Saturday, October 30, 2010

Beyond Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

Now the life of Christ is the life of the Christian and life of the Church. It is absurd for a Christian who is a weak human vehicle of this world-changing force to expect a quiet life. A Christian is like a red rag to a bull- to the force of evil that seeks to be master of the world and which, in a limited sense, but in a very real sense, is, as St. John says, the Lord of this world. And not only the individual but the Church as an historic community follows the same pattern and finds its success and failure not where the politician finds them, but where Christ found them.

Thus we have no right to expect that Christian principles will work in practice in the simple way that a political system may work. The Christian order is a supernatural order. It has its own principles and its own laws which are not those of the visible world and which may often seem to contradict them. Its victories may be found in apparent defeat and its defeats in material success.

The Church lives again the life of Christ. It has its period of obscurity and growth and its period of manifestation, and this is followed by the catastrophe of the Cross and the new birth that springs from failure.

And what is most remarkable is that the enemies of the Church- the movements that rend and crucify her –are in a sense her own offspring and derive their dynamic force from her. Islam, the Protestant Reformation, the Liberal Revolution, none of them would have existed apart from Christianity- they are abortive or partial manifestations of the spiritual power which Christianity brought into history. “I have come to cast fire on the earth and what will I, but that it be kindled.”

Christopher Dawson- 1939

Follow-up comments: Although politics holds an important place in civic life, the real battle of American culture precedes political victories and defeats. Keep in mind the battle is fought in those obscure crevasses of society such as marriage, the family, parish communities, and schools. And the font which has historically given life to these institutions is the Catholic priesthood.

The more world-renouncing and Christ-loving priests populate the priesthood- those who care little about human respect -the more these other institutions will prosper. As far as civic life is concerned, if State-run education prevails, democracy, the free market and religious liberty will continue to be challenged.

Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing.” This, of course, includes the education of children and the governance of citizens. Indeed, Christian principles must inform all sectors of civic life. If not, something else will. By default, that "something else" is almost always adversarial towards the mission of the Catholic Church. This is what Dawson meant when he said, "And what is most remarkable is that the enemies of the Church- the movements that rend and crucify her –are in a sense her own offspring and derive their dynamic force from her."

The Church's Role in Current Marriage Trends III

The Church's Role in Current Marriage Trends II continued:

Anyone who is so "progressive" as not to remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God; whoever remains in the teaching has the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him in your house or even greet him; for whoever greets him shares in his evil works.

(II John 9-11)

"Do not receive him in your house." In the first-century when St. John the Evangelist wrote these words the Church was eager- like we are today -to welcome as many people as possible into the fold. However, if a person or a couple was not willing to "remain in the teaching of the Christ" they were not to be received in to the house; that is, the House of God. Submitting both their minds and will to the Gospel was an absolute. A failure to do so would merit exclusion. As such, the Church's mission to prepare souls for eternity was more firmly established.

To repeat, this principle was universally observed in the Catholic Church prior to the mid-twentieth century. In the early Church especially, a candidate wishing to become a member of the Mystical Body of Christ or a couple wishing to get their marriage blessed by the Church, had to believe the whole corpus of Christ's teachings. About the year 150 A.D., St. Justin Martyr wrote The Apology. In it he makes reference to the high standard required of one who wished to receive the Eucharist. He said, "We call this food the Eucharist; and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true…and is thereby living as Christ enjoined."

To live as Christ enjoined was proven by repentance and a virtuous life. The holy jealousy of the Bishops regarding the integrity of the Church, and the salvation of souls committed to their care, was given more clarity and detail at the Council of Nicea. Canon twelve reads as follows: "Those who by fear and tears and patience and good works prove that their conversion is real and not simulated, when they have completed the prescribed time among the hearers, may fittingly participate in the prayers after which it is at the discretion of the bishop to treat them with an even greater kindness."

Finally, we come to a writing from the same period which specifically addresses fornication, marriage and being admitted to the Sacraments. The Council of Elvira, a meeting of bishops in Spain, decreed that, "If it is determined that youths who have fornicated after having been baptized may, when they have done legitimate penance and when they have been married, be admitted to communion." (around 300 A.D.) Here, repentance from fornication and then entering into the lawful union of marriage (if the couple chose to get married) was the condition from which these "youths" could be admitted to communion.

To summarize: The best way the Fathers of the Church knew how to ensure the salvation of souls on the one hand, and the holiness of the Church on the other, was to make total fidelity to Christ the premier condition upon which he or she could enter the Church or remain in communion with her. By doing this, the Mystical Body of Christ was not only a showcase for individual virtues but it was also an assembly of married couples who were a living testimony of Christ's love for His Church. This is what made marriage so attractive in centuries past. Undoubtedly, it is what gives meaning and splendor to the sacrifices required for a happy, life-long marriage.

Those pastoral practices which served to make marriage esteemed by society as the holiest of unions in the past will once again reveal marriage as being superior to cohabitation and same-sex unions in our day.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Church's Role in Current Marriage Trends II

The Church's Role in Current Marriage Trends continued:

As a result of this accommodation, rates of cohabitation, divorce and the practice of contraception among Catholics are roughly the same as the rest of society. In other words, the Church in America is composed of members who fare no better in their personal holiness than non-Catholics. If the majority of Catholics fail to observe all the moral laws of Christ then the Church as a whole will be ineffective in her witness. As Pope Leo XIII said, “As souls cannot be perfectly united in charity unless minds agree in faith, he [Christ] wishes all to hold the same faith.” The power to do good and the ability to glorify God as a Church requires a united front. But a united front in action is only preceded by a union of minds.

