August 31, 2015

Pope Honors Bishop Who Died Rather Than Convert to Islam

Blessed Flavianus Michael Malke

On Saturday, August 29, Pope Francis declared the first Syrian Catholic bishop, Flavianos Melke who was killed in Turkey one hundred years ago to the day, a martyr. Three weeks earlier, Pope Francis approved Melke's beatification after it was determined that the bishop was killed in hatred of the faith. The Pope noted that Melke's example is especially salient for Christians facing persecution now:
Even today, dear brothers and sisters, in the Middle East and other parts of the world, Christians are persecuted. There are more martyrs than in the first centuries. The beatification of this martyr should instill in us consolation, courage, and hope, but it is also a stimulus to legislators and government leaders to ensure that religious freedom is guaranteed everywhere...
A beatification Mass was celebrated in Lebanon, and brought together numerous patriarchs from the Eastern churches of Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. Flavianos Michael Melke was killed on August 29, 1915 in Cizre, Ottoman Empire (now Turkey), because of his devotion to Catholicism.

He was arrested by Ottoman authorities on  August 28, 1915, alongside Chaldean Bishop Philippe-Jacques Abraham. According to Muslim eyewitnesses, the two prelates were given a choice between death and conversion to Islam. Upon their refusal, Jacques Abraham was immediately shot dead. Bishop Malke was tortured until he became unconscious and subsequently beheaded.

Fr. Philip Neri Powell's Homily for Monday of the Twenty-Second Week in Ordinary Time: Who do I need to be... ?

Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Notre Dame Seminary, NOLA

He said to them, "Today this Scripture passage
is fulfilled in your hearing." Luke 4:21 
(Click here for today's readings)

So, Jesus – the hometown boy – walks into his synagogue, picks up a scroll, reads a passage from Isaiah, and says, in effect, “God the Father has sent me to rescue y'all, you bunch of sinners.” Surprisingly, this little stunt goes over well. . .at first: “. . .all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” Then some of the less-impressed listeners start asking questions designed to put Jesus in his place, “Hey, wait a minute, isn't he Joseph's boy?” Seeing where this line of questioning is headed, Jesus nips it in the bud, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place.” He then goes on to point out their faithlessness and how their ancestors abused God's prophets, earning the Father's wrath. This went over like a possum fight at a picnic, and Jesus finds himself run out of town. What's the lesson here? When your people don't like your preaching, insult them repeatedly and wait for them to get their pitchforks and torches? No. Not quite. If there's a lesson here, it's this: remember who you are wherever you are and preach the truth with charity.

Now, you might think that I'm accusing Jesus of not preaching the truth with charity. Not true. Jesus was on a tight schedule. He was headed to Jerusalem on a time-table. And he didn't have the luxury of winning hearts and minds with carefully crafted homilies. He spoke the truth. And he did so as a sign of his salvific love for his people. That he was dealing with hearts grown cold and minds long closed is no fault of his. No doubt, someone in that synagogue that day heard and saw what he needed to see and hear and came to know Christ as Lord. Jesus' method of revealing his identity and mission is meant to shock those cold hearts and closed minds into recognizing the truth that stands before them. What they heard him say amazed some and enraged others. How these two groups divided out has everything to do with who Jesus is for them. He's a hometown boy. They know him and his family. They've probably known him all his life. And now, here he is claiming to be the long-awaited Messiah. Some are amazed at his gracious words. Others are enraged by his arrogance. But Jesus is who he is – the Lamb of God headed to the altar of sacrifice in Jerusalem. He speaks the truth. And his love is made manifest on the cross. ...

Read the rest here.

August 30, 2015

The Power of the Mass

At the hour of death the Holy Masses you have heard devoutly will be your greatest consolation.

Every Mass will go with you to Judgment and will plead for your pardon.

By every Mass you can diminish the temporal punishment due to your sins, more or less, according to your fervor.

By devoutly assisting at Holy Mass you render the greatest homage possible to the Sacred Humanity of Our Lord.

Through the Holy Sacrifice, Our Lord Jesus Christ supplies for your negligence and omissions.

Christ forgives you all the venial sins which you are determined to avoid. He forgives you all your unknown sins which you never confessed. The power of Satan over you is diminished.

By piously hearing Holy Mass you afford the Souls in Purgatory the greatest possible relief.

Through Holy Mass you are preserved from many dangers and misfortunes which would otherwise have befallen you. You shorten your Purgatory by every Mass.

Through the Holy Mass you are blessed in your temporal goods and affairs.

When you hear Holy Mass devoutly, offering it to Almighty God in honor of any particular Saint or Angel, thanking God for the favors bestowed on him, etc., you afford that Saint or Angel a new degree of honor, joy and happiness, and draw his special love and protection on yourself.

Every time you assist at Holy Mass, besides other intentions, you should offer it in honor of the Saint of the day.

Once, St. Teresa was overwhelmed with God's Goodness and asked Our Lord "How can I thank you?" Our Lord replied, "ATTEND ONE MASS."

A great doctor of the Church, St. Anselm, declares that a single Mass offered for oneself during life may be worth more than a thousand celebrated for the same intention after death. St. Leonard of Port Maurice supports this contention saying one Mass before death may be more profitable than many after it.
The Mass is the most perfect form of prayer!
— Pope Paul VI
For each Mass we hear with devotion, Our Lord sends a saint to comfort us at death.
— revelation of Christ to St. Gertrude the Great
The Holy Mass would be of greater profit if people had it offered in their lifetime, rather than having it celebrated for the relief of their souls after death.
— Pope Benedict XV
When we receive Holy Communion, we experience something extraordinary - a joy, a fragrance, a well being that thrills the whole body and causes it to exalt.
— Saint Jean Vianney
The celebration of Holy Mass is as valuable as the death of Jesus on the cross.
— Saint Thomas Aquinas
 If we really understood the Mass, we would die of joy.
— Saint Jean Vianney
There is nothing so great as the Eucharist. If God had something more precious, He would have given it to us.
— Saint Jean Vianney 
It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do without Holy Mass.
— Saint Pio of Pietrelcina 
When we have been to Holy Communion, the balm of love envelops the soul as the flower envelops the bee.
— Saint Jean Vianney
The heavens open and multitudes of angels come to assist in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
— Saint Gregory
The angels surround and help the priest when he is celebrating Mass.

— St. Augustine
When Mass is being celebrated, the sanctuary is filled with countless angels who adore the divine victim immolated on the altar.
— St. John Chrysostom

August 29, 2015

Homily for the Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 30, 2015, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

"Nothing that enters one from outside can
defile that person; but the things that come
out from within are what defile." Mark 7:15
(Click here for today’s readings)

What’s wrong with washing your hands before you eat? What’s wrong with washing cups and jugs and kettles and beds? Nothing, of course. Cleanliness is next to godliness.

Jesus did not criticize the Scribes and Pharisees for doing these things. What provoked his reaction was their reference to hand washing as "the tradition of the elders" and the reference to "unclean hands."

