Friday, July 21, 2006

Why Not Believing that Mary is the Mother of God Is Hazardous to Your Marriage

Virtually all Christian religions other than the Catholic Church allow for divorce and remarriage. Their reasons may differ and they may preach vehemently against it, but ultimately they allow it.

Most Catholic apologists will point to the protestant misinterpretation of Matthew 19:9 where Jesus seems to allow divorce for reasons of “fornication” or “adultery” depending on which version you are reading. Whereas Protestants take this passage as permission to divorce and remarry, the Catholic Church, while allowing for the physical separation of the spouses for a variety of good reasons, still does not allow for remarriage.

(Some scholars point out that the original Greek word used in this passage – and still used by some translations- is “pornea”, and that “pornea” does not refer to adultery but to illicit union such as a marriage between two close relatives.)

Dr. Robert Morgan, in his recent visit to Guam, pointed out that the further away one gets from Catholic truth, the further one gets from the true understanding of the person of Christ. As evidence of this he pointed out that most Protestants will not refer to Mary as the “Mother of God”. To not accept Mary as the Mother of God and address her as such is to deny the fundamental truth of the Trinity: that there are three persons in one God, that Jesus Christ is the second person of the Blessed Trinity, and that Mary is His Mother.

So what does this have to do with divorce? The Catholic Church teaches that though a full understanding of the Trinity is not possible in this life, there are some things we do know:

  • That God is a community of persons: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit
  • That it is the Father eternally loving the Son that begets the Spirit
  • That we are made in the image of the Trinity (Gen 1:26-27)

There is only one other reference in Scripture to a community of persons comprising a single being and that would be Marriage: “…and the two shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). This union physically manifests itself in the birth of a third person and thus images the Trinity in an earthly way.

Because the Trinity is indissoluble, Marriage is indissoluble. The Godhead cannot be broken and reassembled. Neither can Marriage. Jesus reminds us that this in fact is God’s design when, commenting on the leniency of Moses to allow divorce, He says “from the beginning it was not so”. (Mat 19:8) Emphasis is on the word “beginning” which is the word “genesis”.

It follows then that if one does not accept the Trinity as an indissoluble community of persons, then one can easily allow for the dissolubility of that other community of persons. In fact, this is exactly what happens. The willingness to allow for divorce and remarriage evinces a fundamental denial of the nature of the Trinity.

Protestants will argue otherwise but the litmus test remains whether or not they can address Mary as “Mother of God”. “Mother of God” is more than just another affectionate title, it is our guarantee that Jesus is in fact: “God with us”, God Himself. To deny that Mary is the “Mother of God” is to deny that Jesus is God. To deny that Jesus is God is to deny the Trinity. To deny the Trinity is to deny all that God has revealed to us about Himself…including His Son.

Divorce then is both symptom and cause: symptom in the sense that divorce evinces a fundamental misunderstanding of the Trinity and God’s design for Marriage; and cause in the sense that divorce, because it negates the indissoluble community of persons signified by the words “one flesh” inevitably and logically leads to a negation of the ultimate community of persons upon which Marriage is modeled.

This fundamental error also inevitably leads to the ultimate manifestation of the denial of the Trinity by also admitting contraception which completes the denial of the Trinity by negating a “third person”. Is it any wonder that the same religions that allow divorce also allow artificial contraception? Having denied Mary her rightful title as “Mother of God” they have inevitably denied the Trinity, rendered the marriage vow void, and the nuptial act sterile.

This is why our Church CANNOT change its teaching on the indissolubility of marriage or the sacred openness to life in the nuptial act. She would first have to deny the Trinitarian God.

The One Thing You Can Say

Few things stir the warrior juices in any red-blooded human more than an attack on one’s mother. The relatively meek person who may be willing to endure many wounds to his or her personal pride can become Attila the Hun when the same injuries or even much lesser ones are directed at his mother.

At least this is how I’ve been able to explain to myself the overwhelming hostility I feel towards the detractors of my Catholic Faith. The Church is my Mother. And when you mess with my Church you mess with my Mom, and “me and you have a problem!”

For us Catholics the injury is usually multiplied by the fact that not only are they picking on “Holy Mother Church”, the assault often comes as a slight against our Blessed Mother Mary. Now we REALLY have a problem!! Assaults against the Blessed Mother just send me through the roof!

But dangling by your neck from a hole in the roof is not the best place to defend your faith…or your Mother. So let’s see what we can do to keep our feet on the ground, save money on roof repairs, and maybe even bring our wayward brother “home to Rome” and to the Mother he or she has just (most of the time unknowingly) insulted.

My friend and noted Catholic Apologist, Dr. Robert Morgan, used to tell us at our Catholic Evidence Guild training sessions that there was “no slam dunk”, meaning that there isn’t just one scripture that we can lift out of the Bible that proves the truth of the Catholic Church and use to beat our detractors over the head with. Obviously, if there was, then someone much smarter than you or me surely would have used it in the 500 years since Luther nailed his 95 gripes to the door of a German church.

But there IS one thing that we Catholics can ask that (in my experience) will stop any detractor cold in his tracks. Now, remember from our last article, that the idea is not to just win the debate, but win the person, i.e. to 1) make a friend, and 2) make a Catholic. And to do that we have to buy time and prepare. So I offer this suggestion in that context.

