Archive for the ‘Apologetics’ Category


Vatican II Is a Home Game

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

Well over a decade ago I took a course from Scott Hahn in which he posed an elaborate question about responding to a Protestant interpretation of a passage from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans.

Students offered rebuttals based on the Letter of James and other teachings from Scripture and Tradition. Finally Dr. Hahn interrupted, saying, “Wait a minute! Romans is a ‘home game’ for Catholics.” He emphasized that Romans is not a “Protestant” book that needs to be countered with a “Catholic” book like James; he wanted our class to understand Romans and claim it as our own.

We have to understand that a similar dynamic is at work when it comes to dissident Catholics and Vatican II. In books such as Rome Has Spoken (Maureen Fiedler and Linda Rabben, eds.), we hear about the “rigid,” out-of-touch teaching of the pre-Vatican II Church. Vatican II came along and modernized–that is, changed–the Church’s position. Now we’re enduring consecutive pontificates that have forsaken Vatican II’s reforms and have retrenched in the old view.

The assumption on the dissidents’ part is that Vatican II is on their side. Our primary response should not be to quote from the Council of Trent or other reliable sources to “counter” or just plain ignore Vatican II.

Instead, we have to realize that Vatican II, as a legitimate ecumenical council of the Church, is a “home game” for us. Rather than work around Vatican II, and thus play into the dissidents’ strategy of pitting Vatican II against older tradition or the current papacy, we must learn what Vatican II really taught–without all the spin or the well-documented misadventures in implementation–and actually use the Vatican II documents to our advantage for the good of the Church. We’ll discover that Vatican II affirms teachings such as priestly celibacy, the inerrancy of Scripture, papal authority, and the need for moral conscience to be formed in accordance with Church teaching.

And of course now we have the authoritative Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is nothing other than the “Catechism of Vatican II.”

The foregoing is an excerpt from an article I wrote for the November 2002 issue of This Rock magazine entitled “The Grammar of Dissent.”

St. Bob on the Eucharist

Friday, September 17th, 2010

Today the universal Church celebrates the feast of St. Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621). “St. Bob” was a Jesuit priest who eventually became the Bishop of Capua. He was a brilliant theologian and defender of the faith, and he served in various Roman congregations in the immediate aftermath of the Protestant revolt and the Council of Trent. He has been named a doctor of the Church and is invoked as the patron saint of catechists and catechumens.

In honor of St. Bob, I thought I would provide an excerpt from a most remarkable teaching he gave on the Eucharist. I”m especially moved by the last paragraph. Enjoy! 

Take and eat: This is My Body. Weigh carefully, dear brethren, the force of those words. . . .

Suppose a prince promised one of you a hundred gold pieces, and in fulfillment of his word sent a beautiful sketch of the coins, I wonder what you would think of his liberality? And suppose that when you complained, the donor said, “Sir, your astonishment is out of place, as the painted coins you received may very properly be considered true crowns by the figure of speech called metonymy,” would not everybody feel that he was making fun of you and your picture?

Now Our Lord promised to give us His flesh for our food. The bread which I shall give you, He said, is My flesh for the life of the world. If you argue that the bread may be looked on as a figure of His flesh, you are arguing like the prince and making a mockery of God’s promises. A wonderful gift indeed that would be, in which Eternal Wisdom, Truth, Justice, and Goodness deceived us, its helpless pensioners, and turned our dearest hopes to derision.

That I may show you how just and righteous is the position we hold, let us suppose that the last day has come and that our doctrine of the Eucharist has turned out to be false and absurd. Our Lord now asks us reproachfully: “Why did you believe thus of My Sacrament? Why did you adore the host?” may we not safely answer him: “O Lord, if we were wrong in this, it was You who deceived us. We heard Your word, THIS IS MY BODY, and was it a crime for us to believe You? We were confirmed in our mistake by a multitude of signs and wonders which could have had You only for their author. Your Church with one voice cried out to us that we were right, and in believing as we did we but followed in the footsteps of all Your saints and holy ones . . .

Christian, I Presume?