As you know, "unclean" in the Bible is not the same as "dirty." It has to do with one’s suitability to participate in community and worship. Since a blessing was pronounced on all foods before eating, it made sense that you would not want to be "unclean" in any way.

It isn’t so different from restaurants, however informal and casual, having a policy that reads, "No shirt, no shoes, no service." In other words not observing a minimal dress code would make you "unsuitable" or, in that sense only, "unclean" with respect to partaking in a meal there. St. Peter’s in Rome has a similar dress code to help people realize that this is a place of worship, not just another tourist stop.

Jesus knew the Law. As an observant Jew, he surely observed the Law’s prescriptions about what to do and its restrictions about what not to do. So far, he and the Scribes and Pharisees could be in perfect agreement. Jesus had a quarrel with them, nonetheless, and he stated it in clear terms: "You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition." And this is why he calls them hypocrites.

To understand this matter of human tradition, we need to understand the intense respect of the Jews for the Law of Moses, the praises of which are sung in the first reading. The Scribes and Pharisees devoted much attention to "protecting" people from violating the Law. Over time, they devised secondary rules (we might call them "amendments") which would minimize the possibility of breaking the Law (we might call that the "occasion of sin.") For example, the Law says, "You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk." This legal expression of a humane attitude towards animals eventually became codified (perhaps not in Jesus’ time) in the practice of not eating any meat and any dairy product at the same meal, and of having separate sets of plates for dairy foods and for meat. There is certainly nothing wrong with this, but it is a "human tradition;" it is not the Law.

I know a few persons who, to my mind at least, are unable to distinguish what is important from what is not. Jesus condemned the Scribes and Pharisees for their inability or unwillingness to distinguish God’s beautiful Law from human tradition. He even goes so far as to accuse them of observing the tradition but neglecting the Law, and of interpreting the Law at times in a self-serving way.

Behind all this is the "why" of observing the Law. The implications are far reaching. They touch on personal and community prayer, our understanding of right and wrong, concern and respect for others, and much more besides.

To keep the Law because "this is the way we do things" is not necessarily bad. But isn’t it much better to do it because "this is the way we honor God"?  With this attitude, it is easier to be what St. James calls, "doers of the word, and not hearers only."

August 28, 2015

August's Blog of Note: The New Theological Movement

August's blog of note ceased publication in December 2014. The New Theological Movement emanated from the minds of Father Ryan Erlenbush and a fellow diocesan priest who was the site's webmaster. Despite it's inactive status, The New Theological Movement Blog emanates from the minds of Father Ryan Erlenbush and a fellow diocesan priest who is the site's webmaster. NTM is a treasure trove of theological commentary, apologetics, scriptural exegesis and more. From the About page: "The aim of this blog, first and foremost, is to write for the benefit of the Catholic faithful and clergy. We will try to make the articles neither too academic such that they would belong in a theologically technical publication, nor merely 'popular.'"

Fr. Erlenbush describes his method of theological interpretation thusly: "The Catechism of the Catholic Church is 'the sure norm of truth' to which we will remain faithful. (John Paul II, Laetamur Magnopere). It goes without saying that whatever is written will strive to be in full harmony with the Church's Magisterium, so that those who visit this site may be sure that they are receiving Catholic doctrine."

Because blogs tend towards jumbled writing, the NTM blog utilizes a two tiered approach to posts to bring order to the information presented. First, there is the blog reel on the front page consisting of smaller theological articles. The second tier is the category called "Series." These posts extend over long periods of time and focus on specific theological topics.

Visit The New Theological Movement for sound, orthodox answers to your theological questions.

Humanae Vitae Forty-Seven Years Later: Pope Paul VI's Positive Vision is Becoming True

In Humanae Vitae Pope Paul VI makes positive as well as negative prophecies. He elaborates the good that comes from following Church teaching on contraception. While acknowledging that spouses may face difficulties acquiring the self-discipline needed to practice periodic abstinence, he nonetheless affirms such self-discipline is possible, with the help of sacramental graces. In paragraph 21, he states:
Value of Self-Discipline
21. The right and lawful ordering of birth demands, first of all, that spouses fully recognize and value the true blessings of family life and that they acquire complete mastery over themselves and their emotions. For if with the aid of reason and of free will they are to control their natural drives, there can be no doubt at all of the need for self-denial. Only then will the expression of love, essential to married life, conform to right order. This is especially clear in the practice of periodic continence. Self-discipline of this kind is a shining witness to the chastity of husband and wife and, far from being a hindrance to their love of one another, transforms it by giving it a more truly human character. And if this self-discipline does demand that they persevere in their purpose and efforts, it has at the same time the salutary effect of enabling husband and wife to develop to their personalities and to be enriched with spiritual blessings. For it brings to family life abundant fruits of tranquility and peace. It helps in solving difficulties of other kinds. It fosters in husband and wife thoughtfulness and loving consideration for one another. It helps them to repel inordinate self-love, which is the opposite of charity. It arouses in them a consciousness of their responsibilities. And finally, it confers upon parents a deeper and more effective influence in the education of their children. As their children grow up, they develop a right sense of values and achieve a serene and harmonious use of their mental and physical powers.
Pope Paul VI's positive vision of self-discipline between spouses is further explicated by Saint John Paul II in his Theology of the Body. Moreover, the proliferation of information and interest about natural family planning and its increasing use among Christians of every denomination prove it is a viable alternative to artificial contraception. Pope Paul VI's vision of married love is a powerful response to the excesses and moral depravity of the "Sexual Revolution."

Reminder 8/28/15: Three O'clock is the Hour of Great Mercy

The Divine Mercy Image
The Hour of Great Mercy

Just as the (Divine Mercy) Image can serve as a reminder of the ocean of Divine Mercy, as well as its price, so can the daily remembrance of the Divine Mercy at the hour of Christ's death. Jesus asked Saint Faustina, and through her us, to celebrate this Hour of Great Mercy, promising tremendous graces to those who would, both for themselves and on behalf of others.
At three o'clock, implore My mercy, especially for sinners; and, if only for a brief moment, immerse yourself in My Passion, particularly in My abandonment at the moment of agony. This is the hour of great mercy ... In this hour I will refuse nothing to the soul that makes a request of Me in virtue of My Passion. (Diary, Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, Divine Mercy in My Soul (c) 1987, 1320).
As often as you hear the clock strike the third hour immerse yourself completely in My mercy, adoring and glorifying it, invoke it's omnipotence for the whole world, and particularly for poor sinners, for at that moment mercy was opened wide for every soul. In this hour you can obtain everything for yourself and for others for the asking; it was the hour of grace for the whole world - mercy triumphed over justice. 
Try your best to make the Stations of the Cross in this hour, provided that your duties permit it; and if you are not able to make the Stations of the Cross, then at least step into the chapel for a moment and adore, in the Most Blessed Sacrament. My Heart, which is full of mercy: and should you be unable to step into chapel. immerse yourself in prayer there where you happen to be, if only for a very brief instant. (Diary, 1572)

