Christians, Charity, and Homosexualists

This article is from America magazine seems to be getting a lot of buzz, particularly from my Catholic friends. There are some good points in here, for one this:

"Cardinal Dolan told ABC that we need to listen to those who don’t feel welcome. The cardinal is spot on. We need to listen—all of us. In order to open our hearts more fully to the love and mercy of the One we follow, we must open our hearts to one another. We need to listen in order to learn how the church can be more supportive of gay and lesbian people while remaining faithful to its tradition."

That has basically always been my position, though at times I may give off the impression that I feel otherwise. I do hold that marriage is first and foremost a sacrament (Holy Matrimony), and that even when viewed non-sacramentally (e.g. by secular society) it has a purpose and meaning which are incompatible with homosexuality; there are, in other words, no gay marriages because it is an onotological impossibility for gays to marry. Thus, I can't give support to gay marriage because 1) this would be lending support to sin, since I believe with (and apart from) the Church that homosexual acts are in fact sinful, and "gay marriage" is an attempt to legitimize them, and 2) because I do not believe that "gay marriage" is an ontological possibility regardless of what the law of the land says. Analogies fail, but it is something like being asked to support a round square, like having a law which recognizes that squares can be round and which is used to punish those who say otherwise.

An Extended Interview with Pope Emeritus XVI on Faith

Note: A shorter version of this interview was published on the IGNITUM TODAY site. About 3 hours later, white smoke issued forth from the Sistine Chapel, and then the announcement was made that Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio had been elected Pope Francis. Here, then, is the longer version of my interview with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Among other things, the papal resignation means that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's fourth encyclical will go unpublished, or at least unpublished under his own authority. This encyclical was to be about faith, and it would therefore have completed his encyclicals on the theological virtues. We may never know what he would have written, though I was able to interview him a bit about faith—via his other writings.

JC Sanders: Your holiness, can you give us a little background on what faith is?

His Holiness, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:
"Faith is the fundamental act of Christian existence. In the act of faith the essential structure of Christianity is expressed, its answer to the question how in the art of being can one reach the goal. There are other answers. Not all religions are 'faith.' Buddhism in its classic form, for example, does not aim at this act of self-transcendence, of encounter with the totally other—with God, who addresses me and invites me to love. Characteristic of Buddhism is rather a kind of radical internalization: an act of climbing not out of oneself, but into oneself, an act which is meant to lead to liberation from the yoke of individuality, from the burden of being a person, and to a return into the common identity of all being that, in comparison with our experience of existence, can be described as not-being, as nothing, in order to express its total otherness." [1]

Purgtory Part 3: Faith and Love

This is the third in a series in which I attempt to address the question, "What is purgatory, and why is it necessary?" by expanding on the simple answer that Purgatory is the state, place, or process by which a soul is purified for entrance into heaven. Part 1 is here and Part 2 can be found here.

"So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). Yet man is not perfect, nor are men sinless. Furthermore, we read that "nothing unclean will enter" heaven (Revelation 21:27), elsewhere that
"Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile....But what comes out of a person, that is what defiles. From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile" (Mark 7:15, 20-23).

Thus, even our evil thoughts can be counted as sins, and can defile us, that is, can make us unclean. These evil thoughts come unbidden to us in this life, though we may attempt to resist them. And they persist after our conversion as before.

Purgatory Part 2: Salvation, Sanctification, and Atonement

This is the second in a series in which I attempt to address the question, "What is purgatory, and why is it necessary?" by expanding on the simple answer that Purgatory is the state, place, or process by which a soul is purified for entrance into heaven. Part 1 can be found here.

"The doctrine [of purgatory] can be stated briefly. Purgatory is a state of purification, where the soul that has fully repented of its sins but has not fully expiated them has removed from itself the last elements of uncleanliness. In purgatory all remaining love of self is transformed into love love of God. At death one's soul goes to heaven, if it is completely fit for heaven; to purgatory, if it is not quite fit for heaven, but not worthy of condemnation; or to hell, if it is completely unfit for heaven. Purgatory is a temporary state. Everyone who enters it will get to heaven, and, after the last soul leaves purgatory for heaven, purgatory will cease to exist. There will remain only heaven and hell." (Karl Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism)

In order to understand the point of purgatory, we need to understand the difference between salvation and sanctification on the one hand, and between punishment and atonement on the other. Salvation means being spared from damnation: we are saved from Hellfire. But being saved from Hell is not the same as being worthy of heaven—nor of being "ready" to enter this state. Salvation may come from grace, through faith—but heaven is for the holy. Merely wishing to be good, or indeed even trying to be good, does not make us actually good; we may strive to become pure while yet being sinful.

