Big Changes Coming to Mackerel Snapper

Hey folks,

First, let me wish all of you a Happy New Year and thank you for your continued support. Mackerel Snapper’s audience grew so much over 2014, and I can’t wait to see how far we can go this year.

You’ll notice there haven’t been any posts for a while. I took a little time off for Christmas, but the real reason is  because we’re in the midst of a big transition.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be shifting over to my new website

I’ll be able to offer so much more with my own official website, and I can’t wait for it to launch. Until then, I hope you’ll all continue to check back for updates and continue to spread the word.

Thank you all again so much.



A Beautiful Christmas Treat

For me, there is nothing more convincing of God’s existence than the absolute beauty of music.

I discovered this incredible rendition of Hallelujah last year, and it’s still as moving as the first time I heard it.

Merry Christmas

Torture, Abortion, and Catholic Hypocrisy: A Short Reflection

Something I often rant against in my Catholic writing is the practice of putting political bias before the Church. Though it is absolutely a two way street, I’ve witnessed more conservative Catholics call for the excommunication of Biden and Pelosi for their stance on abortion, yet say not a word about Rick Santorum and his support of torture. Both abortion and torture are expressly forbidden in the Catechism, yet somehow, Santorum, and other conservative Catholic politicians like him, seem to slide by. Even worse, when push comes to shove, these critics often find a way to defend practices such as water boarding and sleep deprivation as “not really” torture.

That, my friends, is total hogwash.

Catholicism is not a religion of personal feelings. It is not a religion of compromise. IF you want to call yourself a faithful Catholic, you HAVE to put the Church first. You HAVE to follow the rules set forth in the Catechism. These things are not up for debate. If that sometimes puts you at odds with your party platform, too bad.

Being Catholic doesn’t mean you can’t be involved in politics. In fact, we should be involved. You just have to discern what the Church says first.

“This Catechism was not written to please you. It will not make life easy for you, because it demands you a new life.” Benedict XVI

Off the Table: Catholics and Contraception Made Easy

The original purpose behind the Mackerel Snapper Blog was to reach out to other individuals like myself who were considering joining the Catholic Church or were already in the process of doing so. My goal was to explain the Catholic faith from a convert’s perspective and present it in a simple, Joe Anybody manner that’s easy to understand and digest.

Since anyone currently going through RCIA is now about halfway through their classes, I thought I’d tackle one of the more controversial, and misunderstood, stances taken by the Catholic Church, which is the complete and total opposition to the use of contraception.

Growing up Baptist, birth control was never seen as a moral issue. It was rarely discussed and was about as natural to my church as coffee and donuts were to Sunday school.

And while many non-Catholic entities currently hold a similar view, it hasn’t always been this way. Once upon a time, most all Christians, Catholic and Protestant alike, saw contraception as a grave sin, however, throughout the 20th century, its use became more and more widespread, and thus more accepted within the general public.

Today, artificial birth control has become so engrained in our society, both in the secular world and within most Protestant churches, that for many, it’s second nature—something in which people involve themselves without a second thought.

Yet, despite widespread public acceptance, the Catholic Church stands firm in Her opposition to its use. And despite what any studies or pundits might suggest, faithful Catholics who wish to remain true to the Church are forbidden from using any form of birth control. Doing so, for any reason, constitutes as a grave and mortal sin, and any Catholic who uses contraception is obligated to go to confession before they can receive the Eucharist.

But don’t just take my word for it. As the Catechism clearly states:

In contrast, “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” is intrinsically evil. CCC 2370


The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood. Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception). CCC 2399

The marital act, as in, sex as it was made to be, between husband and wife, is the sacred affirmation of the marriage covenant. Its purpose is to bring the two spouses together in an expression of complete and total self-giving to one another. It is act of selfless, unconditional love, one so powerful that it has the ability to create new, sacred life.

The Church teaches that sex between the spouses must always be this way. It must always be ordered towards life. Both spouses must always present themselves to one another entirely, without any barriers.

The use of contraception does not allow for total self-giving. It inserts something synthetic into something natural and restricts one part of one spouse to the other. It eliminates the life-giving nature of the marital act and turns sex into something that exists outside of God’s design.

The Church has always held firm to this teaching, and it stretches all the way back to the early Church fathers. In AD 125, Clement of Alexandria wrote:

“Because of its divine institution for the propagation of man, the seed is not to be vainly ejaculated, nor is it to be damaged, nor is it to be wasted”

This was affirmed consistently throughout the ages, most notably in the 20th Century in Pope Paul VI’s Humane Vitae, where it is written:

[W]e must once again declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun, and, above all, directly willed and procured abortion, even if for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as licit means of regulating birth. Equally to be excluded, as the teaching authority of the Church has frequently declared, is direct sterilization, whether perpetual or temporary, whether of the man or of the woman. Similarly excluded is every action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible”

And again, Pope John Paul II echoed this teaching by stating, “Contraception is to be judged objectively so illicit…that it can never, for any reason be justified.

