you do that? Dave Armstrong, in his book 100 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura does just that by - as the title suggests - presents 100 arguments using the Bible that make a very strong case against Sola Scriptura. Sure, there may be passages in the Bible that appear to support the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, but even as Catholics we understand that in order to comprehend what the intended meaning behind the passage may be, we must appeal to the scriptures in their fullness and to sacred tradition (bolded for emphasis):

"Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence." - Dei Verbum, par. 9

"But, since Holy Scripture must be read and interpreted in the sacred spirit in which it was written, no less serious attention must be given to the content and unity of the whole of Scripture if the meaning of the sacred texts is to be correctly worked out." - Dei Verbum, par. 12

Armstrong's 100 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura provides the reader with an arsenal of arguments which render the foundations of Sola Scriptura to sand. Armstrong does this with his 100 micro-cuts performed in three acts (plus a conclusory statement):

Part 1: The Binding Authority of Tradition
Part 2: The Binding Authority of the Church
Part 3: Counter-Arguments against Alleged Sola Scriptura Prooftexts

Each part is sectioned and numbered making the book both easy to read and an excellent quick reference tool. This is a book you can read in a few sittings from cover to cover at your own pace, or to refer to on a need basis if, for example, you're looking for quick answers to objections from a "Sola Scriptura-ist". Armstrong has ensured that whatever your need is from 100 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura, it is catered to in a succinct and edifying manner.

You will feel empowered by this book, and not because of any warm, fuzzy feeling you'll get by flicking through each page and filling mind with rock solid counter-arguments to Sola Scriptura, no, but because 100 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura is so accessible, you'll feel ever more confident studying the arguments presented by Armstrong and discover a deeper appreciation for the Sacred Scriptures and the very important role they play in the Church's teachings and Tradition.

100 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura is a must have book and would make a great addition to any bookshelf. If you're into Catholic literature or just want to brush up on your apologetics, then Armstrong's 100 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura is the best place to start. There might also be that Evangelical or fundamentalist friend you're thinking of whom staunchly believes in Sola Scriptura. If they're so confident in Sola Scriptura, then what have they got to lose by reading 100 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura? It would also make a great stocking filler for this Christmas. Be bold; buy yourself a copy and a copy for a friend and catechise yourselves in tandem. 

Armstrong's 100 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura is - and I'll go this far - the most important Catholic apologetics work to be published this year and in recent times because it answers a simple yet confounding question that separates us from most of our Protestant brethren: Why not the Bible alone?

Do yourself a favour and get this book; invest in knowledge!

*     *     *     *     *
So where can you get a copy of 100 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura?

The first place you should go to is Dave Armstrong's main book page where you can browse his current catalogue and learn more about his other publications. Alternatively, you may follow this link to special offer currently running on Armstrong's site where he is offering 10 of his titles (in digital E-PUB and PDF format) in a value-for-money package deal. If you're not interested in purchasing one of Armstrong's books at this time but would like to make a contribution towards his apostolate, then please follow this link where you can learn more about the awesome work Armstrong does and why we need to support apologists/authors like him in order for them to continue providing us with top-notch Catholic literature.

Please prayerfully consider supporting Dave Armstrong.

Pax vobiscum.

Friday, October 05, 2012

A Mega Mary Remark!

I received the following questions from an ex-student during the week. The questions were asked of him by a non-Catholic Christian friend wanting answers on the Catholic beliefs of Mary. 

Why do Catholics pray to Mary? Does it say in the bible she should be prayed to? My Christian friend was telling me that there is no where in the Bible that states Mary is without sin and should be worshipped. You may be able to help me here.

I'm going to address those questions in steps because it's a multi-faceted question and I want to make sure I do each justice by giving each a full response. 

