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