Collectively, a union of minds and uniformity of action is essential. Just as important is the obligation of every Christian to accept and live out all that Jesus Christ taught. A very important Scripture passage in understanding the necessity of total fidelity to Christ’s teachings is from James 2:10: “For whoever keeps the whole law, but falls short in one particular, has become guilty in respect to all of it.” St. Augustine, just a few centuries later, elaborates on this principle by saying, "There can be nothing more dangerous than those heretics who admit nearly the whole cycle of doctrine, and yet by one word, as with a drop of poison, infect the real and simple faith taught by our Lord and handed down by Apostolic tradition." In other words, if a person is faithfull to nine out of the Ten Commandments, but is not observing the sixth commandment- "Thou shall not commit adultery," then it is as if he or she violated all the commandments. The same applies to fornication, contraception or any sexual sin. Using the analogy of St. Augustine, any one of these serious sins is like that drop of poison in a big glass of purified water. What good is the purified water if it contains one drop of poison?

Do not these passages from St. James and St. Augustine summarize, in a nutshell, why the Catholic Church has struggled to preserve the dignity of marriage in our culture? Is it not the case that in most marriage preparation programs couples who cohabitate are not required to repent from their sin before getting married in the Church? As such, they are neither trained in virtue for the sacrifices every marriage demands or prepared for eternity by repenting from the sin of pre-marital sex. This pastoral passivity speaks to the heart of the problem.

Before the 1960's, and especially in the first millennium, a common pastoral practice in the Catholic Church was that she required repentance from sin, especially serious sins, as a pre-condition for participating in the Sacraments. Also, throughout the centuries- leading up to the 1960's -if one was to enter the Church he or she had to believe everything Christ as taught by the Catholic Church. Picking and choosing was not an option.

It is encouraging to note that Archbishop Nienstedt of Minneapolis is attempting to dust off those ancient pastoral practices of the Church. He said, "I believe if you are going to be Catholic, that you have to be 100% Catholic…That you stand by the Church, you believe what the Church believes and you pass that on to your sons and daughters and your grandsons and granddaughters."

On part III of this series: Some specific examples of the pastoral practices of the early Church and how they apply to today's marriage trends.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Church's Role in Current Marriage Trends

In recent months, U.S. Bishops in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and the District of Columbia have been campaigning to keep traditional definition of marriage- between a man and a woman –as the only legally binding definition. For instance, the Massachusetts Catholic Conference stated in the Boston Herald News in late October that certain “moral and social issues are fundamentally important, since human rights are at stake and must be protected to help democracy to flourish in a way that benefits every citizen.” The statement went on to read: “These include the defense of the sanctity of life, the family based on marriage between a man and a woman…” The archbishop of the Twin Cities, Archbishop John Nienstedt, also assertively campaigned for the dignity of marriage by mailing a DVD (defending marriage as between one man and one woman) to 800,000 Catholics in the state of Minnesota.

There is a reason behind this refreshingly bold and unapologetic approach by many U.S. Bishops. And the reason is that the institution of marriage is being challenged on two fronts: Same-sex marriage, especially among the younger generations, has become widely accepted. Moreover, cohabitation among young adults is seen, with ever increasing frequency, as a viable alternative to marriage. Indeed, yesterday’s problem was divorce, but today’s problem is incentivizing couples to get married. If marriage, as opposed to cohabitation, requires more sacrifice and commitment, then why get married?

Indeed, for the first time in America's history a majority of young adults from ages 25 to 34are choosing not to get married. Cohabitation rates, especially among the lower classes, have risen sharply in recent years. The data from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2009 American Community Survey and 2010 Current Population Survey confirms this. This is what they found:

• Between 2000 and 2009, the share of young adults ages 25 to 34 who are married dropped 10 percentage points, from 55 percent to 45 percent.
• Among the total population ages 18 and older, the proportion married dropped from 57 percent in 2000 to 52 percent in 2009.
• In 2008, non-marital births accounted for 41 percent of all births in the United States; although roughly half of these non-marital births are to cohabiting couples.

As one analyst said, "This is the lowest percentage recorded since information on marital status was first collected by the U.S. Census Bureau more than 100 years ago." The question Catholics should ask is: What relationship does the Catholic Church have with regard to these marriage trends? And how can she reverse it?

No doubt, the Catholic Church has the highest doctrinal standards with regard to marriage. Her teachings on the indissolubility of marriage and contraception are just a few of the doctrines which are countercultural; that is, doctrines considered to be “too difficult” or “unrealistic” by the majority of Americans. However, the pastoral practices of the Church in these last five decades- especially with regard to marriage preparation –have not been countercultural at all; far from it, they have been quite accommodating. And here lies the problem.

More on the next blog

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

God’s Answer to World Revolution: Our Lady of Fatima III

God’s Answer to World Revolution: Our Lady of Fatima II continued:

Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, the three young seers of the Marian apparitions at Fatima in 1917, were introduced to the very depths of Christianity and to the heart of the Gospel. The Mother of God, who spent countless hours on earth in conversation with her divine Son, and who continues to commune with her Son in eternity, formed these three young souls with the most favorable spiritual direction any Christian could receive. The love of God and the expectancy of heaven was so deeply impressed upon their souls that all three children lost their natural fear of death.

In coming in contact with the Blessed Virgin, the children encountered the very presence of God in a profound way. And during their experience of the Divine Presence, they were able to see themselves in a new light. Lucia, the oldest of the children, reported that in one appearance the Lady opened her hands and shed upon the children a highly intense light. “This light penetrated us to the heart and its very recesses, and allowed us to see ourselves in God, Who was that light, more clearly than we see ourselves in a mirror…” Just as Mary mediated the Holy Spirit to her pregnant cousin Elizabeth upon her greeting at Zacharias’ house, in Fatima, she similarly mediated the presence of God, as in a ray of light, through her hands. Lucia would go on to describe, as best she could, the utter beauty of this Visitor from heaven: “It was a lady dressed all in white more brilliant than the sun, shedding rays of light, clear and stronger than a crystal glass filled with the most sparkling water pierced by the burning rays of the sun.”