All of us should practice the following question over and over so that we have it ready when needed. With this question you will be able to buy time AND cause the other person to question his own presuppositions which is a prelude to opening him up to hearing the truth about the Catholic Faith.

Here’s the question: “Did Jesus write anything?” Now here’s the context. Usually assaults upon the faith come from “Bible wavers”: “you Catholics... (fill in the blank) and that’s not in the Bible”, or “the Bible says… (fill in the blank) and you Catholics (fill in the blank).

“Wait a minute. Can I ask you a question?” (What?) “Did Jesus write anything? Did Jesus ever tell anybody to write anything? Don't you think that if Jesus intended us to base our faith on the Bible alone He would have left us one? From what I read, Jesus didn't leave us a Bible but He did leave us a Church and a teaching authority for that Church! What does your Bible say?”

Well space does not permit further development of the conversation, but you get the idea. Now of course, we believe that the Bible is the Word of God, but the only way we know that is because our Catholic Church says so. Jesus gave us the Church. The Church gave us the Bible.

The problem with our non-Catholic challengers is their own rigid adherence to “sola scriptura” (everything has to be in the Bible). This view proves too much. If everything has to be in the Bible then there is no Bible because the Bible is not in the Bible. As Catholics we can appreciate the Holy Scriptures even more because we do not divorce the Sacred Writings from the Church that gave us them, nor from Him who gave us the Church.

For further reading on this topic see “Where We Got the Bible- Our Debt to the Catholic Church” by Henry Graham (a protestant minister who became Catholic and ultimately a priest and a bishop). It’s due in our store sometime this week.


Purgatory is a favorite topic of those who oppose and challenge the teachings of the Catholic Church. Their favorite line is “show me the word ‘Purgatory’ in the Bible”. Not withstanding the fact that nowhere in the Bible does it say that everything we believe has to be in the Bible; and notwithstanding the fact that Jesus didn’t give us a book but a Church; and notwithstanding the fact that there are plenty of other words or concepts (such as “Trinity” and “Incarnation”) or even their own doctrines of “sola fide” and “sola scriptura” that challengers to the Catholic faith cannot show explicitly in the Bible. And not…okay, enough with the “notwithstanding’s” (there are more)! The deal is that it is actually quite simple to show Purgatory in the Bible, as we shall see in a moment.

First, we must be reminded that a bible-only challenger will in fact accept only that: a bible-only answer. So don’t waste your time with explanations from the Catechism or “I believe…etc.” Second, we must remember that the person challenging you is usually not interested in an answer at all, even if it IS from the Bible. So what are we to do? Well, the answer in a minute. And by the way, never mind 2 Maccabees where it mentions prayers for the dead. They don’t have that book in their Bible.

First, a short course in Purgatory: 1) The Bible tells us plainly “nothing unclean shall enter heaven” (Rev 21:27); 2) Rarely (probably only a martyr) does anyone ever die completely clean. 3) Where do our souls go if “nothing unclean shall enter heaven” and (assuming) we are not condemned to hell by un-repented mortal sin? Catholic answer: Purgatory-a state of purgation or purification before we are allowed to enter into His presence.

Now, back to our challenger! The most common scripture used to “prove” purgatory is 1 Cor 3:14 where St. Paul tells us that some of us, despite our impurities, can be saved “but only as through fire”. This is a very sound verse, but is often easily dismissed by our challengers because of its metaphorical context. So here’s what I suggest (by the way I only own a bookstore, I’m not a certified anything).
First, prove from the Bible the existence of a “third” place. Non-Catholics swear that the Bible proves only heaven and hell and that there is NO third place. However, the Bible DOES prove the existence of a third place. (Note: Don’t worry about the word “purgatory” for now, or what happens there, or how long you’re there. Just get them to question there own presupposition that there is no third place. You can move on from there later.)

Here’s how you do it: Revelations 20:14 states very clearly that at the end of time “death and hades are thrown into the lake of fire” The question is then what is “Hades”? “Hades” cannot be Hell in the sense of that place of eternal damnation because the “lake of fire” is obviously that place. So how can hell be thrown into hell? No, Hades is a third place.

Now be prepared for the argument that “Hades” WAS a place for the dead who died before Jesus opened the gates of heaven. On that you can both agree. The problem is that “Hades” is still hanging around at the “end of time”. And what’s more, there ARE folks in it! (“…and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them” - Rev 20:13) So what are people doing in a place called Hades that is neither heaven nor hell at the end of the world? There’s only one answer: There’s a third place, we just happen to give it name.

But the key here is NOT to give the answer but to lead your challenger to it. Force yourself to ask questions, not give answers. Let’s say you are confronted with “where is “purgatory” in the Bible? Here’s an idea of how it can go:
“Well, John, what’s your understanding of Rev. 20:14? What is “Hades”? It can’t be “hell” can it, hell is obviously the “lake of fire”, so what do you think “Hades” is? And why is it still around at the end of the world if there was no need for it after Jesus saved us? And who are these people who are in it and why are they there?"
(By the way, it would be good to familiarize yourself with these scriptures before you use them. Get your bibles out and mark them up!)

Narnia for Catholics

Many of us, if we reflect, can count at least 2 or 3 turning points or significant moments in our lives, where, in hindsight, we realize that we are different because of them.

