Tuesday, May 26, 2009

It's Not About Numbers

With our wedding date fast approaching, my fiancée and I are encountering a question I’m sure is all too familiar for many couples in our situation: How many kids do you think you’ll have?

We have friends who think anything over two or three is plain crazy; but then, members of my non-Catholic family have good-naturedly voiced their assumption that, as Catholics, we’ll have at least a dozen before we’re through. In a day where contraception is standard and even natural family planning is seen strictly in the light of its child-prohibitive qualities, the question is a natural one. All that’s left for us to do is choose a number we like, and the “how” is taken care of.

But this “it’s my life” mentality isn’t the extent of the problem. It’s not, in other words, only that some would have their own way and “keep God out of the bedroom.” The backlash is just as serious. There are some well-intentioned Catholics who would (and do) say, “I’m going to procreate with reckless abandon!” In response to those who would exclude the will of God for their lives from the awesome role as co-creators of human life, these folks have conversely thrown the whole weight of the burden back on His shoulders. The message is in effect, “Thanks for the offer, Almighty, but we’ll leave the creating up to You. We’ll just do our thing, and if something comes out, great!” This is not a solution. Whereas they are verbally answering the question of “How many kids do you want?” by saying, “As many as God wants us to have,” they are responding differently with their bodies, saying, “No comment.” “Reckless abandonment” is no answer at all.
(Continue reading...)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Obama/Notre Dame Roundup

Carl Olson over at Ignatius Insight has provided a very thorough roundup of the issues surrounding Pres Obama's appearance at Notre Dame and the Catholic response. Check it out.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Obama at Notre Dame: Why the Scandal?

For several weeks there has been a great deal of media chatter concerning President Barack Obama’s invitation to and address at Notre Dame’s graduate commencement. Our twenty-four hour news cycle was able to milk this for large dramatic effect, and loud voices on both sides of the debate provided plenty of content. This same news cycle, however, treats recent history as old news. Little to no airtime or ink was spent by mainstream media outlets on the aftermath of the scandal, as a scandal it was indeed.

In reality—that is, in the world outside of network competition and concerns about ratings—the issues are still very pressing. It is not only good but necessary to take a moment to consider what made this thing a scandal, and what is its effect.

Leading Up

Others have given far more thorough and valuable summaries of events of what has happened, such as Joseph Bottum of First Things and Omar O’Shaughnessey at Mercatornet. In deference to their skill and in hope you will read their words, I shall provide only a sketch.

Every year the President of the United States traditionally gives addresses at three schools: A military academy, a public university, and a private university. This year, the first of Mr Obama’s presidency, the first slot was filled by the United States Naval Academy, the second by Arizona State University, and the third by Notre Dame University. Of course, the President does not simply pick schools he likes, but must be invited to them. The scandal was not that he chose Notre Dame, but that he was ever able to choose Notre Dame.

The invitation came from Father John Jenkins, who is the university president. At this point we must pause and examine what we have. Notre Dame is French for "Our Lady." The university's full name is actually "The University of Notre Dame du Lac." The university enjoys a level of prestige in this country, and with its prestige has come a general sense of ordinariness. While persons who speak of Notre Dame likely recognize it as Catholic, they may think of it as only nominally so. It may take a moment’s reflection to remember that the university was founded and ideally remains by Catholics and for Catholics. Thus it is held to a different standard, whether you accept that as one higher or lower, than other schools. It is not then simply a matter of a man in charge of a university with its and its students’ interest in mind. It is a matter of a priest of the Church of Rome in charge of a university whose best interests are clearest seen through the lens of that Church’s teachings. Rather than doing what is best for the university according to public opinion or modern secular standards, a Catholic university ought to behave as if it is really and actually Catholic. A university has as its purpose research and learning; a Catholic university has in addition to that purpose a responsibility to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.

How then should that color our understanding of Father Jenkins’ invitation to President Obama to speak at Notre Dame’s commencement? Several points may be made here, and because of their number I shall attempt to make them briefly.