It is important to note that with our Lady’s appearance, the three children experienced heaven. Jacinta, the youngest of the three, excitedly told her parents, “Heaven was so pretty…there were many wild ponies.” Lucia would later say that “before the Divine Presence we felt exaltation and joy.” It is under reported, to be sure, that after each visit with the Madonna they were supremely happy. This explains why Lucia asked Mary to take them to heaven; not later, but immediately. It also explains why, for them, a short life on earth was a blessing. Their detachment from earthly things was complete. Their thoughts were no longer preoccupied with what was below but instead they sought what was above. No sacrifice was too much, no suffering too unbearable, knowing that heaven awaited them.

In 1916, an Angel of Lord appeared to the three children to prepare them for what would ensue the following year. He asked them to “Offer up everything within your power as a sacrifice to the Lord in an act of reparation for the sins by which he is offended; and of the supplication for the conversion of sinners…Above all, accept and bear with submission the sufferings that the Lord may send you.” The Blessed Virgin repeated this request several months later when she asked, “Do you want to offer yourselves to God to endure all the sufferings that he may choose to send you, as an act of reparation for the sins by which he is offended and as a supplication for the conversion of sinners?” Lucia answered for the other two by saying, “Yes, we want to.” After which, Our Lady said, “Then you are going to suffer a great deal but the grace of God will be your comfort.” Soon after, in the month of July in 1917, Our Lady of Fatima showed them the fires of hell where countless souls descend. According to Lucia, demons and reprobate souls were engulfed in the torment of despair. They were deeply moved by this vision; it gave them a fresh determination to offer themselves as a living sacrifice to the Lord.

The three children would have to bear a heavy cross in the months that followed. Francisco and Jacinta, just two to three years after the apparitions, died at a young age. Poor little Jacinta even died alone in the hospital; this, she did for the conversion of sinners. Indeed, the heavenly-mindedness of all three children and their memory of hell inspired a great love for people and their willingness to suffer for them. They valued inconveniences, sufferings and contradictions as opportunities to make reparation for sinners. As St. Peter wrote, “whoever suffers in the flesh has broken with sin” and then adding, “love covers a multitude of sins.” (I Peter 4:1,8) Their early death, as sad it was for loved ones and unfortunate as it appeared to the world, speaks volumes about what God wants us to know about this life and the life to come. Indeed, the passing nature of this earthly life of ours and the enduring reality of heaven and hell is at the heart of the Fatima message.

Our Lady's message to Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco was God's answer to the question Pope Benedict XV asked in 1917 regarding the effectiveness of Catholic witness. To be sure, the eager anticipation of heaven, making reparation for sinners and seeking the Blessed Virgin's spiritual guidance is God's answer to the "diabolical wave" (as Sr.Lucia would write in 1971) of world revolution, atheism and war.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

God’s Answer to World Revolution: Our Lady of Fatima II

A continuation of God’s Answer to World Revolution: Our Lady of Fatima

In 1910, Portugal had undergone its own revolution which resulted in the persecution of the Catholic Church. Churches, convents and monasteries were shut down; priests and the religious were arrested. The following year, the persecutions came to a peak with the law of Separation of Church and State. The author of these anti-religious laws, Alfonso Costa, said: "Thanks to this law of separation, in two generations Catholicism will be completely eliminated in Portugal." By 1917 the Portuguese people were well acquainted with a government unfriendly to religious freedom. It was within this local milieu, not unrelated to the international crisis -that Our Lady of Fatima appeared to the three Portuguese children.

In visiting Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, the Mother of God impressed upon these three souls that the world was closing itself off to eternity! The message that the Blessed Virgin had come to deliver was one which linked the breakdown of faith and prayer with the two World Wars, the spread of Communism and the afflictions the popes would have to endure. Indeed, the widespread failure of people to aspire towards heaven as their permanent home, the most noble incentive to live a holy life, gave rise to wars, genocides and dictatorships of the twentieth century. In a word, without the daily meditation and the anticipation of eternity, the proper perspective of life is lost and the material things of this world become the reality people live for. Pope Pius XI would go on to say five years after the apparitions that "...worldly possessions can never satisfy all in equal manner nor give rise to a spirit of universal contentment, but must become perforce a source of division among men and of vexation of spirit."

It is important to keep in mind that the decline of prayer and neglecting "to seek what is above" would later be the plague of religious orders. Indeed, spiritual apathy would not only be a problem exclusively attributed to the world, but it also found its way in the Church. Lucia would later write a letter to her nephew, Fr. Valinhoin in 1971. In the letter she said, "I am convinced that the principal cause of evil in the world, and the falling away of so many consecrated souls, is the lack of union with God." "It is indeed sad," she continued, "that so many are allowing themselves to be dominated by the diabolical wave that is sweeping the world, and they are so blind that they cannot see their error. But their principal error is that they have abandoned prayer."

Lack of prayer enfeebles the soul and weakens life's foundation. As such, when the cultural revolution of the 1960's rocked the Catholic Church, the vocation of many priests and consecrated men and women in religious orders simply collapsed.

Our Lady of Fatima, in her series of six apparitions from May 13th through October 13th of 1917, spoke to this plight the world found itself in. To be sure, in profound and yet subtle ways, she used the three poor children of Fatima to teach a world-gone-wrong that life takes on the greatest value when seen in light of eternity.

When considering the series of events at Fatima, there can be a temptation to focus on October 13th, the day 75,000 plus people witnessed the sun spin and dance. There is a lot to be said for that supernatural phenomenon. However, what is even more worthy of our attention, and more relevant to Catholics in the twenty-first century, is what happened to the souls of Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco during that six month period.

