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]

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A Catholic Response to “The Scandal of NFP”


On “The Vortex” episode released September 5, 2013, Mr. Michael Voris discusses what he feels is a scandal in the making centered around a Catholic couple’s welcoming, or not, of children per Catholic Doctrine. In all honesty, I believe Mr. Voris is sincere and is focused on what SOME Parishes SEEM to be doing…which is advertising NFP as a form of “Catholic Birth Control”. But, his Vortex episode does not make this distinction…that’s my own appraisal, giving him the benefit of the doubt. If we take his episode at face value, not only does he misrepresent what NFP is, but he crosses over a boundary in trying to discern for every Catholic couple whether they can use NFP or not.

Here’s just a quick overview on NFP: NFP is information that can tell a couple whether they are fertile or infertile, whether they can increase or decrease their chances of conception, on any given day (by engaging in an act, or abstaining from it). Sex is an act. Contraception is the acting-against-conception that takes place when an act is engaged in. Catholic married couples are not required to have sex at any particular interval. Catholic couples are required, by God’s natural moral law, to have sex in the natural manner WHEN THEY DO have sex.

Here are a couple of quick questions we can ask to determine whether or not NFP can be used as contraception (these will be important later):

1) How is it possible to remove the procreative nature from an act that is not taking place?
2) How is it possible to remove the procreative nature of an act that is infertile by God’s design (the “infertile period”) when that act is being completed in the natural manner?

Moving on…

At the end of his segment, Voris says, “…no one here is trashing the authentic need for spacing of children in authentically challenging circumstances”. Rather, he is going after the “attitude, which sounds and feels very much like the culture at large that couples need to be taught how to have sex and avoid children AS A MATTER OF ROUTINE” [emphasis in original script].

I think Mr. Voris is being disingenuous, however. While he says he's not after those who use it authentically, his starting point contradicts this…as does his seeming need to define for every couple what an “authentic” need might be. I find it disconcerting that Mr. Voris has deemed himself able to discern what every couple’s true authentic reasons for spacing children are, even though the Popes, or the Magisterial Church, never did. But I’ll get to that in a bit. I’ll start first with Michael’s opening, and move down from there.

If you go to the US Bishop’s website…it’s actually celebrated as a good in itself. Not a single word mentioned…that NFP is actually a dispensation from what has been taught for centuries by the Church.

What’s wrong with the Bishops saying that Natural Family Planning, aka Natural Birth Regulation, aka “periodic continence” which a couple plans, is a good? Is there something “bad” about it? Is there something sinister in a couple, for just reasons, wanting to NOT have sex? Is there something sinister in a couple, for just reasons, having sex at predetermined times as long as they complete the act in the natural manner? No, there’s nothing wrong with that, nothing bad.
 NFP is not a “dispensation” as Mr. Voris claims. NFP is information. If Mr. Voris means to say that abstaining during certain days is a dispensation, he would need to give a Catholic source which directs married couples in the minimum frequency with which it is acceptable to engage in the marital act. Can anyone provide, from an authentic Catholic source from a Bishop, the Pope, the Magesterium, or any other authority in the Church, where NFP is referred to as a “dispensation” and where such a “dispensation” exists? No, because it's nonsensical to say that the gathering of information (which is what NFP is) requires a dispensation. It's also nonsensical to suggest that NFP is not good. In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say about it:

Periodic continence, that is, the method of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality.” (CCC 2370). It further summarizes: “The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood.” (CCC 2399).

And when discussing the regulations of births, the Compendium to the Catechism says, “The regulation of births, which is an aspect of responsible fatherhood and motherhood, is objectively morally acceptable when it is pursued by the spouses without external pressure; when it is practiced not out of selfishness but for serious reasons; and with methods that conform to the objective criteria of morality, that is, periodic continence and use of the infertile periods.” (Compendium to CCC, Question 497)