One of those moments came for me on a busy street across from Disneyland in 1979. I was with a campus ministry group from Loyola Marymount University and had just finished having dinner together with the famed Bob (“Be Not Afraid”) Dufford, S.J., and Dan (“Here, I Am Lord”) Schutte, members of the then fabled Saint Louis Jesuits. Our little group from campus ministry had been recruited to be the local backup choir for their performance at the Los Angeles Archdiocesan CCD Congress at the Anaheim Convention Center.

All of that has nothing to do with the actual point of this article save to illustrate how vivid that moment is still after more than a quarter of a century. Inspired by the fantastical evening glow of Disneyland just across the street, I commented to Bob Dufford how much I loved Disneyland and fantasy as only Disney could present it.

He remarked that, speaking of fantasy, I should read the “Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis. I confessed to never hearing of them, but the mere mention of the title seemed to “tug” at me the way Peter, Edmund, Susan, & Lucy were “tugged” into Narnia right off the bench of a train station (you’ll have to read the books). I found the set of seven books the next day at a vendor’s stand at the conference. I’ve never been the same.

Though always deeply Catholic, I have to say that my “conscious” spiritual journey and growth in the faith began the minute I opened the first page to the first novel in the series, “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe”. I couldn’t get enough.

The Chronicles of Narnia is a complete retelling, an epic parable, of God’s saving plan from the fall, through the crucifixion and resurrection, and all the way to “The Final Battle” (which is the title of the last book). Written during World War II for his nieces and nephews, the Chronicles vie with Lord of the Rings (Lewis and Tolkien were personal friends) as perhaps the greatest allegories ever written.

Over the years there have been several attempts to bring the Chronicles to the screen, but the story, characters, and setting are so fantastic that nothing could ever come close until movie-making technology could catch up with the imagination of C.S. Lewis. It never quite will. But the upcoming Disney release of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe will get close.

What’s so exciting and delightful is to see how, Hollywood, despite its post-Chrisitan self and its own brand of “Turkish Delight”, cannot help but be tugged through the wardrobe and into Narnia. Hollywood and Disney find themselves face to face with the irresistible Christian story. Jesus still teaches us and reaches us through parables.

Perhaps the spirit of Walt Disney, and all the wonderfully good things he did for children these many decades, still does live. It’s no secret that the Disney machine has acutely strayed from its wholesome roots in recent years. But “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” will be the biggest, most profitable, most popular movie ever to come out of the Disney studio. And it’s only the first of seven books. Wow, have they got a franchise here! There’s no way they are going to turn away from the success that the movies made from these stories will bring so I expect that all seven stories will be brought to the screen and will replace Star Wars as the greatest stories ever told on the silver screen.

Meanwhile, there is a terribly great opportunity for us at hand. Reading the Chronicles of Narnia prepared me to read the Bible and for the full import of the teachings of my Faith. Read the books. Read them with and to your children. Use all the great study guides and commentaries that are now available about them. “To teach as Jesus did”, this is what C.S. Lewis is doing here, teaching the truth through story.

I’ll never know for sure, but I do believe that I am the Catholic that I am today because someone once told me to read the Chronicles of Narnia.

On the Question of Women Priests

(In response to a debate between Fr. Francis Walsh of the Redemptoris Mater Seminary and Professor James Giles of the University of Guam)

Unlike Fr. Walsh or Mr. Giles I have no letters before or after my name and probably have no business wandering into their crossfire. But though I am neither priest nor professor, I am hoping that our local newspaper, in which the debate has been ensuing between these two esteemed intellects, might allow a simple voice from the pew to weigh in on the matter minus any theological or philosophical references. Also, as a married layman I have a certain related interest in the matter since I cannot attain to ordination in the Catholic Church either.

That said, I understand that as a Catholic I have no inherent right to a “satisfactory” explanation on the matter. I emphasize “satisfactory” because in fact there is an explanation, but the Church has no obligation to assuage my personal need for one that I would deem “satisfactory”.

I signed up for the Catholic Church. They said, “Great. If you want to be on the team here’s the rules”. I am a Catholic out of no compulsion other than an inner one that tells me this is true. I choose to follow the rules because I want to be on the team. Lots of other places you can go, you know.

Now, I have no idea if this is theologically correct or not, but besides the fact that my Church owes me no explanation, the fact that Jesus chose twelve guys and no gals is enough for me. Let me tell you why.

The common argument to this is that women would not have been respected or listened to in Jesus’ day. I realize that this is like TOO simple, but you know, Jesus was God, and like, if had wanted women on the first string, he could have and would have done it.

I mean the guy wasn’t afraid to be counter-cultural and politically incorrect. They killed him for that, you know. And being male didn’t seem to help the apostles out much either in the respect and credibility categories. They killed them too. (Okay, one killed himself and another was left to die on an island.)

So, bottom line is, Jesus chose guys only and then those guys chose other guys and then those guys… So, yah. It’s a guy thing, okay. People start new churches every day when they disagree with something in the church they are in.

Also, why pick on the Catholic Church alone. Do an internet search and check out all the other churches that do not allow the ordination of women.

Okay, one last thing. Fr. Walsh tried to make the point of what a priest actually is. The title “priest” designates a very specific function in a very limited sphere. There is nothing that keeps any woman (or married man for that matter) from being a teacher or a leader in our Church. In fact, three of the greatest and most beloved Doctors of the Church, a title of the highest honor that has only been given to 33 people in the 2000 year history of the Church, are St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Theresa of Lisieux. In Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) we have an example of a woman (in the Avignon episode) actually telling a Pope what to do (go back to Rome). He beat it back to Rome and never left.