The spiritual direction Our Lady of Fatima gave to Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco and the affect it had on their souls speaks to the heart of the Gospel. It also explains why the Church of the early centuries were able to set the world a blaze and why today's world had grown cold to God. Indeed, just when Pope Benedict XV was asking his questions about why the world had fallen away from the Catholic Faith, Our Lady was answering them.

If Catholics of this century can take in and grasp what the Mother of Jesus Christ communicated to three children in the last century, then the Church can have the life-giving influence she once enjoyed over civilizations.

How Our Lady of Fatima changed the children, in the next blog.

God’s Answer to World Revolution: Our Lady of Fatima

In 1917, when our Lady paid three children a visit in Fatima, Portugal, she brought eternity with her. Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco were privileged to experience, in a profound way, heaven and hell. The children’s foretaste of heaven and the glimpse of hell has a great deal of historical significance, considering that Western Civilization had already begun to close in on itself. Indeed, modern man had ceased to see his life within the backdrop of eternity. In part, this was due to great technological achievements and its consequent prosperity. Of course, when conditions are comfortable it is harder to see life as a pilgrimage to heaven.

Just one month after Our Lady appeared in Fatima on May 13th, 1917 Pope Benedict XV wrote an encyclical entitled, On the Preaching the Word. In this encyclical he made the following observation: If people honestly considered “the state of public and private morals, the constitutions and laws of nations, we shall find that there is a general disregard and forgetfulness of the supernatural, a gradual falling away from the strict standard of Christian virtue, and that men are slipping back more and more into the shameful practices of paganism.” Indeed, in 1917 there was a lot of soul searching among Christians and Westerners. After all, World War I was still raging and the Russian Revolution was just getting underway.

What led up to this new chapter in world history? For one, Christian civilization had gradually been chipped away over four centuries. The Protestant Reformation in 1517, the French Revolution in 1789, and the revolt of many European States against the Catholic Church, i.e. the annexation of the Papal States (territory belonging to the Holy See) by Italian nationalism, were just a few historic turning points in which the Western world declared its independence from God. This movement away from the Christian religion then culminated in the twentieth-century with World War I, the Russian Revolution, World War II, the Holocaust, and the Sexual Revolution.

At the onset of these unfortunate events in the twentieth-century, we find Pope Benedict XV, in so many words, asking Catholics to do an examination of conscience. He proposed the following question to them in his encyclical: “Has the Word of God then ceased to be what it was described by the Apostle, living and effectual and more piercing than any two-edged sword? Has long-continued use blunted the edge of that sword?” He then answers his own question: “If that weapon does not everywhere produce its effect, the blame certainly must be laid on those ministers of the Gospel who do not handle it as they should. For no one can maintain that the Apostles were living in better times than ours, that they found minds more readily disposed towards the Gospel or that they met with less opposition to the law of God.”

Therefore, with regard to the ever increasing movement of mankind away from God and the world revolutions which followed, the blame- at least in part -must be attributed to the dereliction of Catholics. What were twentieth-century Catholics lacking as compared to their spiritual ancestors of the early Church? Why did they not, up to this point, enjoy the same success of converting the world to Christ like the early Fathers of the Church? This is where Our Lady of Fatima comes in. Her appearance to three Portuguese children in Fatima gives a profound and yet subtle answer to these questions.

More on the next blog

Friday, October 22, 2010

Catholic Fiction: The Separation of Church and State III

The following is a continuation of Catholic Fiction: The Separation of Church and State II

Now, if civil authority is a mere invention of man without any inherent God-given purpose, then it can be defined by the powerful or the rich as they see fit. Instead of the authority of the State having the welfare of its citizens as its goal, the State can turn into an end in itself. Indeed, the purpose of government can be defined to mean that the people exist for the State; that the multitude ought to serve the interests of the few. As Pius XI said, “There is no recognition of any right of the individual in his relations to the collectivity; no natural right is accorded to human personality, which is a mere cog-wheel in the Communist system.”

This perversion of power- so common in world history -explains why the twentieth-century was riddled with atheistic or Communistic dictators who killed more of its own people than all the wars put together during that same century. In the absence of God then, the State becomes supreme and rules according to its own whim. Cardinal James Gibbons, in his pastoral letter to the US Bishops in 1919, issued the following warning about the State taking the place of God:

“It lies in the very nature of man that something must be supreme, something must take the place of the divine when this has been excluded; and this substitute for God, according to a predominant philosophy, is the State. Possessed of unlimited power to establish rights and impose obligations, the State becomes the sovereign ruler in human affairs.”

From this state of affairs, joblessness, a down trodden economy, and serfdom are but the sad result. This is where the Catholic Church has historically played a vital role. In centuries past, she has mediated between the State and the citizen; reminding the State it is a servant to the citizen and reminding the citizen that it owes both loyalty and obedience to civil authority for the common good. The Church has also assumed a prophetic role in holding the State accountable; accountable to the divine and natural law. As such, St. Thomas Aquinas’ saying is wonderfully fulfilled: A government which governs least, governs best. But a government can only govern least if the laws of God are daily impressed upon it.

This leads us to the significance of Christine O'Donnell's question to Chris Coon's about the First Amendment at the Widener Law School: "Where in the Constitution is separation of Church and State?" If the passage, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" continues to be interpreted to mean that the Christian religion has no place in public education and in State institutions, then the State will possess unlimited power and will cease to see itself as the servant of its citizens. From this, who can doubt that the Catholic Church in America will at least lose some of her religious liberties? Indeed, her ministries will be closely monitored by the State and her mission to preach the fullness of the Gospel will be hindered.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Catholic Fiction: The Separation of Church and State II

A Continuation of Catholic Fiction: The Separation of Church & State

The question about the separation of Church and State in First Amendment posed by Christine O’Donnell during the Delaware Senate debate at the Widener Law School, and the reaction of the audience which followed, points to the significance of the 2010 elections. And this significance, to be sure, goes beyond job security, the economy and freedom; all of which are shaped by how we approach Church and State relations. And the question of Church and State goes to the heart of the matter: Does God have a role in our public institutions? The answer to this question, in itself, holds the key to the future of America.