And Saint Pope JPII, quoting Pope Paul VI, writes, “Mastery over drives by one’s reason and free will undoubtedly requires ascesis so that the affective manifestations of conjugal love may be in accord with the right order, in particular with regard to observing periodic continence. Yet this discipline, which is proper to the purity of married couples, far from harming conjugal love, rather confers on it a higher human value. It demands continual effort yet, thanks to its beneficent influence, husband and wife develop their personalities integrally, enriching each other with spiritual values…It favors attention to one’s partner, helps both parties to drive out egoism, the enemy of true love, and deepens their sense of responsibility.” (Paul VI, HV 21 via Theology of the Body 59:6, emphasis mine)

I'm not seeing where there is something that is NOT good about any of that. In fact, Popes Paul VI and JPII both spoke of it in a GOOD way, PRAISING periodic continence. What it seems to boil down to is “serious reasons” (also called “just causes” and “grave reasons” interchangeably in various Church documents and various translations of those documents). And who discerns “serious reasons”? Well, according to the Church, ONLY THE COUPLE. You never find any Church document that prescribes the timeliness of childbearing for couples or sets some number of children that constitutes an openness to life. What you WILL find however, is this:

After mature examination, we have decided that such spouses should not be disturbed [or disquieted], provided they do nothing that impedes generation" (TheologIia Moral by J Montanchez, quoting the Magisterial response to Bishop of Amiens, France at the Sacred Penitentiary in 1853)

You might also see this: “ ...all pressures brought to bear in limiting "the freedom of couples in deciding about children constitute a grave offence against human dignity and justice" (Pope JPII, Homily In Perth (Australia) Apostolic Pilgrimage to Bangladesh, et. al., November 30, 1996.).

You will also find, in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, the following: “ The judgment concerning the interval of time between births, and that regarding the number of children, belongs to the spouses alone. This is one of their inalienable rights, to be exercised before God with due consideration of their obligations towards themselves, their children already born, the family and society...” (CSDC, 234).

Now, admittedly, the above 2 quotes (excluding the 1853 response) were more in regards to the state trying to compel its citizens in regards to child bearing and rearing. But the statements can't be clearer; when it comes to birth and spacing, it is the couple and the couple alone who have authority, under guidance of the Holy Spirit, to discern this. Any outside pressure it “a grave offence”.

Michael says that there is no mention on the Bishop's page of the blessing of large families and that such should be the default. Well, I agree that this is problematic, that the gift of children is not stressed enough in SOME cases. But, what’s that got to do with NFP? Is there some correlation between NFP use and small families, or childless couples? I have been studying and practicing NFP for years and interacting with couples who used it for years (hundreds of couples) and I don’t know of ANY NFP users that have what I’d consider a “small family”. It seems, rather, that NFP users are the ONLY couples that have large families, except for those who hold a “providentialist” or “quiver-full” mindset. So, unless there is some link between NFP and couples who don’t want/have large families, this whole point regarding the Bishop’s page is pointless when discussing NFP.

Mr. Voris goes on to talk about serious reasons: “No one is saying there are not serious reasons for having to limit the number of children a couple will have…but the reasons must be SERIOUS, GRAVE” [sic]. “The default is to engage in the marital act and accept whatever, if any children God blesses the couple with.”

Yes, so what makes Mr. Voris think that NFP users DON’T, by default, engage and accept what may come? Again, is there some correlation between NFP users and couples with few/no children? No. No such correlation exists. So why make this point? It carries the implicit message that people who use NFP are using it to regulate childbirth for frivolous reasons and as a non-chemical contraception. Later, Michael says that despite the legitimate uses of NFP that it is “sold” as contraception, namely as “contraception-lite”. “It has much more of a feeling of “hey, look, we Catholics can have sex and avoid pregnancy just like the contraceptive culture, but we don’t use ARTIFICIAL [sic] methods, so we are square with God.”

Really, Michael? If that’s the feeling you have gotten from NFP users, then I wager you have not met very many. Because, of the HUNDREDS of couples I know who use it, this is simply not the case. Couples who use NFP don’t get any enjoyment, that I have ever noticed, out of having to abstain from the marital embrace during the fertile period, when sex drive is at its peak. NFP couples don’t celebrate having to postpone sexual intercourse; they don’t think that they get to have sex whenever they want…because they DON’T get to have sex whenever they want. They are ABSTAING from sex during the times when they MOST WANT each other. I don’t know of ANY couple that does this for a frivolous reason, and then smiles about it on top of that. [A show of hands here please: How many reading this get a thrill, to the tune of that had by contraception users - as Michael compares us to - from getting to abstain from sex during the fertile period? Anyone? No? Well…we’ll give it more time and see if a few more people read this and can vote in the affirmative….]