The Church’s position on this subject simply cannot be misunderstood.

And to be clear, this includes any and all forms of artificial birth control, including oral contraception, condoms, the withdrawal method, and a vasectomy. The claim that the Church’s stance against contraception is somehow tilted or sexist is completely misguided.

Of course, the Church does understand that couples can’t always afford to have multiple children. And while every child is a blessing, there are legitimate health and economic reason as to why a married couple might want to avoid becoming pregnant.

There is only one morally permissible way in which a couple can refrain from becoming pregnant. It is called Natural Family Planning, or NFP, for short.

Simply put*, NFP works by closely monitoring a woman’s fertility, and if used to avoid a pregnancy, the couple comes together in the marital act only during the times in which the woman is at her most infertile. (It should be noted that NFP can be used just as effectively to conceive as it can be to avoid.)

There are some who criticize NFP and refer to it, wrongly, as “Catholic birth control.” However, lumping NFP into the same category as artificial contraception is just simple ignorance, and here’s why.

NFP uses absolutely no artificial methods to avoid a pregnancy, and therefore allows the marital act to remain as natural as it was meant to be.

NFP begins and ends with the concept of being open to life. Contraception does not.

NFP seeks to work with the gift of fertility. Contraception works against it.

Because it does nothing to disrupt the fertility cycle, NFP allows the marital act to remain open to life at all times. Contraception absolutely does not.

I should also mention that much of the avoidance in NFP consists of patience and chastity. Yes! Even in marriage!

But even when it comes to NFP, a married couple must discern that they are using it for the right reasons. Overall, man and woman were meant to come together in love and bring life to this earth. It’s one of the most miraculous aspects of God’s creation, and it’s tragic that we are so comfortable with stifling it.

Pregnancy is good. Children are good. The ability to create life is good. These things and their goodness flow directly from God, which the Catholic Church recognizes, affirms, and protects. The opposition to contraception is law. It is unwavering, and it will always remain that way.

*Seriously, as simply as I can put it.

The Eucharist: Accept No Substitutions.

It’s widely known that the Catholic Church doesn’t allow non-Catholics to receive the Eucharist (read about it here), but what about the flip side of that coin? If for some reason a Catholic is attending a Protestant service, can they partake in communion?

No, they cannot. Under no circumstances are Catholics to receive communion from a Protestant denomination.

The rule is outline in the Code of Canon Law 844:

Catholic ministers administer the sacraments licitly to Catholic members of the Christian faithful alone, who likewise receive them licitly from Catholic ministers alone.

As it is known, Catholics believe that by partaking of Holy Communion, we are eating and drinking the literal Body and Blood of Jesus Christ (transubstantiation). It is not a symbol, nor is it a metaphor, nor do we believe, as the Lutherans, that Jesus is with the bread and wine (consubstantiation). Once consecrated, the bread and wine cease to be, and we are left with the Body and Blood.

Receiving communion is the most important part of our faith. It’s not just a big deal; it’s THE biggest deal there is. The entire Mass is centered on the Eucharist. It’s the crux of our salvation. When we present ourselves before the Eucharist, we are literally standing at the feet of our savior.

As Catholics, we must confirm with our words and actions that we believe in the real presence of Christ as the Eucharist. This is why we genuflect before the altar, and why, we must first clear our heart of mortal sin through reconciliation before receiving.

By taking communion in a church that does not accept our beliefs of the Eucharist, we are equating the real presence with a symbolic gesture, and that is irreverent to the Church, and a sin.

But, regardless of the law, I can’t understand why a faithful Catholic would want to receive from anywhere other than the Catholic Church in the first place. When we take the Eucharist, we bind ourselves to the Father, body and soul. We renew our spirit, strengthen our faith, and rejoice in the unconditional love and grace that God has for us.

There is nothing for Catholics in the communion of other churches. No added grace. No redemption. No salvation. For us, it is an empty, incomplete action. Why would we want to celebrate that?

Now, there is a second part to Canon Law 844 that should be explained. It states:

Whenever necessity requires it or true spiritual advantage suggests it, and provided that danger of error or of indifferentism is avoided the Christian faithful for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister are permitted to receive the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick from non-Catholic ministers  in whose Churches these sacraments are valid.

At a first glance, this might make everything I just said irrelevant, but lets take a closer look at the stipulations.

First, receiving outside of the Church is permitted only when it is impossible for a Catholic to approach a Catholic priest. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, we need to take note of the part of the law: in whose Churches these sacraments are valid.

This means that if a Catholic is to receive outside of the Catholic Church, he or she must do so in a church where the Eucharist is also recognized as the literal Body and Blood of Christ, and was consecrated by a validly ordained priest (valid, being contingent upon the Roman Church Authority and not our personal opinion).