Allow me to propose that the intent of the Framers of the Constitution and the Catholic Church’s teaching on separation of Church and State bear much resemblance. Suffice it to say there are differences. Nevertheless, the theological principles which underscore the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution also have been articulated by Popes, Bishops and Councils of the Church long before the American Revolution.

One excellent source representing the Catholic position on Church and State matters is a treatise St. Robert Cardinal Bellarmine wrote in the seventeenth century entitled, On Civil Government. Not only is this treatise a reliable summary of Catholic doctrine pertaining to the purpose of the State, but it can be argued that St. Bellarmine’s writings had influence on the Framers of the Constitution such as Thomas Jefferson (see link at the bottom of the blog). Below, are four basic principles from the treatise on On Civil Government which provides us a Catholic (and American) understanding of the State:

• Human nature was created by God in such as way as to require civil authority its well-being, order and protection. As such, the authority of the State originates from the wise counsel of God. Human beings cannot co-exist without these higher principles of civil authority.
• Although civil authority finds its origin in God, it is not directly communicated to any one particular individual as we find when a Bishop or priest is ordained; in the latter case, the sacramental grace of Holy Orders is communicated to particular individuals directly from the “hands of God.”
• Rather, the authority of the State resides in human nature, that is, in the people because it is for them that this authority exists to begin with.
• Since the people or the citizens of a nation are the purpose or end for which civil authority is ordained, it follows that it is the people’s prerogative to choose not only the form of government they see fit but the system through which their leaders are determined or chosen.

Now, from this Catholic perspective, if the State exists for the citizen then the citizen can be also considered to be the customer of the State. A customer chooses what kind of services it wishes to receive and from whom it wishes to receive it. According to Catholic political theology, people have the inherent right to choose what form of government they wish to be subject to. Furthermore, depending how they want to be ruled, they also have the right to elect who political rulers.

By virtue of this right of choice, the citizen can elect to create a government which invokes God and one that observes the principles of his Catholic Faith. After all, he is the customer of the State and the very purpose of the State is to serve his needs. Just as important, every man has spiritual needs that cannot be compartmentalized apart from his civic life. If the authority of the State comes from God- which the Catholic Church affirms that it does -then like the individual, the State is obligated to pay homage to its Creator. Yes, give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God. What is commonly overlooked, however, is that Caesar belongs to God too!

Human nature is composed of both body and soul. And in the end, the common good of society must be of a material and spiritual nature. The Catholic Church does hold to a kind of separation of Church and State in that they are distinct from one another. However, these two entities, like the body and soul, are to collaborate and interact with each other so that the common good of society may be brought about. The proposition that there should be a radical separation between these two institutions is what Pope Leo XIII referred to as a "fatal theory." Such a dichotomy leads to the death of the commonwealth.

More on this later-


St. Robert Bellarmine's Influence on the Writing of the Declaration of Independence & the Virginia Declaration of Rights, by Karl Mauer.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Catholic Fiction: The Separation of Church & State

A Continuation of Constitutional Fiction: The Separation of Church & State

To repeat: What is the longstanding Catholic teaching on the separation of the Church and State? If we were to make reference to centuries of papal writings one would have to conclude that Chris Coons does not agree with the position of the Catholic Church.

It might scandalize Catholics who subscribe to Secular-liberal principles (and even orthodox Catholics for that matter) that as recent as 1862, Pope Pius IX denounced the following proposition: “In the present day it is no longer expedient that the Catholic religion should be held as the only religion of the State, to the exclusion of all other forms of worship.” One might be tempted to chalk this up to some kind of an anomaly; that is, an isolated incident. But Pope Leo XIII confirmed twenty-six years later in his encyclical, On the Nature of Human Liberty, that the separation between Church and State is a “fatal theory.”

State neutrality with regard to Christianity as somehow being mandated by the Constitution is legal fiction! Moreover, the separation between the Church and the State as it is commonly conceived today finds no sanction in Catholic doctrine; especially as it pertains to the two thousand years of papal writings. I would even argue that the statements of Pope Pius IX and Leo XIII represent the vast majority of the popes who had anything to say about the relationship between Church and State.

The fruits of a long held Secular understanding of the separation between Church and State are before us. The worries and concerns over jobs and the economy among the voters can be traced to banishment of the Christian religion from our public institutions. As Tocqueville said, religion is the guarantor of morality, and morality, in turn, is the guarantor of freedom. Is it any wonder that the free market has come under assault in recent years? Freedom, even as it applies to the economy, is simply unintelligible without Christianity. But throughout world history, freedom has been the exception, not the rule. It is precarious and for that reason it requires discipline and prudence among the citizenry. However, with all the focus on jobs and the economy- a legitimate concern, no doubt -I am afraid that the public is missing the bigger picture.

More on the next blog

Constitutional Fiction: The Separation of Church & State

On Tuesday, October 19, 2010 Widener Law School hosted a debate between Christine O’Donnell-R and Chris Coons-D; both of whom are vying for the U.S. Senate seat from the State of Delaware. During the debate the issue of the Separation of Church & State and the First Amendment was raised. As one who subscribes to Secular-liberal principles, Coons argued that science (i.e. evolution) should be taught in public schools, not religion (i.e. Intelligent Design). This, of course, was in reference to an earlier debate when O’Donnell’s belief on evolution was asked of her by the CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer. In response to Coons argument on religion and public schools, Christine O’Donnell put the question to him: “Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?” Predictably, but sadly, the immediate response from the audience was laughter. Unfortunately, when most universities, colleges and high schools do not teach courses on the U.S. Constitution, people will blindly trust what others say about it. Indeed, the laughter from the audience at Widener Law School is a fine illustration of what “group think” education can do to the masses!