1. Catholics DO NOT worship Mary. Some non-Catholic Christians believe that by merely praying to a being that that is the equivalent of worship. This is not the case. When we ask our friends to pray for us, are we worshipping them? No, of course not. We have to remember that there are many reasons why we pray and as Christians we believe in intercessory prayer, i.e. praying for one another and asking others to pray for us. We can ask our friends to pray for us for whatever intention but we know that it is the Lord who answers these prayers according to His will. Mary and the saints in Heaven pray with us as we invoke their intercession. As it says in scripture: 

"Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects." - James 5:16 

"And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints;" - Revelation 5:8 

The term "saints" has multiple meanings here. There are the living saints - Christians - whose desire it is to be sanctified in the Lord; and then there are the saints in Heaven who HAVE been sanctified in the Lord and made fully holy in communion with Christ. And what exactly does Luke 20:38 say about the saints, sanctified in heaven? 

“Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him.” - Luke 20:38 

Because God wills it, the sanctified in Heaven hear our prayers through God and they pray with us urging us on to be sanctified ourselves as it says in Hebrews 12: 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…” - Hebrews 12:1  

The angels and saints in Heaven are cheering us on. Why? Because they, as much as our Lord in Heaven, desires us to be fully united with him and experience the beatific vision. Catholics honour Mary (very, very different to worship; worship is given to the Lord alone; no Catholic is taught or told to "worship" Mary) as the Mother of God. Why the "Mother of God"? Christ is God incarnate; the second person of the Holy Trinity; and so when we refer to Mary as the "Mother of God" we honour her as mother of the Christ, the Messiah, Jesus who died for our sins and rose from the dead. 

2. Why don't we read about the early Christians praying to Mary in the Bible? Probably because she was still alive and they would have just gone up and spoken to her, much in the same way they did at the Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11) where Christ first revealed his divine being to all that witnessed. Jesus was a commandment keeping Jew (i.e. "Honour thy father and thy mother") and when Mary pointed out that there was no wine left, Jesus - despite initial resistance - did as his mother requested. Mary even went as far as ordering the servants to "... do whatever he tells you" (John 2:5). 

3. I've already pointed out a couple of verses of scripture where we are encouraged to pray for one another and further to ask others to pray for us. If this was disallowed and if Christ was the only one we should pray to (remember I noted that the Lord is the only one who answers prayers; Mary and the saints do not have this power but because the Lord allows it, they may hear our prayers and pray with us according to the Lord's will), then we have to consider the reality that many, many, many of the early Christians and ourselves included have deliberately disobeyed this directive. 

"Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel." - Ephesians 6:18-19 

If Christ is the only one we should pray to, then why would Paul ask for the prayers of others? 4. As Catholics we believe that Mary was conceived without Original Sin. Why is this so hard for some non-Catholic Christians to believe? Of course we believe and agree that Christ, the Son of the Living God, was too conceived without Original Sin but this of course was due to Christ's divine nature. As the human mother of the Son of God, it was fitting that while Christ grew in the womb of his mother that this mother too be without sin. Don't forget that Adam and Even were created without Original Sin because they had not sinned yet! But let's look at what the Bible says: 

In the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke we read of the archangel Gabriel coming to Mary who is in Nazareth (a city in Galilee) and declares to Mary that she will bear the son of God and call him "Jesus". The archangel greets Mary by saying, "Hail, full of grace" (Luke 1:28; "Hail, O favoured one" in other translations). The term "full of grace" ("gratia plena" in Latin) for Mary comes from the original Greek manuscript of the Gospel of Luke (who was a Greek himself). The word used by the archangel Gabriel (i.e. the word St. Luke uses for it) for the Blessed Virgin Mary was "kecharitomene" which translates to "having been graced" or "having been favoured". The archangel Gabriel is speaking in what's known as the "perfect passive participle", meaning Gabriel is talking about a quality that is and was always present, namely freedom from original sin. 

How can this be explained in layman's terms? Mary's preservation from Original Sin is like this: if you fall into a pit and I pull you out from it, I've saved you. In the same way, if you're walking along and I prevent you from falling in the pit (either by warning you about it or physically stopping you before you get there) I have also saved you this way. In the latter instance, I have "preserved" you from the fall, ergo Mary has been "preserved" from Original Sin. 