I do not think I am attacking a straw man if I say that opposition to Obama’s address was not based on a lack of patriotism. America is not nor has ever she been a Catholic country, and here Catholicism has been historically regarded with suspicion. True, we’ve moved past the days of the illegalization of the Mass and the workings of the Know Nothing Party, but one can easily imagine a fear that Catholics’ allegiance to the flag might be shaky. After all, they are part not of a movement but a Church, an institution which has a hierarchy and laws which operate apart from secular powers.

But it is a firm teaching of the Church that patriotism is a fulfillment of the Lord’s command to "love thy neighbor." There ought to be in a Catholic a high level of cooperation with the state and a reverence for such high offices as that of the President, whoever holds it. It is true that there are divergences between Catholic thought and the thought of a particular nation—America included—but at that point well-grounded Catholics neither abandon Church nor state. Rather, inspired by love for their country they strive to help it achieve what is good and true. The scandal of Notre Dame was not that Fr Jenkins’ invited the President, but that he invited this President.

It is doubtful you have missed what, in this debate, sets this President apart.


If you misunderstand the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of life you cannot understand the opposition to Pres Obama’s appearance at Notre Dame. To put the Catholic understanding into a very simple formulation:
  • Every innocent human individual has a fundamental and inalienable right to life;
  • There is no reason to exclude unborn human beings from the category of "innocent human beings;"
  • Ergo, it is a violation to end the life of an unborn human being.

Simpler still, abortion and embryo destruction constitute the (violent) murder of human persons.

While Mr Obama was a senator he had a 100% pro-abortion choice voting record. In fact, he voted not only in favor of abortion rights through the third trimester (including partial birth abortion), but he also voted against the Born Alive Protection Act, which protected children who were born alive after failed attempts to abort the pregnancy. In other words, he voted in favor of infanticide by any definition of the word.

On the campaign trail, at a Planned Parenthood function, Senator Obama vowed his first formal act in office would be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act which would effectively end the abortion debate in the political realm (in favor of abortion). Once elected, one of his first acts was to reinstate the Mexico City Policy which provides US funding for international abortions. He also wishes to open funding for more research on human embryos.

President Obama not only rejects the human right to life which the Church teaches is "a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation," but actively opposes it.

So what does this mean for the university?

The Catholic University

Fr Jenkins, in response to the opposition to his invitation, claimed to be upholding the purpose of the university by inviting debate. But President Obama was not invited to debate, rather to give a commencement address to this year’s graduates. There was no opposing podium. True, one of the counter-opposition talking points was that former US Ambassador to the Vatican Mary Ann Glendon would provide the other side, but this offering is meager at best. Dr Glendon was not invited to debate either, but to receive the prestigious Laetare Medal; her acceptance speech would have been about five minutes. (The fact that the university was using her good name and reputation to soften the Obama-blow was one of the reasons she gave for eventually declining the award.) Nor did any semblance of debate appear at the actual commencement. Pres Obama enjoyed a warm welcome inside, while outside protestors were cordoned off, and several were arrested—for advocating Catholic teaching on a Catholic university campus. What’s more, Fr Jenkins did not only invite Pres Obama to speak, but invited him to receive an honorary law degree. This is not unimportant.

In 1990 Pope John Paul II wrote an Apostolic Exhortation, Ex Corde Ecclesia, which calls on Catholic universities to be discernibly Catholic (this is of course an overly-simplistic summary, but will suffice). With even this basic guideline one could reasonably expect a Catholic university not to honor a man—and keep in mind the man would be honored, not his office—whose life work has been tainted by an opposition to revealed truth. But to make things simpler, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a document in 2004 called "Catholics in Political Life." In it the bishops wrote, "Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.... They should not be given awards, honors, or platforms which would suggest support for their actions." Fr Jenkins’ excuse that he thought the bishops only forbade honoring Catholics "who act in defiance" is pathetic enough to be ignored.

And so, all of a sudden, we find ourselves at an end. The scandal was not really about the President coming to a Catholic university, but that the Catholic university—or at least its head—invited him to come in order to honor him, despite his opposition to Catholic teaching. The scandal only became graver by the support for Fr Jenkins’ decision by faculty and students within the university. It’s not, as some have characterized it, about power or politics or about someone or other just wanting his own way. It’s about taking the sanctity of life seriously, and not patting on the back those who oppose its protection.