The First Amendment reads as such: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The fact is that both the wording and the modern usage of “separation of Church and State” is nowhere to be found in the Constitution. The prohibition of the Federal government to “make no law respecting an establishment of religion” is a far cry from separating and excluding the Christian religion from the State. After all, at least 6 States of the original 13 States of the Union had government sponsored churches up to 1830.

Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama, Roy Moore wrote a compelling article called, Putting God Back into the Public Square in August of 1999. In it he provided at least five historical precedents which effectively refuted the Secular idea that the First Amendment requires the exclusion of religion from the public square:

• Every president of the United States (with only one possible exception) has been administered the oath of office with his hand on the Bible, ending with the words “so help me God.”
• The Supreme Court begins every proceeding with the ringing proclamation, “God save the United States and this Honorable Court.”
• Throughout our history, the executive and legislative branches have decreed national days of fasting and prayer.
• Public offices and public schools close in observance of religious holidays.
• United States currency bears our national motto, “In God We Trust.”

Hindsight is always 20/20. However, if this historical context was immediately injected into the debate Christine O’Donnell could have rebutted Chris Coons’ position with more success.

Now, it should be mentioned that Christine O’Donnell is Catholic. To be sure, there were probably many Left-leaning Catholics who were highly critical of O’Donnell’s question about the First Amendment. After all, Americans have been conditioned to believe that the State ought to be neutral with regard to Christianity. This opinion, albeit a common one, is a relatively recent development. But what is the longstanding Catholic teaching on the separation of the Church and State? If we were to make reference to centuries of papal writings one would have to conclude that Chris Coons does not agree with the position of the Catholic Church.

More on the next blog

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Philosophies at War: Democracy in Education

"We are at the crossroads of our national history. In the field of education we will either believe or we will obey. He who will not believe in the Truth must submit to Power. Which will it be? Will we retain a set of beliefs in which we are all agreed, and on which we were all agreed when this country was founded, or, scrapping all beliefs shall be and thus extinguish all freedom?

Let no one who hates religion falsely think that we can do without religion or that it can be banished from the earth. That is false assumption under which modern pagans work...The choice is not between religion and no religion, but between two religions: a religion from God or a State religion...

We do not yet realize this truth, but it is an indisputable fact that a nation's education is far more important than a nation's government. Given one generation educated on the principle that there is no absolute Truth or Justice and our next generation will be a government of power.

There is no such thing as neutral education; that is, education without morality and religion. Religion and morality are not related to education like raisins to a cake, but as a soul to a body. There can be cake without raisins, but there cannot be man without a soul. If education does not inculcate a moral outlook, it will inculcate a materialist or a Communist or a Nazi outlook. Neutrality is absolutely impossible in education. By the mere fact that religious and moral training is neglected, a non-religious, non-morality and by consequence an anti-religious and anti-moral ideology will be developed. 'He that is not with me is against me.' (Matt. 12:30)"

-Bishop Fulton Sheen, Philosophies at War 1943


A good number of Americans are counting down the days to the November 2nd, 2010, mid-term elections. And no doubt, they (me included) will breathe a sigh of relief if the majority of the power-hungry incumbents are replaced with more Constitutional-friendly Senators and House Representatives.

However, as Bishop Sheen said in the above quote, America's education is even more important than our government. A reliable index of a nation's future is the quality of its present day education. According to Archbishop Charles Chaput, only three universities require a course on the U.S. Constitution. Furthermore, very few colleges and high schools teach how religion, virtue and democracy are interrelated and inseparable. With education being what it is, can we, as Americans, be expected to hold back the tide of "anti-religious and anti-moral ideology?" Can the surge of an all-powerful State be kept in check politically if the majority of our children do not receive a sound Christian and civics education?

We may indeed breathe a sigh of relief on November 2nd, 2010. But believe me: We will go back to holding our breath on every election day if public education is not given back to local communities and parents. Only then can a good Christian and civics education prepare today's children to be the conscientious politicians of tomorrow.

Let's not settle for short-term political gains only. Let's also look at the big picture and take the long view. If State-run education remains on the back burner in our national debates, then Constitutional-loving Americans may win a battle here and there, but the war will be far from being won.

"Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing." (John 15:5)

A Nation of Traitors

Before the flag burning of the 1960's- before our public schools demonstrated an aversion to the Constitution and American history- and before it became tolerable for U.S. politicians to disregard the traditions and legacy of the United States of America- Bishop Fulton Sheen said in 1948 that if the family, the school of virtue and self-governance, is compromised in America like it had been in Russia, then we will face similar political challenges the Russians had faced. A breakdown in marital and family loyalities will lead to national disloyalities on a large scale.

Bishop Sheen wrote: "Unless America reverses the attitude toward the family and ceases to try to make a success in the domain wherein Russia proved to be a failure, then apart from all moral and religious considerations, three disastrous consequences will follow:

First of all, America will be in danger of becoming a nation of traitors. If the nation reaches a condition where fifty percent of the married couples feel that they can throw overboard pledged loyalty in order to suit their own pleasure or convenience, then the hour has struck when citizens will no longer feel a need to keep their pledge to America as citizens. Once there is a citizenry that does not feel bound to the most natural and most democratic of all self-governing commonwealths, the home, it will not be long until it no longer feels bound to a nation…The traitors of the home today are the traitors of the home tomorrow.