I can already here critics on both sides: “Guys like this are what’s wrong with the world.” “Another ignorant-whatever-the-Pope-says Catholic!”, etc. Well, guilty as charged. I make no defense. For those who oppose my opinion within my Church, well that’s family business and we’ll take care of it. But for those outside our Church, when would be a good time for me to come over and tell you how to arrange your living room furniture?

Meanwhile, to my Catholic family members; shall we remember that the real deal is not be a this or a that, but to ultimately be with Him. For as Chesterton says: “The only real tragedy is not to be a saint.”

Tim Rohr
Husband & Father

Apologetics For Those Who Don't Know What They're Doing – Pt.1.

You're busy doing what you're supposed to be doing at work and a co-worker makes an off-hand anti-Catholic remark. You're mowing the lawn and a group of nicely dressed people with umbrellas and handbags wave to catch your attention. You're preparing dinner for the family and you answer a knock on the door and find your Catholic faith being challenged.

Would that we all would take the time to learn our faith not only well enough to defend it, but to advance it. We can all work toward that. Meanwhile, because of the everyday, on the spot nature of the majority of the challenges to our faith, many of us find ourselves in immediate need of a way to deal with a co-worker, a family member, or fellow students who question and challenge or even impugn our Holy Mother Church.

Listening to the likes of Scott Hahn, James Akin, Patrick Madrid, or even our own Fr. Eric, or my good friend, Dr. Robert Morgan, can be quite daunting. Their grasp of scripture and their skill can leave many of us, including me, inspired, but thinking "I could never do that".

Well, the good news is that you don't have to, at least not right away. You can handle any challenger to the Catholic faith with a simple two-step method: 1. Buy Time; 2. Run for help!


Protestant Pete: "Why do you Catholics worship idols in clear violation of the teachings of the Bible!?”

Catholic Cathy: “You know Pete, that's a good question. I'd really like to talk to you about that. But now's not a good time. Could we get together tomorrow after work? “

If it was a comment instead of a question just change the words around a bit: "You know Pete, that's a really interesting thought..."

Buy as much time as you want. It could be next week or whenever. The main thing is not to get stuck trying to answer the other person's question or respond to his or her comment without proper preparation. Also, make the sign of the cross and say a short prayer before opening thy mouth.

Now, run for help. It would be best to find a knowledgeable member of the clergy to actually meet with you and Pete, because not only do you want to answer Pete's challenge, you want to use the opportunity to begin brining him "home to Rome". So try your pastors first.

There are also a number of excellent resources that you can consult, but before I tell you what they are I need to advise you about your upcoming meeting with Protestant Pete. Of course if you can get a pastor or an informed lay person to come with you then all you have to do is let them do the talking. But since most often you'll probably have to deal with challenger alone, keep the same two step method in mind. Prepare your answer, but be prepared for Protestant Pete to take your answer apart or change the subject. If that happens, simply say something like: "Pete, I can appreciate your point of view on this, however, I would like to think more about what you said before I reply. Can we get together again tomorrow?"

Now here are a few resources that you can begin adding to your apologetics library.
1. The whole Beginning Apologetics Series Vol.1-7, but Volumes 1 and 2 will definitely be enough to get you started.
2. Beginning Apologetics on tape. This is an in depth discussion of the above Volume 1. You can learn much listening to these in your car, your bathroom, or wherever you have a tape player.
3. Catholic Verse Finder. This is a single laminated sheet that functions like an Apologetics concordance.
4. Topic Tabs - enable you to set up your Bible so that you can quickly and easily find the bible verse that supports the Catholic teaching.

Also, one more note. It's best not to quote the scripture itself, but to quote Chapter and Verse and put it in the form of a question. Example. When you reply to Protestant Pete's original question, instead of saying "well God certainly didn't mean not to make graven images because later on He says to Moses to make a bronze serpent”, try it this way: Well, Pete, what is your interpretation of Numbers 21:8?

Well, more later.


Note: Hope no one takes personal offense to this little essay. I’ve spoken to many of you about this topic and my feelings about it, but just thought I’d put it on (virtual) paper.

As most of you know I operate a small Catholic book distribution operation called Veritas Books. Because of this and because we are often present at different parishes around the island on various Sundays, we often receive requests and inquiries for certain resources. By default I am able to see certain trends and the main trend is a desire for more resources for Bible study.

This is a good thing, but I am bit alarmed at how we may unthinkingly just be “chasing the Protestants” here. The main motivation for Bible study seems to be “to get our kids back” ala: The Bible church down the street has a great Bible study and its attracting some of our kids, so we need to have a Bible study too.

Well, we’ve already followed our sep-breth down that slippery slope in the music arena (indeed the whole area of liturgy it sometimes seems), let us think twice before we do the same here. Let me explain.

We would do well to recall once in awhile the 70’s mantra “the medium is the message”. There are three things in operation here:
  1. Our kids can see that we are scrambling to compete with the Protestants – what does that say?
  2. Studying the Bible before studying Church Teachings contradicts the example of the Catholic Church, which uses Scripture to support doctrine and not the other way around, as is the way of our sep-breth.
  3. Prioritizing Bible study over Catechism teaches (the medium is the message) our kids that the Bible came first and not the Church, and by extension that the Bible is the foundation of truth and not the Church. In short we are teaching “sola scriptura”.

