The One Where I Defend Vatican II

Though we are one, Holy, and apostolic Catholic Church, we still have our own internal spats. Arguments about this doctrine or that discipline can be found in every spectrum of the Catholic blogosphere. While a great many disputes can be settled by simply referring to the Catechism, there still exist some rifts between the Church faithful — and some of those rifts can become downright nasty.

Perhaps one of the biggest points of contention between Catholics today is over Second Vatican Council, or Vatican II as it is often called.

Vatican II was the 21st ecumenical council (the second to take place in the Vatican, hence the name) and acted as a major turning point in the Church’s history. Taking place from 1962 to 1965, it wasn’t called to dispel any heresy or establish new dogmas — unlike other Councils before it. That’s actually a very important fact to recognize before going any further: Vatican II changed nothing about sacred tradition.

Instead, it focused on different areas of discipline, ecumenicism, and a host of other topics that helped to reaffirm the Church’s role in modern times. However, for the more stubborn, orthodox Catholics, Vatican II was seen as break away from tradition and an attempt to “secularize” the Church—an idea that is still held by many “traditional” Catholics today.

Now, I’m not going to break down every point of Vatican II in order to prove why those who criticize the council are misguided and perhaps overly zealous. Much hooplah has been attributed to Vatican II, and many try to point to it as the cause for some of the Church’s internal issues. Instead, I want to make two points about Vatican II (especially for those of you who joining RCIA this year) that should silence any critic, and satisfy any of those who have perhaps read too much anti-Vatican II jibber-jabber on the internet.

1: Vatican II was supported by an overwhelming majority of the Church authority, including John Paul II and Benedict XVI (both of whom were present at the Council before becoming Pope). That alone should be enough for any member of the laity. If the Church says it’s right, then it’s right. End of story.

2: Perhaps the most important aspect of Vatican II, and the one that I’ll be discussing from here on out: it encouraged and increased participation and engagement with the Mass.

One of the changes made in Vatican II was that Mass could be said in the vernacular, rather than Latin. This meant that people attending Mass who didn’t know Latin would actually be able to hear and understand the prayers and participate along with the priest.

In fact, before Vatican II, it wasn’t uncommon to hear lay Catholics on Sunday say that they were headed to “watch Mass,” because that’s what they did. They watched the priest say Mass rather than actually participate.

Vatican II opened the door for people to engage in the Mass in a way that they previously couldn’t — and that’s a huge deal.

Before and during my conversion, one of the things that really drew me in was that during Mass, Catholics worshiped with their entire body, mind, and spirit. It was an all-inclusive experience—one of constant participation throughout. I’d never been a part of anything like that before. It made me excited to become Catholic and that Holy experience was available to me because of Vatican II.

Those who criticize Vatican II are mistaken. I believe they do more to divide and splinter the Church than bring it together. At the same time, by challenging the nature of Vatican II, they challenge the authority of the Church, and that is a dangerous road to travel. For the rest of us Catholics, old and new alike, I’ll end with this notion. When we attend Mass, we come face to face with the literal Body and Blood of our savior Jesus Christ. Vatican II allowed us the opportunity to come even closer — to not only partake of the Eucharist, but participate in the consecration, the moment that bread and wine cease to be as they are and become the Holy Flesh and Precious Blood.

‘What a treasure there is, dear brothers and sisters, in the guidelines offered to us by the Second Vatican Council… I feel more than ever in duty bound to point to the Council as the great grace bestowed on the Church in the twentieth century’ there we find a sure compass by which to take our bearings in the century now beginning.’—Saint John Paul II

 

 

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Be A Living Parable

I’ve personally never had a difficult time believing in God, and for that I consider myself blessed. Even in the particularly difficult times of my life, times when God felt eons away, I have never been able to simply relinquish my faith in His existence. For me, it’s all too reasonable.

Yet, for so many, this is not the case. For them, believing in God poses  much more of a challenge, and it’s not so much that they’re unwilling to believe, but rather they are unable or not quite ready.

