Examiner.com: A fresh look at Catholicism; or, What can be learned by looking.

19 05 2009

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In the Southside of Birmingham, there are two churches which represent two different rites of Catholicism: St. Elias Maronite Catholic Church and St. George Greek Melkite Catholic Church. I have prayed with them in their respective liturgies and have found that I more deeply appreciate the heritage and the tradition which they have brought to the whole Church: the plethora of singing and chanting; the proud use of incense; the bells; the reverence and kissing (not worship) of icons and Scripture; the use of Arabic, Aramaic, and Lebanese languages; the use of all of these sacramentals creates an “atmosphere” of worshiping Someone. Though I am a Roman Catholic, I usually find that I resonate more with the traditions and approaches to Christian life, thought, and prayer of Eastern Catholicism than with that of Roman Catholicism. (This is in no way a denunciation of Roman Catholicism, nor that Eastern Catholicism is “right,” and Roman Catholicism is “wrong.” It is merely an affirmation of my resonance with Eastern Christianity – I find it to be more “home-y”.)

Thinking of these liturgical rituals (as well as Eastern Catholic “thought,” “prayer,” and the many other avenues down which one could travel) leads one to realize that there is a depth to Catholicism of which many of us are unaware (I will be forever-digging, too, it seems). There are thousands of books, teachings, and ways of life from multiple cultures (indeed, continents) which span over 2,000 years. Of the writings which I’ve had the opportunity to encounter so far (both in East and West), most can be described as nothing short of beautiful: adages of holy people and complete works, seemingly-forgotten philosophical, theological, and spiritual treatises, each of which portray how a particular person, in a particular time, and in a particular culture, strives for sanctity, that is, for union with God in this (daily-lived) life. It reminds one that there is something more to being Catholic than what is generally portrayed in the mainstream media (that is, clerical collars and bishops’ mitres mixed with conflict, misunderstandings, fear, scandal, conspiracy, authoritarianism, etc.). 

For example, whenever one hears the word “Catholic,” their mind is (often enough) immediately drawn to teachings, disciplines, and practices which are Catholic, but more accurately, Roman Catholic. That is, the average person, and, oftentimes, the average Catholic, is accustomed to associating Catholicism with its largest “branch”: the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church. It is little known, however, that there are nearly 30 more rites in the Catholic Church (including the two found here in Birmingham), and, while held together in the same beliefs under the (unifying) teaching authority of the Pope, have different traditions which grew out of the times and cultures in which they originated. Some of these traditions were begun by the Apostles* themselves and continue very strongly (especially as regards the preservation of their rituals in their respective “Divine Liturgies”).

The question that I have for those who can be so critical of the Church is: how much do they really know about the Catholic Church? Following popular criticisms of Catholicism, it seems, not very much. It is often so many inflamed catchphrases and assumptive labels which usually mean nothing, but do stir some people up (for that’s what they’ve always heard). As Archbishop Fulton Sheen has said, “There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church, which is of course, quite a different thing.”

For many critics, it seems, the Church is simply the place which is visited once per week to remain in good standing before the eyes of God, that is, as a bare minimum effort which doesn’t strive to go further into living the mysteries of Christianity. For many others, the Church is simply an instrument of authority through which the masses may be controlled by “old men.”** In both of these cases, the realization that the Catholic Church is not just the Roman Catholic Church (with all of the ideas and [mis]understandings found therein) calls us to appreciate the fact that there is more which is waiting to be discovered in the life of the Christian and of the Church. (More than just those things which are often dismissively and superficially portrayed.) For the former, it speaks of an appreciation and a living of the Christian life from a different perspective, which may serve to deepen their own faith in its daily practice. For the latter also, the distancing from what is perceived to be the “Roman Catholic Church” may provide an opportunity to see the Church in a new light and from a different perspective: away from what is perceived to be “dogmas,” “rules,” and “blind obedience,” and into a fresh look at worship and reverence of the God Whom we believe to have started the Church.

* For example, the Church was founded in: Constantinople by St. Andrew, Alexandria by St. Mark, and India by St. Thomas. (As I have heard it, Rome had actually sent missionaries to India only to find out that the Church was already in that part of India and thriving.)
** And, of course, there are faithful Catholics.

