Monday, November 18, 2013

The Vine and the Branches: Once Saved Always Saved?

I recently read an article by Mr. John MacArthur about salvation (“The Vine and the Branches”)at the request of a friend. I’ve read several Christians’ explanations of salvation (Catholics as well as non-Catholics) that quote the Scriptures and conclude the opposite of MacArthur. A big question that comes to my mind is, “who is right and how do we know?” But before we get to that question, let’s explore Mr. MacArthur’s view. His article should be easy enough to find by the title I provided. He preaches a doctrine of “once saved always saved” and his article is primarily in regards to John 15:1-8.

Among a couple good points he makes, I think there are places where he makes assumptions that aren’t supported by Scripture and he makes a couple contradictions. I like what he says about Christians being pruned to bear more fruit, and the fact that it can be a painful process, yet worthwhile. But, I don’t see how he concludes that fruitless branches were never “truly attached” branches. How can a branch be a branch if it’s not truly attached in the first place? MacArthur’s reasoning is not convincing for me.

For example, he suggests that branches on Christ the Vine might not really be Christians. But if a person is not truly a Christian, how can that person be attached to the Vine which is Christ? Scripture says they are “cut off”. You can’t be cut off from something that you weren’t “truly” attached to, can you? It makes no sense.

He says “the fruitless branches represent Judas and all those who never were true disciples”. But Scripture doesn’t make any claim that they were never “true disciples”. There is no indication in Scripture that Judas wasn’t a “true disciple” of Christ prior to the betrayal. We only know that he betrayed Christ. But don’t we ALL betray Christ when we choose to sin? Or is sinning something we can do as Christians? In other words, does Scripture ANYWHERE say it’s okay to sin, or that in sinning we retain our life with Christ?

MacArthur also says that once we are forgiven by God, we are clean and do not need “the bathing of forgiveness again”. Where is that in the Bible? If we don’t need that forgiveness again, then why does Paul rebuke Christian believers in every one of his Epistles about sin and the need to avoid it? If they are “once saved always saved”, then why all the preaching about avoiding sin?
Why does James tell us to confess our sins to each other and that the prayers of the presbyters forgives sin in James 5:13-16? If we don’t need that forgiveness after being initially forgiven, then didn’t the Holy Spirit inspire James to make a moot point and a false teaching? Where in Scripture does it say “…once a person is forgiven by God…he does not need…forgiveness again”?

Scripture DOES tell us that one of Christ’s children cannot be snatched out of His Hand. But it NEVER says that we can’t CHOOSE to walk from His Hand by our own choice to sin. There is nothing in Scripture that says we can’t throw away God’s Gift of salvation. And in fact, we are warned not to take it for granted, lest we fall away. Read Hb 6:4-6. Paul writes of “partakers of the Holy Spirit” who have tasted of God’s Power, only to “have fallen away”. He doesn’t make any indication here that they weren’t “true” believers, rather they were believers who “tasted the heavenly gift” [they were saved] and now are not saved. Paul shows us again in Galatians 5:4 that in seeking to be justified by the law, the Christians he is writing to can be “severed from Christ” and those Galatians have “fallen from grace”. These were Christians who received the Word and the Spirit (Gal 3:1; 4:4-9)) and were “running well the race” (Gal 5:7) and THEN were tempted away from truth and toward going back to circumcision. They were Christians on the Vine of Christ, and then “severed” themselves from the Vine that they were truly attached to. MacArthur’s explanation contradicts Paul’s message here, so who is right?

MacArthur contradicts himself by using Is 5:1-7 to explain the branches, and then expects us to accept his understanding of Scripture as the “true” one. Israel is described as being God’s chosen vineyard that bore worthless fruit. But nowhere does that passage say that these Israelites were not his true branches, as MacArthur alludes to. Rather, it says they were THE branches. Paul even calls them the “natural branches” (Rom 11:21). And what happened? They were “cut off” because they, as THE true/natural branches did not bear fruit, and so God grafted us in (Rom 11:20-23). MacArthur says that they were cut off because of their unbelief. But he’s drawing an incomplete conclusion here. The Israelites were initially allowed to be consumed, why? Is 5:1-7 tells us because they bore bad fruit. Their fruit was “worthless”. They subsequently did not believe, as Paul points out in Rom 11:20. But what ELSE does Paul say here that MacArthur conveniently forgets to mention? “19 You will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off. 23 And even the others, if they do not persist in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again.” (Rom 11:19-23)

What did Scripture say there? Once we are grafted in, can we never be cut off? Does verse 22 say we can never be cut off, or that we CAN be cut off unless we DO something? And what about the ones that had been cut off, which were initially attached? Does it say they were never “truly” attached, or that they had been “cut off” AND can be RE-attached…grafted in AGAIN (v.23)? Rom 11:19-23 makes no sense with a “once saved always saved” belief.

MacArthur says that those who do not abide in Christ “were never saved”. Where does Scripture say that?

MacArthur says that all Christians bear some fruit, but that some may have bad fruit. So, every Christian bears fruit, whether good or bad. So, what happens to Christians who bear bad fruit? Are they saved for their bad fruit? (Chapter and verse?) What examples do we have from the Scriptures about bearers of bad fruit (Is 5:1-7; Mt 7:16-27)?

MacArthur says that we can be a branch without abiding in the true Vine, citing Rom 9:6 that “not all are Israel who descend from Israel”. I believe he’s making a false correlation here. Paul is talking about those who are saved. Not all who are from Israel are saved because they reject Christ. It never suggests they were not part of a true Vine, rather Paul tells us plainly they were “the natural branches” and now have been “cut off”. MacArthur’s view is contradicting Paul’s Holy Spirit-inspired writings here. So who is right?

There are over 40 instances* in Scripture where Paul talks of the “hope” of salvation, and NOT any “certainty”. (Cff. Rom 5:2,5, 8:24, 10:1; Gal 5:5; Eph 1:18, 4:4; Col 1:5, 23, 27; 1Thess 1:3, 2:19, 5:8; 2Thess 2:16; 1Tim 1:1, 4:10, etc...ad nauseum.) In fact, even Paul says he buffets himself for fear of being “disqualified” (1 Cor 9:27), which makes no sense in a “once saved always saved” belief, unless you want to believe that Paul was never a “true disciple”. Was Paul a “true disciple of Christ”? Did Paul EVER mention being ASSURED of his salvation?

Nowhere does Scripture tell us that salvation is a one-time step of asking the Lord into our hearts and making a one-time profession of faith in Him. Scripture tells us that salvation is a process. The Christian can rightly say, “I have been saved (Rom 8:24; Eph 2:5,8; 2Tim 1:9; Tit 3:5), I am being saved (Phil 2:12; 1Pet1:9) and I will be saved IF I endure to the end (Mt 7:21; Mt 10:22; Mt 19:16-17; Mt 24:13; 1Cor 9:27; 1Cor 10:11-12, etc…).

Ultimately, I think it boils down to authority. MacArthur wants us to accept his interpretation/understanding of Scripture, even though Scripture does not actually say what he tries to make it say, and he has to ignore and contradict several verses in Scripture to conclude “once saved always saved”. So the real question might be, by what authority does MacArthur (or anyone else) presume to be able to interpret and teach the Scriptures that I (or anyone else) don’t also have? Does Scripture give us any clues on whom to turn to when there are disagreements? Is there a “pillar and bulwark of Truth” (1Tim 3:15) that we can turn to when there are disagreements on matters of doctrine, and who is it, and where do you find them?




*For more Scriptural references on salvation, visit the Scripture Catholic website HERE :
http://www.scripturecatholic.com/salvation.html

Friday, November 8, 2013

Responding to Steve Finnell's Definition of Prayer

In response to THIS post on how praying to Mary brings our focus to Christ, Steve responded with a series of off-topic questions and some claims. Since he jumped off topic right off the bat, I decided to make his reply a separate post and will respond to it point-by-point here. His words will be in italics, mine will be in bold.


IS PRAYING TO DEAD PEOPLE A SIN?

-This question is irrelevant to the topic, Steve [see link above to original post]. Catholics don’t pray to the dead, we pray to the living. Don’t you remember what Christ said when correcting the Scribes in Mk 12:26-27? He said "God is God of the LIVING, not of the dead". If you are trying to suggest that praying to saints is the same as praying to the dead, you are making the same mistake as the Scribes. Or perhaps you are purposefully trying to mislead the readers to believe something false about the Catholic Church? You aren’t trying to do that are you Steve?

Is it a sin to pray to the Virgin Mary and other dead saints?

-Steve, this question makes the same mistake as the one above. Here you are assuming that those who passed on before us are “dead”. The problem here is that this line of thinking is contrary to Scripture. Christ corrected the Scribes in Mk 12:26-27, but Paul also tells us that those witnesses who have gone before us are like “a cloud of witnesses” for us as we run our race (Hb 12:1). In Mk 9:4, we see Jesus conversing with Elijah and Moses who are both fully alive, yet have passed from this world. In Lk 23:43, the good thief is assured by Christ Himself that he will be with Christ “this day”. Well, we know the thief died on the cross. Is the thief “dead” with Christ? Or is he “alive” with Christ in Paradise? If he is with Christ, who is God, then we must believe he is "alive" because God is God of the "living". And what about the martyrs under the altar in Rev 6:9-11? Does John describe them as being “dead”? No, he records them as appealing for earthly vindication. We also have Lk 16:19-30 where the departed rich man intercedes for his brothers, and Rev 20:4 where the souls of the beheaded are seen alive, and Wisdom 3:1-6 where the souls of the just are in the hand of God…alive because God is God of the living, not of the dead. Steve, why do you portray the saints in Heaven in a way that contradicts God’s Word?

Matthew 4:10 Then Jesus said to him, "Go Satan! For it is written,' "You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.' "
Praying to any person or anything is worship.


