Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Gifts Not Under the Tree

The Gifts Not under the Tree

Pete Vere

Every Christmas, my thoughts turn to my friend Raymond Levesque. Along with our friends Dan, Jan, and Suzanne, Raymond and I have a long-standing conversation about “the gifts that are not under the tree.” This expression goes back to an article that appeared one December in New Covenant. While the magazine is no longer in print, during its run, New Covenant offered a fresh orthodox perspective on Catholic spirituality.

Struggling to Discover a Catholic Identity

Raymond and I first met through our local Latin Mass community. I was a teenager who had been catechized during the late seventies and early eighties. Thus in addition to the usual angst of adolescence, I was struggling to discover my identity as a Catholic.

Raymond was a high-school language teacher approaching retirement. He was also a founding member of the local Latin Mass community and an old salt within the Catholic charismatic renewal. The Holy Spirit had blessed him with an almost supernatural patience and he had a gift for working with teenaged boys who came from a difficult family background. In fact, he had taken several young men into his home throughout the years and straightened them up as best he could.

Because of the depth of Raymond’s experiences, our parish priest asked him to take me under his wing and help me discover the riches of Catholic faith. Raymond agreed to Father’s request. We subsequently spent countless evenings listening to Gregorian Chant and discussing the adventures of St. Francis of Assisi. Raymond opened my eyes to the Eastern Catholic Churches and the beauty of the Byzantine liturgy. He introduced me to Western monasticism and together we visited the Benedictine Monastery of St. Benoit du Lac so that I could experience my first silent retreat.

A Mutual Source of God’s Grace

What Raymond shared cannot be found under a Christmas tree. First he gave me the gift of Christian friendship. Second, he shared the gift of true zeal for the Catholic faith. Third, he showed me the virtues of Catholic manhood.

Let us begin with the gift of friendship. Acquaintances are common in today’s world, but friends are rare. Like most folks, I socialize with a great many people. Yet only a friend like Raymond shows genuine interest in my relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ.

Raymond taught me that friendship is a mutual source of God’s grace. Through our friendship we help each other come closer to our Lord. Eternity is a long time and the saints tell us that many souls will be lost to the fires of hell. As a true friend, Raymond wants me to spend eternity in our Lord’s presence. Thus he often inquires about my prayer life as well as other things affecting the state of my soul. Like St. Paul, Raymond encourages me when I remain steadfast in Christ and he admonishes me whenever I deviate from Church teaching. Thus Raymond’s concern for my spiritual well-being is the gift of a true friend.

Secondly, Raymond taught me true zeal for the Catholic faith. Prior to knowing Raymond, I found Catholicism both stuffy and boring. I knew what I was supposed to do as a Catholic, but I never understood the why. Raymond answered many of my questions about the Catholic faith. He explained to me each action performed during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, how it came about, and why it was vital to our understanding of this Most Holy Sacrament.

Raymond evangelized and catechized with a warmth and enthusiasm that everyone around him found contagious. “God save us from sorrowful saints,” he often quoted from St. Theresa of Avila. He also encouraged me to evangelize others, so that they too would come to love the Catholic faith. Raymond’s zeal for the Catholic faith is another valuable gift one does not find under the tree.

Neither Barbarians or Effetes

Lastly, Raymond gave me the gift of Catholic manhood. In today’s emasculated culture, young men often find themselves divided into barbarians or effetes. The former find their maleness confusing, whereas the latter are ashamed by it. Such a state of affairs among young men of my generation is one of feminism’s most bitter fruits.

Raymond helped me to understand the meaning of Catholic manhood. More importantly, however, he taught me that it is OK to be a man. “We need to rediscover Christian manliness,” Raymond reminded me during a recent conversation. “A Catholic man is neither a macho animalistic bully nor an effeminate wimp. He uses his strength to assist orphans and widows. He has the courage to live by his convictions even when under fire. He does not seek conflict, but he does not shy away from it whenever it becomes necessary. Rather, he follows Christ to the Cross and is willing to lay down his life for the Truth.” Although one will never find it gift-wrapped under a tree, understanding Catholic manhood is one of the most valuable gifts one can offer a young man.

My wife and I will probably spend this Christmas with my folks. While visiting my hometown, I hope to meet up with Raymond. Of course we have purchased a small gift for one another like we do each Christmas. Nevertheless, it is the gifts not under the tree that I most look forward to exchanging. Therefore, as you gather with your loved ones to celebrate the birth of our Lord, I pray that you, too, may be blessed with the gifts not found under the tree.