A reply to Mark Morford on the Pope, condoms, and AIDS

8 04 2009

Almost a week ago, I received an e-mail which I had initially assumed was related to the comment of Edward Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project for the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, which said “the Pope is correct” about the use of condoms increasing the spread of HIV/AIDS, etc., rather than decreasing them, as its supporters would have us to believe (check below for links to articles of Mr. Green’s statement). However, the e-mail was only an article written by Mark Morford of the San Francisco Gate, which was simply a lengthy character attack of the Pope. I let the e-mail hang out in my inbox for a few days, until I finally decided to respond to it. What follows is the text (minus personal elements) of my response which I now offer as a response to Mr. Morford’s article.

I have read and skimmed through the article which you have sent me and have discovered that the clip in the e-mail would have been enough to suffice for what was to follow in the rest of the article. It is, from beginning to end, simply an attack on the character of a man with whom the author does not even seem to have any familiarity at all – else he would not lower himself to speak so superficially and dismissively about him. Nor would he have any reason to hold the Dalai Lama up on a pedestal (also a religious leader) while simultaneously attempting to attack a man who sticks to what he believes to be true – a characteristic in men, I think you would agree, that is lacking in our day in time (and is consequently a courageous thing, in my opinion). My question to him would be, how quickly would he remove the Dalai Lama from his pedestal were he to pronounce a statement against the same issue? The answer to me would appear to be that because the Dalai Lama has not pronounced anything against contraception, he is fair game to be used as an example to be followed – but, were he to do so, were he to pronounce something against what this author holds to be “good,” “right,” “just,” etc., he would write the same scathing article denouncing him. Now, the question then to ask is: who set him up as the dogmatic figure who may pronounce what is truly good, right, and just? He only supports the Dalai Lama because he supposes that the Dalai Lama falls in line with his beliefs – not because he actually cares what the Dalai Lama says. At the pinnacle of irony, who set him up as Pope? This, to me, is as “dogmatic” as it gets. But, this problem continues to multiply as you have multitude upon multitude of Mr. Morford’s running around declaring that what they think to be good, right, and just truly is, because they say so. And on what authority? With the Pope, there is only one figure who has been granted authority by Christ (who we, as Christians, believe to be God in the flesh) to sustain unity of belief (i.e., what God has revealed to us both through nature and through Scripture and Tradition) among His children.

Now, I know that we are coming from two different angles on the authority of the Pope and religion, etc., but I think that we can both agree that having millions of “popes” rather than one is a source of tremendous confusion and turmoil: if there are millions of different views of what is truly “good, right, and just,” then there’s not really unity – there’s just people doing what they want to do when they want to do it. How can any society (regardless of what its Constitution says) be expected to run something that is chaotic to the very core? I think that we can both see the manifestations of this at work right now. But, the thing that we have to come back to is that there’s only one truth, only one reality: the tree that you see is the same tree that I see; the Abita Amber that you drink is the same Abita Amber that I drink; the Mississippi River that you (hopefully ;) don’t swim in is the same Mississippi River that I don’t swim in. And this remains true even if one of us decides to deny the reality that is before us. If we were standing together in an open field with only one tree, and we go back to our friends and I (confused by the glare of the sun, but nonetheless fixed in my conviction), say “we stood by an elephant,” while you (unaffected by the sun because of your Ray Ban’s) said “no, we stood by a tree,” the truth remains (no matter how adamantly I believe and speak of my elephantile misperception) that I did, indeed, stand by a tree. The truth remains true regardless if one sees or believes it. And so it is with everything else in our universe – things seen and unseen – because truth is not created by us, it is received by us.

Now, back to the Pope and Mr. Morford: on what authority do they stand?

Mr. Morford: as far as I can perceive from his writing, a man with an axe to grind because a religious leader doesn’t conform to his beliefs. Where do his beliefs come from? I would surmise that his beliefs largely come from himself and what he “feels” to be “good, right, and just” by “his own” conscience, which could very well conflict with the respective consciences of his many fellow world-inhabitors. For, if there is no God (or we have killed Him, as Nietzsche wrote), what else has man left but himself to look to? Now, why would I want to follow my own, much less the beliefs of another man who stands by himself (i.e., on his own authority) in asserting what is objectively “good, right, and just,” regardless if it corresponds with what is actually true? Should one of our friends, visiting the field and seeing not an elephant, but a tree, stand with me who proclaims that the tree is an elephant because I say so? Or should, he, seeing the tree, stand by you, who stood by what is really true?