-Steve, why do you believe that “praying” is equal to “worship”? The Bible does not say that, so why do you believe it? The definition of “pray” is “to request or plea”, or “to implore or exhort”. Well, Paul “implores” and “exhorts” his audience in his Epistles to pray for him. Is Paul worshiping the Romans, Colossians, Ephesians or the Thessalonicans when he “requests” that they pray for him (cf. Rom 15:30, Col 4:3, 1Thess 5:25, 2Thess 1:11, Eph 6:18-19, etc…)?

WORSHIP DEFINED: To revere, stressing the feeling of awe or devotion. Adoring reverence or regard.
Any worship of anyone or anything other than God is sin.


-We’ll agree that worship of anyone/thing other than God is a sin. But you should know that the word “worship” did not always mean what it does in modern English. The “worship” that was shown in Scriptures to be for God alone, that “adoration”, is call “latria”. This is distinguished from the type of “worship” or “honor” that people give to their peers when they say “yes, Sir”, or “I beg your pardon”, or “Your Honor [speaking to a Judge or member of Office]”, or when they bow before a King, etc… That form of worship, which today is known as “respect” and “reverence” was called “dulia”. In our modern tongue, we tend to not distinguish between the definitions anymore, but such was not always the case. So, if you want to use the modern sense, then no, Catholics do not worship anyone other than God. Is it your intention, Steve, to be intellectually honest and recognize this? Or do you intend to falsely portray Catholics as “worshiping” others because we pray to them as Paul did, even though you have no Biblical basis upon which to claim that prayer = worship?

The Virgin Mary is not God…

-No one claimed she was, so I’m not sure what your point is. Are you suggesting that asking Mary to intercede for us is like calling her God? Again, to condemn Catholics for this, you also have to condemn Paul who asked for prayers from others. Is it your intention to condemn Paul for petitioning others for prayers and intercessions? If not, why would you condemn a Catholic for doing the exact same thing as what is modelded for us in Scripture?

…nor does she have the power to grant petitions of prayer.

-Steve, what do you mean by that? Do you mean that Mary cannot answer prayer by her own power? If so, Catholics will agree heartily with you. If you mean that God cannot work through Mary and answer prayers through her, I'm going to have to disagree. I believe that God is able to use all of us in ways that He chooses; I believe that He allows us to pray for one another, ask prayers of one another, and that He grants petitions through our prayer for one another. This is what Scripture shows us, so I believe it. Your statement carries the message that God does not listen to our prayers for one another. Steve, do you believe that God does not listen to our intercessory prayers for each other? Or do you believe that our prayers for each other are rendered useless after we have passed on from this life and are with God in Heaven, as though being with God after our earthy death makes us less alive than we are now, and less able to pray for each other? (Remember to provide the pertinent Scriptural evidence for your assertions, Steve.)

If men could pray to dead saints and get them answered, then why not pray to saint Moses, saint John The Baptist, saint Abraham, saint Job, saint Enoch, saint The Thief on The Cross or any other dead saint?

-What makes you think they are “dead” when Christ has said they are “living”? Why do you continue to contradict Christ’s Words? And what makes you think Catholics don’t ask for the intercessions of any of the above?

Dead people cannot hear your prayers and if they could they would not have the power to answer them.

-Dead people might not, but alive people can, just as we see in Revelation and the other references I showed above. As to the power to answer them, well, that’s up to God to decide isn’t it? Do you suppose, Steve, that you can determine what God can and cannot allow or to whom God can give power to? God gave power to Elisha’s bones to restore life (2Kgs 13:20-21). Do you think God can’t grant that a person can answer a simple prayer request? Do you think it’s more miraculous for a saint in Heaven to answer a prayer for healing [by God’s Power] than it was for Peter’s shadow to grant healing (Acts 5:15-16)? Do you think it’s more unlikely to have a prayer [to any given saint] answered than it was to be cured by one of Paul’s facecloths (Acts 19:11-12)?

Prayer is worship and only God deserves our worship.

-Again, Steve, you’ll need to provide some Scriptural evidence to back that up. Your statement here contradicts a great deal of the NT writings that act as prayers in themselves. Why should anyone accept your personal definition of prayer which is not reflected in Scripture?

God knows our every thought. God is aware of every sin we commit. God knows our every move.

-Amen, Steve! We have some common ground between us! Did you know that God also uses us to help each other and allows us to be active participants in his Gospel message?

God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. Those are the attributes of God and what you would need in order to answer prayer.

-Why would a person need all those attributes in order to answer a prayer? I have none of those attributes and I’ve answered prayer before. One time someone prayed of me to help them with the dishes. I did so and didn’t need any of those attribute to do it. You are also limiting God, by this statement of yours, by saying that God cannot allow anyone to answer a prayer because only God has these attribute. Are you saying that God is not able to allow answered prayer through those who don’t have these attributes? Are you limiting God in what God can do, Steve? Was that you intention?

Neither the Virgin Mary, Moses, John The Baptist nor any other dead saint has the attributes of God.

-No one said any of those people had such attributes. But again, why do you keep calling them “dead” when Christ calls them “living”? Why are you contradicting Christ and the Scriptures?

They cannot hear you nor can they answer YOUR PRAYERS.

-Why not? What I am asking here is for some ACTUAL reason instead of the fallacious reasoning you have already given that, because a person doesn’t have certain attributes, they therefore can’t answer prayer. You have yet to establish that a person requires certain attributes in order to answer prayer. You’re going to have to explain away a lot of Scripture to attempt that, however. Do you suppose Paul’s facecloth has the attributes of God when it cured people of their ailments? Did Elisha’s bones have these attributes? Did Peter’s shadow?

YES, TO PRAY TO ANYONE OTHER THAN GOD IS A SIN!

-That’s not what God’s Word says. Why should anyone reading this accept Steve’s words over God’s Word? Why should anyone reading this accept Steve's personal definition of prayer, even though it conflicts with the prayer we see in Scripture?

Steve,, I hope you will take the time to answer each question. I want you to know that I sincerely am seeking answers to each question I asked. I also want you to know that if you come here just to post off-topic rants about things that mis-represent the Church and her teachings, I'm probably just going to delete them instead of taking the time to post them and answer them as I have the last 2 times. If you are actually interested in Christian dialog, I expect you to address everything I posted above with clear distinct answers to each question I asked, just like I provided for each of yours. Thank you for taking interest in my Christian blog, Steve. It means alot to me. :)

In Christ,
Dave

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

What Does the Church Teach About Confirmation? (No Commentary, Just the Facts)

Regarding the Sacrament of Confirmation, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says,

THE SACRAMENT OF CONFIRMATION

1285 Baptism, the Eucharist, and the sacrament of Confirmation together constitute the "sacraments of Christian initiation," whose unity must be safeguarded. It must be explained to the faithful that the reception of the sacrament of Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace [cf. Roman Ritual, Rite of Confirmation (OC), Introduction 1]. For "by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed" [LG 11; Cf. OC, Introduction 2].

I. Confirmation in the Economy of Salvation

1286 In the Old Testament the prophets announced that the Spirit of the Lord would rest on the hoped-for Messiah for his saving mission [cf. Isa 11:2, 61:1; Lk 4:16-22]. The descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus at his baptism by John was the sign that this was he who was to come, the Messiah, the Son of God [cf. Mt 3:13-17; Jn 1:33-34]. He was conceived of the Holy Spirit; his whole life and his whole mission are carried out in total communion with the Holy Spirit whom the Father gives him "without measure" [Jn 3:34].

1287 This fullness of the Spirit was not to remain uniquely the Messiah's, but was to be communicated to the whole messianic people [cf. Ezek 36:25-27; Joel 3:1-2]. On several occasions Christ promised this outpouring of the Spirit,[ cf. Lk 12:12; Jn 3:5-8, 7:37-39, 16:7-15; Acts 1:8] a promise which he fulfilled first on Easter Sunday and then more strikingly at Pentecost [cf. Jn 20:22; Acts 2:1-14]. Filled with the Holy Spirit the apostles began to proclaim "the mighty works of God," and Peter declared this outpouring of the Spirit to be the sign of the messianic age [Acts 2:11, cf. 2:17-18]. Those who believed in the apostolic preaching and were baptized received the gift of the Holy Spirit in their turn [cf. Acts 2:38].


1288 "From that time on the apostles, in fulfillment of Christ's will, imparted to the newly baptized by the laying on of hands the gift of the Spirit that completes the grace of Baptism. For this reason in the Letter to the Hebrews the doctrine concerning Baptism and the laying on of hands is listed among the first elements of Christian instruction. The imposition of hands is rightly recognized by the Catholic tradition as the origin of the sacrament of Confirmation, which in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church" [Paul VI, Divinae consortium naturae, 659; cf. Acts 8:15-17, 19:5-6; Heb 6:2].

1289 Very early, the better to signify the gift of the Holy Spirit, an anointing with perfumed oil (chrism) was added to the laying on of hands. This anointing highlights the name "Christian," which means "anointed" and derives from that of Christ himself whom God "anointed with the Holy Spirit" [Acts 10:38]. This rite of anointing has continued ever since, in both East and West. For this reason the Eastern Churches call this sacrament Chrismation, anointing with chrism, or myron which means "chrism." In the West, Confirmation suggests both the ratification of Baptism, thus completing Christian initiation, and the strengthening of baptismal grace - both fruits of the Holy Spirit.

II. The Signs and the Rite of Confirmation

1293 In treating the rite of Confirmation, it is fitting to consider the sign of anointing and what it signifies and imprints: a spiritual seal.
Anointing, in Biblical and other ancient symbolism, is rich in meaning: oil is a sign of abundance and joy [cf. Deut 11:14; Pss 23:5; 104:15]; it cleanses (anointing before and after a bath) and limbers (the anointing of athletes and wrestlers); oil is a sign of healing, since it is soothing to bruises and wounds [cf. Isa 1:6; Lk 10:34]; and it makes radiant with beauty, health, and strength.

