Saturday, August 28, 2010

Should they be allowed to build a mosque at Ground Zero?

Dear Rev. Know it all,
Do you think that they should be able to build a mosque at ground zero?
Sherry A. Law
Dear Sherry,

Whom do you mean when you say they? If you mean members of the Muslim religion, of course they should be allowed to build anywhere the law allows. If you mean adherents of the Islamic State called the Caliphate, by all means no. That would be like building a Nazi recruitment center at the gates of Auschwitz.  We somehow think that the whole world fits into our legal categories and it just doesn’t. Jesus told us to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.

For Christians, the state is separate from the Church. The state is bound by natural law, but not by revealed law. For instance, “Thou shalt not kill” is natural law. “You should go to Mass every Sunday” is revealed law. Until God in his mercy reveals the fulness of truth to the bozos we regularly elect, we can’t expect them to obey revealed law. However, it is part of the work of the Church to remind the governing class of the moral obligations common to all mankind, such as “thou shalt not kill,” “thou shalt not steal,” “ thou shalt not lie” “thou shalt not commit adultery.” These things flow from the nature of God, and so are part of the nature of man, fallen though it is.  Back to the original question.

We live in a nation of laws that are based on the common law of England which, in turn, was formed by more than a thousand years of Christian faith. For us, the Church and state are separate, or at least should be. Such martyrs as Thomas Becket and Thomas More died for that principle, the principle of religious freedom.

Muslims see the Church/State question quite differently. The Qur’an implies in Surah Al-Nur, Verse 55 that a Caliph, should rule the Muslim world. Such a government is called the Caliphate.  The word “caliph” is the English form of the Arabic word “khalifa.” The first four, or “Four Rightly Guided” Caliphs were close companions of Mohammad: Abu Bakr (632-634—whose daughter, Aisha, was one of Mohammad's wives), 'Umar (634-644), 'Uthman (644-656), and 'Ali (656-661), Mohammad's first cousin who had grown up in the Prophet's house and married his favorite daughter Fatima. After the first four caliphs, the Caliphate was claimed by rival dynasties such as the Umayyads, the Abbasids, and finally the Ottoman sultans of Turkey. After the destruction of the Ummayad Caliphate in Damascus in 750 AD, the last of the Ummayads, Abd-ar-Rahman, fled to Cordoba, Spain. His descendants established the Caliphate of Cordoba. The mosque to be built at Ground Zero in New York was originally to be named “the Cordoba Mosque.”  This makes me wonder if the new mosque is to be a place of prayer or a political statement about a new western Caliphate.

So, the answer is really quite simple. If a Muslim cleric will swear an oath that he does not want to reestablish a caliphate, a Muslim government in the U.S., there should be no problem building a house of prayer anywhere. After all, every naturalized citizen swears an oath that uses the following words “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

Article III section three of the US constitution clearly defines treason. “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” So it would seem to me that to aid the Caliphate in its attempt at the violent overthrow of the U.S. is treason. Either the mosque is religion or treason.  It can’t be both. So just take a sworn deposition from the imams and the board of any mosque, not just the ground Zero mosque. Easy. Case closed? Not quite.

There is another Islamic concept called “Taqiyah” which “refers to the practice of precautionary dissimulation whereby believers may conceal their faith when under threat, persecution or compulsion.” Taqiyah. Oxford Dictionary of Islam. Oxford University Press. 2003. In Surah 3 of the Qur’an in verses 28 and 29 we read “Let not the believers Take for friends or helpers Unbelievers rather than believers: if any do that, in nothing will there be help from God: except by way of precaution, that ye may guard yourselves from them... Whether ye hide what is in your hearts or reveal it, God knows it all: He knows what is in the heavens, and what is on earth. And God has power over all things.”