Further Reading:
Declining Notre Dame: A Letter from Mary Ann Glendon

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Importance of Church Tradition in Bible Interpretation

Monday, March 30, 2009

Can We Clear up Some Things About the Church Itself?

This article is fairly long, but meaty. I'd encourage you to read it in its entirety, but for your convenience I've provided some links to the questions answered within this piece:

After reading a few of the comments I thought it might be helpful to just bring this topic out to the forefront and allow more discussion. The questions of authority, church, magisterium and Scripture are all tied together. I will do my best to try and lay out the Catholic understanding of this and hopefully help people understand at least what the Catholic Church understands it all to mean. A great document to read is from Vatican II on the Church and can be found in its entirety at http://tinyurl.com/3wxff

The Catholic Church teaches and believes that Jesus Christ intended and did leave a visible Church to guide mankind towards salvation. The Body of Christ, as it is often referred to, is made up of various people who have different roles to play in the Church. Ephesians 4:11-16 "And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ, so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming. Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body's growth and builds itself up in love."

Jesus didn't intend a hierarchical Church, did He?

The first common objection is that the Catholic Church is made up of a hierarchy, which was not Christ's intention in the first place, nor is it what Scripture reveals to be the true Church. Sometimes it will be said that what Jesus intended was to simply leave the Holy Spirit who would guide all to the Truth and those who are of one mind and heart would make up the church.

Somewhere in this discussion we take for granted that the Holy Scriptures are available to us to read and meditate upon, but rarely do we really look at what it took for Scripture to come about over many years.

Actually, Christ did setup a hierarchy, as Saint Paul reminds us, with Christ at the head of the body, the Church. We also see that Christ chose certain men to be called as apostles. If Christ's desire was to make everyone equal and capable of knowing, teaching and preaching the Truth, why did He separate the 12 from everyone else? When we read Acts of the Apostles we can clearly see that a structure is being set up, but that they are still trying to figure out how it will look. The Church realizes that the Apostles cannot do everything and were not meant to, thus we have the deacons chosen and created in Acts 6. Now Jesus did not say to have deacons, but somehow the Church decided it was not only necessary but fitting. Acts 6:5 "The proposal was acceptable to the whole community," this shows us one way in which the Church makes decisions. The entire community comes together and in union with the bishops (apostles) a decision is made. This is of course for us not the only way but it is one way. Acts 6:6 "They presented these men to the apostles who prayed and laid hands on them." This is an example of the Church acting on behalf of Jesus Christ. The men are presented to the apostles, who lay hands on them, not simply to the community as a whole who then lay hands on them. The men did not decide for themselves that they would be deacons, but instead felt called to be presented to the Church, who made the final decision. We see a similar example in the replacement of Judas in Acts 1:15-26. We also see in Acts 15 at the Council of Jerusalem the Church gathering to solve a dispute and it being left to the Apostles to make the final decision, with Peter speaking on behalf of the Church. After the council Acts goes on to talk about those who have gone forth without a mandate from them (Acts 15:24). Now they will go on to say that what they are saying comes from the Holy Spirit not just from them, which again reiterates what the Church believes to be the case as to how the Truth will be conveyed.

As time goes on the structure of the Church takes form and becomes more visible and stable so that the Truth of the Gospel may not be watered down nor distorted. When you are just preaching to a small group of people it is much easier to not have any structure, but the minute you begin to spread out and grow there is always a need for structure and order to keep the Truth straight. We would say that in Mt 16:18 Jesus is setting Peter up as the visible head of the Church so that one person would be the final authority on earth for the Truth of the Gospel.

If the Church is really the earthly body of Christ, made up of sinful people, can we really trust it to consistently communicate God's will?