1294 Anointing with oil has all these meanings in the sacramental life. the pre-baptismal anointing with the oil of catechumens signifies cleansing and strengthening; the anointing of the sick expresses healing and comfort. The post-baptismal anointing with sacred chrism in Confirmation and ordination is the sign of consecration. By Confirmation Christians, that is, those who are anointed, share more completely in the mission of Jesus Christ and the fullness of the Holy Spirit with which he is filled, so that their lives may give off "the aroma of Christ" [2 Cor 2:15].

1295 By this anointing the confirmand receives the "mark," the seal of the Holy Spirit. A seal is a symbol of a person, a sign of personal authority, or ownership of an object [cf. Gen 38:18; 41:42; Deut 32:34; CT 8:6]. Hence soldiers were marked with their leader's seal and slaves with their master's. A seal authenticates a juridical act or document and occasionally makes it secret [cf. 1 Kings 21:8; Jer 32:10; Isa 29:11].

1296 Christ himself declared that he was marked with his Father's seal [cf. Jn 6:27]. Christians are also marked with a seal: "It is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has commissioned us; he has put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee" [2 Cor 1:21-22; cf. Eph 1:13, 4, 30]. This seal of the Holy Spirit marks our total belonging to Christ, our enrollment in his service for ever, as well as the promise of divine protection in the great eschatological trial [cf. Rev 7:2-3, 9:4; Ezek 9:4-6].


III. The Effects of Confirmation

1302 It is evident from its celebration that the effect of the sacrament of Confirmation is the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost.

1303 From this fact, Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace:
- it roots us more deeply in the divine filiation which makes us cry, "Abba! Father!" [Rom 8:15];
- it unites us more firmly to Christ;
- it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us;
- it renders our bond with the Church more perfect [cf. LG 11];
- it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross [cf. Council of Florence (1439) DS 1319; LG 11; 12]:

Recall then that you have received the spiritual seal, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, the spirit of holy fear in God's presence. Guard what you have received. God the Father has marked you with his sign; Christ the Lord has confirmed you and has placed his pledge, the Spirit, in your hearts [St. Ambrose, De myst. 7, 42 PL 16, 402-403].

1304 Like Baptism which it completes, Confirmation is given only once, for it too imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual mark, the "character," which is the sign that Jesus Christ has marked a Christian with the seal of his Spirit by clothing him with power from on high so that he may be his witness [cf. Council of Trent (1547) DS 1609; Lk 24:48-49].

1305 This "character" perfects the common priesthood of the faithful, received in Baptism, and "the confirmed person receives the power to profess faith in Christ publicly and as it were officially (quasi ex officio)" [St. Thomas Aquinas, STh III, 72, 5, ad 2].”

To learn more about the Church’s teaching on Confirmation and its celebration and participants, refer to the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1285-1321.





Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Final Blessing

[Matthew 5:1-12]

It was the very end of a retreat for Christian men. Technically, the retreat was over and I was coming off a high I had not felt in years. God had showered me with so many blessings in this short weekend retreat and I thought, “there can't possibly be any more for God to bless me with at this moment...I can't possibly be blessed any more than this.”

I was wrong. God gave to me one last blessing before my wife and I, kids in tow, headed home that afternoon. And it is a blessing like I have never received before, and likely never will again.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” On the retreat, I experienced what this type of spiritual poverty is. It isn't the poverty of having “zero spiritual life”...but one of emptiness, one of need. It is that poverty that says, “I have nothing to offer except what God gives me, and I need God to fill me.” Experiencing this was wonderful. It helped me see the areas in my life where I need to let God fill me up before I try to be a light for others. It was this blessing that helped me resolve to read the Scriptures before I even eat breakfast, realizing that the soul deserves its food, and the soul is more important to feed than the body. I was blessed by God with a poor spirit.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” I've always considered myself to be meek and humble of heart, and I believe most people who know me would say the same. But on this retreat I had the pleasure of listening to a man spill out his heart to us about pride (among other things). It was in hearing his words that I could recognize pride in myself, and could offer that to God in exchange for humility and meekness. God not only blessed me with meekness of heart, but He did it in that wonderfully healing way that only God can do. I had again been blessed.

Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” I mourned on this retreat. I wept bitterly. I cried my heart out. I cried for loss; I cried for joy; I mourned over my sins and failures, and wept as the Spirit came rushing over me to forgive and heal me. I felt comforted in a way that I had never felt before. The Spirit moved so powerfully over me that it was difficult, and even impossible at one point, to prevent myself from completely breaking down and weeping with tears of joy, relief, love, and awe. I grabbed the nearest man to me, one I now consider a friend and true brother in Christ, and bawled my eyes out in his arms as He held me and comforted me; much in the way I believe Christ would have. I was truly blessed.

Blessed are they that hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall have their fill. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.” I was moved, during a particular talk, with a desire to see things “right”; to evaluate my behaviour and demand justice of myself; to right what I had done wrong. The speaker made a powerful confession to us to show us how God had forgiven him and how he was able to forgive himself. He was met with mercy from us, and understanding, and compassion, and an awareness that every one of us there had a need to evaluate our own lives for such sins. Though I had confessed my sins to God, and to a Priest in Reconciliation, I wanted to use myself as an example. I confessed it to my Christian brothers, demanding of myself that righteousness be upheld. And behold, I was shown mercy. I was filled with love, mercy, the support of my brothers, and the sweeping power of the Holy Spirit healing me of the stains left behind from my forgiven sins. It was as though I were on the brink of suffering the punishment that David suffered for his forgiven sin in 2 Samuel 12:13-14, only to be freed from that temporal punishment by a God who had more good to offer that I could ever imagine. Again, I was blessed.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” I won't claim to be pure in heart. But on this retreat I believe I came close, and I know God gave me the blessing of having purity, even if only for the briefest moment. I made a good confession, was absolved, completed my penance, and for at least a moment, I wanted nothing other than God, and to please Him. I won't claim I saw Him visually, but I believe I saw Him in others, and I know I felt His Presence. I was blessed.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice's sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are you when they revile you and persecute you and speak all that is evil against you falsely for My sake; be glad and rejoice for your reward is very great in Heaven. For so they persecuted the prophets that were before you.”

This is where my final blessing comes in. As the men who were on the retreat left the church at the end of the celebration of Mass, we gathered just outside the doors to give hugs and handshakes and to wait for our families who were soon to be exiting through the same doors. There was a grand reception waiting where we would mingle and greet and introduce our families to our new brothers in Christ. There was a Christian ecumenism like I had not before witnessed. Baptists (one was even a Pastor at the local Baptist church), Methodists, at least one non-Denominational, and Catholics; we all gathered on this retreat to share our Faith and grow together in Christ, and were about to share our joys with our respective families together. It was wonderful. It was blessed. God was still pouring out the blessings.

And then I saw her. My wonderful wife had finally exited the Church with our four beautiful children. I could see her eyes searching for mine, and I made my way, swimming through a sea of people going in the opposite direction, to meet her and hold her and kiss her, and hold our children. It had been a blessed weekend, but I missed them dearly and longed to hold them close; and besides, being reunited was a whole new blessing in itself. But this wasn't the final blessing God would give me on this retreat.

You see, my wife was obviously upset about something. As soon as I reached her to hold her, and to comfort her for the long weekend she spent caring for our children without the benefit of her husband to help out while I was away being showered with God's blessings, I could tell something was wrong. “Who is that man…?” I recognized him as a prominent person in this particular Parish and told her who he was. “He walked past me and...”, her eyes now welling with tears of what would be an undeserved shame, “...looked back and forth at [our eight-year-old daughter] and me and gave us a disgusted look, shook his head in disgust, and then turned away [to exit the Church]”.

My wife was beside herself in confusion, and I was now as well. Why had this Christian man, a well-respected member of this Parish, who so lovingly seemed to accept ALL Christians as his brethren so shortly before in that Mass celebration, looked upon my family in disgust? What had my wife and daughter done to earn such a shaming as this?

I walked my wife further toward the reception hall and continued inside as we talked about it and I made sure I understood exactly what had happened. There seemed to be more questions than answers. We simply could not understand what would have evoked such a response of disgust from this man towards my wife [the wife of a retreat member who was being raised and praised in that very Mass just minutes before] and our children. I was dumbfounded.

We saw him outside the reception hall a few moments later and I decided I would ask him what had happened and see where there might be a misunderstanding. I waited until he had wrapped up a conversation with some other people and approached him slowly, and as they began to turn away I calmly shook his hand and we exchanged smiles. I asked him if I might visit with him for a moment as I held his hand in mine. No sooner than I had muttered those words, he saw my wife standing behind me and recognized her. “NO!” In only the very first word he spoke, he was already yelling, and began to shake in anger. “NO, I'm not dealing with you!” He turned briefly, and then back again. Perhaps he could see the bewildered look on my face, trying to figure out what he meant by that statement. He said to clarify, “I'm a Catholic! I don’t deal with non-Catholics!

At that moment, two things registered in my head. 1) He was visibly upset. 2) He did not think I was a Catholic and, for that reason, he did not want to “deal with [me]”. I thought perhaps he must have confused us as being “SSPX”. And in this light it started to make sense. You see, SSPX members (a schismatic group that broke from the Church after Vatican II) wear veils and kneel for Communion. And as a matter of coincidence, my wife also wears a chapel veil and we do also kneel for Communion. Though a true “SSPX'er” would never have been seen in a Mass at a Church such as what we were at this day, I felt that he must certainly have mistaken us. “Oh, [Sir], we aren't SSPX or anything like that, we are Roman Catholics.” I said it with nearly a sigh of relief, believing I had discovered what had upset him and thus diffused the situation.