    Here’s a short solution. But first let me say that I do know of fine Scripture studies taking place on our island that are in no danger of imputing a “sola scriptura” mindset. But for the rest of us I propose that we use the Catechism as the template for our Bible study. The Catechism is full of Scripture references on every page. We read the Catechism and reference the Scriptures.

    This allows us to take an approach that says, “here’s what we believe (Catechism) and here’s why we believe it (Scripture) -though it will still be very important to show that the first reason we believe anything is because the Church says so. If we don’t do this we run the danger of not only imputing the lesson of “sola scriptura” (or at least “scripture prima”), but also the inevitable next step of private interpretation. At that point we might as well let them go to the church down the street because they’re probably doing a better job of it than we can.

    This is not to say that we shouldn’t delve into the Bible as the great story of God’s plan of salvation and enjoy all its history and meditative depth. Certainly, we should! But how much richer that experience will be when we are grounded in the great teachings of our Mother, the Church, the “pillar and foundation of truth”! No need to chase the Protestants.



Scott Hahn gives some rare financial advice on his tape series “Calling All Catholics to Be Bible Christians..And Vice Versa”. Scott advises that if you want to make millions then you should invest in Zondervan, Moody, or any number of top Christian book publishers. He points out that Protestant Christians are ravenous readers and Christian book publishing is booming.

By contrast most Catholic publishers seem to be languishing. One major Catholic publisher recently put out a notice to its customers and resellers that it was going into bankruptcy protection, and I’ve heard (I own a bookstore) rumors of several other looming crises with other publishers with whom I deal. In addition I see the appeals from many Catholic publishers for donations & contributions to help them stay solvent.

So what’s the deal? Why are Protestant publishers booming and Catholic publishers bombing? (Allow the generalization for the sake of the discussion.)

Scott gives two reasons. First, Protestant publishers seem to understand the essence of supply-side economics: “If you build it they will come” In other words, the publishers themselves created the boom by building the business and promoting their books. In addition, Protestant church leaders constantly promote books and individual study. Good evidence of that on Guam is the fact that the only bookstore on this mostly Catholic island for many years was a Protestant bookstore.

By contrast, Catholics seem to be stuck in demand-side economics: “I will build it when they come.” This mentality became quite evident to me when I first floated the idea of a Catholic bookstore. I was told many times that it wouldn’t work because “Catholics don’t read.” Maybe I’m part Protestant but my thought was “well we don’t have anything to read”, and that maybe if we had something to read we might read it! In other words, I was confident that supply side economics would work. (It has.)

But Scott’s second point is that Catholics seems to have neglected part of Christ’s command in Mark 12:30:
“And thou shall love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength. This is the first commandment.”

What is of GREAT interest here is, as Scott points out, is that Jesus is not just repeating the first commandment from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, He actually is amending it, adding to it. The fact that Jesus actually adds to something as well known as the first of the Ten Commandments is worth noting. Here’s the commandment as stated in Deuteronomy 6:4-5:
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole strength.”

Now compare this with the above scripture from Mark. We note that Jesus added “and with thy whole mind”! Why did he add this? What does he mean by “our whole mind”? It appears that Jesus doesn’t just want us to love God (heart), have faith in God (soul), and do His will (strength). He also now commands us to KNOW God (mind)!

We must impress upon ourselves that every word that comes from the mouth of God is of eternal significance and consequence. Jesus didn’t just throw in “with thy whole mind” just to round out the paragraph. He obviously intended commanded something here. (The strikethrough is intended.)

We may claim to believe this, but languishing Catholic publishers tell a different story. Compared to our Protestant brethren we are, in general, not as encouraged to read, study, and invest in our faith.

“It’s only a movie…it’s only a movie…it’s only a movie…it’s…”

One of the more amusing things about the hoopla surrounding The Da Vinci Code is the recent shift in rhetoric from its proponents. At first there was the euphoric condescension that inevitably accompanies being privy to secret or “new” knowledge. The book’s proponents, led by the author, seemed to take a certain arrogant delight in making Christians scramble to defend their sacred truths.

It took a while but soon both sacred and secular sources were crying foul. We can easily understand why Christians would be upset, but what would rile the feathers of secular critics? Well it seems that the manufacture of facts is not allowed even under the label of fiction. A writer of fiction is still expected not to make up fictional locations of actual places, or conjure up new historical accounts of recorded historical events. Author Brown errs in that and much more.

In addition, Brown breaks another rule. The fiction label implies either fictional characters in fictional events, or, if it’s historical fiction, fictional characters in actual events. An example of both of these genres is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe from C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. The Pevensie children are sent to stay in the country because of the German bombardment of London during WWII.

Though the Pevensies are fictional characters, the German bombardment of London is not. Lewis does not have the Russians bombing London. Lewis can make up anything he wants about the Pevensies but he cannot make up anything he wants about the historical events of WWII. Once the events of WWII no longer figure in the story the fiction begins in earnest.

According to the rules, author Brown produces neither a genuine fiction nor an historical fiction, but a gross revision of real history which he masquerades as a fiction. And this is what draws the ire of secular critics, many of whom could care less about the defamation of Christianity. Author Brown must have realized that the gig was up for his “visibility” has decreased in proportion to the exposition of his errors.

