December 29, 2009

Thought of the Day

Prayer knows no distance or separation. Whereever we are it makes us a single heart and a single soul

-- Pope Benedict XVI

December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

May the blessing of Christmas be with you and your loved ones - now and forever.

December 22, 2009

Canticle of Simeon (Nunc Dimittis)

Lord, now you let your servant go in peace;
your word has been fulfilled:

My own eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared in the sight of every people:

a light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son,
and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now,
and will be for ever. Amen.

December 13, 2009

Review: The Mass A Guided Tour

The Mass a Guided Tour is a step by step explanation of the Catholic Mass from the entrance song to the concluding rites. In this book Father Thomas Richstatter uses simple, easy-to-understand language to explore and explain the Mass. The result is a guide to what the Mass means to our Catholic faith and how its different elements-the Introductory and Concluding Rites and Liturgies of the Word and the Eucharist-invite us to experience that faith more deeply and express it more fully.

Richstatter approaches the Mass from a decidedly post Vatican II perspective. I don’t agree with all of his images conjured up in the text. At some points he waters down the subject, in my opinion. Other aspects of the book are well-worth the read. The author explains how the Mass takes place out of time, which is to say, the Mass is a unity of the Church past, present and future in one time and place. Richstatter does an excellent job explaining this and the other metaphysical dimensions of this holy sacrament.

The Mass a Guided Tour is a good introductory text for those new to or unfamiliar with the Catholic Mass. It reminded me why Catholics believe what they do and why the celebration of the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith.

To purchase this book click here or visit the Catholic Company for similar items.

December 12, 2009

December 12, Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Can you imagine what it would be like to be out walking one day and suddenly see a woman of perfect demeanor, her clothes shining like the sun? Well, this is pretty much what happened in 1531. Mary appeared to Juan Diego, a recent native convert, on Tepeyac Hill, in what is not Mexico City. She asked that Juan go to his bishop and ask that a church be built there, a “house for her son.”

When the bishop asked for a sign, the woman told Juan to fill his cloak with flowers that appeared miraculously on the hill. Returning to the bishop, Juan opened his cloak to find not only the flowers but also an image of Mary, “clothed with the sun with the moon at her feet,” on his cloak.

On Tepeyac Hill, Mary identified herself as Our Lady of Guadalupe, and she appeared at a time when human sacrifice was part of the native Aztec culture. It has been estimated that one out of every five children was sacrificed to the Aztecs’ gods. The image on Juan Diego’s cloak conveyed an important message to the Aztecs. The woman stood in front of the sun and wore stars on her mantle. Her feet not only rested on the moon but also were crushing the head of a serpent. All of these images were gods that the Aztecs worshipped. The sash that she wore indicated she was pregnant – pregnant, in fact, with the author of life, Jesus Christ. Through this miraculous image, the Aztecs were introduced to the one true God.

This appearance of Mary caused millions of native to be converted to Christ and to abandon the practice of child sacrifice. Today, millions of unborn children are slaughtered by abortion. These children, however, are not thrown down the steps of Aztec pyramids but instead are placed into garbage cans, incinerated, or used for scientific research. On a day like today, we should all turn to Mary and ask her to intervene yet again on behalf of these innocent little victims.

From the Word Among Us.

December 10, 2009

Who is Simeon the Righteous?

Simeon the Righteous (pictured) is the man who, in Luke 2:25-35, met Mary, Joseph, and Jesus when they entered the Temple in Jerusalem to fulfill the requirements of the Torah forty days after Jesus' birth. Holding Jesus Simeon says the Nunc dimittis prayer also known as the Canticle of Simeon. Simeon prophesied about Christ’s future crucifixion.

The Canticle of Simeon is said during complin or night prayer as part of the Liturgy of the Hours of the Catholic Church. The Prophecy of Simeon over the Infant Jesus is the first of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin.

December 8, 2009

The Immaculate Conception

Today (Dec. 8th) is the fest of the Immaculate Conception. The Immaculate Conception is, according to Roman Catholic Dogma, the conception of the Virgin Mary without any stain (macula in Latin) of original sin.

The dogma states that, from the first moment of her existence, she was preserved by God from the lack of sanctifying grace that afflicts mankind, and that she was instead filled with divine grace. It is further believed by Catholics that she lived a life completely free from sin. Her immaculate conception in the womb of her mother, through sexual intercourse, may be contrasted with the doctrine of the virginal conception of her son Jesus, known as the Annunciation, and followed by the Virgin Birth.

The dogma is based upon the following text from Luke;
The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said,“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her,“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”But Mary said to the angel,“How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply,“ The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Mary's Immaculate conception is based on two key passages from the proceeding gospel; when the angel Gabriel says to Mary, "Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you,” and, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God."

To be "full of grace" and to be in favor with the Lord are one in the same thing. Mary was in the Lord's favor and full of grace meaning she was preserved from sin, both original and otherwise, from the moment of conception onward.

The feast of the Immaculate Conception is as much about Jesus as it is about Mary since through it Mary was prepared to be the mother of Christ.

December 7, 2009

How to Say the Salve Regina (Continued)

Mary crowned Queen of Heaven
Some of you were interested in how to pronounce the Salve Regina in Latin. For your information here is the Salve Regina along with other rosary prayers with text and accompanying audio. You can listen to the Salve Regina chanted by the monks at Conception Abbey here.

Encore: Hail Holy Queen/Salve Regina

Mary with the Christ Child

Continuing with our Marian theme for the month of May, this is the Dumb Ox's favorite prayer the Hail Holy Queen better known as the Salve Regina. Here is the prayer in English and in Latin:

Hail Holy Queen

Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
our life, our sweetness and our hope.
To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve;
to thee do we send up our sighs,
mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.

Turn then, most gracious advocate,
thine eyes of mercy toward us;
and after this our exile,
show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

V./ Pray for us O holy Mother of God,

R./ that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Salve Regina

Salve Regina, Mater misericordiae,
vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve.
ad te clamamus
exsules filii Hevae,
ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes
in hac lacrimarum valle.

Eia, ergo, advocata nostra, illos tuos
misericordes oculos ad nos converte;
et Jesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui,
nobis post hoc exsilium ostende.
O clemens, O pia, O dulcis
Virgo Maria.

V./ Ora pro nobis sancta Dei Genetrix.

R./ Ut digni efficiamur promissionibus Christi.

December 3, 2009

Luke's Infancy Narrative

Scholars tell us that Luke probably wrote his gospel some 55 years after the Resurrection. Therefore, it is unlikely he witnessed the ministry of Jesus. But he assures us in the early verses of his Gospel that he has examined things "from the beginning," and has gone over "everything," and made sure to do so "accurately."