I was not even close. What happened afterwards was almost a blur. It was surreal and happened much faster than it seemed, and much faster than I can write it down. This is how I remember it:

NO, you disobey the Roman Missal [GIRM] and are Protestants!! You are NOT Catholic!”

But, [Sir], I assure you we are Catholic.”

NO! You are DISOBEDEINT and are Protestant!

“[Sir], can you please show me in the Missal where we disobeyed?”

At this point I realized I was not going to get a direct answer, at least not in this conversation, for why he looked upon my wife and child in such a manner as he did. I would have to hope for a subsequent opportunity to allow him to reconcile with us for that. So, I focused on what appeared to be his major concern…being “disobedient” and thereby “Protestant”. He continued:

How dare you come to my Church to challenge me?! This is MY Parish. Those people [who kneel for Communion and wear veils] can go to [name of nearby town with Latin Mass] for that!” He went on, yelling mostly at my wife while refusing to look at me directly unless I stepped in front of him [which was a constant shift as he and she moved about], explaining that the GIRM says we “must stand for Communion” and that by kneeling we “are disobedient and Protestants”. I asked him to support his claim so that I could see my error:

“[Sir], please, I only want to understand. Please show me where we disobeyed.”

At this point, he was no longer looking at me or listening much to me. He was right up in my wife's face pointing at her and yelling at her. She told me later that she was seriously afraid that he was going to strike out and hit her.
He continued rebuking us for kneeling for Communion and for her wearing a veil. My wife asked him, “but haven't you heard what Cardinal Arinze said [about receiving Christ while kneeling]?” He retorted with a half-true misrepresentation of what the Cardinal had said regarding the receiving of Christ in the Eucharist, but that was only a small matter at this point. At this point, we had been publicly accused of disobedience to the Church and being Protestant despite our witness to the contrary. And we had not even begun to discuss his behaviour of looking at my wife and children in the disgusting and shameful manner in which he did.

About this time, our 8 year old daughter who had been standing by began to weep profusely. The man was shaking uncontrollably and yelling at my wife and me, turning red, and looked as though he might blow at any moment. I gently pushed my wife back and calmly assured the man that we were really Catholic and were not aware of any disobedience we had done and asked earnestly if he could guide us to where we had disobeyed. He looked at our daughter who was now sobbing loudly. “Look at what you're doing to your children!!! This is CHILD ABUSE!!

I wasn't sure if he meant that wearing a veil out of reverence to our Lord during Mass, and kneeling before Him to receive Him in the Eucharist, was “child abuse”...or if he meant “making our daughter cry” in this situation was abuse. If it was the latter, I agreed, and I calmly pointed out to him, asking, “But [Sir], who has lost their temper here?” The suggestion I made was a powerful one...that it was he, not we, that caused our daughter to become upset. He stepped back and for the first time stopped yelling, looked nearly ashamed for a brief moment [or maybe a fraction of a moment]. As he stepped back to process my question, my wife had made a near-simultaneous observation, “But you don't even know us [to be calling us Protestant]”

If he did have a brief moment of reflection, it quickly ended. “I don't care! How dare you come here dressed like Muslims?! Get out!

In a final plea, and as softly as I could manage and still allow him to hear me over his yelling, I reaffirmed, “I'm looking for your guidance, [Sir]. Please.”

You are NOT here to seek my guidance! I'm a Catholic and I don't deal with non-Catholics! Get out of here and go practice your witchcraft!! How dare you come here??

Well, to the last question, I came because I was on a retreat and the final part of the retreat was Mass at this Parish. I didn't tell that to him because I believed it had gotten to a point where further conversation would be unfruitful and possibly damaging to his reputation, as people were beginning to take notice. I kept my mouth shut and he turned and left, muttering things as he went that I can't repeat...mainly because I didn't hear them all and don't want to take them out of context. He made it clear we were not welcome because of our “kneeling” and veils, which he called “dress[ing] like Muslims”. (There's some irony in that, because my wife was wearing a knee-length skirt and a blouse that, for a Muslim, scandalously exposed her elbows, wrists, and collarbone to show the Crucifix around her neck. And the fact that her veil barely covered her hair at all would have rendered it useless to any Muslim, expect perhaps as a handkerchief.)

I approached the Pastor of the parish who had just come out of the church and talked to him about it. He danced around the issue, gave some excuse for the other man about how he is set in his ways, said not to take it too personal, and then changed the subject to how the retreat went. “Great, up until now.” I smiled and shook his hand and went to let the Deacon know, in case anyone had overheard and approached him about it. Then I saw the Parochial Vicar of the parish, who had served on the retreat as our Spiritual Director, and let him know as well. He offered some comforting words, but it didn’t heal the wounds. He did at least address the charge of disobedience and affirmed that we were not “Protestant”. That moment felt rather sad, as we tried to make light conversation with these men I had just grown together with on the retreat, while my wife choked back tears and tried to laugh and smile...tears running down her face at the humiliation, degradation, false accusation, cruelty, and abuse of that man; and the seeming indifference of everyone who may have witnessed it. We stayed as long as we could, and then we simply knew it was time to leave this place where we knew we could never be welcomed back because of the words spoken to us, “get out of here...you aren't welcome here...

I was floored in a way. But in another way I was not. I felt irrationally calm, still swimming in that warm bath of love and emotion the Spirit had filled me with. In fact, the whole time I was speaking with the man, I only felt calm and peace, even though I knew in my head that things were not calm or peaceful. It was as though God was walking me through another part of the retreat that He had decided was not over yet for me.

I had never experienced such hatred toward myself or my spouse. It's come close before, but this was a whole different level. And though I was completely at peace, I was dumbfounded. I didn't know what to make of it. I became confused. God had blessed me so much on this retreat, and then decided to end it for me in THIS WAY?! Why? What was this supposed to mean? Did God want to bring me down from the “high” He had given me? Certainly that could not have been it, because I still felt “high”...I still felt blessed. What was this?

I got my answer about half way home. My wife, though tear-stained and wet eyes, looked at me and said, “...blessed are you when they revile you and persecute you and speak all that is evil against you falsely for My sake; be glad and rejoice for your reward is very great in Heaven.” Then it hit me: God was giving me yet ANOTHER blessing. He had blessed me SO MUCH on that retreat, but He was showing me MORE ways He could bless me. And not only did we suffer this evil from just any man, but from a man who is looked up to and well-respected at this Parish. God made sure we felt the ultimate let-down and ultimate form of false accusations and hateful speech by ensuring that it came from a man we should have been able to trust.

In that exchange with this man, I found myself as a peacemaker in trying to defuse the situation, calm him, and seek his point of view so that I could understand him. I had been blessed. In the persecution for our choice to worship Christ with the most reverent mannerism we have known, wherever we are, my wife and I had both been blessed. In the man’s reviling and publicly spoken words of hatred and false accusations of disobedience, child-abuse, Islam, and witchcraft, we had been blessed. God had given me His final blessing through this man, in the most unlikely manner I could have imagined. God was giving me His “final blessing” of my retreat experience...and He was including my wife in it. I was getting to share my blessings with her from my retreat. We were truly blessed.

You are probably asking yourself right now why I didn’t knock this man down, or at least threaten him, or rebuke him sternly instead of trying the “nice-guy” approach there. You might be wondering why the Pastor and Spiritual Director and the Deacon didn’t do much about it. It wasn’t because I was afraid. Normally I would have been, but being so filled with Christ’s Spirit on the retreat, I had no fear when I was speaking with him...none at all…and that’s rare for me. I had only assurance and confidence. It also wasn’t because I pitied him. I do pity him, but at that moment I was more confused than anything else, and pity was not one of my emotions at that time. It also was not because I didn’t want to hold him accountable. In fact, the whole purpose of approaching him was to hold him accountable for what he had done, and I still would like him to be accountable for what he did and how he treated us. The reason I was so patient and tolerant of him was because I looked up to him as a spiritual guide, and kept hoping he would begin to come around and snap out of the rage he was in. You see, he was a Priest. [You can replace “Sir” with “Father” and get a better idea of our conversation.] And not just any Priest, but a well-respected Priest who had been given special recommendations by his Bishop, titled as Reverend Monsignor, and was well respected and loved by his parishioners as “one of the best Priests in the Diocese”. He is the Vicar General of the entire Diocese and has his residence at the rectory of that parish. And if that weren’t enough to be Reverend Monsignor, Vicar General in the Diocese, I would later discover that he is a member of the Diocese’s Tribunal as the Promoter of Justice and staff Psychologist.

In all my life of catechesis, the one thing I learned early and held fast to was, “never attack a Priest”. I even took a voluntary vow, twice, to protect Priests and pray for them, no matter what. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that a Priest, a Reverend Monsignor who is Vicar General and Promoter of Justice for an entire Diocese, would attack US! I’ll repeat this sentence: God made sure we felt the ultimate let-down and ultimate form of false accusations and hateful speech by ensuring that it came from a man we should have been able to trust; a man who, in his Priestly duties while administering the Sacraments, is acting in Persona Christi; a man who was supposed to represent Jesus Christ as an example for ALL.

If you have never heard the saying, “Pray for Priests!”, now you have. And you should do it often. It’s easy to forget that they are real men with real men’s temptations and inclinations to sin. While a Priest is held to a higher standard as the example we are to follow, we must remember that he is still a man. I do look to him to provide the example when it comes to reconciling with my wife and me over this. I don’t know what will ever come of this situation or if it will ever be resolved. It’s in God’s Hands now and I hope for the best and will do my part to make it work. What I DO know is this: on this particular retreat, I had been truly, and fully, and finally blessed.