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

When I was in law school, I had a classmate named Barry (not his real name). At the time, I was not practicing the faith and by no means was a paragon of virtuous living. Despite my own low standards, I thought Barry’s carousing lifestyle crossed the bounds of propriety. He even confided to me that while he was home one weekend he made his girlfriend procure an abortion, because he was not willing to take responsibility for his actions.

One day, months later, Barry out of the blue told me, “It’s time for a revival.” It was only then that I learned that he was a part-time preacher who from time to time would go barnstorming through Missouri and Arkansas, inviting people to become “saved.”

I was shocked. I admitted that I had no room to talk, since in my estimation I was no longer a Catholic or even a Christian. Even so, the disparity between Barry’s faith and his ongoing debauchery confused and scandalized me. He eventually explained that I had to learn to separate faith from daily life. I told him–with less refinement and charity than I’d use today–what I thought of a religion I could test drive but not take home. My burning intuition was that a religion that did not affect who I was and how I lived was not worth my time. [more]

An analogous situation arises today in the context of funerals. As many of us know, the dominant mindset is that the deceased is “in a better place,” and thus the funeral rite itself becomes nothing other than a mini-canonization.

Assuredly we entrust the deceased to the mercy of God, who alone judges hearts. We also must console those who are mourning, offering them solid grounds for hope that their departed loved one is indeed with the Lord. In this regard, it is entirely fitting to recall the good deeds and accomplishments of the deceased to buoy our hope in his or her resurrection.

Yet the current trend goes even further. Our contemporaries assume the deceased is in heaven, so the only real concern is helping friends and family cope with the temporal loss. This approach effectively does away with the need to pray and offer sacrifice for the deceased, which Scripture describes as a “very excellent and noble” practice (cf. 2 Mac. 12:43; Catechism, no. 1032). It also derails a teachable moment: The reality of death affords all of us the opportunity to consider our own mortality and thus seek to be in right relationship with God. An objective observer at many funerals today could easily conclude that it really doesn’t matter how one lives, because everyone’s eternal fate seems to be the same.

Both my encounter with Barry and the experience at many funerals today reflect the error of presumption, which takes many forms (cf. Catechism, no. 2092). One form of presumption is the timeless heresy of Pelagianism, which holds that happiness is attainable by merely human effort, without the necessity of grace. This is manifested today by those who place all their hope in technological progress. Another example of presumption, commonly seen at funerals, is the attitude that in the end God will forgive us irrespective of our cooperation with grace. Following this view, heaven is the inevitable and more or less universal sequel to this life.

Christian fundamentalism is yet another form of presumption. Granted, Barry’s case is an extreme example of the “once saved, always saved” mentality. Most Bible Christians would be aghast at Barry’s lifestyle. Further, they rightly affirm in the midst of our largely secular and indifferent society the centrality of our faith in Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 4:12; 1 Cor. 3:11). Even so, the necessity of a “born again” experience is often explained in a way that leaves no room for human freedom. Once “saved,” the individual can’t “lose” his salvation, even through mortal sin.

“When will I come to the end of my pilgrimage, and enter the presence of God?” This antiphon, taken from Monday Morning Prayer, Week II in the Liturgy of the Hours, summarizes the proper attitude of the Christian in this life. This attitude can be summed up in one word: hope. 

And You Call Yourself a Catholic!

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

A student once asked me: When did the term “Catholic” come into play? How did we become “Catholic” from our Jewish roots? I thought these were very good questions, so I thought I would share my brief response with the readers of Catholic Hour.
The first recorded use of the word “catholic” (from the Greek word for “universal”) in reference to the Church is found in the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch, a bishop and disciple of St. John who was martyred by the Emperor Trajan in 107. Shortly before his martyrdom, he wrote several letters to various Church communities. These letters have been preserved by the Church ever since. One such letter was the Letter to the Smyrneans, where he wrote in chapter 8:

“See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”

Interestingly, Antioch is also the place where the followers of Christ were called “Christians” for the first time (Acts 11:26).

As for the second question, really the goal of all of salvation history, from the time of the fall and surely from the scattering of the nations at Babel, has been to reunite the divided, sinful family of man into the Family of God, the Church. The Church indeed is universal, as it’s the means of salvation for the whole world, Jew and Gentile alike. Surely the Jewish people played a unique role as God’s chosen people, from whom would come Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. In a real sense the Church became “Catholic” at Pentecost, when God reversed the scattering of peoples at Babel (see Catechism, no. 830).