It is urgent that we strive to re-Christianize holidays and popular customs. It is urgent to keep the public from being faced with the dilemma: either overpious or pagan. Ask our Lord to provide laborers for this urgent work which could be called the "holiday apostolate.” (St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way, 975).

Pete Vere is a canon lawyer and a Catholic author. He recently co-authored Surprised by Canon Law: 150 Questions Catholics Ask About Canon Law (Servant Books) with Michael Trueman and More Catholic Than the Pope (Our Sunday Visitor) with Patrick Madrid. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Sault Ste. Marie, Canada.

This article originally appeared in Challenge magazine and is used by permission of the author.


Friday, December 23, 2005

Four MUST READ Articles

The Holy Father and Cardinal Schoenborn Shine:

Today, I came across four articles that strike me as "must reads". The first, by Pope Benedict, addresses the wide-spread misinterpretation of Vatican II (written December 22). It seems the Holy Father is building a case for some reason, and I think we may all suspect that reason (hope?).

The next three are all by Cardinal Schoenborn on Evolution. I have included three links to these articles/essays . His response to a critic of a piece he wrote in the New York Times is absolutely brilliant and so profoundly necessary in this day and age (link #2 below, the actual body of the article is below all of the links in this post).

The sad fact is that Evolution, as currently taught, has been incredibly destructive of traditional, orthodox, Catholic faith. Surveys regularly prove that so many people have come to the logical conclusion that if Evolution is true as currently taught, then traditional Catholic teaching cannot be true. In fact, a disturbing number of Evolutionists are quite open about their desire to prove exactly this conclusion. And it is high time that we fight back cogently against this powerful tool of atheism. Catholics must follow the lead of Fides et Ratio and bridge the gap that has grown between faith and reason, proving once and for all that they are not at odds, neither are they unrelated, but rather, they are in full harmony with one another.

The good Cardinal shines a very bright light on this "faith bludgeon" called Evolution, revealing its serious inadequacies and internal contradictions as currently propounded. He very potently exposes the reality that so much of what passes for science today is truly religion posing as science. I cannot praise his work highly enough and I implore you to read it and pass it on to as many people as possible.

I have pasted the body of the article from the first link, below, for your convenience.

Michael Forrest

1) -- Zenit coverage: Vatican II texts were misinterpreted, says pope

2) -- Cardinal Schoenborn: The design of science (First Things)

3) -- Cardinal Schoenborn: Creation and evolution: to the debate as itstands (Archdiocese of Vienna)

4) -- Cardinal Schoenborn: In the beginning God created (Archdiocese ofVienna)