Something that did not occur to me to ask this Priest until later: If I, as a Catholic who believes in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, would die for the Host [and I would], how is it that anyone would take issue with my choice to kneel for Him?

-----------------


As an afterthought, you might be wondering what the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) says about kneeling or standing for Communion. In part 160 of the GIRM, edited and re-issued in 2010 or 2011 by the U.S. Bishops, we read: “The norm established for the Dioceses of the United States of America is that Holy Communion is to be received standing, unless an individual member of the faithful wishes to receive Communion while kneeling." (GIRM 160, 2011 ed., emphasis mine). You’ll notice nothing at all is said about a requirement to stand, or to do as everyone else does, or to request pastoral counsel about it, or that choosing to kneel is “disobedient” or makes one a “non-Catholic”.

You may also be wondering if I am teetering on the edge of “detraction” by revealing what I have revealed. In paragraph 2477 of the Catechism, we read: “Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:
- of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbour [this Priest did this against my wife and me] ; of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another's faults and failings to persons who did not know them [if what this Priest said about our errors was true, he also committed this sin against us by his public rebuke]; of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them. [and he committed this sin against us as well]” You’ll notice that the Priest who committed these offenses, as well as his offenses against charity, made them publicly, with an audience standing outside a busy reception hall with people walking back and forth. So, if anyone knows who it is, it’s because they witnessed it. So, I have not revealed anything that was not already known. There is also the issue of “objectively valid reason”. What this Priest did was outright religious bigotry, discrimination, and verbal abuse. Protecting others from such abuse is an objectively valid reason, so even if I reveal his name and parish, I am still within the bounds of objective moral reason and, in fact, am obliged per natural moral law to protect any person from suffering such abuse if my conscience obliges me to reveal this (cf. CCC 1954-1960, 1776-1802, especially 1787).



Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Christ's Presence in the Eucharist [Part 2]: Why the Jews took Christ Literally

In Part 1 we discussed the literal vs. symbolic interpretation of John 6 in the Bread of Life Discourse. (Click "Part 1" to review if needed.) We left off explaining why a strictly symbolic intperpretation makes no sense.

This brings us to the second question: WHY did the Jews understand Christ literally, and why should we also?

The answer goes back to the beginning of the Pascal Lamb of the Passover and comes to full light as the Old Covenant is fulfilled in the New. There is a WONDERFUL book that goes into the details of this: Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, by Brandt Pitre. I won’t pretend to be able to summarize 240 pages of his book here, so I recommend anyone who wants to delve into this topic to get a copy. I’ll just tap on some Scriptural background.

Something often forgotten in the movie portrayals of the Passover events is a very critical fact: the lamb had to be EATEN. It was not sufficient to sacrifice the lamb and spread the blood on the doorposts. The Pascal lamb had to be eaten in order to complete the Passover. “They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it… In one house shall it be eaten; you shall not carry forth any of the flesh outside the house; and you shall not break a bone of it.” (Ex 12:8, 46)

And what does Jesus do at the Last Supper? He makes Himself this Pascal Lamb. In all of the accounts of the Last Supper, Christ says “take…eat…this is My Body…this is My Blood.” Scripture shows us time and again that Christ is this Lamb: “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29) and again in Jn 1:36, “Behold the Lamb of God”. Paul tells us, “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1Cor 5:7-8). In fact, Christ is referred to as “the Lamb” more than 25 times in Revelation, such as, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev 19:9).

In the Last Supper, we have Christ’s own words affirming for us that this [the bread and wine offered] IS His Body and Blood. Not once does He say, this “represents” or “is a symbol of”. No, He says, “this IS My Body…this IS My Blood” (cf. Mt 26:26ff, Mk 14:22-24, Lk 22:17-20). And He also tells us to DO this in commemoration of Him. We are to continue to commemorate His once-for-all Sacrifice to make it present to all Christians for all time so that all of us may partake in it. It is a timeless offering that was prophesied by Malachi: “For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts.” (Mal 1:11) This is a prophecy for a time to come when God’s Name is great “among the nations” and “in every place” from East to West (or morning to night, depending on the translation) “incense” and a “pure offering” are made. What is the ONLY pure offering that can be made to God? It is Christ, as Pascal Lamb, whose once-for-all, and all-sufficient Sacrifice is perpetuated through time to all generations so that all may partake of the Pascal Lamb in the fullest sense: “take, eat”…because in order to be saved, the Passover Lamb had to be EATEN.

That’s PART of the reason why the Jews took Christ literally in John chapter 6. Another part of that answer rests in the Manna from Heaven that Moses brought them, and what they understood about the New Bread of the “New Moses”, the “Christ” to come. Read Pitre’s book if you want more depth and historical facts about that and the other reasons they took Christ literally.

Moving on, Paul talks of this continuing participation in the Supper of the Lamb: “ The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (1Cor 10:16-17)

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.” (1Cor 11:23-29) Note this key point regarding Paul’s literal understanding of the Last Supper. “Whoever…eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord” and “Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself”. If Christ’s Body and Blood are not truly present, then how can one be guilty of profaning Him? Can we eat and drink judgment upon ourselves by eating and drinking mere symbols? No…a symbolic interpretation makes no sense here.

Some Christians cannot bring themselves to a literal understanding of the Eucharist because they can’t “see” Christ there. It just looks like bread. To this I would ask, how many times in Scripture does God reveal Himself in different forms? If God can reveal Himself as a burning bush that never burns up; or as a pillar of smoke and fire before the Israelites; or as the Son of Man, even though He is the God and Creator of all the world; or as a gardener to one of the women who was closest to him…then how difficult is it really for Him to reveal Himself as Bread? Doesn’t that seem all too easy for God to do?

Luke records just such a story to touch on this point in his Gospel account. He later, in his book of Acts, goes on to show us that this “breaking of the bread” becomes a regular part of the Christian life in Acts 2:42, and Acts 20:6-7 “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” and “but we sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we came to them at Tro′as, where we stayed for seven days. On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the morrow; and he prolonged his speech until midnight”.

But back to the Gospel account, Luke sums it up nicely for us: In Lk 24:13-35, the story of the 2 Disciples on the road to Emmaus, Christ appears in a form they did not recognize…until they recognize Him “in the breaking of the bread” (Lk 24:35). Luke draws a clear parallel in this account of Christ breaking bread with the 2 disciples and in the Last Supper accounts, in that he records Christ doing 4 specific things: “…[1] he took the bread and [2] blessed, and [3] broke it, and [4] gave it to them” (Lk 24:30, cf. Lk 22:19, Mk 14:22, Mt 26:26). And then after this, “their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight.” (Lk 24:31). Notice it does not say that Christ was no longer there with them. There is no suggestion that Christ left their presence…it says “he vanished out of their sight”, which is a very different concept, theologically, than “leaving” or “no longer being with” someone. Remember, Christ is God, and He is not bound by our limited understanding of our physical existence. The disciples go on to recount their story to the Apostles and tell how, at first they did not recognize Him, but then their eyes were opened “in the breaking of the bread”. (Lk 24:13-35)

Christ’s Presence in the Eucharist [Part 1]: “…Truly, Truly, I Say to You, Unless You Eat the Flesh of the Son of Man...”

"...and drink His blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.” This he said in the synagogue, as he taught at Caper′na-um." (Jn 6:53-59, NRSV-CE). For those who prefer an older translation, compare that to the equally graphic text in the DR or KJV.

To help give the picture of what the Jews heard, take a look at the ancient Greek translation of Christ’s words. The first 2 occurrences of “eat” here are translated to the root “phago”, which carries the same meaning as “eat” in English (verses 53 and 54). But thereafter, Christ uses a different word which translates to “trago” in the Greek. This word is a much more graphic “gnaw/chew”. And not only is Christ telling them, in the most literal language possible, to “eat/gnaw/chew” His Flesh, he has just repeated Himself 7 times in 7 sentences (see v51-59). And to top it all off, He not only says, “For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed” (v. 54), but He had just identified “the bread which [He] shall give for the life of the world” with His very “flesh” (v. 51).

It's no wonder the Jews understood Him literally, and expressed their apparent disgust and confusion at His words. The question is, were they right to understand Him literally. Another question is WHY they understood Him literally.

In answering the first, some Protestants say the Jews were NOT correct...that Christ was speaking symbolically. But this doesn't make sense.

First of all, Jesus does not correct their understanding here. Instead, He gets MORE GRAPHIC and confirms their literal understanding...INDEED. He takes it up to a higher and more literal level as soon as they question His words. In verse 51 Christ says, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh”. And here they express their literal interpretation: “The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”” (Jn 6:52) Verse 53 continues into the very title of this post: “So Jesus said to them...

In all the parables where Christ was speaking symbolically or in metaphor, His audience understands exactly that. And in every parable that His audience doesn't completely grasp the message (which seems to be most of them,), He pulls His Disciples aside and explains it to them, either on His own initiative, or prompted by their questions. But there is none of that in John 6. His audience understands Him literally, He clarifies by getting even MORE literal and MORE graphic...repeating Himself 6 more times to clarify...confirming that His Flesh is “food indeed”…and His Disciples understand Him literally. Not once during or after does He explain some symbolism or metaphor, nor does He pull His Disciples aside to explain any symbolism to them. No, He watches many of His Disciples walk away and no longer follow Him (v. 66) , turns to the 12 and says, “...will you also leave? (v. 67)”. And what do they say? Peter, speaking for them, expresses the lack of full understanding they have, yet the trust they have in His Truth, and says, “Lord, to whom shall we go?...You have the words of everlasting life” (Jn 6:68).