Sometimes people will comment that the Church is made up of sinful, imperfect people, so there is no way they could get it right all of the time or be trusted to hand on the Truth. Others will say that giving this much power and authority to one person is not only dangerous but unscriptural. One might even say, 'Just look at the history of the Catholic Church and the point is made with all the sinful bad Popes.' Yet everyday Christians across the world trust in sinful imperfect men to get it right when they read Scripture. When a person reads Scripture how do they know they understand it correctly? Is it because they are perfect or is it because the Holy Spirit is perfect and guiding you? Have you ever made a mistake about what Scripture meant? How did you know you were wrong or right? Have you ever corrected someone? By what authority did you correct them? Do we decide by a majority? Do we decide by quoting Scripture? The early Church did not just let people do whatever they wanted and in fact we read often of Saint Paul battling those who had perverted the Truth for their own gain and glory.

The Holy Spirit guided the hand of the writers when the books of the Bible were being written. The same Holy Spirit guided the Church when She selected the Books which would be considered Scriptural. Now we would not say that somehow these men were sinless or perfect, but they did manage to allow the Holy Spirit to guide them in such a way that what they wrote and chose were God's Divine Word. I think sometimes the difference is that Scripture was written and chosen a long time ago and we can rest on it not changing so it is much easier to say they got it right that time, but it is much harder to trust that the Holy Spirit will be able to guide us today or tomorrow.

This is also why the Catholic Church does not claim to be authoritative in all matters, just those dealing with Faith and Morals and it is also important to note that everything the Pope says is not spoken with authority; it is only when he clearly intends to speak in such a manner. One must also realize that just because a person fails to live out the truth does not mean they do not believe it to be the truth. Often we find examples of Christians not living the Christian way of life, but their failure to live it out does not somehow negate that there is a true and moral way to live, more that we like Saint Paul often find ourselves doing what we do not want to do. When Peter answers the question of who Jesus is in Matthew 16:16-20 what we see is Jesus reminding Peter that it was not his own ability but the Holy Spirit's ability to guide his answer. Thus we are not shocked to see Peter mess up in the next chapter, for he was thinking not as God does.

What about when Scripture and Tradition contradict one another?

People will often ask "What if Scripture and Tradition contradict each other?" and the Church would say they won't. It is like asking, "What if you have a round square?" you can't. We would say that it is an apparent contradiction, but God cannot contradict Himself. Jesus told us not to call any man our Father (Mt 23:9), but then Paul refers to Abraham as our father in faith (Rom 4:12). So what are we to do now that Scripture has contradicted Scripture? We would say that one has misunderstood what Jesus meant by 'call no one Father' not that we have found something in error in Scripture. The Catholic Church refers to Her priests as 'father' and people will often say this is an example of Tradition contradicting Scripture, but we would say it is no different from the previous example of St. Paul referring to Abraham as father or even the numerous times Paul refers to himself as a father.

Do I even need an institutional church? Doesn't the Holy Spirit guide me just as well as an individual?

Too often we argue that we do not need structure nor authority because we are guided by the Holy Spirit, but Saint Paul found himself constantly up against people who had twisted Scripture to advance their own agenda. Again the argument begs that question, "Where did Scripture come from in the first place?" We need to have a visible magisterium to guide us as a people of faith. Had the apostles not taken the role as leaders how would the Church have grown? Who would have made the decisions? One could argue that the Holy Spirit would have guided the people but ask yourself, How often in my church has everyone agreed on one thing? Or more likely how often has a leadership team been the one to make the final decisions about what it True. Then if we still disagree what do we do? Where is the final authority on earth? Again we listen to Jesus as He tells Peter that he is being given the keys to the kingdom of heaven and whatever he binds on earth will be bound in heaven (Mt 16:19) or John 20:21-23 where he breathes the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and gives them the command that whatever sins are forgiven by them are truly forgiven.

One must admit that we accept someone's authority, by accepting the authority of the Scriptures, for Sacred Scripture did not fall out of the sky, nor was it dictated by an angel, nor was it written by the hand of Christ. Instead it was the early Church that wrote, selected and preserved them. If this authority was present at one moment in time why would God not permit that authority to continue throughout time so that when a disagreement arises we can do as the early Church did by turning to the successors of the apostles to be guided by the Holy Spirit.

Friday, March 27, 2009

No Condoms to Africa? What is the Pope Talking About?