The Pope: a man who, on being elected, stated that he was but an unworthy laborer in the vineyard of the Lord, which says from the get-go that he is not laboring for himself (and even didn’t want to be elected, but wanted to retire and to finish his life writing books). Where do his beliefs come from? His beliefs are the beliefs which the Catholic Church has always taught, which, he believes were and are the teachings which Christ (God) Himself gave to the world in His time on earth. The authority on which he stands is the authority which Christ granted to the Apostle Peter, of whom he is a successor. Therefore, his responsibility is to hand on the objective truth about what God has willed for our universe and for our race. That is, God Himself, in human flesh, gave Peter (and his successors), whom He knew personally, authority to proclaim the one Truth, Himself, Who is found in everything which is true – seen and unseen. To end the contrast between the two, the Pope isn’t arbitrarily dogmatic, just because he believes it to be true, regardless as to whether it actually is, but proclaims that which God has entrusted to him to proclaim. He is “dogmatic” in the sense that the office which God has given him is to preserve those things which are always true, regardless of times and cultures. He stands by you, proclaiming that the tree is actually a tree, and not by me, who proclaims that the tree is an elephant, when it is only my misperception and adherence to it which I adhere to. A tree is a tree, regardless if I believe it or not. In the same way, murder is murder and is wrong, regardless of the time and culture it happens in.

Finally, from this to the complaint of the article: by not allowing the use of condoms (or, rather, not adhering to the dogma of Mr. Morford), the Pope is condemning millions to die. The fact is that, the Pope, by the authority with which he has been entrusted, is reaching to a deeper truth about man than simply a superficial “use of condoms.” From the way which I have argued thus far, he is saying that condoms engender an attitude, an inclination, in man which is contrary to the way in which God created us (and, I think, STD’s are an indication that “things aren’t supposed to happen this way”). Condoms are promoted as a way to have “safe sex,” but in reality, it promotes sex without consequence [and is even ineffective as a method of prevention – the safest condom in the world only offers an 85% chance of effectiveness, and none of them are tightly woven enough to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS through the condom] , i.e., it provides a way for man to not control his sexual inclinations – not controlling them by the gifts of reason and free will (which distinguish us from other animals), but submitting (and becoming enslaved) to them, thereby lowering us beneath the dignity which we have been given. It’s like putting an infectious band-aid on a wound that needs stitches: it’s only making the underlying problem worse. As the recent statement [here or here] (which I initially thought your e-mail was related to, as your article and this one came about around the same time) of Edward Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project for the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, of the conclusions of their research shows, the promotion of condom usage is directly related to the increase and not the decrease of AIDS/HIV, etc. It is this way for the exact reasons which the Popes have always taught about contraception: using condoms promotes sexual promiscuity (a “disordering” of the way we have been created) and it is patently obvious that sexual promiscuity was and is the cause of STD’s. I mean, remove promiscuity, and there are no more STD problems. It is a matter of self-control, of mastering oneself (which the Greek philosophers understood even before Christ’s taking on flesh, i.e., through reason), which is further supported and enlightened by God’s revelation (i.e., through faith) about man.

I know that we’re coming from two different perspectives on this issue, but I think that the facts (as supported by Edward Green of Harvard) are confirming what the Popes have been saying ever since this has been a problem (which did not begin in the 60’s, though it has certainly been a prevalent issue since then). In this case, I think that Mr. Morford is crying “elephant,” all the while the Popes have been standing by the tree and calling us to look deeper than the surface and to heal the deeper wound of selfishness and self-gratification with self-gift and self-sacrifice – which must be present for authentic love – not by furthering the damage with a tool which only makes the wound become more infected and further from healing than it already is.

The Sacraments of Initiation in the Council of Trent

3 01 2009
The Sacraments of Initiation in the Council of Trent THUMB

The title of this paper turned out to be a little misleading. I was assigned this topic by my professor, and when I asked if he could recommend any sources off of the top of his head, he replied, “the Council documents would be a good place to start.” Hah. So, I did. I had also recently read Hilaire Belloc’s How the Reformation Happened, which had given me more insight into the developments which had occurred during this period of history. I soon realized that it would be impossible (and less interesting) to write this paper without taking into account the historical context.