This is an important point that I think tends to get overlooked when we speak about evangelization. However, if we want to be truly effective in spreading the Gospel, then we need to carefully consider this fact, and approach it with the wisdom of Christ that we find in the Scriptures.

We can get a better understanding of this wisdom by starting in Matthew 13, when Jesus preached to a crowd of people from a boat using the parable of the sower:

And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear.” (Mt 13:3-9)

After he does this, his disciples come to Him and ask Him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” Jesus replies, “Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted.”

While the disciples were willing and able to accept the truth, many others at that time weren’t ready to hear that this carpenter’s son was the promised Messiah. So rather than hitting these listeners directly with the truth, he gave them a story that contained the truth.

(What’s funny is that Christ seems to be telling these people that they aren’t ready to hear the truth through a parable about hearing the truth.)

These passages can help us better understand the troubling question posed above. Perhaps much in the same way the people in the crowd weren’t ready to hear the truth, so too are those who reject God, His Church, and the Gospel in our world today.

Let’s consider the explanation of the Sower’s Parable in verses 18-23:

“Hear then the parable of the sower. The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it, and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart. The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away. The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit. But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.

I’m sure all of us can think of friends and family who are like the seeds thrown into the rocks and weeds. For them, belief is not easy.

Talk to any atheist long enough, and they’ll eventually tell you how bible thumpers and over-zealous Christians are more likely to send them packing than cause them to do any true reflection.  That’s why it’s not just evangelization that’s important, but how we evangelize.

At the same time, the secular world is constantly putting the Church in a negative light, making us out to be enemies of liberation, equality, and progress.

We can’t come barreling at these people with the full force of the Gospel, because not everyone is willing, or even able, to accept it.  You can’t tell an atheist that their purpose in life rests with God alone and expect them to just start believing. Simply pointing to the scriptures as proof of Christ’s redeeming power won’t hold much water with the skeptic.

We don’t always have to be so direct with the truth. Instead, we can simply let the truth show through us like a living parable. This starts with simple acts of kindness, friendship, and compassion, small ways to plant seeds in even the most egregious of non-believers.

In December of 2000, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in a letter to catechists and religion teachers on the New Evangelization, reminds us that “large things begin from the small seed.” He tells us that the New Evangelization does not mean immediately reaching all those who have fallen away through “new and more refined methods.” Instead, he says, “It means to dare, once again and with the humility of the small grain, to leave up to God the when and how it will grow.”

 

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I Assure You, I’m Still Here.

Hello, fellow snappers. 

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I wanted to put up a little blurb to let everyone know that I haven’t abandoned my post or fallen into a deep pit of writer’s block and despair. 

Things have been a bit hectic here at the Tyson home. We’re inching closer and closer to the arrival of second child (who, according to a dream I had, will be a boy and must be named Joachim), while our firstborn gets bigger, more talkative, and significantly more energetic (read: destructive).

At the same time, after much prayer and even more patience, I have started a new job, and the transition has taken a lot out of me mentally and physically. 

So, I haven’t had much time to focus on my blogging, but I certainly haven’t quit. The Mackerel Snapper Blog means a great deal to me, as do my readers. I’ll be back to posting again very soon. 

Until then, pray for me, my family, and keep checking back. 

In Christ, 

Matthew

 

Behold Your Mother

Perhaps the single most misdirected and misunderstood idea that many non-Catholics have about the Catholic Church is that we worship Mary as we do God.

Let me make this very clear before we move forward.

Catholics believe that God alone is worthy of worship. We do not, in any way, shape, or form, worship Mary. She is not God, nor is she some Catholic goddess. She is not the Christian version of Venus. She does not wield any power like that of God.

As much as we love Mary, as devoted we are devoted to her, and as holy as she is, we do not worship her. We only worship God.

But we venerate the Blessed Mother.