August 27, 2015

Pro-Choice Journalist: "I Don’t Know if I’m Pro-Choice After Planned Parenthood Videos"

Pro-Choice Journalist Ruben Navarrette makes several stark observations in his column "I Don’t Know if I’m Pro-Choice After Planned Parenthood Videos" which appeared earlier this month in the Daily Beast. Mr. Navarrette acknowledges being an abortion supporter for the past 30 years. He is, however, reconsidering his pro-choice sympathies in light of this summer's release of gruesome, undercover videos by The Center for Medical Progress in which top officials of Planned Parenthood discuss the harvesting of baby organs for money. Navarrette writes:
It’s jarring to see doctors acting as negotiators as they dicker over the price of a fetal liver, heart, or brain, and then talk about how they meticulously go to the trouble of not crushing the most valuable body parts. This practice is perfectly legal, and for some people, it is just a business. With millions of abortions each year in America, business is good.
Who could forget Dr. Mary Gatter, council president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s Medical Directors, when, in Video #2, she tells undercover investigators that it isn’t about the money—before she zeroes in on dollars and cents?

"Let me just figure out what others are getting, and if this is in the ballpark, then it’s fine,” Gatter said. “If it’s still low, then we can bump it up."
Then, going for broke, she added: "I want a Lamborghini."
I want a shower.
[ ... ]
Most recently, in Video #5, Melissa Farrell, director of research at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in Texas, talks cavalierly about the cost of extracting "intact fetal cadavers." It is, Farrell says coldly, "all just a matter of line items."

This raises the possibility that no one wants to discuss—that some of the aborted fetuses exited the womb alive and they were either killed or left to die, their "cadavers" intact. Also in the latest video, Abby Johnson, the former clinic director of that same Planned Parenthood office, said her branch made about $120,000 a month selling aborted fetus tissue and organs. ...
I encourage you to read the article in full.

15 More Quotes by Saints That Give Us Meaning & Hope

The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and MartyrsFra Angelico, 1424

All the science of the Saints is included in these two things: To do, and to suffer. And whoever had done these two things best, has made himself most saintly.
— Saint Francis de Sales
Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections, but instantly set about remedying them.
— Saint Francis de Sales 
If we are, in fact, now occupied in good deeds, we should not attribute the strength with which we are doing them to ourselves. We must not count on ourselves, because even if we know what kind of person we are today, we do not know what we will be tomorrow.
— Saint Gregory the Great
Nothing seems tiresome or painful when you are working for a Master who pays well; who rewards even a cup of cold water given for love of Him.
— Saint Dominic Savio
No earthly pleasures, no kingdoms of this world can benefit me in any way. I prefer death in Christ Jesus to power over the farthest limits of the earth. He who died in place of us is the one object of my quest. He who rose for our sakes is my one desire.
— Saint Ignatius of Antioch 
The Most Blessed Sacrament is Christ made visible. The poor sick person is Christ again made visible.
— Saint Gerard Majella
Our Lord does not come down from Heaven every day to lie in a golden ciborium. He comes to find another heaven which is infinitely dearer to him - the heaven of our souls, created in His Image, the living temples of the Adorable Trinity.
— Saint Therese of Lisieux
You know well enough that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them.
— Saint Therese of Lisieux 
What prayer could be more true before God the Father than that which the Son, who is Truth, uttered with His own lips?
— Saint John Chrysostom
The saints are like the stars. In his providence Christ conceals them in a hidden place that they may not shine before others when they might wish to do so. Yet they are always ready to exchange the quiet of contemplation for the works of mercy as soon as they perceive in their heart the invitation of Christ.
— Saint Anthony of Padua
We must meditate before, during and after everything we do. The prophet says: "I will pray, and then I will understand."  This is the way we can easily overcome the countless difficulties we have to face day after day, which, after all, are part of our work. In meditation we find the strength to bring Christ to birth in ourselves and in others.
— Saint Charles Borromeo
If we wish to make any progress in the service of God we must begin every day of our life with new eagerness. We must keep ourselves in the presence of God as much as possible and have no other view or end in all our actions but the divine honor. 
— Saint Charles Borromeo 
We must pray without ceasing, in every occurrence and employment of our lives - that prayer which is rather a habit of lifting up the heart to God as in a constant communication with Him.
— Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton
The most deadly poison of our times is indifference. And this happens, although the praise of God should know no limits. Let us strive, therefore, to praise Him to the greatest extent of our powers.
— Saint Maximilian Kolbe 
Those whose hearts are pure are temples of the Holy Spirit.
— Saint Lucy 

15 Quotes by Saints That Give Us Meaning & Hope

Orthodox Icon: Christ with the saints

Our wish, our object, our chief preoccupation must be to form Jesus in ourselves, to make his spirit, his devotion, his affections, his desire, and his disposition live and reign there
— Saint John Eudes
You cannot please both God and the world at the same time.  They are utterly opposed to each other in their thoughts, their desires, and their actions.
— Saint John Vianney
You either belong wholly to the world or wholly to God.
 — Saint John Vianney
He who trusts himself is lost.  He who trusts in God can do all things.
— Saint Alphonsus Liguori
Virtue is nothing without the trial of temptation, for there is no conflict without an enemy, no victory without strife.
— Saint Leo the Great 
Charity is that with which no man is lost, and without which no man is saved.
— Saint Robert Bellarmine
Nothing is far from God.
— Saint Monica
Enjoy yourself as much as you like – if only you keep from sin.
— Saint John Bosco
This very moment I may, if I desire, become the friend of God.
— Saint Augustine
 What do you possess if you possess not God?
— Saint Augustine
He alone loves the Creator perfectly who manifests a pure love for his neighbor.
— Saint Bede the Venerable
Our own evil inclinations are far more dangerous than any external enemies.
— Saint Ambrose
No one heals himself by wounding another.
— Saint Ambrose
Grant me, O Lord my God, a mind to know you, a heart to seek you, wisdom to find you, conduct pleasing to you, faithful perseverance in waiting for you, and a hope of finally embracing you.
— Saint Thomas Aquinas
Apart from the cross there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven.
— Saint Rose of Lima

August 26, 2015

Why Are Some Old Testament Laws Binding And Others Not?

The Old Testament has innumerable laws regulating human behavior. Many address how individuals ought to act. Others prescribe how to prepare meals, what food is permissible to consume, what clothing can be worn and so on. According to Jewish tradition, the Torah alone contains 613 commandments or mitzvot. The 613 commandments include 365 "positive commandments" (enjoining the performing of an act), and 248 "negative commandments" (urging refrain from certain behaviors). Why are some of these commandments binding on Christians today while others are not?

The Old Testament contains three different sets of law codes. There are:
  • Moral Laws
  • Judicial Laws 
  • Ritual Laws
Judicial laws regulated Israel's civil affairs. They act something like municipal laws today. They do not govern personal morality per se and we are not beholden to them.