The Designs of Science

Christoph Cardinal Schönborn

Copyright (c) 2006 First Things 159 (January 2006): 34-38.
In July 2005 the New York Times published my short essay "Finding Design in Nature." The reaction has been overwhelming, and not overwhelmingly positive. In the October issue of FIRST THINGS, Stephen Barr honored me with a serious response, one fairly representative of the reaction of many Catholics.
I fear, however, that Barr has misunderstood my argument and possibly misconceived the issue of whether the human intellect can discern the reality of design in the world of living things.
It appears from Barr’s essay—and a number of other responses—that my argument was substantially misunderstood. In "Finding Design in Nature," I said:
• The Church "proclaims that by the light of reason the human intellect can readily and clearly discern purpose and design in the natural world, including the world of living things."
• "Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science."
• Quoting our late Holy Father John Paul II: "The evolution of living beings, of which science seeks to determine the stages and to discern the mechanism, presents an internal finality which arouses admiration. This finality, which directs beings in a direction for which they are not responsible or in charge, obliges one to suppose a Mind which is its inventor, its creator."
• Again quoting John Paul II: "To all these indications of the existence of God the Creator, some oppose the power of chance or of the proper mechanisms of matter. To speak of chance for a universe which presents such a complex organization in its elements and such marvelous finality in its life would be equivalent to giving up the search for an explanation of the world as it appears to us. In fact, this would be equivalent to admitting effects without a cause. It would be to abdicate human intelligence, which would thus refuse to think and to seek a solution for its problems."
• Quoting the Catechism: "Human intelligence is surely already capable of finding a response to the question of origins. The existence of God the Creator can be known with certainty through his works, by the light of human reason. . . . We believe that God created the world according to his wisdom. It is not the product of any necessity whatever, nor of blind fate or chance."
• Referring to the Church’s teaching on the importance and reach of metaphysics: "But in the modern era, the Catholic Church is in the odd position of standing in firm defense of reason as well. In the nineteenth century, the First Vatican Council taught a world newly enthralled by the ‘death of God’ that by the use of reason alone mankind could come to know the reality of the Uncaused Cause, the First Mover, the God of the philosophers."
My argument was based neither on theology nor modern science nor "intelligent design theory." In theology, although the mind’s ability to grasp the order and design in nature is adopted by, taken up into, and elevated to new heights by the faith of Christianity, that ability precedes faith, as Romans 1:19-20 makes clear. In science, the discipline and methods are such that design—more precisely, formal and final causes in natural beings—is purposefully excluded from its reductionist conception of nature.
Instead, my argument was based on the natural ability of the human intellect to grasp the intelligible realities that populate the natural world, including most clearly and evidently the world of living substances, living beings. Nothing is intelligible—nothing can be grasped in its essence by our intellects—without first being ordered by a creative intellect. The possibility of modern science is fundamentally grounded on the reality of an underlying creative intellect that makes the natural world what it is. The natural world is nothing less than a mediation between minds: the unlimited mind of the Creator and our limited human minds. Res ergo naturalis inter duos intellectus constituta—"The natural thing is constituted between two intellects," in the words of St. Thomas. In short, my argument was based on careful examination of the evidence of everyday experience; in other words, on philosophy.
Many readers will no doubt be disappointed. It seemed that, right or wrong, my original essay was all about science, about real, tangible, factual knowledge of the material world. But now I admit to be speaking in the language of natural philosophy, that old-fashioned way of understanding reality which quickly faded into the intellectual shadows after the arrival of the new knowledge of Galileo and Newton. Philosophy continues, it is said, only as a meta-narrative for modern science and contains no positive knowledge of its own. In short, I seem to have admitted that my essay was a meaningless or at best subjective form of argument from a discarded and discredited discipline.
It is my sincere hope that for readers of FIRST THINGS I need not respond to this modern caricature of philosophy. Philosophy is the "science of common experience" which provides our most fundamental and most certain grasp on reality. And, clearly, it is philosophical knowledge of reality that is most in need of defense in our time.
Today, spirit-matter dualism dominates Christian thinking about reality. By "spirit-matter dualism" I mean the habit of thought in which physical reality is conceived of according to the reductive claims of modern science (which is to say, positivism), combined in a mysterious way with a belief in the immaterial realities of the human and divine spirits as known only by faith (which is to say, fideism).
But human reason is much more than just positivistic "scientific" knowledge. Indeed, true science is impossible unless we first grasp the reality of natures and essences, the intelligible principles of the natural world. We can with much profit study nature using the tools and techniques of modern science. But let us never forget, as some modern scientists have forgotten, that the study of reality via reductive methods leads to incomplete knowledge. To grasp reality as it is, we must return to our pre-scientific and post-scientific knowledge, the tacit knowledge that pervades science, the knowledge that, when critically examined and refined, we call philosophy.