To venerate something means to hold it in great respect and reverence. We believe Mary has a special role as Queen of Heaven. We look to her not only as Mother of God, but also as our mother, as Mother of the Church and all the Church faithful.

In this way, how could we not approach Mary with anything but great respect?

Like our biological mother nurtures us in our physical life, Mary nurtures us in our spiritual life. Just as children cling to their mothers, we too cling to Mary. We call out to her; we beseech her guidance, her comfort, and her intercession. And we have faith that her prayers, said on our behalf, will fall on the loving, understanding and open ears of the Father. 

Countless saints found their way to God through the help of the Mother. Laity have for centuries cited miracles based upon her intercession. In the words of St. Francis de Sales, “Let us run to Mary, and, as her little children, cast ourselves into her arms with a perfect confidence.”

Still, some are bothered by the idea of our asking Mary to intercede on our behalf due to a verse found in 1 Timothy. 

For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all. 1 Tim 2:5

In this letter, Paul is reiterating the base point of Christianity, which is that through Jesus Christ we find salvation with God. Jesus is our mediator to eternal life, the one who will testify on our behalf.

That is not the same as asking Mary to pray for us. If it was, then what does that say about you and me when we are asked to pray for someone? Are we usurping Christ and putting ourselves in the role of mediator? Of course not! We are, like Mary, reaching out to God with intercessory prayers on behalf of another. And most often, we do so because we were asked.

So now — let us all — Catholic and Protestant alike — ask Mary to pray for us.

HAIL MARY, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners — now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

There’s Assumption About Mary

On August 15th, the Catholic Church will celebrate one of its oldest and most important feast days: The Assumption of Mary.

This feast day celebrates the end of Mary’s life on Earth when God, the Father, took her into Heaven, body and soul together.

Much like the Immaculate Conception and Mary’s perpetual virginity, you won’t find this event in the Bible. The belief in Mary’s assumption is a part of our Tradition that has survived since the age of the apostles, and it plays a very important role in our understanding of the Virgin Mother.

It should first be understood that it is required of all members of the Catholic Church to accept the Assumption as truth. In 1950, Pope Pius IX, in the apostolic constitution Munificentissimus Deus, declared ex cathedra (meaning “from the chair”) that the Assumption of Mary is an infallible doctrine of the Church.

[B]y the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory. Munificentissimus Deus 44

Keep in mind that this statement only made the Assumption a required belief of the Catholic faithful; it did not create that belief. As I already mentioned, the belief itself is as old as the Church, and was held by those who knew Mary personally. In fact, it has been so crucial to the Church’s history that within the Rosary prayers there is an entire decade dedicated to meditation on the Assumption.

So why is this doctrine important to our Catholic faith?

If we truly understand Mary’s nature — pure, immaculate, and ever virgin — then the Assumption would be the only logical and fitting end to her life.

Remember, Mary was unlike any other person who has ever, or will ever, exist. While our bodies are stained with original sin, Mary’s was not. She was perfect in body, perfect in spirit, and in full communion with her son, the Savior. Her flesh could not suffer the same decay and corruption that ours surely will.

This actually brings up an interesting point to consider. The Church has provided great care and reverence to the remains of those important to Christian history. The bones of Peter, for example, are buried under the altar of St. Peter’s Cathedral. In fact, all Catholic churches have a Saint’s relic buried under its altar. That’s how important remains of the faithful are to the Church.

Knowing this, one can surely understand that, if the body of Holy Mary, Mother of God was still part of this Earth, the Church would have entombed and enshrined it — most likely within the Vatican — and we can only imagine the pilgrimages that would be made to visit it.

But that isn’t the case, because we don’t have the body of our Blessed Mother. Like her Son, she was assumed into heaven.

Starting with the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption of Mary acts as the perfect completion of her faithful service to God on Earth. It was the final grace bestowed upon her, to be taken up body and soul and crowned Queen of Heaven.

But there’s also something else to keep in mind.

According to the Catechism: the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians.