The Church teaches that Luke and the other biblical authors were "inspired." This doesn't mean God dictated word for word, but rather the Holy Spirit gave special guidance to the authors so that they (each with their own style and limitations), ultimately taught what God wanted taught.

We also believe that this same Spirit is active in us when we read Scripture.

December 2, 2009

The History of Advent

In the early Church, four different "comings" or manifestations of the Lord were celebrated all as one feast on January 6th. The birth of the Lord, the visit of the magi, his baptism, and his miracle at Cana. The feast was named "Epiphany" - a Greek word meaning "showing, manifestation." Epiphany became, along with Easter, a traditional date for baptism.

Just as the baptisms at Easter were prepared for by a time of fasting and penance (Lent) so the baptisms at Epiphany were prepared for by a time of fasting and penance called "Advent" (from a Latin word meaning "coming").

Gradually, in many places, Christ's birth was given its own feast day on December 25th and the season of Advent shifted to a time of preparation for this feast.

Over the years, Advent became less and less a carbon copy of Lent (fasting and penance) and more a time of prayer and reflection to appreciate the meaning of Christ's coming at Bethlehem, and his coming at the end of time.

The symbol of this season has become the Advent wreath, with the successive lighting of its four candles on each of the four Sundays - a sign of the approach of the light of the world.

December 1, 2009

Do Not Be Afraid!

Once when Zechariah was serving as priest he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to burn incense. Then, when the whole assembly of the people was praying outside at the hour of the incense offering, the angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah. Zechariah was troubled by what he saw and fear came over him.

But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid Zechariah for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. (Luke 1:8-15)

The angel tells Zechariah that his prayer has been heard. We aren't told what Zechariah has been praying for, but now we know. He was praying for Isreal, of course, as a Jewish priest would do. But he was also praying for a son.

Sometimes we're afraid to pray for things that seem unrealistic.

Three times in the birth story of Jesus we'll hear angels say, "Do not be afraid" - to Zechariah here, to Mary at the Annunciation, and to the shepherds in the fields. Jesus in his public life will say these same words five times.

This Advent, do not be afraid!

November 27, 2009

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe is a celebrated 16th-century icon of the Virgin Mary mother of Jesus Christ. The image, also known as the Virgin of Guadalupe represents a famous Marian apparition. According to the traditional account, the image appeared miraculously on the front of a simple peasant's cloak. The image still exists; it is on display in the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City. It is perhaps Mexico’s most popular religious and cultural image, and the focus of an extensive pilgrimage. The feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe is December 12. She is said to have appeared to Saint Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac near Mexico City between December 9 and December 12, 1531.

November 24, 2009

The Manhattan Declaration

Recently, several orthodox Christians from numerous denominations formulated and signed the following declaration. To read the declaration in full and sign it go here:


We, as Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians, have gathered, beginning in New York on September 28, 2009, to make the following declaration, which we sign as individuals, not on behalf of our organizations, but speaking to and from our communities. We act together in obedience to the one true God, the triune God of holiness and love, who has laid total claim on our lives and by that claim calls us with believers in all ages and all nations to seek and defend the good of all who bear his image. We set forth this declaration in light of the truth that is grounded in Holy Scripture, in natural human reason (which is itself, in our view, the gift of a beneficent God), and in the very nature of the human person. We call upon all people of goodwill, believers and nonbelievers alike, to consider carefully and reflect critically on the issues we here address as we, with St. Paul, commend this appeal to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

While the whole scope of Christian moral concern, including a special concern for the poor and vulnerable, claims our attention, we are especially troubled that in our nation today the lives of the unborn, the disabled, and the elderly are severely threatened; that the institution of marriage, already buffeted by promiscuity, infidelity and divorce, is in jeopardy of being redefined to accommodate fashionable ideologies; that freedom of religion and the rights of conscience are gravely jeopardized by those who would use the instruments of coercion to compel persons of faith to compromise their deepest convictions.

Because the sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as a union of husband and wife, and the freedom of conscience and religion are foundational principles of justice and the common good, we are compelled by our Christian faith to speak and act in their defense. In this declaration we affirm: 1) the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of every human being as a creature fashioned in the very image of God, possessing inherent rights of equal dignity and life; 2) marriage as a conjugal union of man and woman, ordained by God from the creation, and historically understood by believers and nonbelievers alike, to be the most basic institution in society and; 3) religious liberty, which is grounded in the character of God, the example of Christ, and the inherent freedom and dignity of human beings created in the divine image.

We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defense of these truths. We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence. It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season. May God help us not to fail in that duty.

November 17, 2009

Redemptive suffering

Redemptive suffering is the Roman Catholic belief that human suffering, when accepted and offered up in union with the Passion of Jesus, can remit the just punishment for one's sins or for the sins of another. Like an indulgence, redemptive suffering does not gain the individual forgiveness for their sin; forgiveness results from God’s grace, freely given through Christ, which cannot be earned. After one's sins are forgiven, the individual's suffering can reduce the penalty due for sin.

Vatican announces plenary indulgence for Year of Priests

The Vatican has decreed a plenary indulgence for the Year of Priests, which will begin on June 19, 2009: the feast of the Sacred Heart. In a decree made public on May 12, and signed by Cardinal James Stafford, the head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Vatican announced that the plenary indulgence will be available to all priests and faithful Catholics under the usual conditions. The decree stated that the indulgence will be granted to:

(A) All truly penitent priests who, on any day, devotedly pray Lauds or Vespers before the Blessed Sacrament exposed to public adoration or in the tabernacle, and ... offer themselves with a ready and generous heart for the celebration of the Sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Penance, will be granted Plenary Indulgence, which they can also apply to their deceased confreres, if in accordance with current norms they take Sacramental Confession and the Eucharist and pray in accordance with the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff. Priests are furthermore granted Partial Indulgence, also applicable to deceased confreres, every time they devotedly recite the prayers duly approved to lead a saintly life and to carry out the duties entrusted to them.

(B) All truly penitent Christian faithful who, in church or oratory, devotedly attend Holy Mass and offer prayers to Jesus Christ, supreme and eternal Priest, for the priests of the Church, or perform any good work to sanctify and mould them to His Heart, are granted Plenary Indulgence, on the condition that they have expiated their sins through Sacramental Confession and prayed in accordance with the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff. This may be done on the opening and closing days of the Year of Priests, on the 150th anniversary of the death of St. Jean Marie Vianney, on the first Thursday of the month, or on any other day established by the ordinaries of particular places for the good of the faithful.

The elderly, the sick and all those who for any legitimate reason are unable to leave their homes, may still obtain Plenary Indulgence if, with the soul completely removed from attachment to any form of sin and with the intention of observing, as soon as they can, the usual three conditions, "on the days concerned, they pray for the sanctification of priests and offer their sickness and suffering to God through Mary, Queen of the Apostles."