Stephen Barr criticizes me for confusing two very different things: the modest scientific theory of neo-Darwinism (which he defines as "the idea that the mainspring of evolution is natural selection acting on random genetic variation") and what he calls the "theological" claim that evolution is an "unguided, unplanned" process. "This," he asserts, "is the central misstep of Cardinal Schönborn’s article."
Let us assume for the moment that I indeed made a mistake. Is there any excuse, any basis for my error? Barr, treating Darwinism with great delicacy, says nothing. But there is much he could have said. He could have listed quotations from Darwinian scientists going on dozens of pages in which they make such "theological" assertions, in bold and completely unqualified ways, assertions that evolution by means of random variation and natural selection is an unguided, unplanned process.
Many of those assertions are in textbooks and scientific journals, not just in popular writings. I will leave it to others to compile a complete account of such quotations. I made a small contribution of three quotations in my recent catechesis on creation and evolution in the cathedral church of St. Stephen’s in Vienna. Here is one of those three examples, a quotation from the American scientist Will Provine: "Modern science directly implies that the world is organized strictly in accordance with deterministic principles or chance. There are no purposive principles whatsoever in nature. There are no gods and no designing forces rationally detectable."
Barr argues that such "theological" claims are separable from a more modest science of neo-Darwinism. I agree that there is a difference between a modest science of Darwinism and the broader metaphysical claims frequently made on its behalf. But which of those two is more properly called "neo-Darwinism" in an unqualified way, as I did in my essay?
For now, I happily concede that a metaphysically modest version of neo-Darwinism could potentially be compatible with the philosophical truth (and thus Catholic teaching) about nature. If the Darwinist, taking up Descartes’ and Bacon’s project of understanding nature according only to material and efficient causes, studies the history of living things and says that he can see no organizing, active principles of whole living substances (formal causes) and no real plan, purpose or design in living things (final causes), then I accept his report without surprise. It is obviously compatible with the full truth that the world of living beings is replete with formality and finality. It comes as no surprise that reductionist science cannot recognize those very aspects of reality that it excludes—or at least, seeks to exclude—by its choice of method.
But how successful is modern biology, seeking to be true to its founding principles, at excluding the rational consideration of final cause? One way to grasp this problem is to examine the question of "randomness" and the role it plays in modern evolutionary biology.
The notion of "randomness" is obviously of great importance. The technical error at the heart of my analysis of neo-Darwinism, says Barr, is my misunderstanding of how the term "random" as used by Darwinian biology. "If the word ‘random’ necessarily entails the idea that some events are ‘unguided’ in the sense of falling ‘outside the bounds of divine providence,’ we should have to condemn as incompatible with Christian faith a great deal of modern physics, chemistry, geology, and astronomy, as well as biology," he wrote.
This is absurd, of course. The word "random" as used in science does not mean uncaused, unplanned, or inexplicable; it means uncorrelated. My children like to observe the license plates of the cars that pass us on the highway, to see which states they are from. The sequence of states exhibits a degree of randomness: a car from Kentucky, then New Jersey, then Florida, and so on—because the cars are uncorrelated: knowing where one care comes from tells us nothing about where the next one comes from. And yet, each car comes to that place at that time for a reason. Each trip is planned, each guided by some map and some schedule.
I certainly agree with much of what Barr says, and I appreciate his delightful example. I would like to suggest, however, that he may be overlooking something when it comes to modern biology. First of all, we must observe that the role of randomness in Darwinian biology is quite different from its role in thermodynamics, quantum theory, and other natural sciences. In those sciences randomness captures our inability to predict or know the precise behavior of the parts of a system (or perhaps, in the case of the quantum world, some intrinsic properties of the system). But in all such cases the "random" behavior of parts is embedded in and constrained by a deeply mathematical and precise conceptual structure of the whole that makes the overall behavior of the system orderly and intelligible.
The randomness of neo-Darwinian biology is nothing like that. It is simply random. The variation through genetic mutation is random. And natural selection is also random: The properties of the ever-changing environment that drive evolution through natural selection are also not correlated to anything, according to the Darwinists. Yet out of all that unconstrained, unintelligible mess emerges, deus ex machina, the precisely ordered and extraordinarily intelligible world of living organisms. And this is the heart of the neo-Darwinian science of biology.
Be that as it may, let us return to and extend Barr’s license plate example and see what we might learn. Suppose the Barr family sets out on a trip southward from their home in Delaware—and, while hearing a brief introductory lecture on the proper meaning of randomness, the children start writing down the state of each passing license plate. After hours have passed, the children, pausing at their work, provide the following report: While each individual car’s license plate does indeed seem uncorrelated to the previous and next, or to anything in the immediate environment, there may nevertheless be a pattern in the data. At first, almost all the license plates were from Delaware. A little later the majority shifted to Maryland. A few hours after that there was a big upswing of District of Columbia plates, mixing in near-equal proportion to the Maryland plates. A short time later the majority became Virginia plates. Now they see a dramatic shift to North Carolina plates. Is there a pattern here? Is there a reason one can think of for that pattern?

The Darwinian biologist looking at the history of life faces a precisely analogous question. If he takes a very narrow view of the supposedly random variation that meets his gaze, it may well be impossible to correlate it to anything interesting, and thus variation remains simply unintelligible. He then summarizes his ignorance of any pattern in variation by means of the rather respectable term "random." But if he steps back and looks at the sweep of life, he sees an obvious, indeed an overwhelming pattern. The variation that actually occurred in the history of life was exactly the sort needed to bring about the complete set of plants and animals that exist today. In particular, it was exactly the variation needed to give rise to an upward sweep of evolution resulting in human beings. If that is not a powerful and relevant correlation, then I don’t know what could count as evidence against actual randomness in the mind of an observer.
Some may object: This is a pure tautology, not scientific knowledge. I have assumed the conclusion, "rigged the game," and so forth. But that is not true. I have simply related two indisputable facts: Evolution happened (or so we will presume, for purposes of this analysis), and our present biosphere is the result. The two sets of facts correlate perfectly. Facts are not tautologies simply because they are indisputably true. If the modern biologist chooses to ignore this indubitable correlation, I have no objection. He is free to define his special science on terms as narrow as he finds useful for gaining a certain kind of knowledge. But he may not then turn around and demand that the rest of us, unrestricted by his methodological self-limitation, ignore obvious truths about reality, such as the clearly teleological nature of evolution.