Through Mary’s assumption, we see, for the first time, the fulfillment of God’s promise to His faithful, that through salvation in Christ, we too will one day be joined together in perfect flesh and spirit.

Not only does Mary’s Assumption complete our understanding of her divine nature, but also puts on display for us the fruits of our own labors for the Father — a reminder of what awaits each of us after death.

By contemplating Mary in heavenly glory, we understand that the earth is not the definitive homeland for us either, and that if we live with our gaze fixed on eternal goods we will one day share in this same glory and the earth will become more beautiful. Pope Benedict XVI

We Don’t Call Her “The Virgin Mary” For Nothing.

Whenever we talk about Mary, we address her with many different titles: Mother of Jesus, Mother of God, Holy Mary,  Blessed Mother.  However, out of all these, the one most often heard across Catholic (and Protestant) aisles is The Virgin Mary.

Virtually every person that claims the Christian faith accepts that Mary miraculously conceived Christ as a virgin. Yet, it is widely believed across every Protestant denomination that after Mary gave birth to Jesus, she was free to give herself fully to her husband Joseph, and thus ceased to be “the virgin” Mary.

For Catholics, it’s a different story.  We hold that Mary was Ever Virgin, which means even after she bore the Son of Man, she remained a virgin for the rest of her life.  This belief is significantly crucial to our understanding and veneration of the Mother of God.

The Traditional belief that Mary was Ever-Virgin is as old as the Church itself, and held by those who were closest to Mary and her family.  In other words, those who could’ve pointed fingers and said “nuh-uh” but instead attested to the belief that she lived her life as a virgin.

Tradition is an important word because you won’t find any specific reference to Mary’s perpetual virginity in the Bible. As we’ve discussed before, Catholics rely on more than just Sacred Scripture.  In fact, our Tradition precedes the scripture by many decades.  So technically speaking, the belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity is actually older than the New Testament itself.

The earliest writings we do have of this belief are once again found in the Protoevangelium of James, which if we recall, is not considered inspired scripture by the Church, but does contain true Tradition.

However, much in the same way we approached her immaculate conception, we can understand the Tradition of Mary as ever-virgin through reason alone.

So ultimately the question is, does it make sense that, after birthing the savior, Mary did not enter into a normal relationship with Joseph, her spouse, with whom she shared all the rights of the marriage bed?

To answer this, we must first recall that Mary was never “normal” to begin with. Remember that when we refer to Mary, we refer to her as holy, which means set apart.  She was brought into this world for a specific, divine purpose, one that would impede her from living a “normal” life all together.

Mary’s perpetual virginity was the mark of her complete and total purity. That’s how God made her to be. Were she to simply go about her business as any other woman, she would have ceased to be the perfect vessel that bore the Light of the World.

But what about Biblical references to siblings of Jesus? Many who wish to discredit Mary’s perpetual virginity will often cite verses in the Scriptures that refer to Jesus’ brethren.

It is suggested in the Protoevangelium of James that Joseph was a widower with his own children, which could make Christ’s “brethen” his step-siblings.

However, St. Jerome in the 4th century claimed such references to be cousins of Christ, born by a relative of Mary, who also happened to be named Mary. This is perhaps the most logical explanation.

Even more telling, are the actions of Christ right before his death. Before breathing his last, Jesus gave Mary to John, who was with Him at the cross, to care for as if she was John’s own mother.   Why would Jesus do that if Mary had other children — or even stepchildren?

When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!”  Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household. — John 19: 26-27

Whatever the explanation, the truth remains that Christ was the son of Mary, not a son of Mary. It’s important to understand that belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity dates back to the time of the apostles, and it wasn’t until after Martin Luther broke away from the Church that it was ever widely contested. In fact, Luther himself accepted the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity.

Those who were closest to Mary — who knew her, walked with her, and took care of her — they knew that the Lord had made her holy. They knew of her perfection and unblemished purity, and Catholics across the world hold tight to that truth today.