The covenants made to the patriarchs, to Moses, and to King David all find their fulfillment in the salvation Christ brings to the world. As was promised way back in Genesis, through Abraham and his descendants all the families of the earth will find blessing (Gen. 12:3). This blessing is universal. This blessing is Catholic.


Church Authority Doesn”t “Peter” Out

Friday, August 13th, 2010

Let”s recap what we have discussed so far in this brief series on Peter”s confession of faith in Matthew 16.

Peter confessed his belief that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus not only blessed him profusely, but also gave him a new name and a special mission as the “rock” on which He will build His Church. We then looked at the “keys” that were given to Peter, which established him as the “prime minister” of Christ”s kingdom, with the authority to “bind and loose.”
Clearly Peter had a preeminent role as the leader of Christ’s kingdom on earth. But where do Catholics get the idea of an ongoing papacy?

First, let”s look again at Isaiah 22 from the standpoint of the transfer of office from Shebna to Eliakim. The authority is tied to the office (whoever is given the “keys” and raiment of the prime minister), and not to the individual.

Sports fans call Lebron James “King James” because of his basketball prowess. Yet this title, or nickname, is attached to Lebron personally. There is no “office” that Lebron holds, and when he retires there will not be a “King James” on the court. That title will not pass to his children or teammates. [more]

That”s not how it works with an office, such as president, senator, judge, or school principal. When one person”s tenure is finished, another is chosen to take his or her place. We also see this principle at work in the Acts of the Apostles, where Matthias is chosen as an apostle explicitly to fill the office vacated by Judas (see Acts 1:15 and following, especially v. 20).

In the case of St. Peter, drawing upon the historical precedent of the prime minister in the kingdom of Israel, the very concept of keys implies an office that continues from generation to generation.

Second, let’s turn to the final verses of Matthew (Mt. 28:18-20). St. Matthew concludes his Gospel with Jesus handing over His own divine authority to the Church through the office of Peter and the apostles–the first Pope and bishops.

But, as a practical matter, how could they carry out the command to baptize and teach until the end of the age (at least 2,000 years)? They didn’2012-04-24 18:35:16′t have a written and universally accepted canon of Scripture until after we”ve had dozens of popes. The fact is that the apostles were to have successors–and early Church history clearly bears that out.

So when Jesus gave Peter the keys, He was entrusting His authority not only to Peter, but also to all his successors.The keys of the New Covenant kingdom are transferable–just as the keys were passed on from prime minister to prime minister in the Davidic kingdom of old.

This is why the Catholic Church has always taught that Peter’s successor–the pope–serves as the “Vicar of Christ” and as the preeminent shepherd of God’s people.

As the modern-day successor of Peter and bearer of “the keys,” Pope Benedict XVI stands as the current prime minister in Christ’s kingdom (266th!). It”s not a position of power so much as a position of service. As Pope St. Gregory the Great said around the year 600, the Pope is Servus Servorum Dei: The Servant of the Servants of God.

In Isaiah, the prime minister is a “father” to the inhabitants of Jerusalem (Is. 22:21). So too is Pope Benedict our Holy Father.

What Have You Got to “Loose”?

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

Let”s turn again to Matthew 16:19, where Our Lord says to Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Part of giving Peter the “keys” involved the authority to “bind and loose.” As we see a couple chapters later in Matthew, this was an authority shared with the other apostles (Mt. 18:18).

This “binding and loosing” authority may sound strange to us, but this language had several familiar meanings in Jesus’ time, including: [more]

(a) the ability to make “binding” decisions or binding interpretations of the law;
(b) the authority to include or exclude members in a given community; and
(c) the forgiveness of sins (“loosing” in the sense of releasing or freeing from sins) (see Rev. 1:5; see generally Catechism, nos. 553, 881).

All these meanings come into play with Peter as Christ’s prime minister or vicar who has been entrusted with the keys of the kingdom and made head of the apostles and pastor of the universal Church.