Ritual laws concern Israel's ceremonial or worship life — expressed most notably in it's dietary and purification rituals. The Pharisees had strict rules relating to which foods were clean and which foods unclean. Jesus declared all food clean.

Lastly, the Old Testament's moral laws remain binding because such commandments (i.e. the Ten Commandments) are universal, objective, and eternal. Christ did not come to overturn these laws but to fulfill them. We must follow his example and do likewise.    

August 25, 2015

A Novena in Honor of the Eighteenth Anniversary of Blessed Mother Teresa's Entrance into Eternal Life

Blessed Mother Teresa was called from this world on September 5, 1997. As we approach the anniversary of her death, I invite you to say this special prayer each day: 
Father of Life, You always defend the poor and oppressed. In Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, You raised up a voice for the voiceless and a friend to the poorest of the poor, the unborn child. She brought women away from the despair of abortion clinics to the hope of a loving community that cared for her and her child.

She spoke the truth to men and women of power, asking them how we could tell people not to kill one another while allowing a mother to kill her own child.

Father, as we honor this humble and faithful woman, we ask you to give us the grace to follow her example. May we be bold in word and generous in action to love and serve the unborn and to awaken our world to know, as Mother Teresa said, that the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.
Fill us with love, bring us peace, and let us share your life forever. We pray through Christ our Lord. Amen. 
Courtesy Priests for Life

August 24, 2015

Outstanding, Free, Catholic, Online Bible Study Courses Well Worth Your Time

Whether you're studying Scripture for the first time, looking to take your studies to a higher level, or ready for advanced training, the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology offers seven individual online bible study courses. Each course contains a complete text, including cross-references and links to Scripture and other Church documents. In addition, for each track of study they recommend books that will enhance your study and prayer and build your library of essential works in biblical theology and spirituality.

Among the course offerings are:

  • Covenant Love: Introducing the Biblical Worldview
  • Genesis to Jesus
  • The Lamb's Supper: The Bible and the Mass
  • Reading the Old Testament in the New: The Gospel of Matthew
  • ‘He must reign’: The Kingdom of God in Scripture
  • Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God


The St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology is a non-profit research and educational institute that promotes life-transforming Scripture study in the Catholic tradition. The Center serves clergy and laity, students and scholars, with research and study tools — from books and publications to multimedia and on-line programming.
Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.
— St. Jerome
Visit the St. Paul Center's website today. It is well worth your time. By studying Sacred Scripture, we deepen our love for Christ.

August 23, 2015

A Prayer For the Upcoming Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family in October

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
in you we contemplate
the splendor of true love,
to you we turn with trust. 

Holy Family of Nazareth,
grant that our families too
may be places of communion and prayer,
authentic schools of the Gospel
and small domestic Churches.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
may families never again
experience violence, rejection and division:
may all who have been hurt or scandalized
find ready comfort and healing. 

Holy Family of Nazareth,
may the approaching Synod of Bishops
make us once more mindful
of the sacredness and inviolability of the family,
and its beauty in God's plan. 

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
graciously hear our prayer.


August 22, 2015

Homily for the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 23, 2015, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

"They walked with him no longer." John. 6:66
(Click here for today’s readings)

"Many of his disciples no longer accompanied him." I prefer the classic translation, "They walked with him no longer," as presenting a more forceful image.

Not his enemies, but Jesus’ own disciples were falling away from him. They didn’t like what he was saying, and that was that. To be fair, let it be noted that what Jesus was saying was exactly what they called it, "a hard saying." So they applied what we might call "the logic of dislike."

We have all seen it. We have all done it. The logic is very simple. It goes a little like this: 1) I try something; 2) I don’t like it; 3) I will never try it again.

In the case of today’s Gospel: 1) This Jesus is fascinating; 2) I don’t like this business of eating flesh and drinking blood; 3) Goodbye, Jesus.

There are some situations, indeed many, where the logic of dislike is perfectly legitimate. People don’t usually prepare a meal they know they won’t enjoy. Hard rock fans (or opera lovers) won’t normally subject themselves to hours of opera (or hard rock). Ultimately these are matters of no special importance beyond personal taste.

But this is different. "They walked with him no longer" — true then, true today. It is no secret that Churches of most denominations are experiencing a great decline in attendance and membership. There are many reasons, ranging from a deeply painful personal loss of faith, to a gradual drifting away. Not rarely, however, the logic of dislike enters in. If we don’t like the pastor or minister, or the preaching, or some of the church members ("those hypocrites!"), etc., we look elsewhere, we go to a different parish or denomination, or we may dispense ourselves from joining any worshiping community.

Joshua tried to anticipate this kind of situation. In the face of whatever challenges his people would encounter, he proclaimed: "As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." The representatives of the Twelve Tribes echoed his determination, but their descendants did not carry out that promise. They failed to "walk humbly with their God" (See Micah 6:8).

"They walked with him no longer." At a personal level, the experience is, I suspect, not unfamiliar to most of us. The loss of friendship, companionship, admiration, or respect is always painful. It can undermine our self-confidence. It seems to have had a similar effect on Jesus. His question to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?" is one of the most poignant moments of the Gospel.

Peter cannot be supposed to have liked the idea of eating flesh and drinking blood any more than those who were now leaving Jesus behind. This was a hard saying for him, too, and he didn’t pretend otherwise. But he looked beyond what he didn’t understand, to what he knew from experience. "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." His reply had nothing to do with likes or dislikes, but rather anticipates what St. Paul would later write: "Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:7). His faith was in the person of Jesus. The mere failure to understand was nothing by comparison.

There are many things in the Scriptures, or in Church teaching, that remain hard sayings to this day. Even "Live in love, as Christ loved us" (in today’s alternate second reading) may present more of a challenge that we are ready to accept. It is very sad when the logic of dislike causes people to reject them rather than make the effort to understand them. This sometimes turns people away from Christianity, or from religion altogether.

Sure, there are plenty of non-religious groups and movements that we can "go" to, to satisfy our likes. But how many of them have the words of eternal life?

August 21, 2015

Introducing 'Awestruck' the Catholic Alternative to Facebook

There is a new Catholic social networking site that is faithful to the Magisterium and that seeks to help its members grow in the love of Christ and the Church He founded. Awestruck is:
... an intuitive social interface which helps Catholics, stay in touch with their friends and interests, deepen their faith, facilitate easy sharing of media and build connections with others around the globe. 
It might take a few seconds to acclimate yourself with all of the site's features, forums, and offerings, etc. Given Facebook's proclivity for selectively infringing upon Christian expressions/statements of belief, Awestruck may be an ideal alternative.

Visit the site and take a tour:

The Persecution of Monsignor Charles Pope

Msgr. Charles Pope
Monsignor Charles Pope, a Catholic priest in Washington, D.C., who is a popular blogger and noted homilist was recently blocked from using the social media site Facebook. Facebook says it prefers its users assume their "everyday names" so that people recognize who they’re communicating with. Monsignor Charles Pope has held his title in the Catholic Church for 10 years. (Monsignor is an honorific form of address granted to individuals who have rendered valuable service to the Church.) Msgr. Pope was surprised when Facebook told him, after six years using the social-networking service, they didn’t think he was using his real name.