Unfortunately most of the media coverage you see about the Pope's comments in Africa regarding AIDS and condoms has no more depth than this little clip. But before the debate heats up, it's important to read what the Holy Father actually said on the matter. This from the transcript of a press conference en route to Cameroon:
Visseyrias: Holiness, among the many evils that scourge Africa, there is also and in particular that of the spread of AIDS. The position of the Catholic Church on the way to fight against this is often regarded as unrealistic and ineffective. Will you address this topic during the trip? Very Holy Father, would it be possible for you to answer this question in French?

Benedict XVI: I would say the contrary. I think that the most efficient reality, the most present at the front of the struggle against AIDS, is precisely the Catholic Church, with her movements, with her various organizations. I am thinking of the Sant'Egidio Community that does so much, visibly and also invisibly, for the struggle against AIDS, of the Camilliani, of all the sisters who are at the disposition of the sick.

I would say that this problem of AIDS can't be overcome only with publicity slogans. If there is not the soul, if the Africans are not helped, the scourge can't be resolved with the distribution of condoms: on the contrary, there is a risk of increasing the problem. The solution can only be found in a double commitment: first, a humanization of sexuality, that is, a spiritual and human renewal that brings with it a new way of behaving with one another; and second, a true friendship, also and above all for those who suffer, the willingness -- even with sacrifice and self-denial -- to be with the suffering. And these are the factors that help and that lead to visible progress.

Because of this, I would say that this, our double effort to renew man interiorly, to give spiritual and human strength for correct behavior with regard to one's body and that of another, and this capacity to suffer with those who suffer, to remain present in situations of trial. It seems to me that this is the correct answer, and the Church does this and thus offers a very great and important contribution. We thank all those who do this.
Pope Benedict reaffirmed the long-held Catholic understanding of sex as a holistic experience. It is not simply an animalistic search for pleasure any more than it is simply the vehicle of procreation. It is not something casual or disposable, but a sacred union between two persons who are able to commune with one another in a unique way. Scripture tells us that when a married couple comes together they become one flesh. This is a privilege that man has over all the other animals. It is an insult to human dignity to treat sex as animals do.

Much of the push for condoms in Africa is a lack of faith in people. Many do not believe that others can, much less will, change their behaviors. Popular culture tells us that sexual promiscuity is the norm, and it's hard for that culture to let go of the lies about sex it's accepted. But Africa with its AIDS crisis provides for us a gruesome example of the consequences of misunderstanding sex. We must be able to believe that people both can and ought to change their behavior, that they can and ought to abstain from sex outside of marriage and be faithful to their spouse within marriage.

The Pope also emphasized our need to reach out to those suffering, again underlining the humanization of this whole issue. If our brothers and sisters in Africa are suffering greatly--and they are--then it is not enough to toss them a condom and wish them luck. The loving thing to do is to share in their suffering, empathizing with them, and to help guide them to a better, healthier way of life.

Further Reading:
Clarification on Pope's Words on AIDS
Humanae Vitae (A very important Church document addressing contraception)
From Saint Peter's Square to Harvard Square
African AIDS: The Facts that Demolish the Myths

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A quick note on posting comments

I want to preserve commenters anonymity where possible, but would ask one favor. In the comment box, instead of posting as a generic "Anonymous" poster, please enter some name or another (pseudonyms are A-OK), and stick with that name as you come back to the discussion. When we have multiple people posting as "Anonymous" it can get confusing as to who is saying what.

In the future, comments by those named only "Anonymous" will be deleted. (Perhaps after a short grace period. We'll see).


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Can't I Just Read the Bible Myself and Figure it Out?

The angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, “Get up and head south on the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza, the desert route.” So he got up and set out. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, that is, the queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury, who had come to Jerusalem to worship, and was returning home. Seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. The Spirit said to Philip, “Go and join up with that chariot.” Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” So he invited Philip to get in and sit with him. This was the Scripture passage he was reading:
Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who will tell of his posterity?
For his life is taken from the earth.
Then the eunuch said to Philip in reply, “I beg you, about whom is the prophet saying this? About himself, or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth and, beginning with this Scripture passage, he proclaimed Jesus to him. As they traveled along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look, there is water. What is to prevent my being baptized?”
Then he ordered the chariot to stop, and Philip and the eunuch both went down into the water, and he baptized him. When they came out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, but continued on his way rejoicing. Philip came to Azotus, and went about proclaiming the good news to all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
The Church must possess teaching authority. This reading from the Acts of the Apostles is a beautiful example of this principle in practice. The Ethiopian eunuch, obviously a well-bred, educated man, if he was literate and sat on the royal court, had access to the Holy Scriptures. However, because he sought Truth above all else, he humbled himself to a stranger, hoping that he might gain wisdom.