The authority to “bind and loose” was confirmed and fulfilled on Easter Sunday, when Our risen Lord appeared to His disciples and breathed on them, saying: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn. 20:22-23).   

I don”t know about you, but the consideration of the “binding and loosing” authority entrusted to Peter and the other apostles gives me a greater appreciation for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Tomorrow we will conclude this series by considering papal succession. After all, one might argue, it”s one thing to concede that certain authority was given to Peter; it”s quite another thing to say that this authority has been passed in an unbroken succession up to Pope Benedict XVI. We will tackle that issue in the next post.

Keys to the Kingdom

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

After changing Simon’s name to Peter, Jesus did something else that made Peter’s important position in the kingdom even more obvious. Jesus gave Peter “the keys to the kingdom” and the power to “bind and loose” (Mt. 16:19).

To understand the rich symbolism of the keys, we need to see how they were used in the Davidic kingdom of the Old Testament.

The key of the house of David symbolized the administrative authority of the “master of the palace” who is “over the household.” This person would be the king’s highest ranking official in the royal court, known as the al bayyit or prime minister, who acts with the king”s authority.

Let’s look at this role in the Old Testament. [more]Check out Isaiah 22:15-23:

[15] Thus says the Lord GOD of hosts, “Come, go to this steward, to Shebna, who is over the household, and say to him:
[16] What have you to do here and whom have you here, that you have hewn here a tomb for yourself, you who hew a tomb on the height, and carve a habitation for yourself in the rock?
[17] Behold, the LORD will hurl you away violently, O you strong man. He will seize firm hold on you,
[18] and whirl you round and round, and throw you like a ball into a wide land; there you shall die, and there shall be your splendid chariots, you shame of your master”s house.
[19] I will thrust you from your office, and you will be cast down from your station.
[20] In that day I will call my servant Eli”akim the son of Hilki”ah,
[21] and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your girdle on him, and will commit your authority to his hand; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.
[22] And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.
[23] And I will fasten him like a peg in a sure place, and he will become a throne of honor to his father”s house.

In verse 15, the steward is “over the household.” This is not merely descriptive, but actually points to the role of the prime minister. For example, in Genesis 41:41, Joseph is put over the house of Egypt. In Numbers 12:7, Moses has been entrusted the “house” of God as his “prime minister.” In 2 Kings 15:5, Jotham is “over the household” of the King who has leprosy and is forced to leave.

Similarly, Peter is put “over the house” of the Church that Christ the King is building. This calls to mind Luke 12:42 and following, where Our Lord asks, “Who is the wise steward that the master puts ”over the household?’2012-04-24 18:35:20′”

In verse 19, we clearly see that this authority goes with the office, as Eliakim replaces Shebna.

In verse 21, we read that the prime minister is to be a father to the people; a Papa or Pope in Italian. That”s why we call his successor the Holy Father. The Papa will have the key of the House of David.

In verse 22, the words “open and shut” may sound a bit odd until we realize the connection with binding and loosing in Matthew 16:19. We will look more closely at that particular issue in the next installment.

Finally, in Isaiah 22:23, we read that the prime minister is like a “peg in a sure place,” which holds up the entire dwelling. That”s why the Church considers the Pope to be the visible source and sign of unity in the Church (see Catechism, no. 882).

Like a Rock

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

In our last installment (sorry about the delay, btw, had a virus and was also traveling), we saw that in Matthew 16, Our Lord gave Simon the name Peter. Today, we”re going to take a closer look at that name and what it says about his mission in the context of the Church Jesus is building.

The name Jesus–Petros in Greek and Kepha in Jesus’ language–means Rock.
There is no evidence that Kepha was ever used as a proper name before this incident. Peter is a common name now, but not then. It”s like being named Boulder. It was a very unusual name. What did Jesus mean when He called Simon by this non-name, “Rock”?
And what did He mean when He told him He would build His Church on him and the gates of death would not prevail against it? [more]

A number of images come to mind: We could say that Peter was called to be rock-like: dependable, durable, etc. After all such adjectives were used in reference to Abraham in the Old Testament, not to be mention truck commercials. “Like a Rock” connotes a strong, manly image.