Partial Indulgence is offered to all faithful each time they pray five Our Father, Ave Maria and Gloria Patri, or any other duly approved prayer "in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to ask that priests maintain purity and sanctity of life."
St. Maximus the Confessor

Thought of the Day
To harbor no envy, no anger, no resentment against an offender is still not to have charity for him. It is possible, without any charity, to avoid rendering evil for evil. But to render, spontaneously, good for evil -- such belongs to a perfect spiritual love.

-- St Maximus the Confessor

November 14, 2009

Theology of the Body, Part 2

Matthew Coffin

The Exchange of Persons in the Trinity

The three-leaf clover used in religion classes to explain the mystery of three Divine Persons in one God does not begin to penetrate the incomparable majesty, boundless love, and total communion, which the Church in her Tradition and creeds ascribes to the Godhead.

To the early Church Fathers the idea of perichoresis (the exchange of Persons in the Trinity), was indispensable to understanding God. This sublime, metaphysical concept is central to John Paul’s Theology of the Body. The inner life of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Divine Love Itself, is dimly but unmistakably reflected in the beauty of the conjugal embrace, the nuptial meaning of our bodies, and the echo of original innocence that resides in the human heart.

Before continuing, the term "person" should be defined. A person has an intellect, with which to know and a will, with which to choose. As a result, a person is always a "someone," never a "something." Animals are not persons. Their intellects are governed by instinct and they do not have free will. Only persons can freely choose.

There are three types of persons: Divine Persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), angelic persons (angels), and human persons (human beings). God alone possesses the Divine Nature that is the Divine Intellect and the Divine Will. As Persons, each member of the Trinity has a Divine Intellect and a Divine Will, separate from and in accordance with each other. Christ incarnate also possesses a human intellect and a human will. Angels are persons because they know and choose, as do human beings. This is what it means to say we are made in the image and likeness of God. Our personhood images the Divine Personhood of the Trinity.

The Inner Life of the Trinity

God’s perfection is to exist. This doesn’t sound very impressive until we consider the opposite of existence. Something that exists is more perfect than the mere conceptualization of that thing. Before Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa he envisioned it in his mind. What resulted from his creative powers and artistry continues to fascinate, inspiring legions of impersonators, and bring joy to beholders. Had he not painted it his masterpiece would have disappeared along with his imagination. The Mona Lisa hanging in the Louvre is superior in every way to the unrealized concept.

As the perfection of all that is, God the Father’s knowledge of Himself is perfect. The perfect self-knowledge of the Father exists. It is God the Son. Since Jesus is the perfect self-knowledge of the Father, the Person of Christ has always existed. God the Father and God the Son have no beginning and no end, a truth acknowledged in the Nicene Creed:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.

The love of the Father for the Son is total. God the Father empties Himself completely, holding nothing back from the Son. The love of the Son for the Father is total. God the Son empties Himself completely, holding nothing back from the Father. The love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father exists. It is God the Holy Spirit. The love that is the exchange of Persons between Father and Son is the Life that is the Spirit, with no beginning and no end. The Creed affirms that the Third Person of the Trinity is coequal with and proceeds from the Father and the Son:

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
Who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son He is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the prophets.

The love of the Holy Spirit for the other Persons of the Trinity is total. God the Holy Spirit empties Himself completely, holding nothing back from the Father and the Son. The love of the Father and the Son for the Spirit is total. God the Father and God the Son empty themselves completely, holding nothing back from the Spirit. This exchange of Persons that is the inner life of the Trinity is the first family. Before God created the world there was only the Divine Family. But the life-giving love of the Trinity is spiritual not sexual in nature.

Mirroring the Trinity, man and woman consummate their love in marriage through a free and total self-donation of their persons in the intimacy of sexual union. Pope John Paul’s exhortation to couples that a man should give himself completely in a receiving way to his wife, and a woman should receive her husband completely in a giving way, reflects this (Something contraception prevents entirely).

Our Lord raises marriage to a sacrament. The words of Jesus confer on matrimony a dignity befitting its purpose: "…from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder." (Mark 10:6-9, also Matthew 19:4-6)

Christ is referring to the first covenant, in Genesis, between man and man’s Creator. It is a marriage covenant. God’s command to Adam and Eve: "Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it," calls attention to a profound truth. Only persons can know and choose. Because they know and choose persons alone can love. Only the human person is able to bring into this world another person capable of still more love. The gift of human sexuality allows married persons to grow in intimacy and holiness, give themselves more completely to their spouse, and be co-creators with God in the procreation, raising, and education of children.

In Part 3 we discuss Man and woman "in the beginning", after the Fall, and after the Resurrection; the sacrament of marriage and conjugal love.

November 11, 2009

Genesis - "In the beginning" Part IV

Last time we talked about the Protoevangelium or “first gospel” in which God promises to send a redeemer to save his people from the slavery of sin. Implicit in this is that sin will grow and spread bringing havoc on humanity.

The "fruits" of original sin begin with Adam and Eve's first born son, Cain, killing his brother, Abel. Cain comes from bad seed - Abel good. The murder is, of course, evil, but it also goes to show how human nature was altered and/or perverted by sin. Cain's children will grow numerous and flourish. Unfortunately, they will also spread their sinful ways. More on this in the next installment.

One Minute Catechism

from the Catechism of the Catholic Church

The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for:

The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God. This invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being. For if man exists it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator. (Vatican Council II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World 19 § 1.)

In many ways, throughout history down to the present day, men have given expression to their quest for God in their religious beliefs and behavior: in their prayers, sacrifices, rituals, meditations, and so forth. These forms of religious expression, despite the ambiguities they often bring with them, are so universal that one may well call man a religious being:

November 10, 2009

Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant (Continued)

As we discussed here the original Ark of the Covenant was a golden vessel containing the Ten Commandments, the sign of God's covenant with the nation of Israel. In a similar fashion, the Virgin Mary who bore Jesus in her very womb, is the Ark of the New Covenant that is Christ Himself.

Both Mary and the Ark of the Covenant were "overshadowed" by a cloud representing the Glory of the Lord. This happened to Mary at the Annunciation. The Ark of the Covenant was overshadowed by the Glory of the Lord on several occasions. During its installation in the Tabernacle and the Temple the Ark was overshadowed just as Mary was.