Last year, Facebook apologized to those in the gay community who were blocked due to the "real name" policy wherein Facebook chief product officer Chris Cox said the following:
I want to apologize to the affected community of drag queens, drag king, transgender, and extensive community of our friends, neighbors, and members of the LGBT community for the hardship that we've put you through in dealing with your Facebook accounts in the past.
Our policy has never been to require everyone on Facebook to use their legal name. The spirit of our policy is that everyone on Facebook uses the authentic name they use in real life. For Sister Roma, that’s Sister Roma. For Lil Miss Hot Mess, that’s Lil Miss Hot Mess. ...
Given the acceleration of the dictatorship of relativism and the attending cultural Gestapo it inspires, perhaps George Orwell said it best (from Animal Farm):
All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.
Monsignor Pope contributes to the Archdiocese of Washington's excellent blog where he posts frequently. His Facebook page is here, his Twitter feed here. Below is a speech he gave in the East Room of the White House about the power of our prayers.

August 20, 2015

Saint John Chrysostom on the Priesthood

Priests have received a power which God has given neither to angels nor to archangels. It was said to them: ‘Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose, shall be loosed.’ Temporal rulers have indeed the power of binding; but they can only bind the body. Priests, in contrast, can bind with a bond which pertains to the soul itself and transcends the very heavens. Did [God] not give them all the powers of heaven?…What greater power is there than this? The Father has given all judgment to the Son. And now I see the Son placing all this power in the hands of men. They are raised to this dignity as if they were already gathered up to heaven.

— St. John Chrysostom

August 19, 2015

Humanae Vitae Forty-Seven Years Later: Pope Paul VI's Premonitions Have Become True

In the forty-seven years since the promulgation of Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life: On the Regulation of Birth), Pope Paul VI’s seventh and last encyclical, society — particularly in the West — has undergone seismic change. In addition to affirming the Church’s long held prohibition against artificial birth control; Pope Paul VI articulates a vision of marriage and responsible parenthood that underscores the immense dignity and divine calling of husband and wife. Accordingly, marriage properly understood, is the conjugal union of a man and woman for life, of exclusive and mutual fidelity, for the procreation and education of children.

In addition to discussing the joys and challenges of matrimony and the life-giving, self-donative love it requires, Pope Paul IV enumerates four predictions about the consequences should the Church's teaching on contraception be dismissed. They are:
  • Infidelity and Moral Decay
  • A Loss of Respect for Women by Men
  • The Abuse of Power
  • Unlimited Dominion — The Coercive Use of Reproductive Technologies by Governments
The text from Humanae Vitae addressing these predictions is from paragraph 17. The most relevant passages are highlighted in red.
Consequences of Artificial Methods
17. Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards.
Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law.
Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.
Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.
Limits to Man's Power
Consequently, unless we are willing that the responsibility of procreating life should be left to the arbitrary decision of men, we must accept that there are certain limits, beyond which it is wrong to go, to the power of man over his own body and its natural functions—limits, let it be said, which no one, whether as a private individual or as a public authority, can lawfully exceed. These limits are expressly imposed because of the reverence due to the whole human organism and its natural functions, in the light of the principles We stated earlier, and in accordance with a correct understanding of the "principle of totality" enunciated by Our predecessor Pope Pius XII. (21) ...

August 18, 2015

Group of Black Ministers Object to Statue of Margaret Sanger in Smithsonian Exhibit

A group of black ministers from nine states has written a letter to the Director of the National Portrait Society objecting to the inclusion of a likeness of Margaret Sanger that will appear alongside others representing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks in the Gallery’s "Struggle for Justice” exhibit, which honors "great achievements... striking down long-standing segregationist practices and discrimination in American society."
Dear Ms. Sajet,
We are writing to ask that Margaret Sanger’s likeness be removed from all National Portrait Gallery exhibits. Her bust should not be part of the Gallery’s "Struggle for Justice" exhibit, which honors "great achievements... striking down long-standing segregationist practices and discrimination in American society.” Ms. Sanger may have been a lot of things, but a “champion of justice” she definitely was not.
Perhaps the Gallery is unaware that Ms. Sanger supported black eugenics, a racist attitude toward black and other minority babies; an elitist attitude toward those she regarded as “the feeble minded;" speaking at rallies of Ku Klux Klan women; and communications with Hitler sympathizers. Also, the notorious “Negro Project” which sought to limit, if not eliminate, black births, was her brainchild. Despite these well documented facts of history, her bust sits proudly in your gallery as a hero of justice. The obvious incongruity is staggering!
Perhaps your institution is a victim of propaganda advanced by those who support abortion. Nevertheless, a prestigious institution like the National Portrait Gallery should have higher standards and subject its honorees to higher scrutiny. Until now the national spotlight has not fallen on Sanger's background. However, the recent revelations about aborted babies’ organs and body parts being sold, have not only brought Planned Parenthood under intense scrutiny, but also raised questions about its founder, Margaret Sanger. If the revelations were not consistent with her character and ideas, one might argue that Planned Parenthood has “gone rogue” and abandoned Sanger. The fact is that the behavior of these abortionists, their callous and cavalier attitude toward these babies, is completely in keeping with Sanger’s perverse vision for America.
[ ... ]  
Ironically, Sanger’s bust is featured in the NPG’s “Struggle for Justice” exhibit, alongside two of America’s most celebrated and authentic champions of equal rights - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Rosa Parks. If Sanger had her way, MLK and Rosa Parks would not have been born. ...
The group is called Ministers Talking a Stand and their letter to Ms. Sajet is the epitome of respectful, principled dialogue in service to truth. I encourage you to read the letter in full.

Pope Paul VI's Beautiful Words Concerning the Union of Husband and Wife

It is a love which is total—that very special form of personal friendship in which husband and wife generously share everything, allowing no unreasonable exceptions and not thinking solely of their own convenience. Whoever really loves his partner loves not only for what he receives, but loves that partner for the partner's own sake, content to be able to enrich the other with the gift of himself.
 — Pope Paul VI, from his encyclical Humanae Vitae [9]

Seven Reasons to be Catholic

Dr. Peter Kreeft teaches Philosophy at Boston College and is a convert to the Catholic faith. The following seven audios overview reasons for being Catholic.

Reasons 2 & 3: History & C.S. Lewis

Reason 4: The Four Marks of the Church

Reason 5: Truth

Reason 6: Goodness

Reason 7: Beauty

August 17, 2015

Twenty Arguments For The Existence Of God

(Dr. Peter Kreeft is a renowned Catholic apologists who teaches philosophy at Boston College. This is his compilation of twenty arguments for the existence of God. I have summarized the arguments below. They can be read in their entirety here.)

