Faith and Salvation--More About Pope Francis' Open Letter

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God, the Pope, Conscience, and Salvation

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"A lie understanding options trading gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on." Sir Winston Churchill's comment is a pretty apt description of the media's "reporting" of news in general, and news about the pope in particular. Witness the latest incident, from The Independent's article with the headline "Pope Francis assures Atheists: 'You don't have to believe in God to get to heaven.'"

This make money trading options has, of course, been picked up and repeated elsewhere, always under some variation of the title that the pope is saying that belief in God (and by strong implication, that God Himself) is unnecessary for salvation, that faith and hope are unnecessary. Worse, a number of people actually believe that this is what the pope said (and meant), including some people who ought to know better. Indeed, the whole affair would have probably passed by me for now (it's been a busy week) had not one of my Protestant friends posted the article to facebook with the comment “Wrong. Flat out wrong.” This is a friend who is usually wary of at least the mainstream media's reporting in general, and I had hoped that his comment was about the article's title being wrong—rather, it was about the pope's being wrong for how options trading works holding this position.

Contemplata Tradere--The Hound of Heaven

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Today is the feast of Saint Dominic, of whose order I am a lay member:

Shades of gray, shadows of doubt!
Things men ought to know in their hearts--
Explained away by trickery, subtlety:
Subterfuge by turmoil's dark master woven.
Pious works and deeds of mortification--
Yet the heart is proud rather than contrite,
Those silent prayers are too boastful:
Good works can be completed by hypocrites too.
Facts and knowledge invented or discovered,
Become just a mask to hide the lies,
Making them credible to learned or simple,
So that the truth itself may be obscured.
Who can set these evil things right:
A charitable man and his discerning companions,
Pure souls of black-and-white sensibilities--
Sharing that Truth sought in contemplation.

Chesterton observed that certain saints are more popular in this age, others in that age. That there are also other saints which are unpopular in this or that age. The saints which are popular in this age are often the ones which symbolize whatever virtue may be visible (or seemingly visible) in this age, but the ones which are unpopular are the ones which opposed whichever vices this age clings to. There is some truth to this observation, though it may be said and not unfairly that every saint has something to offer every age.

Still, St Dominic is not very well-loved in this age, at least not by non-Catholics: he is certainly less widely popular than his friend St Francis. Saint Dominic is, after all, associated with the inquisition, which is itself associated with Spain, his birthplace--though of course St Dominic had nothing to do with the Spanish Inquisition, having died long before the King of Spain launched that mess upon his country.

Happiness and Meaning

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A colleague forwarded an article in The Atlantic about happiness, meaning, and health. The main thrust of the article--which is a sort of follow-up to an earlier article--is that having some meaning or purpose in life is more important than being happy:

Marriage, Holy Matrimony, and Hylemorphism

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In my previous post, I discussed marriage, Holy Matrimony, catechesis, and the call of Catholic couples to live their marriage as a sacrament and a sign of contradiction. A part of that witness is in taking up our own crosses daily by making the small and sometimes even the big sacrifices for our spouses (and our children as well), for which and in which the sacramental graces of Holy Matrimony help prepare us and sustain us.

All of which brings me to the comments by Fr Longenecker and Monsignor Pope about separating marriage from Holy Matrimony. I hope that the foregoing discussion shows that the two are not identical, in that marriage the institution is not the same thing as Holy Matrimony the sacrament. But neither do I think they should (or can) be separated into two separate substances. The two are in fact joined in manner which ought not be separated, lest it do harm to one or the other or both.

Marriage, Holy Matrimony, and Catechesis

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In England, "gay marriage" is now officially legal though still not ontologically possible--which precipitates another round of posts about marriage and Holy Matrimony. Monsignor Charles pope wrote one on this following the US Supreme Court's decisions on DOMA and Proposition 8--really, he was revisiting an old post. And of course, a few responses were written to the good Monsignor.

Now on the heels of the England decision, Fr Dwight Longenecker has a post of his own calling for this distinction to be made, and for the Church to get away from civil marriage when she starts making this distinction:

It is now time for the Catholic Church to distance itself from civil marriage. The best thing we can do is withdraw from every aspect of civil marriage. I would be in favor of the situation which exists in France and other countries–where two people who want to be married go to the local registrar to be married civilly and then go on to the church for the Christian ceremony. This will give us a clarity. It will also allow us as pastors, to restrict church weddings to those who really intend to enter into a Catholic marriage. To do this we need to clarify what Holy Matrimony is. Here is a discussion.