What is "grace"? There are two different types of grace. 

i. Actual Grace 
ii. Sanctifying Grace 

Actual Grace: This is a share, if you will, in the life of God; God acting upon you and drawing you to Him, hence "Actual Grace". Grace of this nature is received at or works from the very beginnings of a person's conversion and works through and towards the person's sanctification. Grace moving you towards God is akin to being inspired by the Holy Spirit. In short: Actual Grace is the grace that enables us to act in a manner that is pleasing to God, i.e. to do good and to avoid all evil and to do as Christ taught us (in essence: Matthew 5:48). 

Sanctifying Grace: This is what you need to get into Heaven and to be with God for eternity; the soul needs to be "clean" before it can come before our heavenly Father (Revelation 21:27). To die in a state of grace is to die with Sanctifying Grace (grace that sanctifies you; grace that makes you fully and completely holy), i.e. there is no mortal sin or trace of it upon your soul. Sanctifying Grace allows us to share in the life and love of God in Heaven, sometimes referred to as the Beatific Vision. We first receive Sanctifying Grace at Baptism and later through the other sacraments. We can have no Sanctifying Grace in us if we are not in a state of grace, i.e. if we have committed Mortal Sin (1 John 5:16-17). However, making a good confession can restore Sanctifying Grace within us. 

Mary was described in Luke 1 (Luke 1:28 specifically) as being "full of grace" and it is the . Luke 1:28 may read differently in other translations of the Bible and this is why it is important for Christians to read a good and reliable translation of it, but that's whole different story! If Mary is "full of grace" then that means there is no room for anything else. If I fill a cup to the rim with water, is there room for anything else? Mary has been sanctified and rejoices in this fact later on in Luke 1: 

"And Mary said, 'My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.'" Luke 1:46-49 

And I'm sure you're familiar with the Hail Mary prayer. This prayer is taken straight from the Bible, from Luke 1.

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Recommended viewing:

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Why the strong warning, St. Paul?

I often hear the argument from anti-Catholics that when Jesus was speaking of the bread and wine being his body and blood in John 6 and the Last Supper accounts, that he was not being literal but referring to the bread and the wine as being symbols. Jesus often spoke using hyperbole and at times he was being symbolic (e.g. John 10:9 "I am the door..."), but one or two or even a dozen instances of the use of hyperbole is not indicative of perpetual use of hyperbole. Anyway, John 6 aside, let's line that up with what else is revealed to us about the Eucharist in scripture:

1 Corinthians 10:16 -- the Eucharist is participation in Christ's body and blood
1 Corinthians 11:23-29 -- Receiving the bread and the wine in an unworthy manner is to profane against the body and blood of Christ
Exodus 12:8, 46 -- the Paschal (Passover) lamb had to be eaten
John 1:29 -- Jesus is referred to as "the Lamb of God..." by St. John the Baptist
1 Corinthians 5:7 -- Jesus is called the "paschal lamb who has been sacrificed"

Looking at 1 Corinthians 11:23-29 more closely (bolded for emphasis):

"For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, 'This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.'

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgement upon himself."

There's some very strong language in there, i.e. a very strong warning "... drinks judgement upon himself". If the Eucharist is merely a symbol, then why the strong word of warning from St. Paul? What could be so bad about profaning a mere symbol and why would that warrant bringing judgement upon yourself?

Remember: a text without a context is a pretext.

Is St. Paul telling a lie? If the anti-Catholic you're having this debate with truly believes that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God, then ask them: could it be that Jesus actually meant what his said and was being literal?

I don't think Christ was in the habit of saying things he didn't really mean.