The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man.154 In fact, Christ’s birth “did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.”155 And so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the “Ever-virgin” 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church. 499

Pope Francis and Admonishing the Sinner. More on ‘Who Died and Made You Pope?”

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece dealing with the current trend of Catholic laity calling for certain politicians and public figures to be denied the Eucharist.

I took a stance against this action, citing that by doing so we encroach on the territory of Church authority. I received a great deal of supportive messages after publishing that blog. And I also heard from a few dissenters who felt it should be our Christian duty to deny the Eucharist to certain politicians.

They were quick to say that this would be “admonishing the sinner” which is something that Christ himself instructed us to do.

Let’s take a look at that Scripture:

If your brother sins, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. (Mt 18:15)

Calling someone out on the Internet does not fit that bill, does it?

While we may not realize it, there is a fine line between admonishment and judgment. Our actions have a way of showing which side of that line we are on.

So what should we do instead? What should we do when we TRULY care about the soul and well being of another person? What should we do when we TRULY want to help them?

If our hearts are truly burdened for our brothers and sisters, instead of chastising them publically, we could do something much more powerful We could appeal to God on their behalf.

We could pray.

Recently, in one of his most beautiful homilies, our Holy Father called for the faithful to imitate Christ as “intercessor, advocate, and lawyer.”

“Jesus, before the Father, never accuses! It’s the opposite: he defends! He’s the first Paraclete. Then, he sends the second, who is the (Holy) Spirit. He is the defender: he comes before the Father to defend us against the charges.”… more than accusers, we have to be defenders of others before the Father. I see a bad thing in someone – do I go defend him? No! But keep quiet! Go pray and defend him before the Father as Jesus does. Pray for him, but do not judge! Because if you do, when you do something bad, you will be judged.”

Let’s remember these words and take them to heart.

Know Mary, Know Jesus. No Mary, No Jesus.

During my days as a Southern Baptist, my opinion of Mary, the Blessed Virgin, was the same as every other Protestant.

I saw her as just another character in the Bible, one who was given a particular task, and when God was finished with her, she faded into the background with the rest of the crowd. She lived her life as a normal woman, giving herself fully to her husband Joseph, and birthing other, less divine, children.

And I also remember thinking that Catholics gave Mary way too much credit, putting her in a place that was a little too close to God’s throne. I can’t honestly recall if I ever actually believed that Catholics “worshipped” Mary — although I’m sure I’d been told at some point — but I certainly never understood why Catholics considered her to be a big deal.

Looking back on those ignorant times, I am filled with both shame and confusion. I often wonder why my past views on Mary never struck me as odd since Mary gave birth to God in the flesh. I never once stopped to think, “How could she go on to live life as a normal woman after that?”

Of course now I know that she didn’t.

Since establishing my Mackerel Snapper blogsite, I’ve held off writing about Mary. I wanted to make sure I gave her proper justice with my words, but at the same time, I needed to be in a place where I felt I understood more of the mystery surrounding the Blessed Mother.

One thing I’ve come to understand clearly — more clearly that I ever have — is that Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, was far from just another woman.

She was chosen by God almighty, long before He spoke this world into existence, long before the fall of Adam and Eve, long before she gave birth to Christ, to rise above all of humanity, to be the immaculate vessel through which God would enter our world. She dedicated, not just her womb, but her entire life and all that she was, to the glory of the Father.

And it all starts with her immaculate conception. Immaculate literally meaning “without stain.” In other words, perfect.

Many of us hear the words “immaculate conception” and think of the circumstances surrounding the conception of Jesus. But actually, the term applies to Mary, and the circumstances surrounding HER conception in the womb of her mother, who we Catholics know as Anne. Her father we know as Joachim.

What we know about Mary’s early life, including the names of her parents and her immaculate birth, we get from handed-down Tradition and the Protoevangelium of James, or the Gospel of James, which is dated to roughly the 2nd Century.