Another reason a symbolic interpretation makes no sense is that we DO have examples of Christ speaking figuratively/symbolically of food, where his disciples/Apostles take Him literally, and He corrects them: “Meanwhile the disciples besought him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” So the disciples said to one another, “Has any one brought him food?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work.” (Jn 4:31-34) We see it likewise in Mt 16:5-12: “When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”…[They think He is speaking about real bread, and He rebukes and corrects them.]…Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (Mt 16:5-12)

Still another reason it makes no sense to apply a symbolic meaning to Christ’s words is because eating one’s flesh and drinking his blood, in the symbolic sense, meant “to assault” the person. Ps 14:4, Is 9:18-20, Is 49:26, Mic 3:3, 2Sam 23:15-17, Rev 17:6,16, etc…show this clearly. So, to place a symbolic meaning onto Christ’s words, you have to believe that Christ said, “…unless you assault me, you have no life within you. He who assaults me will have eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day…”. It makes no sense at all to apply a symbolic meaning here.

Keep in mind that the people closest to Jesus, who knew Him personally, followed Him, knew the language and the figures of speech, His Disciples and Apostles and those who ministered to Him daily throughout His public ministry, who heard Him preach and witnessed all His miracles…all took Him literally. Both the people who accepted, AND those who rejected Him understood His literal meaning. In fact, it was that literal meaning which was the dividing line for them, so to speak…the proverbial “line in the sand”: “But there are some of you that do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that should betray him. And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. Jesus said to the twelve, “Will you also go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.
” (Jn 6:64-69) Did you catch that? Unbelief in Christ’s giving of His Body and Blood, according to their literal understanding, is equated by Christ as unbelief…”you that do not believe”. In verse 66 some choose to abandon Him, to reject Christ, because of this teaching.

Now, some Protestants claim that, although the Jews took Christ literally, that He actually clarifies His symbolic meaning in verse 63. And then, despite His clarification, they STILL misunderstand Him and leave Him nonetheless. This also makes no sense. Christ still allowed them to leave with not so much as 1 sentence to clarify, and said that they “do not believe”. Let’s look at what John records here: “Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (Jn 6:60-63). Notice Christ says, “THE flesh is of no avail”. He does not say, “My Flesh”. And He says the words He has spoken are “spirit and life”. Christ is chastising them for trying to understand in “the flesh” instead of in “the spirit”. Scripture shows us that “the flesh” in this context meant using limited human understanding, as opposed to understanding through God’s limitless Power…relying on “the flesh” instead of “the spirit”. It also referred to our earthly/physical/human nature, as opposed to our spiritual/heavenly life. There are over 50 references in the NT alone in this context, among them: Mt 26:41, Mk 14:38, Jn 1:13, John 3:6, Rom 8:9-13, Rom 9:3, 1Cor 3:1-3, 5:5, Gal 5:17, Phil 1:16, 1Pet chapters 1-4, 1Jn 2:16….

Here are two critical errors Protestants make in claiming verse 63 “proves” a symbolic meaning:

1) They understand Christ to have said “MY flesh is of no avail”. This is unavoidable if one claims v.63 as Christ’s clarification of symbolism. The entire explicit context of the preceding verses was that Christ’s Flesh is true food to be eaten. If, in verse 63, He meant to clarify the symbolic meaning of all that, Protestants must conclude that Christ meant, “My Flesh is of no avail; the words I have spoken…are spirit and life.” The only way around that is to say exactly as I have clarified above…that “the flesh” is in regards to their use of human understanding while trying to grasp something that can only be understood in “the spirit”.
2) They make the Crucifixion of Christ nothing more than a symbol. Remember, Christ equated “the bread I will give for the life of the world” to “my flesh”. How did He give His flesh for the life of the world? He died for us…He was crucified for us. “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (Jn 6:51) If Christ only symbolically gives us His flesh to eat, then He also only symbolically died on the cross. If it is really only “bread”, and nothing more, that Christ gave us to eat symbolically, then it is only bread, symbolizing His Flesh, which was nailed to the Cross. There is no way around that unfortunate conclusion for Protestants who interpret John 6 symbolically. The truth is, Christ was REALLY nailed to that Cross and gave His REAL Flesh for the world, and gives it to us perpetually and REALLY under the appearance of “bread”.

Finally, on the supposed symbolic explanation in verse 63, the Protestant also has to conclude that the spirit is only symbolic. If “the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” means “symbolic” we have a real problem on our hands from the Protestant point of view. First, there is no Scriptural basis for interpreting “spirit” as “symbolic”. The spirit is shown in Scripture not only to be REAL, but more real than our human physical existence. I am not aware of any occurrence in Scripture of the word “spirit” where it means “symbolic”…and it occurs well over 500 times. I don’t suppose any Protestant is prepared to profess his faith in the “Father, Son, and Holy “symbolic””? No, that makes no sense as Christians. And again, we have to keep in mind the context of Scriptures. To “symbolically” eat one’s flesh and drink one’s blood means “to assault” (cf. Ps 14:4, Is 9:18-20, Is 49:26, Mic 3:3, 2Sam 23:15-17, Rev 17:6,16).

This brings us to the second question: WHY did the Jews understand Christ literally, and why should we also? [...stay tuned for Part 2...]

Monday, September 23, 2013

What Does the Church Teach About Infant Baptism? (No Commentary, Just the Facts)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which explains the what, why, how, etc…of Catholic doctrines, says this about Baptizing infants:

“Following St. Paul, the Church has always taught that the overwhelming misery which oppresses men and their inclination towards evil and death cannot be understood apart from their connection with Adam's sin and the fact that he has transmitted to us a sin with which we are all born afflicted, a sin which is the "death of the soul". Because of this certainty of faith, the Church baptizes for the remission of sins even tiny infants who have not committed personal sin.” (CCC 403)

“Where infant Baptism has become the form in which this sacrament is usually celebrated, it has become a single act encapsulating the preparatory stages of Christian initiation in a very abridged way. By its very nature infant Baptism requires a post-baptismal catechumenate. Not only is there a need for instruction after Baptism, but also for the necessary flowering of baptismal grace in personal growth. the catechism has its proper place here.” (CCC 1231)

“Today in all the rites, Latin and Eastern, the Christian initiation of adults begins with their entry into the catechumenate and reaches its culmination in a single celebration of the three sacraments of initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist. In the Eastern rites the Christian initiation of infants also begins with Baptism followed immediately by Confirmation and the Eucharist, while in the Roman rite it is followed by years of catechesis before being completed later by Confirmation and the Eucharist, the summit of their Christian initiation.” (CCC 1233)

The Baptism of infants
1250 Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called. The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism. The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth.

1251 Christian parents will recognize that this practice also accords with their role as nurturers of the life that God has entrusted to them.

1252 The practice of infant Baptism is an immemorial tradition of the Church. There is explicit testimony to this practice from the second century on, and it is quite possible that, from the beginning of the apostolic preaching, when whole "households" received baptism, infants may also have been baptized.” (CCC 1250-1252)

“As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward children which caused him to say: "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them," allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church's call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.” (CCC 1261)

“Since the earliest times, Baptism has been administered to children, for it is a grace and a gift of God that does not presuppose any human merit; children are baptized in the faith of the Church. Entry into Christian life gives access to true freedom.” (CCC 1282)

“In the first centuries Confirmation generally comprised one single celebration with Baptism, forming with it a "double sacrament," according to the expression of St. Cyprian. Among other reasons, the multiplication of infant baptisms all through the year, the increase of rural parishes, and the growth of dioceses often prevented the bishop from being present at all baptismal celebrations. In the West the desire to reserve the completion of Baptism to the bishop caused the temporal separation of the two sacraments. the East has kept them united, so that Confirmation is conferred by the priest who baptizes...” (CCC 1290)

For discussion and a look at the Scriptural basis for Infant Baptism, check these posts out:
Scriptural support for infant baptism.

Infant baptism through the eyes of the old covenant

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Led Home by the Sign of His Cross (Briana Manthei)

When I met the woman who would later become my wife, one of the things that impressed me was how well she knew her Faith.  In fact, she could (and did) tell me  more than a few things about it that I (as a "cradle-Catholic") had not known or understood.  Perhaps the difference between us was a "because I have to" or "my Mom is making me learn this" attitude on my part.  Whereas with her, she WANTED to know the Truth.  She wanted to open her heart to God and let Him guide her where HE wanted her.  That attitude was one I would not fully adopt until I was already an adult.  For your reading pleasure, here is my wife's conversion story, "Led Home by the Sign of His Cross": 

I was raised in a Protestant home. My mom grew up in the Southern Baptist Church, and my dad didn't grow up in church, but was baptized as an adult, the same day I was baptized as a three-month old. We attended a Presbyterian (PCUSA) church, and it was there that I learned the basics of the Christian faith. I am still friends with some of those church members, and have many happy memories of mornings spent in Sunday school, listening to the pastor preach, and going to the nearby PCUSA summer camp. My parents divorced when I was nine, but my mom always made sure that my brother and I got to church every Sunday. She taught us to love God, to know right from wrong, and to treat other people the way we want to be treated. When my grandparents were visiting, we attended the local Baptist church with them, and we attended VBS there in the summers. I would often spend the night with friends and visit their churches with them as well. One Saturday night I spent the night with a Catholic friend. I must have been about 10 years old. The next day we went to Mass with her family. I was enthralled by how everyone dipped their hands in the holy water font and made the sign of the cross. After I got home I went into the bathroom and secretly got a cup of water and practiced doing what I had seen everyone else doing at Mass.