For anyone reading this who still wants to compare NFP to contraception, I invite you now to answer the questions I posed above in the third paragraph. You can add to it this one: Is it okay for a Catholic to NOT have sex, and is it okay for a Catholic couple to have sex purposefully during the infertile period? (Make sure you cite authentic Catholic Doctrine here. )

But now let’s look at Michael’s definition of “serious” reasons. “Issues like serious psychological or physical health reasons or HEAVY overwhelming financial burdens (for however short a time they may last) MAY be considerations for postponing conception.” (emphasis in original)

Here’s the problem I have with this…that’s Michael Voris pontificating, if you will, with his own personal emphasis on his own personal opinions, on a Church matter. Let’s compare what Michael said with what an actual Pope said:

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.” (Pius XII, Allocution to Midwives, emphasis mine)

Let’s be clear here: Pope Pius XII is saying something that seems to conflict with Voris’ view. Voris seems to be of the opinion that serious motives are to be “HEAVY”, and “overwhelming”, and “for however SHORT a time” (emphasis mine). But that’s NOT what the Church teaches. Further, Voris is focusing ONLY on childbirth, whereas the Church is focusing on the sex act itself. In other words, the problem with avoiding sex is NOT only in regulating births, per se, but in withholding the right of the spouse to have sex with his/her spouse. That’s why the couple, and only the couple, must discern this together…as a couple. Revisit for a moment what Pope JPII said along with the Compendium for Social Doctrine (paragraphs 11 and 12 above). The Church does not teach that couples need to churn out babies. It teaches that the marital debt should not be refused, except by agreement, and then only for as long a time as the couple deems necessary...and when the act IS engaged in, it must be ordered, per se, toward procreation. All the while, the Marriage is understood to be geared toward procreation and the welcoming of as many children as God will send.

Continuing with Pope Pius XII, “From this it follows that the observance of the natural sterile periods may be lawful, from the moral viewpoint: and it is lawful in the conditions mentioned. If, however, according to a reasonable and equitable judgment, there are no such grave reasons either personal or deriving from exterior circumstances, the will to avoid the fecundity of their union, while continuing to satisfy to tile full their sensuality, can only be the result of a false appreciation of life and of motives foreign to sound ethical principles.” (Pius XII, Allocution to Midwives)

In other words, if there is no just reason, then there is a sin involved…but the sin is in a desire to “satisfy…sensuality” resulting from “a false appreciation of life”. In other words, it can be lust mixed with selfishness. And here is where Michael has a valid point [that some married Catholic couples can be lustful and selfish in Marriage]…except he tries to fit NFP into this mentality and then further deems himself worthy of discerning what “serious motives” are for couples, instead of letting couples decide for themselves, like the Church teaches. Mr. Voris’ arguments falls into the same category of those who claim that NFP can be used with a “contraceptive mentality”. I beg to differ. I say that no NFP couple uses NFP with such a “contraceptive mentality”, and I challenge anyone to prove otherwise. My position is that those couples who DO have a “contraceptive mentality” will use contraception…because the “contraceptive mentality” has a direct conflict with the core aspect of NFP…abstinence as a matter of discipline during the time when abstinence is most difficult.

Can NFP be abused? Sure, in theory. But in practice? No.

Can NFP be misrepresented as a form of “Catholic Birth Control” or “contraception-lite”? Sure it can, by people who have either never practiced it or have no concept of how it actually works. (Remember, NFP is INFORMATION...not an ACT.)

Can NFP (to avoid conception) be used as “contraception-lite”? No, because it requires the one thing that contraception necessarily rejects: abstinence via self mastery.