But most movie goers and readers of pulp fiction pay little attention to critics. Studios and publishers know that the average consumer of their wares is driven by the satisfaction of curiosity or the desire for distraction and even more so by an itch for scandal. And the bigger the person, the bigger the scandal, and the bigger the itch! And how much bigger can you get than the person upon whom all history centers?

We’ll leave that discussion for another time. Meanwhile, it is informative to see that once confronted with both the historical impossibilities of the claims in The DVC and laughable reviews of the movie, the DVC crowd has shifted from the aforementioned euphoric condescension to a defensive “Why are you Catholics taking this so seriously? It’s only a fiction!”

This rhetorical realignment is reminiscent of what happened a few years ago when the pro-abortion crowd changed their tune from “abortion rights” to “a woman’s right to choose”. Overwhelming medical evidence necessitated the change. Pictures from inside the womb as well as those of what was left of an aborted fetus at the bottom of a hospital bucket did not square with the purported “blob of tissue” that the pro-aborts would have us believe a fetus was. Lies are by nature chameleon in their ability to morph themselves into whatever language the perpetuation of the lie necessitates.

In any event our challenge now is not how to refute the errors of The DVC, but how to respond to the charge that we Catholics are taking this too seriously since “it’s only a fiction”. The real question, however, is not whether this or that is a fiction or not, but whether this or that has the power to influence. That is the primary concern. And anyone who believes that fiction is only entertainment and has no power to influence should get a job in Hollywood where the manufacture of influence is a full time enterprise.

Perhaps history’s greatest lesson (I say “lesson” euphemistically since the term assumes something was learned) in the power of fiction to influence was the Third Reich. The fact that Hitler was a madman is no secret of history, and the German intelligentsia of his time wrote him off as such. To them, he was a mad little cartoon, a freak, a “fiction”. It was in fact this label that allowed his unimpeded, mercurial, and ultimately catastrophic rise to power. No one was looking.

Hitler rivals Christ as the figure in history about whom the most books are written. Why? The one great question that arose from the ashes of 1945 was how could this have happened, and happened under our noses? How could a funny little caricature of a man with a looney tunes moustache almost take over the whole world? Authors, philosophers, psychologists, historians, etc. continue to be fascinated with the question.

There are many theories about what contributed to the making of an Adolf Hitler. History has had its share of powerful madmen, however, none who took a country from impoverishment and starvation to near world domination in just a decade. How did he do it? Consider this:

Hitler was a master of the stage because he was a product of it. He was a devotee of the composer Richard Wagner. Wagner’s grand music dramas elevated Germanic mythology to reality in the mind of Hitler. Eventually Hitler became the romantic center of an operatic myth of his own creation. He surrounded himself with Wagner’s music, demanded that his cohorts attend Wagnerian operas, and played Wagnerian overtures at his infamous rallies.

Hitler understood the intoxicating power of spectacle and myth and employed it to horrific ends. It mattered not that he envisioned a Germanic heritage that never existed. His subjects believed and followed the glorious drama lockstep to the tune of ten million dead and ultimately his own Gotterdammerung.

I can hear the critical guffaws over the stretch from Brown to Hitler. But I am sure that the intelligent reader will see the point: the far-reaching and potentially destructive power of myth (fiction). Don’t forget the number of Christians who suffered and died violently at the service of myth (the Roman gods). It mattered not that the Roman gods were fictions, Christian blood flowed nonetheless.

History and experience continually show us that what matters is not “what” is true, but “who” believes that it is. After all, do you really believe the 9/11 hijackers are resting on a cloud in the company of 70 virgins? … They did.

The further issue is not that fiction is bad. Of course it is not. But fiction that masquerades as truth is bad. What makes The DVC particularly culprit is that the “fiction” label is part of the masquerade. Nothing new here, Satan employs the same label. His greatest weapon is propagating the belief that he is not real. For further insight read C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters…or the Gospels for that matter.

To the dismay of some I will say that I harbor no ill-feeling toward Dan Brown, Doubleday, Tom Hanks, Ron Howard, Sony Pictures or anyone else associated with the promotion of this ill “fiction”. In fact we are in their debt. The Lord has allowed similar challenges to the faith throughout history in order to move, cleanse, and restore His people.
To our credit, the Catholic response to the threat of The DVC has been intelligent, well-crafted, and in terms of “seizing the teaching-moment”, something to be proud of. But the real question is not how wonderfully we responded but why we even had to. The fact that so many Catholics even wonder if the claims of The DVC might be true illustrates for us that the real problem is not the Code’s false and “novel” claims but the lack of authentic Catholic teaching.

Let’s not wait. Word is that The DVC crowd already has another movie in the works based on another novel by the same author, Angels and Demons, wherein the Pope has an illegitimate child by a nun through artificial insemination. Oh…, just to let you know…this will be a “fiction” too.

CCD and The Definition of Insanity - address to CCD Conference, Guam, September 2006

The Problem

The recent furor over The DaVinci Code and the willingness of so many Catholics to either entertain the possibility that the book’s claims might be true or to think it harmless because of its fiction label underscores and highlights our pressing need for more authentic Catholic teaching.