But there is another significant image Jesus probably was thinking of when He gave Simon the name “Rock.” And it is this image which has the most potential for bringing to light the Catholic understanding of the papacy.

The most important rock in all of Judaism was the “foundation stone” in the Jerusalem Temple. According to Jewish tradition, this rock served not only as the base of the altar for sacrifice in the Temple, but also was associated with significant moments of salvation history:

This rock was believed by Jews to be

–the site of creation and the foundation on which God built the world.
–the place where Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac to Yahweh.

Get this: According to Jewish tradition (I think I got this from the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible), this foundation stone of the Jewish temple capped off and sealed a long shaft leading down to the netherworld. The Temple was thus in the middle of things, the junction between heaven and the underworld.

Now we see that Peter is the rock upon which He would build His Church, and the gates of death would not prevail against it.

In other words, Peter is the new Temple foundation stone for the new Temple.

Just as God used the Temple rock to build the Temple and protect it from the powers of the underworld, so too God will use Peter to build the Church and protect her.
The Church Christ is building in Matthew 16 will not only play defense–she not only will protect the People of God from the powers of death–but go on the offensive. The gates of death cannot prevail against the new, resurrected life offered by Christ that is brought to the world through His Church.

In the next installment, we”ll talk about the significance of the “keys.”

You Are Peter

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

If you go into St. Peter’s basilica and look up, at the base of the dome, there are big, distinctive black letters on gold that say (in Latin) “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church . . . and I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.”

These were crucially important words 2,000 years ago, and they’re also an important foundation for the role of the pope in Christ’s kingdom today.
Imagine what it would have been like to have been there during that pivotal conversation between Jesus and Peter. Let’s time travel back to Caesarea Philippi and hear these words as the apostles and others at that time would have heard them. [more]

In our last post we heard Peter”s confession of faith in Matthew 16, which Jesus praised. Today, let”s look at the statement in Matthew 16:18, quoted on the ceiling of St. Peter”s, where Our Lord says “You are Peter.”
The first thing which would have captured the apostles’ attention is the fact that Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter. This was not a mere nickname like Bubba or Sparky or Jim-Bob. Nor was this simply a publicity ploy, like the football player Ochocinco or pop star Madonna.

Rather, Jesus was truly giving Simon a new name. This of course is reminiscent of our significant name changes in the Bible, such as Abram (Abraham), Jacob (Israel), and Saul (Paul). In all these cases, the change of name signaled a new vocation and a new mission.
When God set certain people apart for special roles, He often gave them new names to signify their new purpose in the divine plan. For example, Abraham was to be the father of many nations. Israel would be the patriarch of God”s chosen people. Paul was to become the Apostle to the Gentiles.
When Jesus gave Simon a new name, He was setting him apart from the other twelve apostles and bestowing on him a special function. This simple name change alone would have signaled to those apostles and first-century Jews that Jesus was giving Peter an important role to play in His kingdom.

But what was that special role? We”ll find out on Monday!

In the meantime, if you”d like to delve deeper into the Gospel of Matthew, I highly recommend Mystery of the Kingdom, by Dr. Edward (“Ted”) Sri.

Peter”s Confession of Faith

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

Today”s Gospel is taken from Matthew 16. It”s the famous account of Peter”s confession of faith and Jesus” response. Over the next few posts, we will gradually unpack this rich passage.

Today, let”s consider this: Jesus asks, “Who do people say that I am?” People seem to be saying different things. But then He makes it very personal. He says, “But you, Peter, who do YOU say that I am?” That question goes out to all of us.

Peter”s response comes in verse 16: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This concise answer recognizes (a) Jesus’ divinity, as well as (b) His status as the Messiah-King of Israel.

This answer gets an A plus. (I have to admit that saying this conjures up thoughts of Ralphie’2012-04-24 18:35:27′s bb gun essay in The Christmas Story, but I digress.)
In this scene, Peter became the first person in Matthew’s Gospel to explicitly recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Then Jesus gives Him the beautiful blessing of verses 17-19:

“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

But what does this blessing mean? At first blush, this doesn’t seem to be about putting Peter and his successors in charge. We need to go a little deeper.

In our next installment, we will examine the significance of Peter”s new name.