When the gospel writer Luke writes about Mary visiting her cousin Elisabeth (who is pregnant with John the Baptist) he uses suggestive language to point out Mary as the new Ark of the Covenant. Luke reminds us of when King David brought the Ark to Jerusalem. The parallels are unmistakable:

"David arose and went" to bring up the Ark (2 Sm 6:2) just as "Mary arose and went" to visit Elisabeth (Luke 1:39). David said, "How can the ark of the Lord come to me? (2 Sm 6:9) just as Elizabeth proclaimed "And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me. (Luke 1:43). David was "leaping and dancing before the Lord." (2 Sm 6:16) just as the baby in Elisabeth's womb leapt for joy when the Mother of Christ appeared. (Luke 1:44)Finally, there is this parallel: "And the ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obeddedom the Gittite for three months." (2 Sm 6:11) is compared to "And Mary remained with her (Elizabeth) for about three months." (Luke 1:56)


Saint Francis of Assisi (pictured above) was born into a wealthy Italian family in c 1182. He is the founder of the Franciscans. Francis is the patron saint of animals, the environment, and Italy.

Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair hope;
where there is darkness light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen
Additional information on the life of St. Francis may be found here.

November 9, 2009

Genesis - "In the beginning" Part III

As we discussed last time, Adam's sin was his failure to protect his wife Eve. Following the first sin, Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden. Barely had man transgressed, however, when God warns the serpent: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel." (Genesis 3:15)

This is the Protoevangelium or “first gospel” in which God promises to send a redeemer to save his people from the slavery of sin. The "woman" is the Blessed Virgin Mary. Her "offspring," (sometimes translated as seed), is Jesus Christ. He (Christ) will strike and ultimately defeat the serpent/evil. The forces of evil will attack Christ culminating in His passion and death.

Fortunately for us, Christ is Resurrected, defeating death and overcoming sin. His victory is our victory. His Resurrection is our hope and our salvation.

November 4, 2009

The Virgin Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant

From "Mary the Ark of the New Covenant" by Steve Ray

(Editor's note: As explained below, the Ark of the Covenant contained the Ten Commandments the sign of the Covenant God made with Moses. The Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, has been compared to a new Ark of the Covenant in carrying Christ in her womb. Just as the Ark of the Covenant bore the Ten Commandments; Mary bears Christ within her. Parallels between the Ark of the Covenant and Mary are found throughout Scripture. Any first century Jew would recognize the similarities.)

God loved his people and wanted to be close to them. He chose to do so in a very special way. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, "The prayer of the people of God flourished in the shadow of the dwelling place of God’s presence on earth, the ark of the covenant and the temple, under the guidance of their shepherds, especially King David, and of the prophets" (CCC 2594). God instructed Moses to build a tabernacle surrounded by heavy curtains (cf. Ex. 25–27). Within the tabernacle he was to place an ark made of acacia wood covered with gold inside and out. Within the Ark of the Covenant was placed a golden jar holding the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant (cf. Heb. 9:4).

When the ark was completed, the glory cloud of the Lord (the Shekinah Glory) covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle (Ex. 40:34–35; Num. 9:18, 22). The verb for "to cover" or "to overshadow" and the metaphor of a cloud are used in the Bible to represent the presence and glory of God. The Catechism explains:
In the theophanies of the Old Testament, the cloud, now obscure, now luminous, reveals the living and saving God, while veiling the transcendence of his glory—with Moses on Mount Sinai, at the tent of meeting, and during the wandering in the desert, and with Solomon at the dedication of the temple. In the Holy Spirit, Christ fulfills these figures. The Spirit comes upon the Virgin Mary and "overshadows" her, so that she might conceive and give birth to Jesus. On the mountain of Transfiguration, the Spirit in the "cloud came and overshadowed" Jesus, Moses and Elijah, Peter, James and John, and "a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’" Finally, the cloud took Jesus out of the sight of the disciples on the day of his Ascension and will reveal him as Son of man in glory on the day of his final coming. The glory of the Lord "overshadowed" the ark and filled the tabernacle (CCC 697).
It’s easy to miss the parallel between the Holy Spirit overshadowing the ark and the Holy Spirit overshadowing Mary, between the Ark of the Old Covenant as the dwelling place of God and Mary as the new dwelling place of God.

God was very specific about every exact detail of the ark (Ex. 25–30). It was a place where God himself would dwell (Ex. 25:8). God wanted his words—inscribed on stone—housed in a perfect container covered with pure gold within and without. How much more would he want his Word—Jesus—to have a perfect dwelling place! If the only begotten Son were to take up residence in the womb of a human girl, would he not make her flawless?

More on this in the next post installment.

November 2, 2009


If you were to collect all the passages about death and the afterlife in the Bible, you would still not have a clear picture about what the experience of death is like or what we can expect life to be like after we have died. Obviously God has had no intention of revealing very much about these two basic experiences, even though humans have speculated and written much about them. Death is an impenetrable wall or abyss that exists between us and the afterlife, at least as our knowledge is concerned.

We are, however, asked to reflect on what precedes and what follows the experience of death itself. With regard to what precedes death, we are encouraged to reflect on God's mercy and goodness, not on our failures, torments, and trials of the past. The prophet Jeremiah rejects the thoughts that bring despair, regret, and depression; instead he fills his heart with the positive qualities of God: "His mercies are not spent; they are renewed each morning."

We ought to think these thoughts not just about ourselves but also about the deceased we commemorate. There is an ancient expression that advises us to "have only good thoughts about the dead." The feast of All Souls teaches us to approach death without fear and anxiety, but with confidence and hope for our own life beyond death and for those who have preceded us in death.

October 31, 2009

Genesis - "In the beginning" Part II

In our last post on Genesis we talked about how the sin of Adam had thrown everything out of balance. The world was no longer a temple as it was before. Man had literally fallen out of God's grace. He was now estranged from God though not entirely. God promises to send a redeemer to save man and defeat evil once and for all. (More on this in a later post.) Last but not least, man's relationship with man and with woman was forever transformed. Brother would fight against and kill brother. Marriage would no longer be predicated on love. Instead, the battle of the sexes had begun. This was not part of God's original plan but a consequence of original sin.

"In the beginning," Adam was charged with protecting the Garden and everything in it - including Eve. Man was supposed to tend the Garden, reap its fruits and defend it against the very evil he would succumb to. Adam was standing next to Eve as the snake tempted her. The idea that a "mere garden snake" tempted man away from God is very misleading. The Hebrew word translated as snake in the book of Genesis is the same word used to describe fearsome monsters in other parts of the Old Testament.

Adam was afraid. His first sin wasn't eating the fruit. It was failing to protect Eve.

October 29, 2009

Genesis - "In the beginning"

The book of Genesis is the first book of the Bible. It portrays the beginning of life on earth, indeed the start of everything that is. God, in a free act of love created the world. "In the beginning... " the world was far different from the one we know today. All of creation was in perfect harmony with the Lord. We don't often think of it this way, but before the first sin, the entire world was a temple in which mankind worshiped the one true God. Man fully possessed original goodness and original justice. Then Adam sinned and this was lost.

For one thing, the world at large stopped being a temple. It became necessary to build a temple in which God could be worshiped. Furthermore, man had to sanctify or purify himself before entering this sacred space. This was not necessary before the Fall. More in our next Genesis post.