[Link to the Vortex episode discussed:  http://www.churchmilitant.tv/daily/?today=2013-09-05 ]

[Just to note: CMTV eventually responded to me with a disappointing onslaught of logical fallacy from the producer, Terry Carroll. After giving him an opportunity to address the fallacious reasonings (so as to avoid embarrassing CMTV) I refuted his response HERE:

http://daves-ahumbleservant.blogspot.com/2013/09/cmtvs-reply-to-catholic-answer-to.html ]

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Shaming the Pastor with a Same-Sex "Marriage" Argument?

A video was posted to Facebook which plays a clip of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd responding to a Christian Pastor who asked how the Prime Minister could justify his stance on Same-Sex "Marriage" while simultaneously identifying himself as a Christian. "Why", the Pastor wanted to know, "should Christians vote for [him]" when he holds values that are contrary to Christian belief. (The title of the video is "A Pastor Asks A Politician Why He Supports Gay Marriage. It Seems He Wasn't Prepared For His Reply" It can be found on YouTube quite easily.)

Prime Minister Rudd responded, first by subjecting Christian Truth to his personal subjective opinions, and then avoided answering the question altogether by throwing out "strawmen" and resorting other fallacious reasoning tactics. While some same-sex "marriage" supporters will think he made some good points (and Christians will think otherwise), I'd like to give an objective view of his arguments. Instead of discussing the Christian position on same-sex "marriage" here, I'm going to focus on the argument made by the "politician". (I'll discuss the Christian perspective another day.)

The Pastor called into question the politician's self-identification as a Christian based on Christian theology. He specifically asked why Christians should vote for this man who self-identifies as Christian, yet supports SSM. Logically, one would expect the politician to answer the question and frame it within his Christian beliefs..."As a Christian, my faith teaches...". But the politician did not address Christian theology.  Instead he introduced a superficially similar topic (a "strawman") and argued that, along with a non-sequitur.

For example, he begins at Christian theology by pointing out that he came to his decision based on his "informed Christian conscience". Had he left it at that, his argument would be logically consistent, though he would then have to define, as a Christian, what a "well formed conscience" is per his particular Christian group's beliefs. While he would ultimately be wrong in his position (since Christian theology is incompatible with same-sex conjugal unions), he at least would have made a logically consistent point that stayed within the topic and would have allowed for the audience to draw their own conclusions as to whether he is right or wrong.

But, he did not do this.  Instead, he left his point on his "informed Christian conscience" up to subjective reasoning, dismissed the pastor's question, and went on to build up a strawman argument, which he then defeated, giving the impression that he had given a strong and reasoned answer to the Pastor's question. Here's what I mean:

He introduced his first strawman by arguing whether or not people are "born gay", which no scientific studies have demonstrated, so I'm not sure where he got his information.  He said that if it was natural/normal, then there is no reason to deny marriage to same-sex couples. But, there is no conclusive evidence that such is normal in the first place. AND, more to the point, it has nothing to do with whether he should attain the Christian vote, because Christianity is not based on what is considered "normal" in the human perspective, but rather, is focused on the Divine...on God's perspective. Instead of arguing what the Christian perspective/teaching is and whether he conforms to it, he side-steps that and introduces this "strawman". Winning the emotional sense of his audience on the perceived desire to fight for the rights of "normal" people, he defeats this strawman argument with ease. However, he has done nothing at all to answer the pastor as to why a Christian should vote for someone who holds views which are contradictory to Christianity.

Then he throws in a non-sequitur, which doubles here as a red-herring - slavery. He states that if we go by the Bible [to say that homosexuality is not normal], then we have to go by the Bible which says [allegedly] that slavery was normal. It's a red-herring because it draws the focus off the initial topic and casts a known hot-point into the mix. This gains him the emotional support of the audience who, obviously, is against slavery (as is the pastor, no doubt). It acts as a strawman in that, having defeated his "opponent" on the horrible issue of slavery, he is perceived to have refuted his opponent's position on human rights in general. And it's a non-sequitur because, regardless of what the Bible says (or doesn't say) about slavery, it does not follow that therefore homosexual carnal unions are okay within Christianity. His point here is invalid on several fronts. Not only does it not follow that, because "slavery" has been considered normal, that therefore homosexuality also should be, but we don't even know the definition of slavery being refuted here. He said that "the Bible says slavery is a natural condition". Yet, he neither provides the context for his claim, nor the citation, nor does he stick with the Biblical definition of slavery that the Jews understood at the time the Scriptures were recorded. "Slavery" back then did not mean the same thing it would mean 2,000-4,000 years down the road when we fought forced slavery in America. But that's not even the main point. The main point is, he has yet to stay on topic and defend his position of saying he is Christian, yet rejecting Chrisitan doctrine and expecting the Christian vote.