1. The Argument from Change 
Briefly, if there is nothing outside the material universe, then there is nothing that can cause the universe to change. But it does change. Therefore there must be something in addition to the material universe. But the universe is the sum total of all matter, space and time. These three things depend on each other. Therefore this being outside the universe is outside matter, space and time. It is not a changing thing; it is the unchanging Source of change.
2. The Argument from Efficient Causality
Even as you read this, you are dependent on other things; you could not, right now, exist without them. Suppose there are seven such things. If these seven things did not exist, neither would you. Now suppose that all seven of them depend for their existence right now on still other things. Without these, the seven you now depend on would not exist—and neither would you. Imagine that the entire universe consists of you and the seven sustaining you. If there is nothing besides that universe of changing, dependent things, then the universe—and you as part of it—could not be. For everything that is would right now need to be given being but there would be nothing capable of giving it. And yet you are and it is. So there must in that case exist something besides the universe of dependent things—something not dependent as they are.
And if it must exist in that case, it must exist in this one. In our world there are surely more than seven things that need, right now, to be given being. But that need is not diminished by there being more than seven. As we imagine more and more of them—even an infinite number, if that were possible—we are simply expanding the set of beings that stand in need. And this need—for being, for existence—cannot be met from within the imagined set. But obviously it has been met, since contingent beings exist. Therefore there is a source of being on which our material universe right now depends.
3. The Argument from Time and Contingency
Question1: Even though you may never in fact step outside your house all day, it was possible for you to do so. Why is it impossible that the universe still happens to exist, even though it was possible for it to go out of existence?
Reply: The two cases are not really parallel. To step outside your house on a given day is something that you may or may not choose to do. But if nonbeing is a real possibility for you, then you are the kind of being that cannot last forever. In other words, the possibility of nonbeing must be built-in, "programmed," part of your very constitution, a necessary property. And if all being is like that, then how could anything still exist after the passage of an infinite time? For an infinite time is every bit as long as forever. So being must have what it takes to last forever, that is, to stay in existence for an infinite time. Therefore there must exist within the realm of being something that does not tend to go out of existence. And this sort of being, as Aquinas says, is called "necessary."
4. The Argument from Degrees of Perfection
But if these degrees of perfection pertain to being and being is caused in finite creatures, then there must exist a "best," a source and real standard of all the perfections that we recognize belong to us as beings.
This absolutely perfect being—the "Being of all beings," "the Perfection of all perfections"—is God.
Question 1: The argument assumes a real "better." But aren't all our judgments of comparative value merely subjective?
Reply: The very asking of this question answers it. For the questioner would not have asked it unless he or she thought it really better to do so than not, and really better to find the true answer than not. You can speak subjectivism but you cannot live it.
5. The Design Argument
This sort of argument is of wide and perennial appeal. Almost everyone admits that reflection on the order and beauty of nature touches something very deep within us. But are the order and beauty the product of intelligent design and conscious purpose? For theists the answer is yes. Arguments for design are attempts to vindicate this answer, to show why it is the most reasonable one to give. They have been formulated in ways as richly varied as the experience in which they are rooted. The following displays the core or central insight.
  1. The universe displays a staggering amount of intelligibility, both within the things we observe and in the way these things relate to others outside themselves. That is to say: the way they exist and coexist display an intricately beautiful order and regularity that can fill even the most casual observer with wonder. It is the norm in nature for many different beings to work together to produce the same valuable end—for example, the organs in the body work for our life and health. (See also argument 8.)
  2. Either this intelligible order is the product of chance or of intelligent design.
  3. Not chance.
  4. Therefore the universe is the product of intelligent design.
  5. Design comes only from a mind, a designer.
  6. Therefore the universe is the product of an intelligent Designer. ...
6. The Kalam Argument
The Arabic word kalam literally means "speech," but came to denote a certain type of philosophical theology—a type containing demonstrations that the world could not be infinitely old and must therefore have been created by God. This sort of demonstration has had a long and wide appeal among both Christians and Muslims. Its form is simple and straightforward.
  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause for its coming into being.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause for its coming into being. ...
7. The Argument from Contingency
The basic form of this argument is simple.
  1.  If something exists, there must exist what it takes for that thing to exist.
  2. The universe—the collection of beings in space and time—exists.
  3. Therefore, there must exist what it takes for the universe to exist.
  4. What it takes for the universe to exist cannot exist within the universe or be bounded by space and time.
  5. Therefore, what it takes for the universe to exist must transcend both space and time.
 8. The Argument from the World as an Interacting Whole
[In] Three Conclusions
  1. Since the parts make sense only within the whole, and neither the whole nor the parts can explain their own existence, then such a system as our world requires a unifying efficient cause to posit it in existence as a unified whole.
  2. Any such cause must be an intelligent cause, one that brings the system into being according to a unifying idea. For the unity of the whole—and of each one of the overarching, cosmic-wide, physical laws uniting elements under themselves—is what determines and correlates the parts. Hence it must be somehow actually present as an effective organizing factor. But the unity, the wholeness, of the whole transcends any one part, and therefore cannot be contained in any one part. To be actually present all at once as a whole this unity can only be the unity of an organizing unifying idea. For only an idea can hold together many different elements at once without destroying or fusing their distinctness. That is almost the definition of an idea. Since the actual parts are spread out over space and time, the only way they can be together at once as an intelligible unity is within an idea. Hence the system of the world as a whole must live first within the unity of an idea. ...
  3. Such an ordering Mind must be independent of the system itself, that is, transcendent; not dependent on the system for its own existence and operation. For if it were dependent on—or part of—the system, it would have to presuppose the latter as already existing in order to operate, and would thus have to both precede and follow itself. But this is absurd. Hence it must exist and be able to operate prior to and independent of the system.
Thus our material universe necessarily requires, as the sufficient reason for its actual existence as an operating whole, a Transcendent Creative Mind.
9. The Argument from Miracles
  1. A miracle is an event whose only adequate explanation is the extraordinary and direct intervention of God.
  2. There are numerous well-attested miracles.
  3. Therefore, there are numerous events whose only adequate explanation is the extraordinary and direct intervention of God.
  4. Therefore God exists. ...
10. The Argument from Consciousness
  1. We experience the universe as intelligible. This intelligibility means that the universe is graspable by intelligence.
  2. Either this intelligible universe and the finite minds so well suited to grasp it are the products of intelligence, or both intelligibility and intelligence are the products of blind chance.
  3. Not blind chance.
  4. Therefore this intelligible universe and the finite minds so well suited to grasp it are the products of intelligence.
11. The Argument from Truth
This argument is closely related to the argument from consciousness. It comes mainly from Augustine.
  1. Our limited minds can discover eternal truths about being.
  2. Truth properly resides in a mind.
  3. But the human mind is not eternal.
  4. Therefore there must exist an eternal mind in which these truths reside.
12. The Argument from the Origin of the Idea of God
This argument, made famous by Rene Descartes, has a kinship to the ontological argument. It starts from the idea of God. But it does not claim that real being is part of the content of that idea, as the ontological argument does. Rather it seeks to show that only God himself could have caused this idea to arise in our minds.
It would be impossible for us to reproduce the whole context Descartes gives for this proof (see his third Meditation), and fruitless to follow his scholastic vocabulary. We give below the briefest summary and discussion.
  1. We have ideas of many things.
  2. These ideas must arise either from ourselves or from things outside us.
  3. One of the ideas we have is the idea of God—an infinite, all-perfect being.
  4. This idea could not have been caused by ourselves, because we know ourselves to be limited and imperfect, and no effect can be greater than its cause.
  5. Therefore, the idea must have been caused by something outside us which has nothing less than the qualities contained in the idea of God.
  6. But only God himself has those qualities.
  7. Therefore God himself must be the cause of the idea we have of him.
  8. Therefore God exists. ...
13. The Ontological Argument
The ontological argument was devised by Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109).
  1. It is greater for a thing to exist in the mind and in reality than in the mind alone.
  2. "God" means "that than which a greater cannot be thought."
  3. Suppose that God exists in the mind but not in reality.
  4. Then a greater than God could be thought (namely, a being that has all the qualities our thought of God has plus real existence).
  5. But this is impossible, for God is "that than which a greater cannot be thought."
  6. Therefore God exists in the mind and in reality.
14. The Moral Argument
  1. Real moral obligation is a fact. We are really, truly, objectively obligated to do good and avoid evil.
  2. Either the atheistic view of reality is correct or the "religious" one.
  3. But the atheistic one is incompatible with there being moral obligation.
  4. Therefore the "religious" view of reality is correct. ...
15. The Argument from Conscience
Thus God, or something like God, is the only adequate source and ground for the absolute moral obligation we all feel to obey our conscience. Conscience is thus explainable only as the voice of God in the soul. The Ten Commandments are ten divine footprints in our psychic sand. ...
16. The Argument from Desire
  1. Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.
  2. But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy.
  3. Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth and creatures, which can satisfy this desire.
  4. This something is what people call "God" and "life with God forever."
C. S. Lewis, who uses this argument in a number of places, summarizes it succinctly:
Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A dolphin wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. (Mere Christianity, Bk. III, chap. 10, "Hope") ...
17. The Argument from Aesthetic Experience
There is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Therefore there must be a God.
You either see this one or you don't.
18. The Argument from Religious Experience
It is difficult to state this argument deductively. But it might fairly be put as follows.
  1. Many people of different eras and of widely different cultures claim to have had an experience of the "divine."
  2. It is inconceivable that so many people could have been so utterly wrong about the nature and content of their own experience.
  3. Therefore, there exists a "divine" reality which many people of different eras and of widely different cultures have experienced.
19. The Common Consent Argument
This proof is in some ways like the argument from religious experience and in other ways like the argument from desire. It argues that:
  1. Belief in God—that Being to whom reverence and worship are properly due—is common to almost all people of every era.
  2. Either the vast majority of people have been wrong about this most profound element of their lives or they have not.
  3. It is most plausible to believe that they have not.
  4. Therefore it is most plausible to believe that God exists. ...
20. Pascal's Wager
As originally proposed by Pascal, the Wager assumes that logical reasoning by itself cannot decide for or against the existence of God; there seem to be good reasons on both sides. Now since reason cannot decide for sure, and since the question is of such importance that we must decide somehow, then we must "wager" if we cannot prove. And so we are asked: Where are you going to place your bet?
If you place it with God, you lose nothing, even if it turns out that God does not exist. But if you place it against God, and you are wrong and God does exist, you lose everything: God, eternity, heaven, infinite gain. "Let us assess the two cases: if you win, you win everything, if you lose, you lose nothing." ... 