Growing up I'd heard many of the myths about the Catholic Church that Protestant kids probably typically hear - Catholics worship statues, Catholics place Mary above Jesus, Catholics aren't allowed to read the Bible – you know the drill. Mostly they were centered around Mary though, and that was my biggest hang-up. When I was 14, I enrolled in our church's confirmation class, and oddly enough, one of the requirements of the class was that we all attend a Catholic Mass together! We did this one Saturday evening, as we tried our best to blend in, sitting inconspicuously in the back pew of the same parish I had attended a few years before. That's when I heard a girl in my class whisper to another girl, “They believe that the bread actually becomes the body and blood of Christ.” I couldn't believe what I was hearing. How could someone believe that? Even so, I was very interested in the Mass, and in the tour of the sacristy that the priest gave us afterwards. I knew I wanted a crucifix necklace as a confirmation gift, and it was given to me by some Catholic friends of ours who attended my confirmation. I felt that it was more meaningful than just a cross, and I wore it regularly. The following year, some major problems developed in that church and we left it for another, smaller PCUSA church.

When I was 17, my younger brother began attending a Catholic school. He would bring home his book from religion class and show it to my mom, and they started saying things like, “Wow, that makes a lot of sense.” Around the same time, my mom, a social worker, began working with a community of Mexican migrant workers. The priest, Fr. Scott, who, little did we know was an apologetics master after trying to prove the Church wrong years earlier, gave her a Janet Smith tape called “Contraception: Why Not?” to listen to. His cover was, “if you are going to be working with these people, you need to understand what they believe.” So one morning I was getting ready for school, and I hear my mom listening to this tape. I was like, “Uh, Mom, what on EARTH are you listening to?” That was when I started to get worried. Things were moving a little too fast in the Catholic direction for me! Ironically, the Church's teaching on contraception later ended up being one of the easiest teachings for me to accept.

I remember going to Mass at my brother's school one night, I think it was Open House Night. The chapel was absolutely gorgeous, and the Mass was beautiful as well. I loved the music and the incense, all of it. There is also a fascinating replica of the Shroud of Turin in the back. But still, I thought, “this isn't for us!” (As a side note, six years later, my now husband and I, kneeling in front of a statue of our Blessed Mother, got engaged in this chapel, and the priest at the rectory blessed my ring. It was one of the best days of my life!)

As all of these events were preparing to reach their inevitable peak, I left to spend my senior year of high school as an exchange student in Spain. Although lapsed, my host family was, of course, Catholic, and had mostly warm feelings toward the Faith. We attended Mass on Christmas Eve at a huge basilica, and of course I toured many churches and cathedrals during my year there. Looking back, especially when I flip through the photo albums, I wish I had been able to appreciate them more from a Catholic perspective at that time, but of course God was working on me, and His timing is perfect. Somewhere in the middle of my year there, my mom and brother called me and announced that they had decided to become Catholic. I was not really that surprised, but I was upset. My mom told me that it was totally fine that I remain Protestant and continue to attend my own church, but that she felt that this was where God was leading them. I blurted out, “God wouldn't lead you to become Catholic!” When my host family asked why I was upset, and I told them, they said, “Oh, that's great! Catholicism is wonderful!” I felt like the black sheep of both families.

When I returned home, things were tense due to some separate family issues. That was the hardest year of my life. At first, I had continued to attend my Presbyterian church, but after a few months, I just started going to Mass with my mom and brother. I attended RCIA with them as well, partly to learn alongside them (although I made it clear that I would NOT be joining the Church), and partly because we all shared one car. The class was small, and the deacon who led it was wonderful, gently explaining the truths of the Faith. I remember hearing him talk about the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, and thinking in the back of my mind that it made a lot of sense. But I knew it just couldn't be true! It was hard for me to let go of my pre-conceived notions about Mary, and to accept how Catholics viewed her, even when presented with the truth of what the Church actually teaches. The class had a Christmas party, and the facilitators provided gifts for all of us, which were pocket calendars, each with the image of a different saint on the front. I got Our Lady of Guadalupe. I really thought it was a trick.

But my heart gradually softened. By the time Holy Week rolled around, I had actually thought briefly of asking if I could be confirmed at the Easter Vigil too. But I just wasn't quite ready. I still had some reservations about the Eucharist, and I figured I would wait and keep searching. A couple of months after the Easter Vigil, we were at Mass, and something was different. I felt a part of things, like I was a member of a big family, like I belonged there. When the priest began Mass, I forced myself to make the sign of the cross with everyone else. It was hard, and I really had to force myself, because in a way it was like I was admitting defeat. But at the same time, it felt right. The gospel reading that day was from John chapter 6. I felt the last of my doubts melting away, and that night I announced to my family that I had decided to become Catholic. At the Easter Vigil in the year 2000, I entered the Church, in the same parish where I had first seen everyone making the sign of the cross so many years before, and where I had first heard the truth of the Eucharist. It was a glorious day! I knew that I had finally come home, and I've never regretted it.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

CMTV's Reply to "A Catholic Answer to 'The Scandal of NFP'": Refuted

In A Catholic Response to "The Scandal of NFP" I pointed out where Church Militant TV overstepped in trying to tell lay Catholics who use NFP just how "serious" their reasons need to be, misrepresented what NFP is, and implicitly linked NFP use with contraception, among other things.  I sent that article to CMTV for a response.  What I got was an email reply from the CMTV Executive Producer that did everything EXCEPT address my concerns.  I responded to that with a rebuttal and I have received the go-ahead from CMTV to post this in its entirety.  
 
Because a few links (to sources that he wanted me to study) were not in my final response, nor was this article that I refer to as "anti-Catholic propaganda", I am providing a link HERE to a Catholic Answers Forum thread where these appear in their entirety on Page 2 of that thread.
 
The purpose of posting this is 2-fold:  1) to help people recognize logical fallacies in arguments, regardless of the topic, and  2) to provide NFP users, who are told that they may have a contraceptive mind-set, an example of reframing arguments so that the topic remains on what the Church ACTUALLY DOES teach, not on what private theologians and laymen think the Church SHOULD teach. 
 
CMTV's email reply is in black, my responses are in blue

Dear David,

Thank you for sharing your thoughtful response.

You are welcome, and I appreciate you responding and taking the time to visit with me. 

I can't tell from your response to "The Scandal of NFP" whether you listened to the program on which it was based, the Mic'd Up episode of August 28, the previous Wednesday, where Michael Voris interviewed both Christopher Gawley, author of a recent essay on NFP, and Dr. Mike Manhart from the Couple to Couple League. I don't know that it will change your understanding of what was said in the subsequent Vortex episode, but it would provide a more complete understanding of why Michael said what he said.

I am aware of Michael's position (CMTV's position), which I actually clarify in the first paragraph of my response, as well as later on in it. I start out by giving him the benefit of the doubt that his goal was to present the message that he has held since I began watching his program years ago. My argument is not against Mr. Voris' position on NFP-marketing or the contraceptive mentality in our culture. I made it clear that I agree with him on these points at least twice in my response. The issue I address in my argument is the message actually conveyed by this particular Vortex episode.

To understand "The Scandal of NFP," it would helpful to be familiar with the sources which formed and shaped it. Your reflection is well reasoned within the limits of what you understand Michael to have said and all the issues involved. But your perspective is incomplete.

With all due respect, my perspective is neither incomplete, nor does it have any effect on the message conveyed by this Vortex episode. You are arguing a logical fallacy in which Michael's message is dependent upon what his viewers have already viewed. For this to be legitimate, you'd have to assume that EVRY Vortex viewer has seen and read ALL those other sources you presented and NONE of his viewers would view this episode independently of those other sources. That's not logical.  

I'm not going to respond to each of your points because that would concede that the points you raise are all the important ones and the only ones that need to be considered.

When I respond to someone, I usually respond to any point I feel like I am able to or that jumps out at me, especially ones that potentially weaken my own position if not addressed. There are a few such points I made in my response that you chose not to address which directly contradict Voris' message in that Vortex episode. I believe these are some of the most important ones (such as Voris' complaint about the Bishops calling NFP a “good”, in light of what JPII and Paul VI had to say about periodic abstinence, and the Church teachings I provided that discuss who has the right to discern birth regulation in a Marriage, and Voris' “definition” of serious reasons vs. a Pope's), and I am asking you now to go back and address them.   

You are reasoning from within your own experience and your limited understanding of how the Church has addressed this issue over the centuries.

You are trying to say that MY understanding will determine whether Michael correctly represented the Church's teachings on NFP. Terry, you have resorted to logical fallacy twice already, and you have yet to support Michael's message in “The Scandal of NFP” with Church teaching or any other objective fact. I quoted 8 different sources of authentic Church teaching dating back to 1853, when the issue of natural birth regulation was first addressed by the Magesterium. This issue was not addressed much before this time, due to the lack of scientific knowledge regarding the fertility cycle. 

If we are to seek a "hermeneutic of continuity" with the past, it is necessary to understand what the Church teaches today in light of what it has taught before, not merely in terms of what the Church has taught for the past 150 years or so.

So, are you saying that what the Church teaches today is different than what it taught before? Not only did I quote from Church teaching from 160 years ago, but I also quoted from modern sources such as the Cathechism (released during Pope JPII's Papacy) and the Compendium released by Pope Benedict XVI. I have also read the opinions of several theologians (both sides of the aisle) and I am not seeing where there is any lack of "hermeneutic of continuity".  I DO, however, see where the message conveyed by Mr. Voris in this particular episode is opposed to the continuous teaching of the Church. Within my initial letter, I see 160 years of continuity...whereas in Voris' message, I see a newly developed opinion by a few theologians which is not supported by the Catholic Church, and in fact contradicts it.

You did ask in your reflection where, in Church teaching, is periodic continence described as a "dispensation." I believe you provided your own answer in the quote you include from Pope Pius XII:



“Serious motives, such as those which not rarely arise from medical, eugenic, economic and social so-called "indications," may exempt husband and wife from the obligatory, positive debt for a long period or even for the entire period of matrimonial life.”