This book is not included in the canonical gospels and is widely considered to be apocryphal, meaning that its writings are of uncertain origin. This, however, doesn’t discredit the work.

Apologist Mark Shea puts it perfectly:

The source of the doctrine is the fact that Mary was perpetually a virgin and the whole Church remembered this fact, beginning with the apostles. The Protoevangelium of James reflects the existence of this tradition and incorporates it into a legend about Mary, but it does not originate the tradition. You might as well say that “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” is the source of our belief that Abraham Lincoln existed and was President. No. “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” is, like the Protoevangelium, a fictional tale which refers to a tradition which precedes it. –Clear Thinking About the Protoevangelium of James

Of course, if we truly think about the task that God chose Mary to do, we do not need meticulously documented evidence that she was without sin. Simple reason can lead us to that conclusion.

When we Catholics say the Hail Mary, we refer to her as “Holy Mary, Mother of God.”

You can’t be in any Catholic Church for long without hearing or seeing the word “holy.” It is used so much that we may take it for granted, forgetting what the word implies. It has a deeply significant meaning, especially in the Rosary prayer.

Holy literally means “set apart.” Something that is holy has been dedicated or consecrated to God for a purpose. It is sacred.

In the days of the Old Testament, the temple housed certain items that were considered holy because of their specific purpose.

In his book Reasons to Believe, Dr. Scott Hahn writes about this in correlation to Mary saying:

The golden vessels of the Jerusalem Temple were set apart for use in worship. You could not take home the holy lamp stands, for example, and use them to light your dining room…These things were set apart for a divine purpose. That is the meaning of their holiness.

Reasons to Believe. Ch 7. “Saints Alive”

Much in the way that holy objects were set apart, so was Mary. She was not called to be a prophet, nor a priest, or a teacher. She was born immaculate, without sin, so that she could house God in her womb and bring our Savior into this world.

And she remained Holy — “set apart” — for all time.

That is why Catholics hold to the truth that Mary was not only immaculately conceived, but was Ever-Virgin for the rest of her life.

Hell: Vacancy or No Vacancy?

“I am and always will be the optimist, the hoper of far-flung hopes and the dreamer of improbable dreams.”—The Eleventh Doctor

The above passage is one of my favorite quotes from Doctor Who.  There’s nothing exactly profound about it, but that’s often what’s so genius about The Doctor.

In the past, I struggled with being an optimist. I always preferred to see myself as a realist. Life is what it is, and it’s best to accept it and deal with it.

However, since I became Catholic, and thus began to see everything (not just my faith) in an entirely different way, I’ve found myself filled with hope for not just my own life, but the lives of everyone in our world, as well as the souls that have departed to the next. And since I have found that hope, I’ve begun to look at the concept of Hell, and it’s occupancy, in a much different light.

Some may believe that Hell is not a reality, that all people, no matter the conditions, will be saved. This view is called apocatastasis, and it is rejected by the Catholic Church.

The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.” The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs. CCC 1035

Perhaps Hell is not a spatial place as depicted in cartoons with flames ablaze and tortured people toiling away to demon slavemaster, but the Church assures us that it does exist, at least as a state of condition and, more importantly, as a consequence of our free-will actions.

We can be sure of the existence of Hell since Christ himself spoke about it often throughout his ministry. Throughout the scriptures, Jesus speaks of being thrown into Gehenna, he speaks of angels casting evildoers into eternal flames, and he says that the road to Hell is wide and many will follow it.

But there is something interesting to note in the scriptures. Christ doesn’t speak of who has gone to hell, but who can go to Hell. He is warning us

You see, God does not intend for his creation to be eternally separated from Him. God does not “send” anyone to Hell. We send ourselves. We must accept that as an indisputable fact.

God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. CCC 1037

We don’t know who is or who isn’t in Hell, and The Church has never declared such.  In fact, not a single person on Earth can say who is in Heaven and who is in Hell.  We cannot peer into either place and take a head count.  Even for those who immersed themselves in evil and went to the grave defiant, we simply cannot know — with one-hundred percent certainty —where they are now.