Further reading: The Eucharist is "only symbolic"... say WHAAAT?!?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Pornography: Imploding a man's soul

This is an issue that I've been wanting to deal with for a while, and not because I want to get on my high horse and preach to those currently in the snare of pornography and other illicit material where the opposite sex is illicitly depicted, no. I have had my own struggles with pornography and I freely admit to having looked at illicit depictions of women in the past. This is not something that I am proud of at all and it is something I am working with very intensely to move on from. I say without reservation that pornography has damaged me on emotional, intellectual, and spiritual levels. My concern is that both young men and women are not recognising the dangers of this sort of material and the fact that contemporary western society deems this material to be "harmless" and "normal" sends a shock through my nerves.

Let's make a distinction first: there is a glaring difference between nudity and pornography. Nudity - as we all are hopefully aware - can be depicted tastefully through art as we are able to recognise the beauty of the human form through some of the great pieces of artwork given to us by history's greatest artists. The 'Birth of Aphrodite' by Botticelli and Michelangelo's 'David' come to mind because these artworks in their intention in essence glorify the human body in a non-confrontational un-evoking manner. Pornography, on the other hand, deals with the carnal act in a very confronting and evoking manner. Its business, while depicting the human form, in confronting the viewer is to evoke and stir a reaction, a carnal reaction. There is no intimacy or connection in pornography; its intentions are clear: depict the human form in such a manner that they are no longer viewed as persons of dignity, but rather tools to be used and exploited for the pleasure, satisfaction, and personal gratification of the viewer.

I don't think anyone could disagree on the explicit nature of pornography. As I said just earlier, pornography in its intention and design is to confront the viewer, engage them, and evoke a reaction. Now due to it evoking very primal and carnal urges, what pornography does in this effect is reduce us to base creatures of animal instinct. Even in the media in general, publications that are not pornographic in general but depict women in highly provocative and rather immodestly, in their brands they admit appealing to this base animal instinct. The 'Alpha' (no longer in publication) and 'Zoo' magazine titles (Australian) immediately spring to mind:

'Alpha' = alpha male; in nature (pertaining to social animals), the alpha male is the first to eat and the first to mate; the alpha male fights for these privileges and fights to retain them until it is superseded by a challenging male.

'Zoo' = yeah, this one's pretty obvious; it's a place where animals are kept and the public are able to see these animals in enclosures that closely represent their natural environments and observe their natural [animal] behaviour.

Gentlemen, take the hint! These publications are/were mocking you and are/were taking your money from you as they do/did it!

And what about the publications that are pornographic in nature? 'Playboy' and 'Penthouse'; what's in a name?

'Playboy' = no rocket science required here; the women are depicted and treated as "play things" and are merely tools for man's satisfaction and gratification; in this women are not persons but possessions.

'Penthouse' = an apartment on the top floor of a building, often luxurious and offering good views of the landscape (e.g. metropolitan, urban, etc.); this is a tip of the hat to alpha male social system where the male is "on top" of everybody else and allegorically empowers the male and evokes a God complex, i.e. think of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9): a tower built in an attempt to reach into the heavens and be equal with God (or "as God") and we know what happened to these people as a result of this prideful effort.

'Playboy' and 'Penthouse' are designed to inflate the man's ego and exploit the capital sin of pride. Man, through this medium, does what he wills rather than that of the Lord's will. In this gratification there is no service or selflessness but selfishness, e.g. "I will fulfil my own desires and I will do what pleases me". And this is the underlying message that the pornography industry is sending out; it is today's forbidden fruit and just another way to worship ourselves. Not convinced? Have a read of the following  verse of scripture; I will explain the link between this verse and pornography momentarily, but for now reflect on this (parts bolded for emphasis):

"'For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.' So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate." - Genesis 3:5-6

Let's start with the middle part first, "... good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes...". Now obviously pornography isn't food, not in the literal sense anyway but any time a man (or a woman) engages with pornographic material, they're doing it for a reason. Speaking from personal experience, when I felt the urge to look at pornographic material, I was either bored or feeling rather empty and unfulfilled. Pornography is just one of the many ways man tries to fill the emptiness inside of them or to fill the void, but here's the problem: pornography - apart from being immoral - provides only temporal fulfilment. Even then you can't really call it "fulfilment" due to its temporality because eventually the satisfaction or gratification fades aways and the emptiness is again felt soon after, and this where problems start: addiction!