Philip, in this reading, is an icon of magisterial teaching. For God intends every person to read, to study, to familiarize himself with the Holy Scriptures; "ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." But as is evident by the diversity of opinion on what means what in Scripture, man needs a standard by which to measure. In a given passage there might be several correct interpretations, but rest assured there are many, many more incorrect interpretations. God requires of us to follow the eunuch's example of humility, to invite His Apostle into our chariot, to instruct us in the meaning of what we read. He requires of us to embrace the Church which He has given to us, as He sent Philip to the eunuch.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

What's the Point in Praying to Saints? Isn't My Prayer Enough?

The following is a list of questions I once received from a non-Catholic, and my responses.

  • How do we know a) that saints can hear our prayers, and that b) they can indeed intercede for us?
  • And I would also ask, how do we know that our prayers are insufficient to reach God and make Him hear us? Doesn't the Bible say that God delights in the prayer of His holy ones?
  • I agree that we need intercession on earth and in heaven, but Christ intercedes for us in heaven. If saints can intercede for us, then why do we need Christ to be our intercessor?
  • Let me develop the angels-intercession train of thought. If we're going to pray to other spirits besides God, besides Christ, why don't we pray to the angels? That would give us more options than just intercession before God. Angels can also intervene in human affairs, so we could pray for them to go talk to God the Father, and we could ask them to come help us directly. It seems a far wiser thing to pray to the angels than to saints, who may or may not be able to even hear our prayers and may or may not be able to actually intercede. We do know for certain that the angels talk directly to God, as seen in Job, but we don't know that the spirits of the saints do.
  • You think that other people's prayers will pay your way into heaven?

1. When considering the Communion of Saints it behooves one first to understand the Church itself. There is a common misconception that the Church is made up solely of what Catholics know as the "Church Militant," that is, those of us who are physically on earth. Yet there is also the "Church Triumphant" is those holy souls that have been saved and are dwelling in Heaven. God, after all, is "God of the living, not of the dead," and his reign over us does not end at the grave. The Church is not isolated to us. We are a part of the whole. That's actually the best reason for why Catholics make such use of statues, icons, medals, and the like. They are a constant reminder that we are not alone, that we are a part of a Church whose Lord and Founder has triumphed over death, and that those who have passed on are still with us, and a part of the same spiritual family. (NB: There is also the "Church Suffering," which is the community of souls in Purgatory--but that's a subject for another post.)

2. Christianity by and large of course rejects the secular understanding of death. Namely, that when you die, that’s it. You’re dead. Disregarding some threads of thought lining the fringe, Protestants and Catholics will agree that when a righteous person dies he will slip neither into nothingness nor into some abstract, happy oblivion. Rather, the righteous person will enjoy the presence of God in a way unique to Heaven, and will be content to bask in Him forever.

But in Protestant thought there is a sort of chasm between Heaven and earth, which is precisely how we understand Hell. The Catholic understanding of the afterlife sharply departs from this. When we die and are accepted into the glory of God's presence, we continue to do God's work, to be in His service. That is to say, the Saints in Heaven are still part of a living, breathing Church, caring for others within that Church, especially those who are still running the race on earth. They've achieved Heaven, and so are helping others do the same.

3. It's been noted that God delights in the prayers of His holy ones. Why then should we imagine he despises the prayers of those very holy ones who have persevered through all trials, and have been found in glory? "The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful." Who among us may be considered more righteous than those granted the beatific vision? Who among us, in our slavery to our own passions, can be considered more just and holy than those who have triumphed, and now stand victorious in Heaven, in the very presence of God? How can we imagine that our own prayers are better heard and more joyfully received than those of the souls who dwell at they very feet of God?