Prime Minister Rudd's whole argument was based on logical fallacies. While on the surface it seems the pastor was not ready for what the politician has to say, a deeper look shows that, clearly, the politician was not ready to give a logical defense for his position, he was not ready for what the Pastor asked. But what concerns me more is this: If he relies on the ignorance of his audience and dodges the issues BEFORE he is elected...what's he gonna do in office?  And there is yet an even more troubling issue here.  This man is claiming Christ...he is a Christian.  Yet, here he is attempting to pit the Word of God against none other than...the Word of God!  You see, everyone knows that slavery, as we understand it in the modern era, is a criminal injustice.  This Prime Minister, however, has painted a wrong picture of Scripture by misrepresenting the position on slavery within the Biblical Texts, and then uses that to basically say that we need to reject the Word of God since it has a supposed faulty position on slavery.  "If the Bible says [homosexuality is NOT normal], then we have to accept slavery as normal".  This position of his carries the explicit stance that he believes homosexuality to be NORMAL, which he has just implied the Bible is against, and therefore we need to understand that the Bible is WRONG [per his view].  Now, coming from an atheist, I'd expect a statement like that.  But remember the original context of the question he was asked, and how his supporters have portrayed him (as a Christian that supports SSM).  The final answer that the discerning Christian should walk away from is this:

The question:  "Why should you get the Christian vote even though your views are contrary to Christian values?"

Prime Minister's "Christian" answer:  "Because the Bible is wrong."

I am reminded of a particular passage here:  "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!" (Is 5:20)

Test Your Knowledge: True or False (provided by Brock Hammon)

Here are some true/false questions (with answers to follow) from The Missionary's Catechism by Russell L. Ford.
Mr. Hammon sent these to me to serve as a fun, thought-provoking exercise on various Christian topics. I'll post the answers in the "comments" section, but try to answer on your own first. :) Feel free to discuss any question more in depth.

True or False:

1. God changes, becoming more perfect each day.
2. The Incarnation is when God became man.
3. Mary is the Mother of God because she gave birth do a divine Person.
4. The Annunciation is when Mary was conceived.
5. Jesus is our Redeemer because He shed all His blood for the forgiveness of our sins.
6. Jesus ascended into Heaven to be our Mediator with the Father.
7. God did not give us free will, but predestined our entire lives.
8. The Holy Spirit is the Soul of the Church
9. St. Peter founded the Catholic Church
10. The Pope is the successor of Jesus.
11. The Pope is the visible head of the Catholic Church
12. Jesus founded the Church on St. Peter
13. The Catholic Church is holy because its founder, Jesus Christ, is holy.
14. To say the Church is indefectible is to say it will last until the end of time.
15. Infallibility means unerring on official teaching and also that the Pope is sinless.
16. Heresy is the deliberate denial of one or more truths of the Catholic faith.
17. Schism is the deliberate refusal to submit to the authority of the Pope.
18. Apostasy is the complete rejection of one's Catholic faith.
19. For a sin to be mortal, thus causing loss of sanctifying grace, three elements must be present: serious matter, sufficient reflection, and full consent of a free will; such a sin can send us to hell.
20. The Assumption is when Mary was taken body and soul to heaven.
21. Purgatory will end after the general judgment.
22. A scriptural basis for praying for the dead is found in II Maccabees.
23. The Bible is the sole source of Divine Revelation
24. Our resurrected bodies will be new and different.
25. Heaven is where we will see God forever.