Let us return to a telling word of Barr. He refers to my allegedly over-broad understanding of neo-Darwinism as unwarranted extension of the theory into the realm of "theology." Does his use of that term mean that we can only know that teleology is real in the world of living beings by reference to revealed truth? Does it mean that unaided human reason cannot grasp the evident order, purpose, and intelligence manifested so clearly in the world of living beings? Does it mean that we worship an unjust God who, as Romans 1:19-20 teaches, punishes people for their failure to abide by natural law, a law St. Paul says they cannot fail to recognize through the manifest order in the nature world?
Barr’s essay addresses at some length the question of design in biology, but does not clearly affirm that reason can grasp the reality of design without the aid of faith. If my reading is correct (and I hope I am wrong), in that respect Barr has followed the overwhelming trend of Catholic commentators on the question of neo-Darwinian evolution, who gladly discuss its compatibility with the truths of faith but seldom bother to discuss whether and how it is compatible with the truths of reason.
Perhaps now that the role of fideism is in view, I can profitably return to the question of the essential meaning of the term "neo-Darwinism." If, as many seem to think, neo-Darwinism serves as a valid "design-defeating hypothesis" at the level of human reason but is rescued from any ultimately improper conclusions only by the intervention of theology, then it seems that my expansive definition is fully vindicated. If reason is incapable of grasping real teleology in living things and their history, then neo-Darwinism—which obviously is incapable of taking into account theological truths—can truly be said to be a theory that asserts, in the words of my original essay, that evolution is "an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection." What so many Catholics seem to be saying is that, so far as we can determine with our unaided human intellects, according to even the "metaphysically modest" version of neo-Darwinism, there is no real plan, purpose, or design in living things, and absolutely no directionality to evolution; yet we know those things to be true by faith. In other words, a "metaphysically modest" neo-Darwinism is not so modest after all. It means a Darwinism that does not conflict with knowledge about reality known through faith alone. In the debate about design in nature, sola fides takes on an entirely new meaning.
Modern science alone may well be incapable of grasping the key truths about nature that are woven into the fabric of Catholic theology and morality. And theology proper does not supply these key truths either. Prior to both science and theology is philosophy, the "science of common experience." Its role in these crucial matters is indispensable.

Let us return to the heart of the problem: positivism. Modern science first excludes a priori final and formal causes, then investigates nature under the reductive mode of mechanism (efficient and material causes), and then turns around to claim both final and formal causes are obviously unreal, and also that its mode of knowing the corporeal world takes priority over all other forms of human knowledge. Being mechanistic, modern science is also historicist: It argues that a complete description of the efficient and material causal history of an entity is a complete explanation of the entity itself—in other words, that an understanding of how something came to be is the same as understanding what it is. But Catholic thinking rejects the genetic fallacy applied to the natural world and contains instead a holistic understanding of reality based on all the faculties of reason and all the causes evident in nature—including the "vertical" causation of formality and finality.
Some may object that my original small essay in the New York Times was misleading because it was too easily misunderstood as an argument about the details of science. As a matter of fact, I expected some initial misunderstanding. Even had it been possible to state in a thousand words a highly qualified and nuanced statement about the relations among modern science, philosophy, and theology, the essay would likely have been dismissed as "mere philosophy," with no standing to challenge the hegemony of scientism. It was crucially important to communicate a claim about design in nature that was in no way inferior to a "scientific" (in the modern sense) argument. Indeed, my argument was superior to a "scientific" argument since it was based on more certain and enduring truths and principles.
The modern world needs badly to hear this message. What frequently passes for modern science—with its heavy accretion of materialism and positivism—is simply wrong about nature in fundamental ways. Modern science is often, in the words of my essay, "ideology, not science." The problems caused by positivism are especially acute in the broad anti-teleological implications drawn from Darwin’s theory of evolution, which has become (in the phrase of Pope Benedict XVI, writing some years ago) the new "first philosophy" of the modern world, a total and foundational description of reality that goes far beyond a proper grounding in the descriptive and reductive science on which it is based. My essay was designed to awaken Catholics from their dogmatic slumber about positivism in general and evolutionism in particular. It appears to have worked.
(In next month’s issue of FIRST THINGS, Stephen Barr returns with a general essay on Intelligent Design.)
Christoph Cardinal Schönborn is archbishop of Vienna and general editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Case for Traditional Principles, Part IX: Salt of the Earth