What are we missing when so many do not see the harm in believing or even entertaining blasphemy, or even knowing what a blasphemy is?
  • What are we missing when the majority of those who attend our CCD classes disappear after they receive the sacrament for which they were being prepared and only reappear when they need the next sacrament? 
  • What are we missing when despite the best efforts of pastors and well-meaning catechists we are unable to enlist the support of the parents of the children whom we have been entrusted to catechize? 
  • What are we missing when so many baptized and confirmed Catholics find it so easy to leave the Church of their ancestors for a livelier beat down the street, or at least ignore and disobey Her teachings? 
  • What are we missing?

It is said that the definition of “insanity” is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

The Solution

I would like to propose a possible solution…or at least encourage you to engage the challenge anew.

As should be expected, our Holy Mother Church has the answer. As a matter of fact it has been shouting the answer to us through Her Catechism, Her code of Canon Law, Her Councils, Her Vicars, and all manner of exhortations and documents, not only down through the ages, but especially in our Modern Age, and especially very recently. She has been shouting to us that it is THE PARENTS WHO HAVE THE RIGHT AND RESPONSIBILITY TO BE THE PRIMARY EDUCATORS OF THE CHILD!

The list of references for this teaching is so long that it would take the rest of the conference to quote them all. But let me just quote here the APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION: CATECHESI TRADENDAE OF POPE JOHN PAUL II, ON CATECHESIS IN OUR TIME.

Family catechesis therefore precedes, accompanies and enriches all other forms of catechesis. … "the church of the home"(120) remains the one place where children and young people can receive an authentic catechesis. Thus there cannot be too great an effort on the part of Christian parents to prepare for this ministry of being their own children's catechists and to carry it out with tireless zeal. Encouragement must also be given to the individuals or institutions that, through person-to-person contacts, through meetings, and through all kinds of pedagogical means, help parents to perform their task: The service they are doing to catechesis is beyond price.

So, this, I believe, is the real issue:  
Are our Catechetical programs set up to “help parents to perform their task”, or are they set up to take the place of the parent? 

I’m not asking what the goal or the intention of the program is. My question is directed at the process. Are we in fact doing what our Church teaches and commands us to do: helping parents to perform the task of catechizing their own children?

We believe that we are there to assist the parent, but in effect, we take the child from the parent, even forcing the parent to turn over the child to the program by demanding that the child go through the parish’s instructional process before the child is allowed to receive the desired sacrament. Usurping the parents' right to request the Sacrament for their child is a violation of Canon Law. A diocese or parish may require that knowledge of and desire for the sacrament be demonstrated....but nothing more.

The litmus test for our program is not how much time we are spending educating other people’s children, but how much time and energy and resources we are dedicating to the parents, aiding and assisting them in their role as the primary educators of their own children, and, in fact, building up what our late Pope called the “church of the home”.

We often hear: "Well, the parent’s won’t come. We try to involve the parents, but they won’t get involved." Why should they? We have already told them by our requirements and actions that they are not capable of educating their own children. We have already usurped their role, nullified and negated their primary privilege and responsibility. Though not intentional, we have taken their children and sent them away.

If the parish is going to demand that a child be educated in the parish program, then the parish has the responsibility of proving to the parent that the person taking their place, the catechist is indeed educated and certified to do the job. After all, the teaching of the faith is more important and valuable than any other discipline. The child’s eternal soul is at stake.

But most parishes cannot do that. Most parishes and programs, besides not having the right to take the child from the parent, cannot produce qualified teachers. Most teachers are well-meaning volunteers with very little formal catechetical training. The real question is not how dedicated, sincere, and faithful these volunteers are. The real question is who will have to answer for the child’s soul at the gate of heaven?

So what to do? What follows is a basic outline of a plan that some parishes are already beginning to use to solve this dilemma.


  1. Determine the knowledge that a child must demonstrate in order to receive a sacrament
  2. Design a test: oral &/or written
  3. Select the materials for instruction & prepare a “packet” to be given to parents.
  4. Set the date for the reception of the sacrament(s).
  5. Set the date for the "exam".
  6. Parents are advised via announcement that anyone wishing for their child to receive the sacrament must attend an orientation on a certain date. (Set 2 dates for those who can’t make it to one.)
  7. At the orientation parents are advised:
  • That in order for their child to receive the sacrament that the child will have to pass a test on the given date.
  • That they, they parents, will have the responsibility of educating the child
  • That they will need to purchase the materials
  • That advisors will be available (CCD teachers)
  • That those who do not pass will need to wait for the next cycle  

The Pastor can always intervene when he sees the pastoral necessity. But catechizing the child apart from the parents would be the LAST resort. 

  • A very simple inexpensive catechism such as the St. Joseph First Communion Catechism available from Catholic Book Publishing Company would probably be all that is needed for young students.

    The Faith and Life Series published by Ignatius Press is also suitable and is designed for grades 1-8.

  • More than one orientation can be offered in order to get parents on the right track. A weekly Q&A can be made available to parents who want to learn more or who need advice (but only for parents, not the children)
Catechesis in this manner restores the right relationship between parent and child. Also, in catechizing the child, the parent is also re-catechized. It's not in learning that we learn, but in teaching someone else. This is the desire of the Church as shown above and in many other magisterial teachings and as evidence in Scripture and Tradition.