Purgatory Part 1: Conversion as a Process

Question: What is purgatory, and why is it necessary?

Purgatory is the state, place, or process by which a soul is purified for entrance into heaven.

Conversion as a Process

When we are converted to Christ and baptized, we are given grace which allows us to recognize our sins, and which begins to cleanse us of these sins. However, because we continue to sin after conversion (1 John 1:8-9, Romans 3:23), after baptism, and indeed even after repentance of past sins, despite our best intentions and despite our sincere resolutions to avoid sinning, we must be involved in a process of being cleanse and sanctified. We can fall out of the state of grace (1 Corinthians 15:1-2, 2 Timothy 2:12, Hebrews 10:23-27, CCC 1855-1856), so it also stands to reason that we can live in an intermediate state: in grace but not yet sanctified. I would venture to say that many of us spend most of our (post-conversion) lives in this state—works in progress, as it were.

We may still be in this work-in-progress state when we die. We are essentially still converted to Christ, but not yet fully sanctified, still being tempted into sin, still occasionally turning away from God, even if we always turn back to Him [1]. We know that in this life, it is a struggle to overcome past sins, and that there are always new ones to which we might be tempted. We know that some things which once tempted us don't tempt us any longer, but that there are other things which now tempt us more strongly, new temptations to sin which must be overcome.

The Gift of Sexuality

Monsignor Charles Pope has written a clear and fairly concise rebuttal of the common trope that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was not homosexuality. Being the lurker that I am, I skimmed a few of the reader comments (and the good priest's replies) in the combox--Monsignor Pope's comment box is actually worth reading generally--and was not surprised to see a few comments blasting him for taking a stand in favor of the obvious (and this is after he filters the nastier comments, mind you). I am not going to respond to any of those comments here, but there was one comment which I have heard time and again which got the interest of my muse. The commenter is as always anonymous, though with that named anonymity which only the internet allows, and therefore goes by the name of clareflouris. He writes:

"I doubt you will let this comment through. You have already confessed to censoring your comments, and allowing through only those who agree. The problem with that is that you prevent people hearing both sides of the argument.
What really saddens me is that you drive people away from Christ, by your lies about God’s good creation. My sexuality is God’s gift, to me and to my whole society: in our variation is our blessing.
God forgive you."

Monsignor's response is charitable, tactful, kind, but firm, and worth quoting here:

"No I don’t believe that. All or nothing thinking is to be avoided.
But there’s nothing I can do about the darkness of the story for the facts that are presented simply as they are. It is not what I think in this matter, it is what the word of God presents as what happened. But not everything in the Bible is told with approval I think what Lot did was detestable. The fact of the Angels yanking him back inside the house, shows up they are overruling what he wickedly proposes as a solution to another wickedness.
You of course in offering forgiveness presuppose that I have sinfully offended you. That you take offense, does not mean I gave offense. It would seem that you demand approval for a lifestyle that others reasonably question based on Biblical evidence and natural law. Not receiving that approval on your own terms, you then assign sinfulness. But your logic in this matter is faulty. I have not sinned against you.
As for calling your homosexuality a “gift,” which scripture and the Church teach as disordered, this is a strange but common utterance from those in the lifestyle. But that does not make it a gift. As for me, I seem to have inherited arthritic knees from my parents. I have learned to make the best of it, but would certainly not call my disordered knees a gift. As for me, no more tennis, no more running. I think my acceptance of the condition is a gift, but the condition of bad knees is not a gift, and requires that I live In accord with my limits. So as for me no more heavy sports, as for you no more sex. Celibacy Is for you the gift that God offers. As a heterosexual celibate man, I can attest that celibacy is indeed a gift to me."

Polkinghorne on Miracles

I recently read Professor John Polkinghorne's short essay, Quarks, Chaos, and Christianity, a mostly enlightening essay. There is much to like in this work--though I question whether it really deserves the comparisons it draws from some reviewers to C.S. Lewis' works--but there is one passage in particular which has stood out especially:

"Science cannot exclude the possibility that, on particular occasions, God does particular, unprecedented things. After all, he is the ordainer of the laws of nature, not someone who is subject to them. However, precisely because they are his laws, simply to overturn them would be for God to act against God, which is absurd. The theological question is, does it make sense to suppose that God has acted in a new way? One thing that is theologically incredible is that God is some sort of celestial conjuror, doing a turn to impress today that he didn't think of yesterday, and won't be bothered to do tomorrow. God can't be capricious. He must be utterly consistent. However, consistency isn't the same as dreary uniformity. In unprecedented circumstances, God can do unexpected things. Yet there will always be a deep underlying consistency that makes it intellegible, for example, that God raised Jesus from the dead that first Easter Day, while, in the course of present history, our experience is that dead men stay dead. The search for this consistency is the theological challenge of miracle.