With these restrictions in mind, a Catholic can only receive the Eucharist at an Orthodox Church. Though, through a schism, we are not in complete communion with the Orthodox Church, they are the only other Christian church where the Catholic Church recognizes the sacraments and ordination as valid.

Understandably, all this can cause Catholics to feel a bit awkward at other church services, and sometimes we might feel as if we’re offending other Christians by denying ourselves communion. However, when it comes to Church teaching and law, our feelings should play not part in the matter, nor should the opinions of others.

As Catholics, our lives are a perpetual witness to the faith. Let us not compromise that faith by pretending that Real Presence exists anywhere else.

God Doesn’t Owe Us Anything: A Short Reflection

I  actually wanted to post about the Gospel readings for Nov 11 the day of, but I never got around to it. Thank God for a universal Gospel, right?

The reading was from Luke 17, and goes as follows:

Jesus said to the Apostles:
“Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’? Would he not rather say to him,‘Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished’? Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you.
When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’”

I love the allegorical nature of our Savior’s teachings. In comparing his disciples with the servant, Christ is reminding us that all we do for God is out of obligation and Christian duty. Like the master to the servant, God doesn’t owe us anything, and we should never expect to profit from our salvation (sans the whole dying and going to Heaven part).

Unfortunately, many people are more concerned with what they can “get” out of following Christ than what they should be giving, and not just with material things.

Yes, there are the Osteen’s of the world who tell you that if you surrender yourself to Christ, He’s going to shower your with money, cars, friends, and good fortune, and while there are those out there who are duped by the infamous prosperity gospel, I think a lot of us expect something on a more spiritual or emotional level.

We think that if we make it to Mass, participate at all the right moments, and receive the Eucharist, we’ll be granted insight, knowledge, healing, special protection, or, as it is so often these days, for God to look past our unrepentant hearts and turn a blind eye to our sins.

But that misses the whole point of being a Christian.

We fulfill our obligation to God out of love for the Father. We do it out of thankfulness that he gave His Son so we could one day enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. We sacrfice our own human desires for the will of God. Salvation is not tit for tat. It’s not a quid pro quo. It’s not a transaction.

When Christ commanded us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, he didn’t promise us a reward or a pat on the back. When he commanded us to turn from sin, he didn’t add that doing so would make life easier for us. In fact it’s quite the opposite. Christ just said “do,” and we follow because as His disciples, it’s our job.

Our only reward is the joy of doing the Lord’s work, and what more could we possibly need?

How Catholics Should Respond to Cardinal Burke’s Demotion.

Trust the Pope.

That’s all any Catholic needs to do about this situation. No more speculating about Francis’ completely made up “liberal agenda” or some other conspiracy, heretical nonsense. He’s the Pope. We’re the laity. Trust the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

On another note, it would do the laity a massive amount of good to stop trying to segment in the Church into “liberal” and “conservative” factions. I doubt you can find an article online that doesn’t mention Cardinal Burke as a “conservative hero.” It’s pointless, and it does more harm than good.

There is no conservative Catholicism or liberal Catholicism. There is only Catholicism. Such titles put politics and agenda before the faith, and that is dangerous.

The State of Protestantism Today

In June of this year, the largest Presbyterian denomination in America voted to allow their clergy to perform same-sex “marriages” within the church, thus joining the ranks of other Protestant denominations, such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Episcopalian Church, and United Church of Christ.

This “evolution” of theology and “modernizing” of church doctrine is a trend that I predict we’ll continue to see in non-Catholic Christian circles for years to come, and not just with marriage. Today, nearly all Protestant denominations support and even advocate the use of artificial birth control, turn a blind eye to divorce, and many allow at least some level of support for abortion.

Of course, not all Protestants are willing to “move with the times”, so to speak; there remains, especially among the more conservative groups, quite a bit of dissent. However, it cannot be denied that many modern day Protestant denominations are falling further into the depths of secularism.

While it pains me to see Christians turning their backs on the sanctity of life and marriage, I have to admit that whenever the media lights up with news of another Protestant church endorsing an otherwise wholly unchristian act, I find myself entirely unsurprised.

The reason for my utter lack of shock lies, interestingly enough, within two of the critical tenants of Protestant Theology: the doctrines of sola scriptura (scripture alone) and sola fide (faith alone). (I discuss these two at length here and here)

As Catholics, the Bible is not our sole source of authority, nor was the Catholic Church based upon it. In fact, what we now call “The Bible” — the collected Old Testament and New Testament writings — was put together by the Church herself, and is meant to enrich and support our doctrine and Tradition.

(Consider too that the Gospel is the written testimony of the teachings of the apostles, which, due to apostolic tradition and the God-given teaching authority of the Church, precedes the written text. Thus, any authority of the Scriptures is derived from the recognition of the Church.)