Four Unforgettable, Undeniable Quotations About Conjugal Love From Classic Novels Old and New

When you fall in love, it is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake, and then it subsides. And when it subsides, you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots are to become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the desire to mate every second of the day. It is not lying awake at night imagining that he is kissing every part of your body. No ... don't blush. I am telling you some truths. For that is just being in love; which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over, when being in love has burned away. Doesn't sound very exciting, does it? But it is!
 Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernières, 1994
Now, I'm not going to deny that I was aware of your beauty. But the point is, this has nothing to do with your beauty. As I got to know you, I began to realize that beauty was the least of your qualities. I became fascinated by your goodness. I was drawn in by it. I didn't understand what was happening to me. And it was only when I began to feel actual, physical pain every time you left the room that it finally dawned on me: I was in love, for the first time in my life. I knew it was hopeless, but that didn't matter to me. And it's not that I want to have you. All I want is to deserve you. Tell me what to do. Show me how to behave. I'll do anything you say.
 Dangerous Liaisons by Choderlos de Laclos, 1782
What greater thing is there for two human souls, than to feel that they are joined for life--to strengthen each other in all labour, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories at the moment of the last parting?
Adam Bede by George Eliot, 1859
It is not time or opportunity that is to determine intimacy; - it is disposition alone. Seven years would be insufficient to make some people acquainted with each other, and seven days are more than enough for others.
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, 1811

August 15, 2015

Homily for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 16, 2015, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

(Click here for today’s readings)

As mentioned last week, the words, “I am the bread of life,” taken in the context of Jesus’ other “I am” sayings, can be treated, like them, as symbolic. What makes this one different from all the others is the continuation of the discourse as we see it today, and next week as well.

Some of the other “I am” sayings of Jesus’ provoked a negative reaction from his hearers, but none as visceral as we see today: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” And none of his disciples abandoned him on account of any of those other sayings.

Similarly, while Jesus repeats “I am the good shepherd,” for example, a couple of times, it is not by any means with the same insistence as we encounter here: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you... For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”

My purpose here is not to “prove” the Real Presence to people of other Christian traditions, but rather to help Catholics to understand that our belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is in fact scripturally based.

There is also the fact that in the first four centuries of the Church’s existence the belief in the Real Presence, expressed by at least twenty of the ancient Christian teachers known as the “Fathers of the Church,” generated no controversy. It was the common faith of the universal Church. It was not until the Middle Ages that any problem arose, and even then it did not concern the faith in the Real Presence but the question of how to explain it. By the thirteenth century one term had become dominant, and in 1551 it was confirmed by an Ecumenical Council in these words: “Since Christ, our Redeemer, has said that that is truly His own body which He offered under the species of bread, it has always been a matter of conviction in the Church of God... that by the consecration of the bread and wine a conversion takes place of the whole substance of bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord, and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of His blood. This conversion is appropriately and properly called transubstantiation by the Catholic Church.”

Thus, faith in the Real Presence is also supported by the long unbroken Tradition of the Church, whether Catholic or Orthodox.

The term transubstantiation comes from philosophical concepts developed originally by Aristotle, who lived over 300 years before the birth of Christ. Those concepts were rediscovered by European Christian scholars in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and found their way also into theology. Simplifying the ideas somewhat, “Substance” meant the underlying reality of something, while “accident” meant any aspect of it accessible to the senses. In the Eucharist, then, the “accidents” of bread and wine remain unchanged, while their substance is changed. It all made perfect sense.