A simple parable drawn from science may help here. The laws of nature do not change, they are unfailingly consistent, yet the consequences of these laws change spectacularly when one moves into a new regime. Think of heating some water. The temperature rises steadily in a perfectly uniform way, until it reaches a boiling point. Then, something happens that, if we had not observed it every day of our lives, would astonish us. The steady rise is halted and a small quantity of water turns into a large quantity of steam. Physicists call this a 'phase change'. We have moved from the liquid regime to the gaseous regime. However, the laws of nature do not change at 100 [degrees] C, it is only their consequences that become radically different. It is a similar kind of account, with profound continuity underlying apparently discontinuous behavior, that we must seek if we are to understand the miraculous." (Quarks, Chaos, and Christianity pp 82-83).

On Critical Thinking and Party Platforms

The Republican Party of Texas has long since released its 2012 Platform, a document some 23 pages in length covering most of the policy issues collectively called "political issues." Even so, the document is largely an outline, and expansion of the party's 11 principles. The principles themselves are quite good—the biggest problem with them is getting actual republican politicians and policy makers to adhere to them—though they might be contrasted with (for example) Dr Russell Kirk's more thorough (if broader) principles of conservatism.

I can assent to or at the very least give consent to the great majority of the policy measures in the platform—probably 90% or so—and many of my problems with the rest are minor. There is, however, one thing which really stood out to me (and a number of other people) as truly block-headed, in wording if not in intent. In the section on "Educating Our Children," the platform states:
"Knowledge-Based Education: We oppose the teaching of Higher-Order Thinking Skills (HOTS)...critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabelling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE)...which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging fixed beliefs."

Observations, Causes, and the Higgs Boson

Note: I have already written a longer post for IGNITUM TODAY about the discovery (or potential discovery) of the Higgs Boson and what it means for the Faith. This wasn't going to fit with the rest of that post, so I've expanded on it and made it into its own post.

The discovery—or potential discovery—of the Higss Boson has fueled much excitement, some speculation, and a large number of columns and blog posts. Of these by people whose interest is everything from the political (or financial) side of things to its impact (or lack thereof) on science and future technologies to the potential impact of this discovery on religion. Among other reflections sparked by this discovery comes this passage from Mr Mathew Sullivan, a fellow Austin diocese Catholic:

'One of the primary fruits of these efforts was a better understanding of causality.  When something happens, people tend to wonder why and how.  “Why A?”  “Because B.”  “Well why B?”  “Because C.”  Eventually one comes upon what’s known as a self-evident truth, one or more truths that cannot be rationally proven but must be believed for all other knowledge to stand.  This applies not only to religion, but also to science, politics, and all other types of knowledge [1]. The truth that proceeded from the scholastics and formed the foundation of modern science is that the universe contains an intelligible order – it can be understood through the faculty of reason.'

Catholics and Gays Part 4: What Marriage (and Sex) Reveals

Now that I have considered a pair of objections to the (brief) natural law argument for the Church's proscription against romantic homosexual relationships (RHR), it is worth now considering what sex reveals symbolically. These are signs and symbols, which will largely be theological in nature. They are therefore what might be called more reasons why the Church teaches that RHR are wrong, from a mostly theological point of view.

First, there is the somewhat literal part. Those with weak stomachs or strong imaginations should pass over the next two paragraphs to the second part. (Denoted by skipping between the lines)
This applies more to specifically homosexual relationships, that is, a romantic relationship between two males. The male member—also known as a penis—is for lack f a better word the male procreative organ. It is from this organ that life pours forth; indeed, Aristotle argued that in the procreation of a new person, the form was contributed by the man (via his sperm) and the matter from a woman (via her eggs). We might take issue with Aristotle for this—indeed, if the soul comes from God, then we have taken theological issue with Aristotle. But nonetheless, life does come from both the male and the female, and so we might say that the penis is the organ by which a man transmits life.

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