Yet, the Protestant Reformation severed the Tradition from the Bible, and put all other authorities beneath it. By doing so, they created a type of religious relativism (unwittingly, I’m sure) that opened the door for an “anything goes” mentality.  So long, of course, as it can be found — or not found — in the scriptures.

For years, sola scriptura was a major weapon against Catholic theology, claiming that our practices were either absent or directly forbidden by Sacred Scripture. However, since the latter part of the 20th century, the charges that “Jesus never said (x)” or “That’s not in the Bible” have turned on themselves and have now become, “Jesus never said (x) was wrong, so that means (x) must be okay.”

This idea blends well with many in my generation, the millennials, who wish to hold on to some shred of spirituality but cannot bring themselves to relinquish the desires of the flesh.  It is also a base notion of “Progressive Christianity”, which is basically the feel-good parts of following Christ without any actual sacrifice.

The same problem goes for sola fide. Though the only place in the Bible where the words “faith” and “alone” appear next to one another is in James 2:24 (“See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone”), it still remains a significant tenant of Protestant Christianity. However, much like sola scriptura, it has seemingly evolved into an even more bastardized version of itself that states, “As long as I’m a good person and believe in Jesus, I’m okay.”

Now, understand, I’m not among the ilk who believe that Protestants can’t go to Heaven (though the path is significantly more challenging, and not in a “take up your cross” kind of way). They can, and many will. I do believe, however, that Christianity was never meant go in this direction. And I certainly believe that, should things continue in the manner, modern-day Protestants will eventually have nothing left to call Christian at all.

Pope Francis Speaks About Human Dignity

Any long time followers of this blog should be pretty familiar with my pro-life stance and how it reaches far beyond just opposing abortion.

To call oneself pro-life means to see the dignity and sanctity in all life from conception to natural death. For me, and many Catholics, part of this manifests itself in an absolute rejection of unjust war and the death penalty.

So of course, I’m always happy to hear the Holy Father talk about such issues. Recently, in an address to the International Associates of Penal Law, Pope Francis spoke about corruption, condemnation of the death penalty, and some of the deplorable conditions in which prisoners are forced to live. I’ve posted the full text below:

Vatican City, 23 October 2014 (VIS)Today, the Holy Father received delegates from the International Association of Penal Law (AIDP), addressing them with a speech focusing on the issues in their subject area that have recourse to the Church in her mission of evangelization and the promotion of the human person.

The Pope began by recalling the need for legal and political methods that are not characterized by the mythological “scapegoat” logic, that is, of an individual unjustly accused of the misfortunes that befall a community and then chosen to be sacrificed. It is also necessary to refute the belief that legal sanctions carry benefit, which requires the implementation of inclusive economic and social policies. He reiterated the primacy of the life and dignity of the human person, reaffirming the absolute condemnation of the death penalty, the use of which is rejected by Christians. In this context he also talked about the so-called extrajudicial executions, that is, the deliberated killing of individuals by some states or their agents that are presented as the unintended consequence of the reasonable, necessary, and proportionate use of force to implement the law. He emphasized that the death penalty is used in totalitarian regimes as “an instrument of suppression of political dissent or of persecution of religious or cultural minorities”.

He then spoke of the conditions of prisoners, including prisoners who have not been convicted and those convicted without a trial, stating that pretrial detention, when used improperly, is another modern form of unlawful punishment that is hidden behind legality. He also referred to the deplorable prison condition in much of the world, sometimes due to lack of infrastructure while other instances are the result of “the arbitrary exercise of ruthless power over detainees”. Pope Francis also spoke about torture and other inhuman and degrading treatment, stating that, in the world today, torture is used not only as a means to achieve a particular purpose, such as a confession or an accusation—practices that are characteristic of a doctrine of national security—but also adds to the evil of detention. Criminal code itself bears responsibility for having allowed, in certain cases, the legitimacy of torture under certain conditions, opening the way for further abuse.

The Pope did not forget the application of criminal sanctions against children and the elderly, condemning its use in both cases. He also recalled some forms of crime that seriously damage the dignity of the human person as well as the common good, including human trafficking, slavery—recognized as a crime against humanity as well as a war crime in both international law and under many nations’ laws—the abject poverty in which more than a billion people live, and corruption. “The scandalous accumulation of global wealth is possible because of the connivance of those with strong powers who are responsible for public affairs. Corruption is a process of death … more evil than sin. An evil that, instead of being forgiven, must be cured.”

“Caution in the application of penal codes,” he concluded, “must be the overarching principle of legal systems … and respect for human dignity must not only act to limit the arbitrariness and excesses of government agents but as the guiding criterion for prosecuting and punishing behaviors that represent the most serious attacks on the dignity and integrity of the human person.

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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