Intentional limitation of marital relations to the infertile times is allowed as an exemption from "the obligatory, positive debt" of the marriage covenant. I consider "exemption" and "dispensation" to be synonymous here. Husbands and wives have an obligation before God to be open, always, to the blessings of children as potential new citizens of Heaven. For "serious motives," husbands and wives may be exempt from this obligation, for short periods of time or even the entirety of their marriage.

I'm not interested in what YOU consider. I am interested in what the CHURCH considers. "Exemptions" are not "dispensations", and the "positive marital debt" is not equal to "NFP" or "periodic continence".
Mass, as an example, gets a dispensation under certain circumstances because Mass is required on specific days. This dispensation is one that must be granted by the Bishop or other authority. The positive martial debt has no such schedule Michael claimed that “NFP is a dispensation”. It's now CMTV's burden to show where the Church has explicitly granted this dispensation for couples to chart their cycles. You also bear the burden to show the specific days upon which the Church requires a couple to have sex, since every dispensation is related to an act (attending Mass, fasting, etc...) which has a specific requirement. CMTV does not get to make up Church teaching on a new supposed dispensation that does not exist. 
 Further, Pius XII was speaking about sexual intercourse - exempting husband and wife from the positive debt for whatever period. NFP is not a withholding of the marital debt...it's charting cycles and gathering information. Couples who practice NFP often DO have sex. Some simply choose to abstain from sex on fertile days. Or they may choose to have sex on fertile days. Unless you can show where married couples are required to have sex on fertile days in any given cycle, the claim of “dispensation” is NOT supported by any Church teaching. 
 And unless you can show that NFP is ONLY for couples who wish to avoid conception, your whole premise here falls flat. 
In fact, NFP is used very often by couples TRYING to conceive. This makes Mr. Voris' claim even more illogical because now he has just claimed that attempting to procreate with the help of charting requires a dispensation.

I don't think it is accurate to describe NFP as nothing more than "gathering information." There is a purpose to the gathering of that information so that it may inform behavior. That information can be used well or poorly. It can be used virtuously or not.

Well, I respect your opinion, but I am going now to ask you to give me an example of how the gathering of information in NFP can be used poorly or non-virtuously. Please explain to me how it is not virtuous, or a poor decision, for a couple to decide to exercise self-control on a particular day/night and abstain from the Marital Act. You aren't going to be able to do it, because it will necessarily require you to cross a line that [Saint] Pope John Paul II has said is a “grave offence” to cross. You have to commit a “grave offence” to support your position here, or you have to concede the point.

I don't see it as all that different from the "gathering of information" used in insider trading. There is no sin in the "gathering of information" unless that information is used immorally or illegally.Within NFP, one can use that information to inform the decision to act or not to act in a specific way, just as one can use "insider trading" information to act or not to act in a specific way.

Terry, seriously?! Logical fallacy number 4. And please explain what is immoral in a couple exercising self-control and abstaining from the Marital Act at any given moment. (Authentic Catholic source please.)

The sin, if there is any, lies in the decision regarding how one will act. NFP allows couples with "serious motives" to refrain from sexual relations during the fertile times, and to engage in sexual relations during the infertile times. There's a lot more to the evaluation of the morality or immorality of NFP in a given instance than observing that it is a morally neutral "gathering of information."

Now you need to show where it is immoral for a couple “to refrain from sexual relations during the fertile times, and to engage in sexual relations during the infertile times”. That is your claim, and your burden to prove...and it's NOT a Catholic position.

If I "gather information" to help me kill someone, that "information gathering" is hardly morally neutral.

Logical fallacy number 5. 

NFP is, in our judgment, something permitted by the Church in response to exceptional situations...

Your judgment is completely irrelevant. YOU don't get to decide what Church teaching is or put words into the Magesterium's mouth. NFP for the purpose of avoiding pregnancy is “periodic continence”, and the Church has already expressed her view on it. And the Church's view is much different than yours. Why do I, as a Catholic, need to conform my view to your opinion?

...that is, unfortunately, marketed and often practiced as a routine part of Catholic marriage and as a natural rather than artificial method of birth control.

Why do you have a problem with couples routinely practicing NFP? And how do you know NFP is often practiced as a routine part of Marriage? 
 And wouldn't it be wise to have the knowledge that NFP gives, since a couple never knows when they may need to use it? Do you think it's wise to wait until a life/death situation before a couple starts to learn how to chart, when the risk of failure [of the method] is high? Why not learn the method and become comfortable with how it works before sexual activity is part of the picture? 
 It's helpful to have this knowledge beforehand. No one is going to force married couples to avoid pregnancy. However, the Church calls the regulation of births an aspect of responsible fatherhood and motherhood (CCC 2399). Are you wiser than the Church that you're going to tell me it's not?

I know, NFP is routinely defended as "not birth control" but that's a bit disingenuous, don't you think?

No, I don't think it is when you understand what they mean by “birth control”. In theology, sure it would...but the people the Church is reaching while teaching NFP are not theologians. Their definition of “birth control” is often contraception. So the people speaking in these terms are not being disingenuous, they are meeting people where they are. But then in the theological realm your position is even weaker, because theologically, “birth control” = “birth regulation” and the Church does not teach against this...in fact calls it “an aspect of responsible [parenthood]” (CCC 2399).

NFP isn't really doing nothing but gathering information! It is information gathered to control something, either conception or its avoidance. True, there is no "contraceptive act" in NFP since abstinence is judged as "doing nothing." But if it's really "doing nothing," then why is it so hard to do? When I fast from food, am I really "doing nothing?"

Logical fallacy #6. Can you please explain how abstaining from sex is a sin? (Authentic Church Document please.) Human beings like to eat, which is why fasting (the lack of eating) is hard. Human beings also like to have sex, which is why fasting from sex (abstinence) is hard. However, food is required to stay alive. Sex is not. There is no established minimum interval at which married couples must engage in the marital act. 

One last point I would like you to consider. We all know and accept that periodic continence is permitted by the Church in response to serious circumstances.

Yes. Where we disagree, and the point of my initial response to “The Scandal of NFP” is where someone tries to decide for another couple what their serious reasons are. JPII called this a “grave offence”.

But since we know that NO method of avoiding pregnancy is perfect and 100% effective, why is the diminished risk through NFP worth it at all? It seems to me that if one's reasons for avoiding pregnancy are truly serious -- economic hardship, psychological issues, risk of death etc. -- why is ANY degree of risk worth it?

Irrelevant, logical fallacy #7. And what are you proposing as an alternative in these dire straits? Total abstinence? The Church has taught that the marital debt is to not to be withheld except by spousal consent. It's the couple's choice...no one else's. 

Is it not a bit like playing Russian Roulette with one's serious reasons?

No, it's not a bit like that because, when a couple knows there is a high likelihood of conception, they are exercising self-control and abstaining. At the same time, they realize that their Marriage is properly ordered toward procreation, so when they DO have sex, they will properly order it so and accept a child if God grants it to them. Why do you have a problem with this?

Why risk severe economic hardship, psychological damage, or life itself, for sex?

Logical fallacy #8. But, you have just refuted yourself. The Vortex episode in question makes it seem like NFP is so accurate that it's just like “contraception lite” according to Voris...that pregnancy can't occur.  [You are now arguing that it is so inaccurate that pregnancy may very well occur.]
 One of you has refuted the other. If you accept the point you JUST made...that pregnancy CAN occur in the infertile times, you have just proven that couples practicing NFP are open to life and your entire premise in that Vortex episode just fell flat on its face.  

We all know that total abstinence is 100% effective in preventing births.

Agreed, and if a couple chooses that, good for them. But the Church teaches that a couple must agree to this because the marital debt cannot be withheld, except with “consent for a time” for the purpose of prayer (1Cor 7:5). This point was driven home by St. Gregory the Great (Regula Pastoralis, Part III, Caput xxvii) in the 6th century. How's that for a hermeneutic of continuity?

Is the routine practice of NFP within Catholic marriages, as if it were an integral part of daily married life and not merely a response to unexpected challenges, truly virtuous?

According to the Catholic Church, yes it is. I have provided ample quotes and citations from the Church saying so. On the other hand, CMTV, who seems to think it NOT virtuous, has provided NO Catholic Church teachings to defend their position. 

Are we really better off having the choices that NFP makes possible to us? Are we really able to be as confident as our Catholic ancestors could be that they were trusting in Divine Providence?

What choice does NFP offer us other than whether or not to have sex on a particular day? Have Christians only just now been able to decide when and when not to have sex? Logical fallacy #9 gets you no where.

I'll leave you with a very interesting essay forwarded to us by someone who wishes to remain anonymous after listening to the Mic'd Up episode on NFP:

How about instead of insulting my intelligence by sending me an anonymous article comparing NFP to infanticide, you support your position with actual Church teaching and some objective facts? The “article” goes on and on about the evils of choice, and then concludes by telling us, “one chooses either God and renunciation of self-will or else the world and its choices.” It speaks of “choice” as being a bad thing, whereas the Church teaches that choice is our “inalienable right” (Pope JP II) and as an exercise of “disicpline ,which is proper to the purity of the married couples” (Pope Paul VI). What about the choice to get Married? Is the freedom to choose a vocation bad? If you don't see the irony and utter lack of similarity to Catholic doctrine in this article, I don't know what else to say. It's no wonder the author chose to remain anonymous after writing this embarrassment to Christianity. Terry, you owe me an apology on behalf of CMTV for sending me that degrading anti-Catholic propaganda to read.

Also, to show fairness, and because I DO support the work that CMTV does, I will hold off on posting this response for a couple days (say, until Wednesday morning) to give you a chance to address the 9 instances of fallacious reasoning.  

May God bless you and CMTV in your mission to bring light into darkness.

-Dave Manthei


[slightly edited for brevity and clarity, April 2016]