The principle I am going to cover today is important because it was through this principle that Christendom was built. Without this principle, Christendom would never have been established, and indeed the Church would not exist. The Christian has many callings, but none are more important than this calling. When Christ spoke the famous Sermon on the Mount, he says the following in Matthews Gospel:

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing any more but to be cast out, and to be trodden on by men. You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house. So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Our Lord here chooses a curious analogy, but one that is of course incredibly fitting. When one uses salt, they use it to add flavor to something, and in older days, preserve it. That is the job of Christians in this world. We make this world better, and we preserve that around us from that which defiles the Earth. This would make perfect sense to a Jewish audience. If we remember, God's role for Israel was that of bringing God to the nations. To instruct them in the ways of righteousness and the precepts of Yahweh. This was the very purpose of King Solomon's great wisdom, to teach others the ways of God. One of the ways this was done was by what is known as an Incarnational approach to the things of this world. It is an often missed concept in today's society, but it is what Christendom flourished on, since it applies the great mystery that is the Incarnation to this world.

In the early Church, there were those who believed matter was evil. That since man used the created world for great evil, the created world and all it's matter itself was evil. The Churches response to this idea (mainly pushed by heretical sects such as the Gnostics and the Docetics) was to point to the reality of the Incarnation, where God himself became man. If matter was evil, God could not become something evil. Rather, that matter is something good, and made for service to God, but it is just corrupted by sin. When the light of God's power shines upon that matter, however great things can come about it.

A way in which this was applied (though not necessarily with matter) was through what was known as "seeds of the word." What this involved was taking the concepts of the pagan philosophers and applying them to the coming of Jesus Christ. With men such as St. Justin Martyr, they used this knowledge, and believed that God was preparing the intellectual world for the coming of his son. Such an approach was rejected by men such as Tertullian, believing that the concepts of Christ should have nothing to do with the concepts of man, that man was unable to even reach the knowledge of God. St. Justin in many ways based his view of things according to the first chapter of Paul's Epistle to the Romans:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and injustice of those men that detain the truth of God in injustice: Because that which is known of God is manifest in them. For God hath manifested it unto them. For the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; his eternal power also, and divinity: so that they are inexcusable.

For the Greeks (The Gentiles), according to St. Paul, certain things of God were manifested to them. They had some pieces of the puzzle, and it is with the fullness of the Gospel and the Catholic faith that all those pieces of the puzzle finally come into place. This interpretation eventually won over the Church, though the debate in many ways still rages on today.

One example of the early Church operating this way was through taking pagan holidays, and replacing them with Christian ones. The days which were used originally to serve false Gods were now transformed into service of the one true God. The Church sprinkled it's salt and the flavor increased. They took the matter of this world, the gold, the wood, the metal, and constructed magnificent churches and cathedrals from them. Gold that was originally used to fund wars of conquest and slavery were now used to fund the worship of the one true God, the God of true peace and freedom.

While we might not be able to build a cathedral or be a philosopher, we too can follow this principle by the simple things of this life. Did one ever think the job you labor at every day could prepare you for salvation? That job teaches you discipline and focus, acceptance of responsibility, and gives you property to provide for those around you. (that is money.) Those principles can then be used in service to God in many great ways. We should take ordinary things people pay little notice to, and use them in God's service. For those around us may see such dedication and sacrifice, and wonder just what it is they are sacrificing themselves for. While many nowadays frown on those grandiose cathedrals, preferring a "church of poverty and evangelizing, rather than money" they seem to forget that many times those cathedrals were tools of evangelizing! The majesty of such builds no doubt caught the interest of ordinary people of the world, and, knowing the principle of sacrifice already in their heart, came to learn to give sacrifice to the one true God.

In conclusion, whatever one does in life, one should always think "how can I take the things of this world and give glory to God with them. How can I take that little principle of good, and make it great in service of God?

God Bless,

Kevin M. Tierney


Monday, December 19, 2005

Family Dynamics: The Jews, Christians and God

By Michael Forrest

The issue of "the Jews" seems to be ever-present, doesn't it? How is it that this relatively miniscule group of people and their tiny country manage to persistently elicit such strong, visceral reactions, both pro and con, and to remain so firmly entrenched on the world stage? Is this just a coincidence? Or is it perhaps a sign of something else?