Since then, however, Aristotle has definitely fallen out of fashion in academic circles, and a variety of philosophies have arisen in its place. Each has a different answer to the question, “What makes anything what it is?” or, “What really matters about anything?”

Around the time of the Second Vatican Council, some Catholic theologians wondered out loud, so to speak, about how to express the truth of transubstantiation in non-Aristotelian terms. In a philosophy in which the meaning of anything is what really matters, one might speak of “transignification.” If, on the other hand, purpose is what makes anything what it is, one might speak of “transfinalization.”

In some circles, these theologians were immediately accused of denying the Real Presence. Nothing could be farther from the truth. They were simply attempting the very difficult task of translating that same doctrine into other philosophical languages.

Nevertheless, the Church wisely decided not to adopt this approach. After all, new philosophies continue to crop up, and while the exercise might be interesting, one would be always trying to say the same thing in new words.

Besides, as I have had occasion to note in the past, faith is not an academic exercise, but first and foremost a matter of personal relationship. Each of us has a personal relationship with Jesus in the sacrament of the Eucharist. For some it is intensely devotional. For others it is the gateway to a deeply mysterious encounter.

If I were to ask what transubstantiation means to you, you would presumably give me the theological explanation as you understand it. But if I were to ask what receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Eucharist means to you, well, that’s a very different question, isn’t it?

August 11, 2015

Thought of the Day — Cardinal Dolan on Planned Parenthood

... for once we can actually take Planned Parenthood at their word, because in these videos they don’t use euphemisms, but instead they openly acknowledge the humanity of the babies they have aborted and are now dissecting.  This makes perfect sense.  The whole point was that the child was really a human person, and their organs and other tissue could be sold for experiments.
In other words, the folks at Planned Parenthood finally told the truth about what they are actually doing when they abort over 300,000 babies each year – that’s more than 20% of all abortions in this country: they are putting an end to an innocent, fragile, defenseless, human life.
 — Cardinal Timothy Dolan

August 8, 2015

Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 9, 2015, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

"I am the bread of life." John 6:48
(Click here for today’s readings)

Elijah definitely did not have friends in high places. It didn’t help his cause that he had killed all the prophets of Baal. Their chief patroness, Queen Jezebel, expressed her displeasure in these terms: “May the gods do thus to me and more, if by this time tomorrow I have not done with your life what was done to each of them.” In other words, she ordered a hit on him.

First he fled about ninety miles, from Mount Carmel near modern-day Haifa in northern Israel, to Beersheba, some forty-five miles south of Jerusalem, in the desert. And to top it off, the best shade he could find was from a broom tree, a plant which is adapted to survive extreme drought conditions. It produces very small leaves, which last only a short time.

So Elijah got tired of running away and was ready to give up. “Enough!” he cried, praying for death. God of course had other plans, and Elijah was able to go another eighty miles or so to Mount Horeb, where he was to have a momentous encounter with a “still, small voice,” thanks to the food for the journey provided by the Lord.

Jesus also is food for the journey. He tells us, “I am the bread of life,” and “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.”

If it were not for the very last sentence of today’s Gospel (and the whole of next Sunday’s), these words of Jesus would fall into the same category as his other “I am” statements as recorded by John: “I am the light of the world... I am the gate... I am the good shepherd... I am the resurrection and the life... I am the way and the truth and the life... I am the true vine.”

Taken only in that context, Jesus’ statement could reasonably be explained as follows (paraphrased from the famous Complete Commentary written between 1708 and 1710 by the Presbyterian minister Matthew Henry): In the desert God gave the Hebrews food from heaven to support their natural lives. Jesus offers the true Bread for the salvation of souls. Jesus is to the soul what bread is to the body, nourishing and supporting the spiritual life. He is the food of our souls.

The meaning of Jesus’ words is thus perceived as symbolic, just like the other “I am” sayings. No one claims, for example, that by saying, “I am the light of the world,” Jesus became the star we call the sun. The meaning is clear and unambiguous.

But in the last sentence of today’s Gospel, Jesus goes beyond the symbolism; that changes everything. It is, as the saying goes, a quantum leap. That will be developed at greater length in next week’s Gospel and homily.

For the moment let us just note that in Catholic teaching, sacraments are defined as “efficacious signs.” They accomplish what they symbolize. The difficulty people encounter in trying to explain this is to strike the balance between mere symbolism on the one hand, and crass literalism on the other. When we say that the Lord acts “sacramentally,” we mean he truly, really acts, but in a mysterious way.

Jesus is our food in both the symbolic and the sacramental sense. These two meanings are not mutually exclusive. In both senses he provides us the strength to live the challenges put forward today in Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians: “All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.”

Most of this week’s Gospel happens to focus on the deeply rich symbolic meaning of “I am the bread of life.” Even without the final verse of today’s text, this is food for the journey to which even Elijah’s cannot compare.

August 7, 2015

If Protestants Martin Luther, John Calvin & John Wesley Were Alive Today They Would Agree with Humanae Vitae

Christendom's condemnation of contraception was universally followed by Catholics and Protestants alike until 1930. All Protestant denominations agreed with the Catholic Church’s teaching that contraception was sinful. At the 1930 Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Communion, for the first time, permitted contraception within marriage under certain circumstances. Consider these quotes by the Protestant reformers Martin Luther, John Calvin and John Wesley affirming the prohibition against conception:

[T]he exceedingly foul deed of Onan, the basest of wretches . . . is a most disgraceful sin. It is far more atrocious than incest and adultery. We call it unchastity, yes, a sodomitic sin. For Onan goes in to her; that is, he lies with her and copulates, and when it comes to the point of insemination, spills the semen, lest the woman conceive. Surely at such a time the order of nature established by God in procreation should be followed. Accordingly, it was a most disgraceful crime. . . . Consequently, he deserved to be killed by God. He committed an evil deed. Therefore, God punished him.
— Martin Luther

The voluntary spilling of semen outside of intercourse between man and woman is a monstrous thing. Deliberately to withdraw from coitus in order that semen may fall on the ground is doubly monstrous. For this is to extinguish the hope of the race and to kill before he is born the hoped-for offspring.
— John Calvin

Those sins that dishonor the body are very displeasing to God, and the evidence of vile affections. Observe, the thing which he [Onan] did displeased the Lord—and it is to be feared; thousands, especially of single persons, by this very thing, still displease the Lord, and destroy their own souls.
— John Wesley

[W]e must once again declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun, and, above all, directly willed and procured abortion, even if for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as licit means of regulating birth. Equally to be excluded, as the teaching authority of the Church has frequently declared, is direct sterilization, whether perpetual or temporary, whether of the man or of the woman. Similarly excluded is every action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible. 
— Pope Paul VI, from his encyclical Humanae Vitae [14]