It's no uncommon practice for a man to ask his neighbor to pray for him in times of distress. It's no uncommon practice for a man to entreat his church to keep him in its prayers, to keep his family and friends in its prayers. It's no uncommon practice for this same man to first seek out that friend and neighbor who has a reputation for holiness, who has been blessed with the gift of prayer. Consider the conversation between Our Lord and Abraham preceding the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18:23-28). Our Lord agreed not to destroy those cities 1) because of the prayers of a righteous man (Abraham), and 2) for the sake of righteous men (those whom he might find in the cities). Our Lord listens and responds to the petitions of righteous men. Our Lord will even have mercy on the unrighteous for the sake of the righteous. Consider further the Lord's rebuke of Eliphaz the Temanite in Job (42:7-10). Eliphaz and his two companions are instructed to make sacrifices and to entreat Job to pray for their sake, for Job's prayers the Lord will hear, but theirs He will not.

Throughout Holy Scripture there are numerous exhortations to pray for one another (e.g., Mt 5:44; Lk 6:28; Acts 8:24; Col 1:9; 1 Thess 5:25; 2 Thess 1:11, 3:1; Heb 13:18; Jam 5:14, 16). We are explicitly commanded to intercede for each other, and to seek the intercession of others. How are all of these instances allowed, if they truly "unbiblical," in that they rob Christ of His role as Mediator? It is evident that this role of Christ's is no different than any of His other roles, in that he allows us to take some part in it. In the same way, Christ is the creator, shepherd, high priest, supreme judge, sovereign king, and divine physician. But in each of these roles, we are called to imitate Christ, sharing in part with His great power. Man is given creative power through sex, Peter and others were bestowed the responsibility of shepherd, we are a "royal priesthood," men are given royal crowns in heaven, and man is given power to share in ministries of forgiveness and reconciliation. In the same way, Christ, the great Mediator, calls us to be mediators and to intercede for others. And it is by His power as Mediator that we derive our own power. Were it not for Christ, our own intercession would be for naught. Our own prayers for ourselves do reach God, but why would we reject the even richer gift He's given us? Why reject this resource of other people?

4. There's really no reason to disbelieve that the Saints in Heaven can hear our prayers. They certainly not as we, but rather more like Him (cf. Phil 3:20-21). St John talks of the elders in Heaven pouring out unto God the petitions of the faithful on earth from great bowls (cf. Rev 5:8; 8:3-4). The Saints, we can see, are presenting our prayers to God. Our Lord Himself told us of the great celebration in Heaven that takes place in the conversion of one man (cf Lk 15:7,10). Unless a fellow is to believe that God keeps all of the Saints in a celestial closet, it's only natural to believe that those in Heaven know exactly what's going on on earth.

5. Concerning angels, the Church does recognize the influence of angels in our lives, and does entreat their prayers and intervention. From Holy Scripture we gain an enduring devotion to Sts Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and all the archangels, to say nothing of our Angel Guardians of whom Our Lord Himself spoke so highly. They are some of our very dearest friends.

6. As a final note, no one's claimed that the prayers of others will "pay our way into heaven." The only claim which could be skewed to that understanding is the claim that the prayers of others are effective in our lives and in the lives of others. This belief we take from the teachings of Our Lord and of His holy Apostles. It is a purely Christian belief that the intercessory prayers of others may help us in attaining eternal salvation. Otherwise, why would anyone pray for anyone else?

Scripture and Tradition

If there is a foundational element of the Catholic faith that many struggle with it begins with Scripture and Tradition. Often people will look at something the Catholic Church teaches or believes and ask, "Where is that in the Bible?". This is a valid question but the reality is the Catholic Church is not simply a Biblical Church, but instead it is, as the Nicene Creed teaches, an apostolic Church. Here is an attempt to lay out the argument for Scripture and Tradition from a Catholic standpoint.