Deep down inside we know that pornography is destructive and that we shouldn't engage with it. In spite of this, however, we see the desirability of pornography and we begin to ponder the satisfaction and gratification it gives us, and this is how addictions develop: we discover something that provides us with temporal satisfaction and/or gratification, we engage with it once, we like the feeling we get from it (even if it harms us), and we keep on going back to it because we are drawn by the feeling(s) we get from it rather than it as as an entity.

Pornography is blatantly a "delight to the eyes" (Genesis 3:6). Men experience gratifying feelings in visual and tangible ways and it doesn't even take the look of a naked woman to trigger a lustful response; the sight of a provocatively-dressed woman may be all that it takes to stir carnal thoughts and desires.

There is no question about the beauty of the human form and this is what makes pornography so alluring, but it is its contortion and exploitation of the human form and the act of intercourse itself that makes pornography immoral. Let's have a look at what the Church teaches on matters related to pornography and pornography itself (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 2351-2354):
Lust is disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes.  
By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. "Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action." "The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose." For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of "the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved." 
To form an equitable judgment about the subjects' moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen, if not even reduce to a minimum, moral culpability.  
Fornication is carnal union between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman. It is gravely contrary to the dignity of persons and of human sexuality which is naturally ordered to the good of spouses and the generation and education of children. Moreover, it is a grave scandal when there is corruption of the young.  
Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.
In short: pornography exploits, contorts, and perverts the conjugal act and deceives the psyche into a false fulfilment which, if not fought and resisted, becomes addictive. The individual may develop a dependency on pornographic material in order to "feel" and continue to fill that void in themselves that will always empty. The "fulfilment" of pornography - as said earlier - is false and fleets quickly; it is a false intimacy, an illusion of love and damages (if not destroys) the virtue of charity. There is nothing dignified about pornography use or involvement in the so called "pornography industry".

Back to Genesis 3:6 and that bits that I bolded. I'm yet to address this excerpt "... and you will be like God." Adam and Eve, our first parents, ignored God's instruction to not eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil despite being aware of the consequences of doing so (Genesis 3:3). As mentioned earlier, we know that pornography is immoral and that we should not engage in it, but after we see that this sin is a "delight to the eyes" (Genesis 3:6) we begin to rationalise engaging with it because it has become an entity of desire. How do we rationalise engaging with it? We say or think things like, "What harm could it possibly do?" "It's really not hurting anybody" "It will only be this once and that's it!" "Everybody else does it, so why can't I?" What ever it is, we ignore the command (be it from within or exteriorly) and we put ourselves at the mercy of the consequences just like Adam and Eve did. This is the consequence of pride: we put ourselves before God where/when we say, "I do not submit to your will, Lord, but my own". Through pride we make a god out of ourselves and declare ourselves superior to God. If you get that feeling or inkling that you shouldn't be looking at pornography (or any other sin for that matter), then listen to that feeling; ignorance is not bliss!

Consider the following passage of scripture:

"'But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.'" - Matthew 5:28-29

Christ, through verse 28 makes it very clear cut; just looking at a woman lustfully - and they don't have to be unclad and overexposed as they are in pornography - is equated to breaking the sixth commandment which is a Mortal Sin. Sometimes we may not be able to help lustful thoughts from entering our mind, but it's what you do with that thought that could be the deal breaker. Don't entertain a lustful thought, don't engage with with, don't let it linger, and fight with your conscious mind and your conscience to erase it from your thoughts. Easier said than done? Perhaps, but once you engage that initial thought it's difficult to hold back hence after. Think of it like trying to stop a boulder rolling down the hill halfway down; it has already gained momentum. If you don't want the boulder to roll down the hill, then don't give it that nudge at the peak of the hill. This approach is highlight by Christ in verse 29 but bear in mind that he is speaking in what we refer to as hyperbole and shouldn't be taken literally (we know that our right eye (and our members) can also be used for good and to do things that please God), no. What needs to be heeded in this message is that we should examine the things in our lives that are leading us into sin or leading us to sin and remove them from our lives and never go back. If it's going to keep you apart from God, it's not worth it... GET RID OF IT!