Lately, it seems that the Jews are drawing an increasing amount of attention, if that is possible. A recent article by Yitzchok Adlerstein addresses a case in point ("google" his name and mainline Protestantism). Although I do not agree with everything written in the article, I think it is at least accurate in relation to the unfortunate and increasing hostility of liberal, mainline Protestantism toward the Jews and Israeli Jews in particular. Of course, there are also many other groups and individuals with various animosities toward them as well. Perhaps these sad developments are caused largely by the Adversary prompting a classic "two for one" error as he is wont to do (encouraging an initial error which spawns a subsequent error in over-reaction to the initial error): absolute, unequivocal support of Israel as veritable angels in certain quarters igniting a converse reaction in other quarters which posits the Jews/Israel as quasi-demons, Christ-haters or the perpetrators of every kind of conceivable conspiracy. And it seems that either extreme disposition in regard to the Jews and/or Israel unites people who may have little else in common.

I believe we must strive not to over-react in either direction. We should reject either automatic, unequivocal approval or knee-jerk hostility and animosity toward the Jews and/or Israel. Unfortunately, I have seen both dressed up to appear as honest opinions formed by independent, objective scholarship and/or investigation when in reality it's just a matter of someone with a predisposition regurgitating back the work and opinion of a few others because those others are saying what that person already believes. In doing so, such individuals try to pass themselves off as authorities and experts. Then others pick up the same pseudo-research and scholarship and use it as well. Before long, a whole network of self-anointed "experts" and followers may find each other, really believing they have independently happened to reach the same conclusions. I've experienced a great deal of this battling in the pro-life movement, from abortion to homosexual "marriage". One can always find someone who has written a book or article that fits one's agenda and preconceptions, unfortunately. Of course, there are even those who make little pretense at fairness and objectivity, too. Those are at least easier to spot.

But in the particular case I mentioned first, I think it would be incredibly unfortunate if this negative disposition emanating from mainline Protestantism (anti-Jew, anti-Israel) infected Catholic circles in the same way that other liberal, mainline Protestant ideas have (liberal Scriptural exegesis, moral theology, ecclesiology, etc.). Sadly, I believe there is a disturbing amount of strong anti-Jewish, anti-Israel sentiment in many Traditionalist circles. As Catholics, we have a rich and balanced tradition from which to draw and it doesn't make sense to substitute a deficient counterfeit for the real thing.

In addition, while I certainly do not claim to be an expert or scholar on this issue (although I have done a fair amount of research and discussion on the topic) I disagree with the idea of what might be termed extreme, absolute supersession, i.e. that the Jews, as Jews, no longer play any role in God's design for man's salvation and that the Catholic Church has entirely and utterly replaced the role of the Jews in every way in regard to promises, eschatology, etc related to Israel. It seems to me that there is a typical, Catholic "both/and" going on here. The Church is certainly the "New Israel" in a very real sense (as both Scripture and the Fathers attest), and a Jew who becomes Catholic is more deeply and authentically Jewish than one who is not Catholic.

But the Jews, as Jews, also continue to be dear to God's heart "for the sake of their fathers" as St. Paul puts it in Romans 11. They are the "natural branches" irrespective of whether they become expressly Catholic, as St. Paul also makes clear in the same chapter. Gentiles are adopted, "wild branches" that are "grafted" into the tree and the Jews are the "natural" branches that were cut off, but who may be readily grafted back in (even more readily than we, the gentiles, the "wild branches", again Romans 11).

God still pursues "earthly Israel ", if I may use that phrase, in part because of their identity, their lineage. There is a special relationship, a history there that cannot be erased. Of course, there is no reason for gentile jealousy as this relationship is inferior (in the theological sense) to that of a baptized Catholic, but it is real and persistent, nonetheless. This relationship that "earthly Israel" has with God is, of course, a shadow of the ultimate relationship which is consummated in Catholic baptism, when the natural branch is grafted back onto the tree. The first covenant flows by birth and is exclusive to "earthly Israel", but the second is solely by adoption and is open to all, including earthly Israel. No one is "born a Catholic."

I do believe the Jews have a unique role to play, as Jews, in our day and age and in prophecy, including what I tend to believe will be an unusual conversion/restoration of some sort in the future, an occurrence that I believe St. Paul references (again, Romans 11 and many Fathers, saints, orthodox theologians, the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia and a Pope expressly refer to this. I have compiled many of these quotes in the past and have subsequently found a few more without expending great energy. I suspect such quotes could be multiplied).