The Bible (Scripture) is a compilation of books (thus the name bible - biblos which means books) inspired by God to help us as St. Paul says to Timothy in his second letter 3:16, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” It doesn’t say that this is the only means of God working in our world, but it is definitely one of the main ways. As Catholics we believe that there is one source for Divine Revelation, God, but there are two streams from which that source pours forth, Scripture and Tradition. It is important to know that not all traditions are the same. Thus, we speak of Tradition and tradition. The “T”radition is that which has been handed on to us by the Apostles and their successors, which is inspired by the Holy Spirit and important for our salvation. The “t”radition is anything that we do in a particular way but not necessarily inspired by God or necessary for salvation. Examples of each: Tradition - God is trinitarian. You will not find in Scripture the word nor the actual concept of God as three Persons, one Nature. tradition - wearing a medal of a saint around one’s neck.

If you read John 14:25-6 you will see that Jesus intended to send the Holy Spirit to guide the apostles in making sure they recount correctly what Jesus said and did during his time on earth. Was this simply for them to write scripture or was it for their ability to guide and lead the church on earth? As Catholics we would say both, for Scripture is the inspired and inerrant Word of God, but only because God is the primary author.

Also from a purely logical point of view it doesn’t make sense to hold that the Bible is going to be the only way in which God will transmit the truth about our salvation. We do not hear Jesus commanding the Apostles to write everything down. In fact John says at the end of his gospel that it would be impossible to write everything down. When we look at the command of Jesus in Matthew 28:19 “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” He doesn’t tell them to necessarily write everything down and pass it out, but instead to teach, which was a combination of oral and written information.

Second, we realize that what exactly the Bible was was not decided on right away but it took time not only for the authors to write the letters, but also for the Church to decide which were authentic. Thus, we see that it isn’t until around 393 that the Church called a council in Hippo and Carthage to address this issue. So, what did people do before that?

Third, what if you couldn’t read Scripture or couldn’t afford a copy of it? Were you still bound to know it and live by it? Literacy is not a common thing throughout most of history and books were expensive and hard to come by. One would think God would provide another means of handing on the information.

Fourth, why didn’t Jesus write anything? If this was going to be the means by which everything is determined you would think He would see to it that He wrote something for them. Now, one could say that the Gospels are His writings, but they still required someone else to remember and decide what to put down. How is it that we know what they wrote is true and can the same means by which we claim the authenticity of the Scriptures be present in other ways?

What Catholics see in Scripture is as Paul said to Timothy, that Scripture is important but not that it was the only way of knowing the Truth or finding salvation. St. Jerome said that ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ. Thus, we see an important emphasis put on knowing scripture, but not because it is the only means God used, but that it is one of the ways He speaks to each and everyone of us.

Also notice in the Nicene Creed we say one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. The Church is not mentioned as being scriptural but apostolic in nature. Which by the way is what we read in Acts 2:42 “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.” Again we see that they looked to the teaching of the apostles, which is what our Traditions ultimately turn out to be. The idea that the Bible is the only thing a person needs for their salvation really was only possible after the 16th century when literacy and the printing press were common. This made scripture easy to access, but again not the only way.

Also look at how the Council of Jerusalem is conducted. Acts 15 - How from scripture can you prove that circumcision is no longer necessary for salvation? Where do you see them reading from Scripture to find the answer to their question? Why call a council in the first place? Why not let everyone read their own Scripture and decide for themselves whether or not it is necessary to circumcise the men?

I start here because this is the foundation upon which we must come to an agreement on why the Catholic Church does not see the Bible as the only source of transmitting God’s information to us. Thus, you will find things that are not explicitly in the Bible but taught by the Church because it has been handed on to us by the apostles and their successors.

Also, remember that many of the early Christians thought Christ would be back soon. It wasn’t until they realized it might be a while that they really began to write. Also, the letters written were just that, letters to encourage, convict, reprimand and explain to the Christians around the area. It isn’t until they are put into the Bible that they take on a second meaning. Thus, today our Church still writes letters from bishops and the pope to the people

Councils that are important are as follows:
  • Council of Rome 382 - Pope Damasus declares the official listing of the books of Scripture, both OT and NT.
  • Council of Hippo 393 - reaffirms the list “It has been decided that besides the canonical Scriptures nothing be read in church under the name of divine Scripture.”
  • 3rd Council of Carthage 397 - reaffirms the list and the importance of reading only approved books under the name of divine Scripture.
  • 4th Council of Carthage 419 - same thing.