So, borrowing from Belloc’s brilliant ability to get to the heart of the problem, I discuss the underlying problems which led the Reformers’ to act as they did; the rejection of authority because of the poor choices and behavior of some of the members of the Church, which led them in the only direction they could possibly go: to sola fide and sola Scriptura, which (as we continue to see in our own day) has as its fruit numerous “popes” and “magisteriums.” That is, because there is no longer a central authority preserving the unity of the Church in and through the Chair of Peter, we now have a multitude of “popes” and “magisteriums” handing on their version of Christianity, their interpretation of Scripture, as the “true” interpretation. This rejection of authority and necessary turn towards justification by faith alone through the individual’s interpretation of Scripture is the foundation of the rest of Protestantism. Everything Protestant rests on the above mentioned points. This will underly the rest of my arguments in this paper, from the Protestants’ positions on the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist), to the Church’s response in the Council of Trent as deliberately attacking these fundamental positions.

Although I was not terribly excited to be assigned a topic (he did give us chance to change it), this turned out to be an enlightening paper which gave me the opportunity to improve my understanding of the Reformation.

This was written in my third semester of theology at Notre Dame Seminary for The Sacraments of Initiation.

Distributism: Adherence to the Social Teaching of the Church and Man’s Social Recourse to Leisure

2 01 2009

Distributism-Church Teaching and Leisure THUMB

Although it wasn’t my original “intention” to pick up the topic of leisure again, when I began digging into the encyclicals, the writings of Belloc and Chesterton, and others, the theme continued to present itself to me. So, after making the connections a bit more solid through my research, this is the paper that I came up with.

Distributism is a social/economic theory put forth by the Chesterbelloc & Co., which is based on the social teachings of the Church (especially Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno) and the practice of parts of medieval Europe (such as England and France). In short, the distributist theory grew out of the social and political turmoil brought about by the Industrial Revolution and the response to it by communism (in particular, Marxism). These two are often seen to be the only two “ways” of social and economic governance. What distributism provides is another “third way,” which Belloc holds to be “the only way,” as capitalism and communism are both based on faulty principles and don’t take into account a full understanding of man. My hunch is that neither allow for man to truly be free; capitalism in that it doesn’t give enough weight to the reality that man is fallen (and, consequently, provides a framework which disposes him to become enslaved by himself), and communism (as a response to capitalism) doesn’t trust man enough to exercise his genuine freedom.

The main argument of this paper is that neither (communist) socialism nor capitalism provide a social setting in which man is truly able to flourish as man. In different manifestations, man is enslaved by the oppression caused by these two systems and, consequently, is unable to be disposed to leisure, which is a necessity that should be provided for by a social/economic structure (which should respect the nature of man who it serves). As Belloc said, distributism is “the only way;” a way which disposes man to a proper understanding and living of leisure, in which he is able to flourish as a true human being, made in the image and likeness of God.

This may have, in some way, surpassed my paper on leisure as my favorite. But the two are very closely related, and this one could not exist without the former…so let’s just say I love this topic.

Written in my third semester of theology at Notre Dame Seminary for History of the Medieval Period with Fr. Mark Raphael (who left some hilarious comments on my paper and is probably one of the greatest teachers I’ve ever had the privilege of having).

The Cause of the Crusades

21 08 2008

The Cause of the Crusades THUMB

Boy, did I enjoy researching for and writing this paper. It has been a couple of years since I’ve looked at it, so don’t expect me to remember the whole argument, but I can tell you the reasoning for wanting to write this paper. It was because of all of the thoughtless (but emotional) comments that I had constantly heard brought up against the Church about the Crusades. “Oh, the Church is evil because She started the Crusades,” etc., etc., etc. And, thanks to a CD set by Matthew Arnold (of St. Joseph Communications) and mainly the work of (the brilliant historian) Hilaire Belloc, I set off to learn about the Crusades and to challenge the “argument.”

This was written while taking Bachelor’s classes at Our Lady of Holy Cross College for History of Western Civilization I.