Therefore, we can optimistically hope that Hell is empty — or at least scarcely populated. It is what Father Robert Barron calls a theologically grounded and reasonable hope. And shouldn’t that be our prayer?  Shouldn’t we want everyone to make it to Heaven?

We can’t deny the fact that Hell is a reality and a very real danger to all of us. But that’s all the Church requires us to believe about it. As long as we are allowed to hope, I will continue to pray that all people find salvation in the end.

Call it a far flung hope. Call it an improbable dream, but I am — as The Doctor says —“always the optimist.“

Who Died And Made You Pope?

I hear a lot of talk these days from laymen and women in the Catholic blogosphere who would like to see the Eucharist withheld from certain politicians because of their stance on certain social issues.

I won’t disagree that many politicians who claim to follow the Catholic faith are guilty of promoting ideas and actions that are expressly contrary to Church teaching. However, as lay Catholics, we have zero authority on who should and should not receive. That power lies with the Bishops, and ultimately the Vatican.

Those who call for others to be denied the Eucharist may often cite Canon Law 915 which states: Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest graves sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.

The first part of the law, dealing with excommunicated persons, is a given. They are not a part of the Church, so they are unable to receive on that merit alone. However, it’s the last bit, “others obstinately persevering in manifest graves sin” that I find is the foundation for this discussion, and the point I’d like to approach a few different ways.

I can understand how one can take the last part of 915 and use it to fuel the outcry for particular people to be banned from receiving, and honestly I think it begins in a good place. As Catholics, we recognize the Eucharist for what it is: The body and blood of Jesus Christ. We also know that the Church teaches that we cannot receive with the stain of mortal sin on our soul, it degrades the sacrifice. When we see any Catholic, public figure or not, commit a grave offense, our instincts flair up and say, “That person should go to confession.” It’s natural.

However, following those instincts to the point of publicly calling for those people to be refused the Eucharist is a dangerous road to travel. Regardless of how we may perceive any situation, and regardless of what all reasonable deductions may tell us, we have no possible way of knowing what is truly in a person’s heart. We have absolutely no knowledge of whether or not a person has gone to confession before receiving. Therefore, when we call for politicians, public figures, or anyone else to be refused the Eucharist, we are putting ourselves between a person and the saving grace of Christ based on what are ultimately just assumptions.

In fact, the only way that we can know for sure that a person is “persevering in manifest grave sin” and must be withheld from receiving is when they are divorced and remarried without an annulment. As we have discussed before, this puts an individual in a permanent state of adultery. Other than that, however, we don’t know. No one does, and until the Vatican officially declares otherwise, the burden to receive the Eucharist in a state of grace relies on the individual or at the discretion of the Church authority.

Let us recall what Paul said in 1st Corinthians:

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself,* and so eat the bread and drink the cup. 

We have the ability to recognize right from wrong, and that’s good. However, when we sin and our instincts flair up, we should turn our feelings inward instead of outward, and ask ourselves, “Am I coming to the table justly?”

I think one of the biggest problems is that we get too wrapped up in hot-button issues like abortion. A grave evil, yes, but where is the outcry for those who send troops to fight unjust war? Or those who advocate for “enhanced interrogation techniques” aka torture? Or those who ignore the needs of families stricken with poverty in our country, a sin that scripture clearly states cries out to God for vengeance?

Better yet, how many of us lie, covet, take the Lord’s name in vain, or allow something else to come before God in our lives? These are all grave sins, and the most dangerous thing we can do to ourselves is allow the sins of others to blind us to our own shortcomings. That creates in us the gravest of all offenses: pride.

When we call for the Eucharist to be withheld from someone, we attempt to act as a barrier between God and a person WE have decided is unworthy. That is not our place.  The Vatican makes that decision. The Bishops discern who receives. Not us. We are not the authority of this Church, and it is important we remember that.