October 27, 2009

Thought of the Day

As iron is fashioned by the fire on an anvil, so in the fire of suffering and under the weight of trials, our souls receive the form that our Lord desires for them to have.

-- St. Madeleine Sophie Barat

October 23, 2009

Review: What the Church Teaches About Sex

What the Church Teaches About Sex- God's Plan for Human Happiness
By Robert L. Fastiggi Ph.D. (reviewed by Matthew Coffin)

Dr. Robert L. Fastiggi is professor of Systematic Theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary. In What the Church Teaches About Sex – God’s Plan for Human Happiness, he draws on his experience as a theologian and educator to explain the Catholic Church’s teaching about human sexuality. Fastiggi begins by looking at St. Augustine, an admitted adulterer and exploiter of women, before he allowed divine grace to transform his heart. With God’s help Augustine went from sinner to saint.

Fastiggi uses Augustine’s struggle with chastity to show how openness to selfless love and prayer are powerful antidotes to sexual concupiscence. Our first parent’s original sin taints every human endeavor, but none more than conjugal love. Dr. Fastiggi argues the “sexual revolution,” far from liberating human beings, has left in its wake divided homes, broken families, and fractured lives. The greatest victims of this new sexual license are woman and children. Ironically, it is often in their name that abortion, contraception, and divorce is justified.

What the Church Teaches About Sex – God’s Plan for Human Happiness, is more than a refutation of contemporary values. It is a comprehensive yet readable presentation of the Church’s teaching on human sexuality. Dr. Fastiggi looks at the Church’s greatest thinkers, from Augustine to John Paul II, relevant encyclicals, and catecheses. What emerges is the remarkably consistent view the Catholic Church holds regarding sex.

For any Catholic who wants to know why the Church teaches what it does about marriage, homosexuality, divorce, abortion, contraception, and more, this book is a good place to start. A forward by Catholic bioethics scholar Janet E. Smith and an appendix summarizing Church documents relating to sexual morality compliment the text. Whether you are a devout Catholic or unsure, this book will enlighten you like few others. (Despite having taught and studied Catholic Theology, I learned from reading it and will recommend it to students. Parents, engaged couples and young people would benefit greatly.)

October 21, 2009

How to Listen to a Homily

Fr. Phillip Neri Powell

The following is the last excerpt from the article “Put Down the Missalette! Listening to a Homily” by Fr. Philip Neri Powell, O.P., Ph.D. Visit his website here.

5. Pray!

The proclamation and preaching of the Word is an extension of the Word into this time and this place. When we hear the Word proclaimed and preached, we are made larger to better receive God’s blessing; we are strengthened to labor in holiness; we are deepened to be fresher sources of living water for others; and we are excited, electrified to be bearers of the Word, apostles to our world. Pray constantly for our preachers. Ask God to set them on fire for His truth, to open their hearts and minds to His Word, to loosen their tongues, to free their gifts, and make them true workers in sowing the seed of faith. Since we know from the Tradition that the first beneficiary of prayer is the Prayer himself, praying for our preachers grows the capacity of the Prayer to hear, bear, and spread the Word he/she hears in a homily. Ears settled charitably in prayer will hear clearly the voice of God spoken by the preacher.

Well, those are my (somewhat cranky) suggestions for listening to and benefiting from a liturgical homily.

Anybody want to add anything?
Pope Pius XII

Thought of the Day

So then, the great Mother of God, so mysteriously united to Jesus Christ from all eternity by the same decree of predestination, immaculately conceived, an intact virgin throughout her divine motherhood, a noble associate of our Redeemer as he defeated sin and its consequences, received, as it were, the final crowning privilege of being preserved from the corruption of the grave and, following her Son in his victory over death, was brought, body and soul, to the highest glory of heaven, to shine as Queen at the right hand of that same Son, the immortal King of Ages
-- Pope Pius XII.

October 17, 2009

How to Listen to a Homily

Fr. Phillip Neri Powell

The following is excerpted from the article “Put Down the Missalette! Listening to a Homily” by Fr. Philip Neri Powell, O.P., Ph.D. Visit his website here.

3. Repeat every word in your head.

Yup, that’s what I said: repeat every word. I do this all the time. I have what the Buddhists call “Monkey Mind.” Just about the only way I can pay attention to a homily is to close my eyes (no visual distraction) and then repeat every word of the homily in my head. This is how I am able to stay on track, follow the homily’s “argument,” and not end up daydreaming about bread pudding, Battlestar Galactica, and the Pope’s new encyclical all at the same time.

4. Listen now, argue later.

OK. Fr. Oprah is on and on and on about his latest trip to the therapist and he’s boring the snot out of you with tales of his evolving consciousness and how close he is to exploding into Cosmic Oneness with the Womb of Universal Is-ness. First, put down the missalette. Just put it down. Pay attention to key words and image and repeat every word in your head. Why? Because for better or worse, ugly or pretty, he’s the preacher and (however hard it is for us to understand why) the Church has seen fit to make him a priest. He has something you need to hear. Even if you need to hear in order to reject it. Listen now, argue later. If you start arguing when he launches into a description of his Naked Rebirthing Sweat Lodge Ritual with Richard Rohr and you tune out because you need to argue, then you can’t hear what it is you need to hear from him. You’re spending your homily time arguing with someone who can’t hear you argue and couldn’t care less if he could. So, don’t waste your homily time arguing with your version of Fr. Oprah’s homily. Hear him out and argue on his time later.

October 16, 2009

Review: Man and Woman - He Created Them

Pope Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is comprised of 129 addresses he gave over the first five years of his pontificate during his weekly Wednesday audience. In Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body respected biblical scholar Michael Waldstein presents the Holy Father’s vision of the human person with meticulous scholarship and insight.

George Weigel called the Theology of the Body, "one of the boldest reconfigurations of Catholic theology in centuries." Weigel observed that Saint John Paul’s thought is difficult to read and understand; hence, a secondary literature capable of translating John Paul's thought into accessible categories and vocabulary was needed. Waldstein’s contribution answers the concerns of Weigel and others. One shortcoming of prior English-language translations is that different translators were used at varying times over the duration of the audiences. Occasionally, the same term would be translated differently from one talk to the next. L'Osservatore Romano, published the homilies, thus resulting in an inconsistent transcript when compiled as a whole. Man and Woman He Created Them has corrected this problem.

This seminal work of 20th century Theology contemplates the mystery of love that flows from the Trinity, through Christ’s spousal relationship with the Church. That same love is realized in human relationships and in a concrete way in the human body. In so doing, Saint John Paul II restores man firmly at the center of reality, making moral absolutes essential. Like Augustine and Aquinas before him, he confirms the fundamental harmony between faith and reason. Using phenomenology and Sacred Scripture, the pontiff affirmed objective moral truth and the dignity of persons, who are shaped by and responsible for their actions. John Paul synthesizes the wisdom found in Scripture with the personalistic norm which holds that the person is a good towards which the only proper and adequate attitude is love.