Dressing with Dignity

My daughter, Michelle, was recently accepted to summer program at a Catholic college. Along with her acceptance package she received something I hadn’t seen in a while: instructions for dress. It struck me enough to want to share it with you. Here it is:

The dress code
for classes, Mass, and lunch during the week is as follows:
The Dress Code requires a dress, or a dress skirt/dress pants and blouse, and dress shoes. The
neck of all dresses/blouses must not be lower than one and a half inches below the collar bone. All skirts/dress are to be no shorter than the crease of the back of the knee. If a skirt/dress has slit in the front or sie, the slit shall not be more than one inch above the knee cap. If the slit is in the back it shall be no higher than two inches, measured from the crease of the knee. No form-fitting dresses, skirts, tops, or pants are allowed at any
At all other times:
Properly modest and dignified attire is not only a trait of Christian people; it is essential for the high school program morale, to show respect for oneself and others. At all times, dress must be modest (i.e. not tight nor too loose, no low cut in back or front, not too short, no spaghetti straps, etc.) and respectful. All shorts must be long enough so that the
wearer’s fingertips do not go past the hem of the shorts. Women’s swimwear must
be modest one-piece. Clothing must be worn over the swimsuit when walking to and
from the pool.

If you have any questions about this dress code, please contact us prior to your arrival.
The last line is amusing. It sort of hints that if you don’t like it, don’t bother coming. I happen to know that they have no shortage of applicants.

These days, Modesty is not spoken of much, but it is still one of the Twelve Fruits of the Holy Spirit. It is also included under Temperance which is one of the Four Cardinal Virtues. These virtues are called “cardinal” because, as the Catholic Encyclopedia says, they are the virtues “upon which the rest of the moral virtues turn or are hinged”. It’s not hard to understand how Immodesty can lead to more serious sin.

Given that so many of our social ills have their roots in un-chastity and by extension, immodesty, perhaps it would be good to turn our attention once again to our Church’s wise and eternal teaching on this matter.

An excellent resource for a renewed examination of this neglected virtue is Colleen Hammond’s book: Dressing with Dignity. A couple of bullet points on the back cover caught my eye: “How to talk to teenagers about the privilege of femininity so they will want to dress with modesty and dignity”, and “How to awaken chivalry in men and be treated with respect”.

As a father of five beautiful daughters I am intensely aware of how important it is to ward off problems before they are problems. Addressing the issue of Modesty is a lot easier than addressing the issues that inevitably come from not addressing it. Dressing with Dignity will help you do that.

Monday, July 17, 2006


I have more important things to do than taking time to gripe about things that I can’t do anything about. And you have more important things to do than taking time to read my gripes about things that none of us can do anything about. But for the sake of therapy I’ll gripe anyway.

The cause of my present anxiety is my beautiful, new, leather bound, gold trimmed Daily Roman Missal. You see, this version, in response to the Vatican’s encouragement to reacquaint ourselves with the universal language of the Church, that being Latin, and indeed, Vatican II’s own dictate: “…the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites (SACROSANCTUM CONCILIUM 36.1), actually has many of the prayers and responses printed also in Latin.

Now why should this cause me anxiety? Well because now I can see what the original text ACTUALLY says whereas before I just ignorantly babbled (prayerfully of course) the given English translation. I’m no Latin scholar, but I know just enough to be bothered by what I see.

One of the responses that is always accompanied by the Latin translation is the Psalm response. This week (15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B) the response was “Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.” It is a verse I’ve repeated many times. But now I feel cheated. Why? Because that’s not what the text actually says.

The word translated as “kindness” is “misericordia” which actually means “mercy” or even “an appeal to pity”. In fact, a literal translation would be: “Lord, pity us…” The Latin word for “kindness” is “beneficentia” or “benevolentia”.

A few weeks ago, (12th Sunday) the psalm response read “Give thanks to the Lord, his love is everlasting.” Again the word “misericordiae” appears in the Latin, but this time is translated “love”. The fact that there are many Latin words for “love” testify to the great ambiguity of the word “love” in English. Here are a few: “adamo” (as in to fall in love), “amor” (to love passionately), “cupido” (physical desire), and even “lucrum” which is love of gain or avarice, one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

“Misericoridae” is obviously a very different word than the tepid “kindness” and the ambiguous “love”. The fact that “misericordia” translates as mercy and even pity implies that there is a NEED for mercy and pity. It cries out from our fallen nature. It affirms our complete and utter reliance on Him and our truly desperate sinful state.

It is my opinion that more and more Catholics are increasingly morally, doctrinally, and spiritually confused, if not neurotic. This, I think, is a direct consequence of our being increasingly shielded from the full conscious horror of sin and our dire need for sacramental repentance. Fulton Sheen once said that not to go to confession is like not changing a dirty diaper. We may pretend not to see the problem but the stench eventually overwhelms.

The effects of sin and the consequences of neglecting the confessional are better documented elsewhere. My point here is to suggest that it is not only the much discussed lack of authentic, consistent orthodox catechesis that is at fault in our society’s “slide to Gomorrah”, but the whitewashed text that we in the American Church have adopted as our official translation.

As stated at the outset, there is nothing a poor layman can do about an officially approved translation. We must say what it says. But there is no law against complaining about it…the squeaky wheel, you know. There is also no law prohibiting me from reading the Latin, knowing the Latin, and teaching my children the Latin. And so I do that…and encourage you to do it also.

Yes, Lord, let me know your kindness and love, but moreover, hear my cries for “misericordia”.
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