Let's wrap this up without getting theological or Biblical and talk straight: gents, pornography is not "harmless" and sets up unrealistic and heartbreaking expectations for your future wife/the woman you love. Pornography can harm relationships and has the potential to destroy marriages. The "intimacy" that pornography offers is a fanciful and is merely an experience in appeasing base/primal/carnal desires. Gents, we're better than this and we can do better! The women (along with the others involved) you see in pornography don't know you, they wouldn't have a care for you, nor would they at all be interested in pleasing you personally or being intimate with you. Think with the right head because you're too smart and have too much dignity to be sucked in by the lie! Choose real love over a figment of it. But most importantly, don't get down or too hard with yourself if you have been sucked in and continue to get sucked in... there is hope. This is a battle that I too have fought and continue fighting... there is help:

Who Does it Hurt?

Video: Overcoming Pornography Addiction (Catholic Answers)

Feed the Right Wolf (secular)

"Purity prepares the soul for love, and love confirms the soul in purity." - Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman

The love of the Lord be with you and ever fill your heart.


Sunday, September 02, 2012

To the Mark Shea critics: Remember that we are great sinners and that Christ is a great Saviour

After reading Mark Shea's blog over at Patheos, I'm struggling to see what all the fuss is about. Some, through social media, have claimed that Shea has "lost it" and is scandalising others to believe that homosexual activity is morally acceptable. This could not be further from the truth, and you'll get this if you actually read Shea's blog entry in its entirety rather than reading what you want it to say. But I'm not about to teach anyone a lesson of the importance of reading things in context (i.e. a text without a context is a pretext), no; instead what I'll do is ask you, my fellow Catholic, the following questions:

Can a person with a same-sex attraction live as a saint and could they even one day be recognised as a Saint by the Holy Catholic Church?

Rather than answer that question directly, let me submit the following to you:

Was not the thief on the cross beside Jesus promised the award of eternal salvation when he asked Christ, "...Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Luke 23:42)?

Was not Mary Magdalene, an alleged prostitute and adulterer, transformed by Christ when He challenged her accusers, intervened and told her to sin no more (John 8:1-11)?

Was not St. Francis of Assisi a lover of worldly delights and a typically apathetic youth before devoting himself to a life of poverty and chastity in the name of Jesus Christ?

Was not St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church and an Early Church Father, prior to him coming to Christ a hedonist, fornicator, pagan, scandaliser, in an extra-marital relationship with a woman, and fathered a child outside of wedlock?

Have you not heard it said that "every Saint has a past and every sinner has a future"?

Have you not heard it said that "the Church is a not a museum of Saints but a hospital for sinners"?

Does it not say in scripture if we are in Christ, we become "... a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come." (2 Corinthians 5:17)?

Now let's get a bit more Catholic on the case. This is what the Catholic Church teaches on the issue of homosexuality (CCC, pars. 2357-2359; bolded for emphasis):
Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.  
The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfil God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.  
Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.
And let's make one thing very, very clear: it is not a sin to be "gay", i.e. it is not sinful to have a same-sex attraction.

In light of this, let us remember the words Christ spoke in Matthew's Gospel (bolded for emphasis):

"'Not every one who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.'" - Matthew 7:21

If we live according to the Father's will and endure to the end (Matthew 10:22), will we not die a friend of God? And if we sin gravely and are contrite can we not seek the Lord's forgiveness by ministry of the Sacrament of Reconciliation?