The fruit of this synthesis, the Theology of the Body, is a reflection on our nature and life as persons made in the image and likeness of God, conjugal love, the meaning of celibacy, and the beatitude to which every human being is called. This is the Holy Father’s catechesis for a culture where sex is an obsession, marriage and families are endangered, and the dignity of persons is denied. Teaching about human sexuality using language subjective, inductive, experimental minds can understand, the Theology of the Body is a light in darkness, guiding us toward an authentic vision of the person as divine gift.

I highly recommend this translation. The preface and introductory essays are illuminating unto themselves. This is not summer reading, however, or for the theologically faint of heart. For those unfamiliar with it, I recommend reflecting on one address at a time. With patience and persistence, a thoughtful reading will bless and reward those seeking to understand Saint John Paul’s wisdom.

Pillars of Unbelief - Karl Marx

Peter Kreeft

(Dr. Peter Kreeft teaches philosophy at Boston College. He is a renowned Catholic apologists and unapologetic big C Catholic. This is an excerpt from his series Pillars of Unbelief. The fifth article considers the philosophy of Karl Marx. It can be read in its entirety here.)

False Moses for the Masses

Among the many opponents of the Christian faith, Marxism is certainly not the most important, imposing or impressive philosophy in history.

But it has, until recently, clearly been the most influential. A comparison of 1917, 1947 and 1987 world maps will show how inexorably this system of thought flowed so as to inundate one-third of the world in just two generations-a feat rivaled only twice in history, by early Christianity and early Islam.

Twenty years ago, every political and military conflict in the world, from Central America to the Middle East, turned on the axis of communism vs. anti-communism.

Even fascism became popular in Europe, and is still a force to be reckoned with in Latin America, largely because of its opposition to "the specter of communism," as Marx calls it in the first sentence of his "Communist Manifesto."

The "Manifesto" was one of the key moments in history. Published in 1848, "the year of revolutions' throughout Europe, it is, like the Bible, essentially a philosophy of history, past and future. All past history is reduced to class struggle between oppressor and oppressed, master and slave, whether king vs. people, priest vs. parishioner, guild- master vs. apprentice, or even husband vs. wife and parent vs. child.

This is a view of history even more cynical than Machiavelli's. Love is totally denied or ignored; competition and exploitation are the universal rule.

Now, however, this can change, according to Marx, because now, for the first time in history, we have not many classes but only two-the bourgeoisie (the "haves," owners of the means of production) and the proletariat (the "have-nots," non-owners of the means of production).

The latter must sell themselves and their labor to the owners until the communist revolution, which will "eliminate" (euphemism for "murder") the bourgeoisie and thus abolish classes and class conflict forever, establishing a millennium of peace and equality. After being utterly cynical about the past, Marx becomes utterly naive about the future...

October 14, 2009

How to Listen to a Homily

Fr. Phillip Neri Powell

The following is excerpted from the article “Put Down the Missalette! Listening to a Homily” by Fr. Philip Neri Powell, O.P., Ph.D. Visit his website here.

2. Pay attention to key words, images, phrases, ideas.

If you can’t “hear” the whole homily, listen for prominent words or ideas that get repeated or emphasized. A good preacher will ask a question or make a statement or in some way call your attention to his point(s). When you hear this point, cling to it and then listen to the rest of the homily “through” this point, paying careful attention to how it is developed or used. So, for example, if the preacher starts by defining “conversion” or asking a question about conversion, then listen for images or words or some kind of repetition of conversion themes in the rest of the homily. He might preach about other things, but you’ve picked up on “conversion.” Now, of course, you can pick up on multiple points and follow them all. But you can’t do any of this while reading the bulletin, the missalette (Hack! Pooey!) or fiddling with your cell phone. (to be continued... )

Marriage - The Nuptial Blessing

Robert L. Fastiggi

From What the Church Teaches About Sex: God's Plan For Human Happiness

Getting married is certainly a "rite of passage," but it's much more. It is a sacrament, a holy mystery, "an efficacious sign instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is entrusted to us." One of the most beautiful prayers in the "Rite of Marriage," is the nuptial blessing given by the priest that says:

Father, You have made the union of man and wife so holy a mystery that it symbolizes the marriage of Christ and His Church.

Father, by your plan man and woman are united, and married life has been established as the one blessing that was not forfeited by original sin or washed away by the flood.

Marriage is a sacred mystery that symbolizes the covenantal love between Christ and His Church (cf. Eph. 5:21-32). It is a primordial blessing that goes back to the creation of the human race. The dynamics of this blessing should be obvious: love, intimacy, communion, and fruitfulness. So precious are these gifts that God preserved them for humanity even after the fall.

October 9, 2009

Pillars of Unbelief - Sartre

Peter Kreeft

(Dr. Peter Kreeft teaches philosophy at Boston College. He is a renowned Catholic apologists and unapologetic big C Catholic. This is an excerpt from his series Pillars of Unbelief. The final article in the series considers the philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre. It can be read in its entirety here.)

Apostle of Absurdity

Jean-Paul Sartre may be the most famous atheist of the 20th century. As such, he qualifies for anyone's short list of "pillars of unbelief."

Yet he may have done more to drive fence-sitters toward the faith than most Christian apologists. For Sartre has made atheism such a demanding, almost unendurable, experience that few can bear it.

Comfortable atheists who read him become uncomfortable atheists, and uncomfortable atheism is a giant step closer to God. In his own words, "Existentialism is nothing else than an attempt to draw all the consequences of a coherent atheistic position." For this we should be grateful to him.

He called his philosophy "existentialism" because of the thesis that "existence precedes essence." What this means concretely is that "man is nothing else than what he makes of himself." Since there is no God to design man, man has no blueprint, no essence. His essence or nature comes not from God as Creator but from his own free choice.

There's profound insight here, though it is immediately subverted. The insight is the fact that man by his free choices determines who he will be. God indeed creates what all men are. But the individual fashions his own unique individuality. God makes our what but we make our who. God gives us the dignity of being present at our own creation, or co-creation; He associates us with Himself in the task of co-creating our selves. He creates only the objective raw material, through heredity and environment. I shape it into the final form of myself through my free choices.

Unfortunately, Sartre contends that this disproves God, for if there were a God, man would be reduced to a mere artifact of God, and thus would not be free. He constantly argues that human freedom and dignity require atheism. His attitude is like that of a cowboy in a Western, saying to God as to an enemy cowboy: "This town ain't big enough for both you and me. One of us has to leave." [ ... ]

Mr. Kreeft's website has additional articles, audio presentations, and more.