A second possible danger to a nation that does not arrest the decay of the family is the creation of a mentality that will refuse to make sacrifices, suffer trials and inconveniences for the sake of the protection of the country…The fewer sacrifices a man is required to make, the more loath he is to make those few. His luxuries will become necessities, children a burden, and ego a god…Once sacrifice is separated from the home, sacrifice is uprooted from its nation."

Sexual Temptations: A Passive Approach Will Not Suffice III

Sexual Temptations: A Passive Approach Will Not Suffice continued:

For men, chastity requires the constant practice of putting sex in its proper context. Women do this more instinctively. For them, sexuality has a connection to life and the pain that is involved during child- bearing. Even with the use of contraception, the possibility of getting pregnant looms in the back of a woman’s mind. She is the bearer of life and the one who is most closely connected to that life. Compartmentalizing sex and divorcing it from its consequences is rarely an option for her. Even after a long and arduous day, sex can be just one more chore for her. It rarely serves as an escape from life’s demands as it can for a man. No, all of her ducks, so to speak, have to be in order. Any rifts between her and her husband need to be resolved before she considers sexual intimacy. Therefore, sex for a woman is naturally interwoven with childbearing, relationships and the larger context of life. As such, she is more apt to see the God-given purpose of sexuality more than her male counterpart.

What is said about women cannot be said about men; especially when he is left to his own natural instincts. For a man who lives without the aid of divine grace; for a man who does not daily exercise the virtue of chastity in ways that our Lord prescribed; sex is something that can easily stand alone. In a worst case scenario, a man can behold the beauty of a female body without giving the slightest thought to her personality. It is a brutal fact but it is true that a man can have sex with a woman he hates and still enjoy it. Such a fallen disposition explains why certain men are capable of rape and why even more men consume pornography on a large scale. It stands, therefore, that not only is the invocation of God’s grace necessary for him, but sexual wholeness requires repeated acts of the will and the use of his reasoning ability to put sex in its proper life-giving and love-giving context.

One would think that marriage would alleviate the sexual tensions men experience in our media-driven culture. But the fact is that the sin of watching pornography is confessed in Sacrament of Reconciliation, in large part, by married men. One reason for this is that man is conditioned by our culture to have a sexual appetite that is disproportionate to what most women are willing to deliver. When a man’s libido is constantly provoked by sexual images on the television, from the magazine racks at the grocery store and even on the billboards on the highway, it creates unrealistic expectations he may have for his wife.

And keep in mind that a good wife is a good mother; and a good mother- especially with a lot of children –is constantly on the go and emotionally invested in a number of different household projects…not to mention a job she may have in addition. As the demands on her are increased, so too is her need to emotionally disengage herself from those demands. Then, and only then, can she be able to think about sexual intimacy with her husband. With that said, it is understandable why a man who constantly absorbs sexual images and a wife/mother who constantly absorbs all the demands placed on her may experience discord and frustration with each other.

In addition to reasoning his way through sexual temptation as stated in part two of this series, the man has to play the part of the priest- the high priest of the family, so to speak. Each time his libido is awoken from the bombardment of images, and each time his wife is too exhausted to even think about sexual intimacy, the husband finds himself at a crossroads. He can relieve his tension a number of sinful and unhelpful ways or he can offer to God spiritual sacrifices. In a spiritual sense, he has to take his sexual urge to the altar of his heart and sacrifice to the Lord what he is tempted to satisfy unlawfully.

What is not commonly understood by men, however, is that with each time a man consents to die to himself in this regard, he grows holier, stronger and more pleasing to God. He is, without realizing it, born to new life. Dying in this way, he makes much spiritual progress. Without this frequent meditation, a husband may grow to resent his wife and, as I said, the seduction of pornography and adultery may get the better of him.

St. Paul says, "Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire..." Again, it is this manly and "violent" approach to lust, and vice in general, that leads to peace of soul. Indeed, with sexual temptations, man must be proactive and aggressive. After all, the choice is a matter of heaven or hell, salvation or damnation, eternal life with God or eternal despair. Our Lady of Fatima assured us that more souls go to hell because of sins of the flesh, i.e. sex. These considerations, in addition to the benefits of offering spiritual sacrifices, should also be the content of men's meditations. Indeed, every man should think about how chastity pleases our Lord and how lust provokes His displeasure.

In response to sexual temptation, a passive approach will not suffice for a man. Being too passive, a man runs the risk of making sex his master instead of his servant. And as some of you know, the obsession with sex can be a cruel master.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Future of the Family: A Prophetic Insight from 1933

As in the decline of the ancient world, the family is steadily losing its form and its social significance, and the State absorbs more and more of the life of its members. The home is no longer a center of social activity; it has become merely a sleeping place for a number of independent wage-earners. The functions which were formerly fulfilled by the head of the family are now being taken over by the State, which educates the children and takes the responsibility for their maintenance and health. Consequently, the father no longer holds a vital position in the family...

The use of contraceptives has made sexual intercourse independent of parenthood, and the marriage of the future will be confined to those who seek parenthood for its own sake rather than as the natural fulfillment of sexual love. But under these circumstances, who will trouble to marry? Marriage will lose all attractions for the young and the pleasure-loving and the poor and the ambitious. The energy of youth will be devoted to contraceptive love and only when men and women have become prosperous and middle-aged will they think seriously of settling down to rear a strictly limited family.

-Christopher Dawson, 1933

Sexual Temptation: A Passive Approach Will Not Suffice II

“Tear it out,” “cut it off,” and “throw it away!” Such are the expressions used by our Lord when speaking of sexual temptations. They certainly do not conjure up thoughts of mildness and gentleness. Instead, it would seem that in order to avoid the sin of lust, repeated and forceful blows are required. Elsewhere, Jesus used the graphic imagery of a millstone being tied around the neck of a sinner and thrown into the sea. These violent images not only illustrate the serious nature of sin, but also the aggressive response that is needed.

Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force.” This lends itself to yet another point made by Bishop Fulton Sheen: Jesus was not against violence. No, on the contrary, he requires it! But the violence he requires is one which is exercised on oneself! As a matter of fact, Bishop Sheen goes on to say that the reason why crime was on the increase in the streets of America during the years following the Sexual Revolution, was due to the “violence” (i.e., self-discipline and mortification) people failed to practice in their daily lives. A virtuous society in which children can play safely in their neighborhoods results from a practice of pulling out the beam in one's eye before he attempts to pull out the speck in his neighbor’s eye. The benefit of considering our own sins and faults first and foremost is that we exercise leniency towards others while demanding more from ourselves.

Here, we are only speaking of a general disposition of mind; an attitude towards our own sins and temptations which have been softened considerably by our culture. Jesus is relentless towards sin but relenting towards the sinner. In His teachings, He bids men to be unrelenting towards lust and nipping it in the bud even if it should only lurk in the imagination. But if the sinner should fall, he is to avoid berating himself. Instead, as St. Francis de Sales says, the penitent must peacefully ask God for forgiveness and begin yet again on the path of sexuality integrity and wholeness. Indeed, the man who, after committing a sexual sin, gives into dejection or despair only compounds the problem. To put this mindset into a nutshell: a man should be combative and hard-hitting against lust itself, but he must be equally peaceful towards himself with the understanding that God’s grace and mercy will see him through to the end.

After considering the general disposition of the mind, we can move on to particular practices such as prayer and reasoning through sexual temptation.

Just as the attraction of sweets needs to be put in context in order for a diabetic to persevere in his restricted diet, so too does the sexual appeal of a woman need to be put in a broader context for a man. Let me explain: The diabetic, when presented with a sweet dish, must reason his way beyond the delectation of the food. He must also consider the implications of an irregular insulin level and the physical effects such as nerve damage or the swelling of the extremities. Without this broader context in mind, there would be little incentive or rationale to eat properly and stay healthy. The context of lust and pornography is no less necessary for men. He has to, in his own mind, follow the logical conclusions or the likely consequences of what he is tempted to do. One can even argue, even in the absence of sexual temptation, that the ripple effects of lust, adultery or any immoral sexual activity, ought to be reflected on with the end result vividly in mind; the end result being the pain that it causes to loved ones and the harm done to the family…not to mention the spiritual cost it has on one’s relationship with God.

When a man sacrifices his relationship to God and his family for the sake of some fleeting sexual pleasure, he has made the object of his sin a kind of god- be it a woman (other than his wife) or pornography. Indeed, he has forfeited the day to day benefits of a peaceful conscience to the scattered and occasional moments of sexual pleasure. Each time he indulges, he creates for himself a sexual appetite that can never be fully satisfied. Sex, like a narcotic drug, becomes an addition and hence a master over his thoughts. He becomes a slave to a mere creature; an unmerciful creature which demands more and more from him. With this ball and chain wrapped around his thoughts, a man ceases to see the world, himself and God as they really exist. After all, a vice rarely exists by itself; rather, they exist in families. That is to say, lust will reproduce other sins and even more blind spots; before he knows it, there will be a series of self-made problems to resolve.

Every man- the saint and sinner alike -should meditate and mull over Proverbs 13:19, which reads: "Lust indulged starves the soul, but fools hate to turn from evil." With the above considerations in mind, and with sincere effort and an abundance of divine grace, we can be like those who conquered the evil one in St. John's First Letter: "I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have conquered the evil one."

Other considerations on sexual temptation in the next blog.

To read the first blog on "Sexual Temptation: A Passive Approach Will Not Suffice" please scroll down

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Sexual Temptation: A Passive Approach Will Not Suffice

I remember one day teaching the Old Testament at an inner-city Catholic High School in Washington, D.C. My sophomore students and I were discussing one of the many love stories in the book of Genesis. In any case, during our discussion I cautioned my female students not to date or marry any boy who frequents pornography or is addicted to it in any way. In addition to being morally wrong and a sin against God, the reason for this admonition is due to the fact that the habit of watching porn creates an insatiable sexual appetite and unrealistic expectations for the male consumer. Moreover, and just as important, pornography depersonalizes women; it puts all the emphasis on bodily pleasures and hence undermines the value of a woman’s integrity and personal needs.

As soon as I said this, a hand shot up. It was a female student who was known for being “pure and innocent.” She said, “Mr. Tremblay, if we were to take your advice, there would be no boys to date.” After further discussion, I was made aware that most of my male students watched pornography on a regular basis. If that were not enough, I was told that they, quite often, talked about it with their female counterparts. In response to this realization, I dropped the Old Testament lesson plan and talked about holiness and chastity for the next 2-3 days.

I recount this story because just recently, my spiritual director, a Catholic priest, related to me that over 50% of the confessions he hears from men have to do with pornography. Many of these men are married and practicing Catholics.

One of the obvious causes of this seductive habit is the easy access to images of women in our technological and media driven society. The internet, television, and even the magazine racks in a grocery store, are loaded with explicit pictures, detailing every curve and feature of the female body. A man has to constantly exercise custody of his eyes and even more so, he must be disciplined with his thoughts. As Bishop Fulton Sheen said, a man arrives at purity more through prayer and reason. Praying is essential and without prayer purity is all but impossible. But praying is not enough! A man must reason his way through the images and impressions which are daily impressed upon his mind. Indeed, he must put these images in the proper context in order to diminish the intense but superficial appeal. In practical terms, how is this done?

For starters, Jesus indicated that these temptations warranted an aggressive approach; and this begins with attacking the problem at its source: namely, dealing with thoughts of a sexual nature that are both involuntary and voluntary. He said, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.” (Matthew 5:27-30)

More on the praying and reasoning your way through temptations in the next blog.