Let us not forget who our Lord and Saviour is and how the Holy Spirit can work in us to transform our lives: for without God we can do nothing; grace draws us to to God and we need it to persevere in good and to resist temptation and avoid evil. We must direct our free will to work in cooperation with God's grace. Is a Catholic with a same-sex attraction not capable of this and living a life of saintly virtue?

Remember: we are all great sinners and Christ is a great Saviour.

"His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature. For this very reason make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these things are yours and abound, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these things is blind and short-sighted and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall; so there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." - 1 Peter 1:3-11


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Real men love their wives as much as Christ loves His Church: A Reflection on Ephesians 5:21-33

Ephesians 5:21-33 is one of my favourite passages of scripture. For me it models and clears the way - like a lighthouse guiding in the ships to port - about how a husband is to love his wife. When this passage of scripture is read out at Mass at this time on the liturgical calendar, however, I am always amused by the looks on some of the faces of some of the women sitting in Mass. Let me tap the part of the passage that irks them:

"Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Saviour. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands." - Ephesians 5:22-24

Basically the "modern woman" will interpret that portion of the passage this way:

"The husband is the boss; you are subservient to him; you are second to him; blah-de-blah-de-blah-de-blah!"

I'm not kidding! Quite a few Christian women I know (Catholic and non-Catholic alike) have deemed St. Paul a misogynist based on this particular letter alone, but there are some very important details that are glossed over in the kind of marriage St. Paul is describing, and let's not forget verse 21:

"Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ." - Ephesians 5:21

It doesn't get any clearer than that, but let's break down verse 22. "Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord." is not a statement or instruction of coercion or submission; "... be subject... as to the Lord" is the same as saying, "put your trust in your husband" or "have faith in your husband". St. Paul goes on to note in verses 23 and 24 that the role of the husband is modelled on the headship of Jesus Christ over the Church. As Christ made a new covenant promise with His people, the Church, so too the husband and wife make a sacred covenant promise to each other in marriage, a promise that is built on trust and faith, (i.e. fidelity) and the kicker is what we read in the following verses about the husband's duties to his wife:

"Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. " - Ephesians 5:25-33

How much does Christ love the Church? How much does the Lord love us? How did the Lord demonstrate this love for us? Get back to Sunday school if you don't know the answer to this question, but I'll give you the cliff notes: Christ died for us for the sake of our salvation (John 3:16)! This gift, called "grace", is the gift that was and is freely given that we did nothing to be granted. Husbands are thus expected to sacrifice themselves for their wives and love her as the Lord loves us: unconditionally and selflessly, and as we read in verses 26 and 27, the husband must work to make his wife "holy and without blemish".

What a calling! What a responsibility! Which of us that are married men can honestly say that we work this way, even in part, to uplift and uphold our wives in such a way that they may appear sanctified before the Lord? Listening to this Second Reading this morning at Mass challenged me and made me contemplate the ways through which I love my wife. I can be a slob, a buffoon, a dolt, a fool, a dope, a twit, and a jerk, and I especially need to learn to love my wife in ways that emulate the love Christ has for the Church. The more I realise this as a Christian-Catholic allows me to concede, not by any sense of defeat, but so as not to allow pride to enter my heart, that in order to love my wife the way Christ loves the Church I need more of Christ in my heart and centred in my marriage.

In short, St. Paul is writing about a marriage between husband and wife that is built faith and trust in each other, and a selfless love to work in mutuality; to love, to honour, and to serve without counting the cost.

In the two, husband and wife, in marriage becoming "one flesh", they are no longer two persons but unified equals working together in the greatest of pairings conceived by the Lord God. It is for this reason St. Paul draws the parallel between the marriage of a husband to his wife to the relationship Christ has with the Church; the Church is the bride and Christ the bridegroom. It is the love and sacrifice of Christ that allows the Church to grow and nourish its children spiritually, and it is the faith we, the Church, place in Christ that enables Him to work through us transforming us into new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). The old becomes gone.

Real men love their wives as much as Christ loves His Church. Are you man enough to love your wife this way?