For instance, Pope St. Gregory the Great saw in St. John's description of his and St. Peter's arrival at the tomb a foreshadowing of the restoration of the Jews (which flowed naturally from his understanding of Romans 11). St. John (representative of the Jews) ran ahead and reached the tomb first (as the Jews received the Gospel first), yet he did not enter first, rather, St. Peter (representative of the Gentiles) did. Subsequently, of course, the Pope notes that John did eventually enter. I also find it noteworthy that Pope St. Gregory the Great believed that Romans 11 referred to an unusual return of the Jews and treated this belief as common knowledge among Catholics, not some novel opinion at which he had arrived (both in his commentary on the Gospels and also the book of Job). There is much more, of course, but I would also note that I am not aware of a single direct denial or refutation of this belief from the Fathers or saints, which one would expect if it were not widely accepted as it is certainly far from an isolated view that could easily have been overlooked.

Of course, in balance, there is also reference by relatively fewer Fathers to the notion that Antichrist will be of Jewish extraction as well. However, if the second proposition is accepted (Jewish Antichrist), I believe there is even more evidence to support the first (some kind of unusual restoration of the Jews, beyond a trickle-remnant, to faith in Christ in the future). In my opinion, it would be illogical and odd to readily accept the second and reject the first, as a few do.

I find the very existence of the Jews as a distinct, recognizable people in spite of having no place to call "home" for almost 2,000 years nothing short of miraculous. No other people have maintained their identity under such incredibly adverse conditions. The others have been absorbed, annihilated or a combination of both. Of course, Hitler tried to annihilate them and failed in spite of what many believe to have been a demonically driven and orchestrated attempt. I cannot easily slough these things off as mere inconsequential coincidence and I have never been persuaded by those who do. By this, I am not at all suggesting that God has been uniformly pleased with the Jews and Israel and that their story is one of blessing alone over the past 2,000 years. Far from it. It seems to me there is only one thing that has remained constant through both blessing and curse: God's continuing concern for them as a people, as His first-born.

I would end by noting that any Catholic who decides to be hard on the Jews of today for not expressly accepting Christ ought to be even harder on Protestants if they are to be consistent. Yet this is most often not the case. The Protestants of today are far closer in time to the fathers of their schism than are the Jews to theirs. And while one might argue that at least Protestants "accept Christ", we may also counter the selective rigorist who holds the Jews to absolute, unyielding standards with the fact that rejection of the Church is also rejection of Christ (Luke 10:16 ). I would suggest we ought to give both groups the benefit of the doubt as a whole and assume basic good will combined with ignorance rather than an informed, bad will.

The only certain, consistent combination of full knowledge and bad will of which I am aware is at work in the spiritual realm, prowling the earth in search of human souls to devour. I'm reluctant to cede either group to him so fully and in such a black and white way. And through my experience in reaching out to our Jewish brothers (several of whom I have helped come to their own Messiah in the Catholic Church) I have never seen a single one brought to the fullness of the faith by the proposition that they were in league with Satan, Christ-haters or the like. In fact, I have found remarkable openness among today's Jews about Christ, especially if a relationship of respect and trust is first established. I believe this can be directly attributed to the widespread lowering of imprudent, heated and unproductive rhetoric over recent decades. Ditto for Protestants. We can certainly thank John Paul II for much of this.

Now, certainly, there are some individuals or groups in each camp that may require a harsher response at times (like the ADL or professional Protestant anti-Catholics like Jack Chick). But they are not nearly the majority in my opinion. And to begin posturing, accusing and negatively broad-brushing either group could threaten to destroy the very real progress that has been made. This would be a tragic development. Of course, I am in no way suggesting, as some do, that we remain silent about the truth of Catholicism in order to not offend, only that we use the wisdom, prudence, patience and discernment that naturally flows from authentic, Catholic charity in our evangelism.

This is not unlike my experience in the pro-life movement. There was a time when I tended to assume that all people really understood the issues very well, whether the issue was abortion or homosexual "marriage". And in my incorrect, self-righteous judgment, I lacked the patience and kindness necessary to reach those I might have. When I eventually learned that the majority of people on the wrong side of these issues only THINK they understand them in depth, I changed my approach. Don't misunderstand. Such people can still be amazingly stubborn and maddening. And as they become informed, they may yet purposely choose evil. But they may not. And by the grace of God, without giving an inch on the fundamentals, my passion has increasingly become compassion, and I have found that compassion is capable of bypassing barriers that passion can only crash against in futility.

My prayer is that God will rid all of us, Traditionalist and non-Traditionalist alike, of the pride that hardens our hearts and makes them unwilling to bleed and suffer for every soul He desires, whether Jewish or Gentile. Until then, I pray we continue to do the best we can with what we have and humbly trust in His ability to do great things with even the most flawed work when trustingly placed in His hands.