How to Listen to a Homily

Fr. Phillip Neri Powell

The following is excerpted from the article “Put Down the Missalette! Listening to a Homily” by Fr. Philip Neri Powell, O.P., Ph.D. Visit his website here.

1. Put down the missalette...

or as I prefer to call them Those Paper Destroyers of the Liturgy, or Those Menaces to the Word Proclaimed. Put them down. No, tear them in half, stick them in your pocket, and bury them near a soggy marsh. Do you take your Riverside Shakespeare with you when you go to see Hamlet? Ask yourself this question: if we were meant to read along with the lectionary readings, why do we bother training and appointing a Lector to proclaim the readings for us? Why don’t we just say, “OK. Let us take out our missalettes, turn to page forty-three, and spend a few minutes reading the Old Testament passage, etc.”? We don’t do this because we are called upon in the liturgy to LISTEN to the Word proclaimed. Not to read along, not to check the Lector for errors, not to fiddle with a little book during the Boring Parts When We Read the Bible Out Loud. Can you listen and read along? No. You can’t. Sorry, you can’t. The whole point of the proclamation is that the Word is sent out, projected, given a voice, made alive. You can’t get this if you’re fumbling with a missalette or fussing over a mispronounced word or a lame translation. Hear the Word Proclaimed. Don’t follow along with another text. And, yes, this means we need VERY well-prepared and trained Lectors who understand what they do as a ministry of the Church... (to be continued)

October 8, 2009

Pillars of Unbelief - Freud

Peter Kreeft

(Dr. Peter Kreeft teaches philosophy at Boston College. He is a renowned Catholic apologists and unapologetic big C Catholic. This is an excerpt from his series Pillars of Unbelief. The fourth article considers Sigmund Freud, an "honest atheist," who paved the way for the sexual revolution. It can be read in its entirety here.)

Founder of the "Sexual Revolution"

He was the Columbus of the psyche. No psychologist alive escapes his influence.

Yet, along with flashes of genius, we find the most bizarre ideas in his writings—e.g., that mothers cuddle their babies only as a substitute for their desire to have sexual intercourse with them.

Sigmund Freud's most influential teaching is his sexual reductionism. As an atheist, Freud reduces God to a dream of man. As a materialist, he reduces man to his body, the human body to animal desire, desire to sexual desire and sexual desire to genital sex. All are oversimplifications.

Freud was a scientist, and in some ways a great one. But he succumbed to an occupational hazard: the desire to reduce the complex to the controllable. He wanted to make psychology into a science, even an exact science. But this it can never be because its object, man, is not only an object but also a subject, an "I."

At the basis of our century's "sexual revolution" is a demand for satisfaction and a confusion between needs and wants. All normal human beings have sexual wants or desires. But it's simply not true, as Freud constantly assumes, that these are needs or rights; that no one can be expected to live without gratifying them; or to suppress them is psychologically unhealthy.

This confusion between needs and wants stems from the denial of objective values and an objective natural moral law. No one has caused more havoc in this crucial area than Freud, especially regarding sexual morality. The modern attack on marriage and the family, for which Freud set the stage, has done more damage than any war or political revolution. For where else do we all learn the most important lesson in life—unselfish love—except in stable families who preach it by practicing it?

Yet, with all his faults, Freud still towers above the psychologies that replaced him in popular culture. Despite his materialism, he explores some of the deeper mysteries of the soul. He had a real sense of tragedy, suffering and unhappiness. Honest atheists are usually unhappy; dishonest atheists happy. Freud was an honest atheist...

For more articles by Peter Kreeft visit his website.

October 7, 2009


(From the Liturgy of the hours)
God, come to my (our) assistance.

- Lord, make haste to help me (us).

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:

- As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen. Alleluia.

[ ... ]

Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep rest in peace. Alleluia.
To pray Compline (Night Prayer) in full click here.

October 6, 2009

Thought of the Day
There are two sides to every sin: the turning of the will toward fleeting satisfaction and the turning away from everlasting value. As regards to the first, the principle of all sins can be called lust--lust in its most general sense, namely, the unbridled desire for one's own pleasure. As regards to the second, the principle is pride-- pride in its general sense, the lack of submission to God.
-- St. Thomas Aquinas

October 5, 2009

Pillars of Unbelief - Nietzsche

Peter Kreeft

(Dr. Peter Kreeft teaches philosophy at Boston College and has authored over forty-five books. He is a renowned Catholic apologists and an unapologetic big C Catholic. The following is an excerpt from an article in his series Pillars of Unbelief. The third article considers Friedrich Nietzsche, the self proclaimed "Anti-Christ" and outspoken critic of religious belief. The article can be read in its entirety here.)

Nietzsche - Self-Proclaimed "Anti-Christ"

Friedrich Nietzsche called himself "the Anti-Christ," and wrote a book by that title. He argued for atheism as follows: "I will now disprove the existence of all gods. If there were gods, how could I bear not to be a god? Consequently, there are no gods."

He scorned reason as well as faith, often deliberately contradicted himself, said that "a sneer is infinitely more noble that a syllogism" and appealed to passion, rhetoric and even deliberate hatred rather than reason.

He saw love as "the greatest danger" and morality as mankind's worst weakness. He died insane, in an asylum, of syphilis-signing his last letters "the Crucified One." He was adored by the Nazis as their semi-official philosopher.

Yet he is admired as profound and wise by many of the greatest minds of our century. How can this be?

There are three schools of thought about Nietzsche. Most popular among academics is the school of the "gentle Nietzscheans," who claim that Nietzsche was, in effect, a sheep in wolf's clothing; that his attacks should not be taken literally and that he was really an ally, not an enemy, of the Western institutions and values which he denounced.

These scholars resemble theologians who interpret sayings of Jesus like: "no one can come to the Father but through me" as meaning "all religions are equally valid," and "he who marries a divorced woman commits adultery" as meaning "let your divorces be creative and reasonable."

Second, there are the "awful, awful" Nietzscheans. They at least pay Nietzsche the compliment of taking him seriously. They are typified by the footnote in an old Catholic textbook on modern philosophy, which said only that Nietzsche existed, was an atheist and died insane-a fate which may well await anyone who looks too long into his books.

A third school of thought sees Nietzsche as a wolf indeed and not a sheep, but as a very important thinker because he shows to modern Western civilization its own dark heart and future. It's easy to scapegoat and point fingers at "blacksheep" like Nietzsche and Hitler, but is there not a "Hitler in ourselves" (to quote Max Picard's title)? Did not Nietzsche let the cat out of the bag? The demonic cat that was hidden in the respectable bag of secular humanism? Once "God is dead," so is man, morality, love, freedom, hope, democracy, the soul and ultimately, sanity. No one shows this more vividly than Nietzsche. He may have been responsible (quite unintentionally) for many conversions...