Fear of the LORD and Freedom

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The Baltimore Catechism tells us that "We receive the gift of the Fear of the Lord to fill us with a dread of sin" (Baltimore Catechism 2 Q178). Upon reading this passage of the Monsignor's post, I was immediately reminded of the first good essay I'd read on about the Fear of the Lord. In his essay "On the Rarity of a God Fearing Man" [1], Dr Russell Kirk writes:

"For [those of my academic colleague who were churchgoers looking to the Church as nothing more than a means to social reform] the word of Scriptures was no warrant, their Anglo-Catholicism notwithstanding. With Henry Ward Beecher, they were eager to declare that God is Love—though hardly a love which passes all understanding. Theirs was a thoroughly permissive God the Father, properly instructed by Freud. Looking upon their mild and diffident faces, I wondered how much trust I might put in such love as they knew. Their meekness was not that of Moses. Meek before Jehovah, Moses had no fear of Pharaoh; but these doctors of the schools, much at ease in Zion, were timid in the presence of a traffic policeman. Although convinced that God is too indulgent to punish much of anything, they were given to trembling before Caesar. Christian love is the willingness to sacrifice oneself; yet I would not have counted upon these gentlemen to adventure anything of consequence for my sake, nor even for those with greater claims upon them. I doubted whether the Lord would adventure much on their behalf....

On Fear of the LORD

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About a week or so ago, Monsignor Charles Pope wrote a reflection on Chesterton's adage that when we forget the big laws, we get the little laws. I have been musing on it ever since. The good priest looks at a few corollaries to this teaching, the most immediately interesting to me being this (emphasis in original):

It is a corollary to Chesterton’s remark on Law above: Stop obeying big laws and you get lots of little laws. The corollary is, Stop fearing God, and you start fearing everything else.

I would like to recall that God has a better plan. In effect he counsels that we develop a Holy Fear of Him, and then we don’t need to fear anyone or anything else. The Apostles, when told to fear what the temple leaders could do to them responded respectfully, “We must obey God rather than men.” Life gets a lot simpler when we report to one ultimate authority.

And Holy Fear leads to trust, and trust abates a lot of lesser fears. When my focus is on God and the good things waiting for me in heaven, I am less fearful of property loss, whether or not I get the promotion, less fearful of health and even death. I fear and trust the Lord. Whatever happens, God wills it and will see me through it. All things work together for good to those that Love and trust the Lord and are called according to his purposes.”

When we develop a true Fear of the Lord, we slowly but surely begin to lose our fear of other things. To the extent that we fear then Lord, to that extent we develop courage to face the difficulties of life. We are told repeatedly by the Bible that "The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom": and indeed it is wisdom by which we conquer the petty fears of this life. It is by wisdom that we are reminded that we are but stewards, not only of the world but even of our own lives (Jeremiah 10:23 and 1 Corinthians 6:19 [2]).

Natural Law and Natural Consequences

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When I read books, I find that occasional passages jump out at me right away—and that oftentimes these passages, which strike me as initially interesting, seem to fade out of my memory. Other passages kind of sneak up on my mind a little more, barely registering at first glance but then lodging themselves back in some recess of my memory, waiting their turn to come forward. Such may be said about conversations as well. And when the two things meet, well, that's often the time when they both spring forward unannounced, which may lead to a bit of thinking and still more writing (or is it the other way around?).

In his Aquinas 101: A Basic Introduction to the Thought of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Fr Francis Selman delves into a number of commonly and uncommonly commented topics in the thought of St Thomas. One of the more common is Aquinas' thoughts concerning good and evil. Included in this discussion is "five notes of the good," the fourth of which begins:

"When living beings, including humans, seek and strive to obtain what they apprehend as good for them, they act for an end. We see that things act for an end in nature: for example, the end of a caterpillar is to turn into a butterfly because its nature is to become a butterfly. Things are good when they attain their end, as a good pear tree bears fruit and a pear tree that bears no fruit is defective. Only what is good is the end we seek in acting; evil is never an end in itself. Nothing seeks what is bad for it, but avoid it. We can do evil, however, in seeking something that is good in itself when it is not directed to its proper end. Pleasure, for example, is good in itself, but not when we make it the end of our life because the senses are not the highest part of our nature; it needs to be directed to its proper end in our life."

RCIA: On Apologetics

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What is apologetics, and how is it related to catechesis and evangelization?

Apologetics sounds a bit like "apologize," and the two words do share a common root. Stated simply, apologetics means to give an account or defense, or perhaps an explanation. The Christian idea of apologetics can trace itself back to Saint Peter, who advises us by saying:
"Even if you should suffer because of righteousness, blessed are you. Do not be afraid or terrified with fear of them, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame" (1 Peter 3:14-16).
Good apologetics, then, has several marks:

  1. It is a defense of our "hope," which ultimately means a defense of what we believe and how we live.
  2. This defense should be both gentle and reverent, so that we are not attempting to hit others over the head with faith.
  3. It involves keeping our consciences clear, so we should be honest and should always tell the truth.
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