October 3, 2009

Pope welcomes new US ambassador...

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Welcoming the new U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI outlined wide areas of potential cooperation with the administration of President Barack Obama, but drew a sharp line on the issues of abortion and the rights of conscience.

The pope called for "a clear discernment with regard to issues touching the protection of human dignity and respect for the inalienable right to life from the moment of conception to natural death, as well as the protection of the right to conscientious objection on the part of health care workers, and indeed all citizens."

He made the remarks at a ceremony Oct. 2 to accept the credentials of Miguel Diaz, (pictured) named in May by Obama as the ninth U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. After the encounter at the papal villa in Castel Gandolfo south of Rome, Diaz held talks at the Vatican with the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone...

October 2, 2009

Pillars of Unbelief - Kant

Peter Kreeft

(Dr. Peter Kreeft teaches philosophy at Boston College. He is a renowned Catholic apologists. The following is an excerpt from an article in his series Pillars of Unbelief. The second article considers Immanuel Kant, his philosophy and his subjectification of truth. It can be read in its entirety here.)

Kant - Subjectivizer of Truth

Few philosophers in history have been so unreadable and dry as Immanuel Kant. Yet few have had a more devastating impact on human thought.

Kant's devoted servant, Lumppe, is said to have faithfully read each thing his master published, but when Kant published his most important work, "The Critique of Pure Reason," Lumppe began but did not finish it because, he said, if he were to finish it, it would have to be in a mental hospital. Many students since then have echoed his sentiments.

Yet this abstract professor, writing in abstract style about abstract questions, is, I believe, the primary source of the idea that today imperils faith (and thus souls) more than any other; the idea that truth is subjective.

The simple citizens of his native Konigsburg, Germany, where he lived and wrote in the latter half of the 18th century, understood this better than professional scholars, for they nicknamed Kant "The Destroyer" and named their dogs after him.

He was a good-tempered, sweet and pious man, so punctual that his neighbors set their clocks by his daily walk. The basic intention of his philosophy was noble: to restore human dignity amidst a skeptical world worshiping science.

This intent becomes clear through a single anecdote. Kant was attending a lecture by a materialistic astronomer on the topic of man's place in the universe. The astronomer concluded his lecture with: "So you see that astronomically speaking, man is utterly insignificant." Kant replied: "Professor, you forgot the most important thing, man is the astronomer."

Kant, more than any other thinker, gave impetus to the typically modern turn from the objective to the subjective. This may sound fine until we realize that it meant for him the redefinition of truth itself as subjective. And the consequences of this idea have been catastrophic.

If we ever engage in conversation about our faith with unbelievers, we know from experience that the most common obstacle to faith today is not any honest intellectual difficulty, like the problem of evil or the dogma of the trinity, but the assumption that religion cannot possibly concern facts and objective truth at all; that any attempt to convince another person that your faith is true—objectively true, true for everyone—is unthinkable arrogance.

The business of religion, according to this mindset, is practice and not theory; values, not facts; something subjective and private, not objective and public. Dogma is an "extra," and a bad extra at that, for dogma fosters dogmatism. Religion, in short, equals ethics. And since Christian ethics is very similar to the ethics of most other major religions, it doesn't matter whether you are a Christian or not; all that matters is whether you are a "good person." (The people who believe this also usually believe that just about everyone except Adolf Hitler and Charles Manson is a "good person.")

Kant is largely responsible for this way of thinking. He helped bury the medieval synthesis of faith and reason. He described his philosophy as "clearing away the pretensions of reason to make room for faith"—as if faith and reason were enemies and not allies. In Kant, Luther's divorce between faith and reason becomes finalized...

Pillars of Unbelief - Machiavelli

Peter Kreeft

(Dr. Peter Kreeft teaches philosophy at Boston College and has authored over forty-five books. He is a renowned Catholic apologists and an unapologetic big C Catholic. The following is an excerpt from an article in his series Pillars of Unbelief. The first article considers Niccolo Machiavelli and the impact of Machiavellian philosophy. It can be read in its entirety here.)

Machiavelli - Inventor of "the New Morality"

Niccolo Machiavelli (1496-1527) was the founder of modern political and social philosophy, and seldom in the history of thought has there been a more total revolution. Machiavelli knew how radical he was. He compared his work to Columbus' as the discoverer of a new world, and to Moses' as the leader of a new chosen people who would exit the slavery of moral ideas into a new promised land of power and practicality.

Machiavelli's revolution can be summarized in six points...

For all previous social thinkers, the goal of political life was virtue. A good society was conceived as one in which people are good. There was no "double standard" between individual and social goodness-until Machiavelli. With him, politics became no longer the art of the good but the art of the possible. His influence on this point was enormous. All major social and political philosophers (Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Mill, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Dewey) subsequently rejected the goal of virtue, just as Machiavelli lowered the standard and nearly everyone began to salute the newly masted flag.

Machiavelli's argument was that traditional morals were like the stars; beautiful but too distant to cast any useful light on our earthly path. We need instead man-made lanterns; in other words, attainable goals. We must take our bearings from the earth, not from the heavens; from what men and societies actually do, not from what they ought to do.

The essence of Machiavelli's revolution was to judge the ideal by the actual rather than the actual by the ideal. An ideal is good for him, only if it is practical; thus, Machiavelli is the father of pragmatism. Not only does "the end justify the means"-any means that work-but the means even justify the end, in the sense that an end is worth pursuing only if there are practical means to attain it. In other words, the new summum bonum, or greatest good is success. (Machiavelli sounds like not only the first pragmatist but the first American pragmatist!)

Machiavelli didn't just lower the moral standards; he abolished them. More than a pragmatist, he was an anti-moralist. The only relevance he saw morality having to success was to stand in its way. He taught that it was necessary for a successful prince "to learn how not to be good," (The Prince, ch. 15) how to break promises, to lie and cheat and steal (ch. 18).

Because of such shameless views, some of Machiavelli's contemporaries saw "The Prince" as a book literally inspired by the devil. But modern scholars usually see it as drawn from science. They defend Machiavelli by claiming that he did not deny morality, but simply wrote a book about another subject, about what is rather than about what ought to be. They even praise him for his lack of hypocrisy, implying that moralism equals hypocrisy.

This is the common, modern misunderstanding of hypocrisy as not practicing what you preach. In that sense all men are hypocrites unless they stop preaching. Matthew Arnold defined hypocrisy as "the tribute vice pays to virtue." Machiavelli was the first to refuse to pay even that tribute. He overcame hypocrisy not by raising practice to the level of preaching but of lowering preaching to the level of practice, by conforming the ideal to the real rather than the real to the ideal...

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