Regarding these verses, and Surah 16.v106, ....(The only ones to be excused are those who are forced to profess disbelief, while their hearts are full of faith.) Ibn Kathir, (1301–1373) an Islamic scholar and renowned commentator on the Qur’an writes, “Whoever at any time, or place, fears the infidels' evil may protect himself through outward show." As proof of this, he quotes Muhammad's companion, al-Hassan, who said, “Taqiyah is acceptable until the Day of Judgement” Qur’an 16:106 says “Any one who, after accepting faith in God, utters Unbelief,- except under compulsion, his heart remaining firm in Faith - but such as open their breast to Unbelief, on them is Wrath from God, and theirs will be a dreadful Penalty.” Thus if someone holds a gun to your head and orders you to declare that you disbelieve in God, you may deny your belief. What is in the heart is what counts. Similarly, Muslims may never ally themselves with the non Muslims, instead of Muslims unless they are forced to do so to avoid persecution.

Muslims are also forbidden to have Jewish or Christian friends “O ye who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors: They are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is of them.” (Qur’an 5:51) If you have a Muslim friend, he is either not a very good friend or not a very good Muslim.

A good Muslim is ordered to “Fight those who believe not in Allah or the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the Religion of Truth, from among the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizyah (compulsory tax for non-Muslims) with willing submission and are subdued. (Qur’an 9:29) That’s for Jews and Christians. For Hindus, Buddhists and all the rest, “Kill these Idolaters wherever you find them, and capture them and besiege them, and lie in wait for them in each and every ambush. But if they repent and establish the prayer, and give Zakah, (an alms payment required of Muslims) then leave them alone. Indeed, Allah is Ever Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Qur’an 9:5)
So there you have it. A Muslim is ordered to fight and kill those who don’t accept Islam, or in the case of Jews and Christians, at least Islamic government. I am sure that there are some Muslims who would deny that these rather explicit verses from the Qur’an mean literally to kill. But how can we know if they mean what they say or are merely practicing taqiyah in order to advance the Islamic cause.

I remember a friend from my college days, a young women who was seeing a Pakistani student. His family was very upset by the relationship, so he asked her to convert to Islam. She refused. He then asked her if she would just pretend to convert in order to fool his family. She was astonished. He didn’t see the problem. Taqiyah. I seriously wonder if any oath made by a Muslim can possibly stand up in court of law.

Christian society is built on the sacredness of oaths. Our civilization was born in the feudal system, a whole world based on interconnected covenant oaths. Jesus said “He who denies Me, I will deny before my Father in Heaven.” Countless Christians have died rather than deny Christ and still die regularly in Muslim countries because they will not deny Christ nor swear falsely. Can two societies based on such absolutely opposite concepts of truth ever be reconciled to each other?

You tell me.

Rev. Know-it-all      

Saturday, August 21, 2010

What was the inquisition and did it really use torture?

Dear Rev. Know it all,

I took great umbrage at your suggestion that a heroic bishop who confronted papal tyranny should be subjected to the rack and thumbscrews. I would expect nothing less of a cave dweller like yourself.                                          

Mr. N. Leitend
Dear Mr. Leitend,

   I should always put a disclaimer in my remarks for the humor impaired. I didn’t really mean that we should return to threats of physical torture. We no longer starve and brutalize people for their own good, using frightening looking machines meant to stretch them and leave them aching in every bone of their body. We have health clubs for that.

What was the inquisition and did it really use torture?

   Heresy comes from the Greek word “haeresthai” meaning “to choose.”  Heresy is usually an overemphasis of one Christian teaching to the neglect of other teachings. The Catholic Church struggled against heresy from the first. Just read St. Irenaeus of Lyon’s “Against Heresies” (written around 180 AD). Local bishops always investigated reports of doctrinal error. Perfectly reasonable.

The problem arose when the state got involved. Rulers of nations, be they kings or presidents, rarely deal well with people who disagree with them.  The trouble started when Constantine the Roman emperor accepted Christianity. He’d had a conversion and wanted to favor Christianity. After all, one God, one Church, one emperor. It all fits together nicely. He soon realized that there were lots of different kinds of Christians, so he got bishops from all over the world together in a town called Nice and asked, “What do we believe?”   They came up with the Nicene Creed. (The process is really a bit more complicated, but why should I bore you?) The Roman emperors, who used to persecute people for being Christian, soon started to persecute people for not being Christian, or at least not the right kind of Christian. It has been a mess ever since.

    The inquisition had four major manifestations:  First there was the Medieval Inquisition (1184–1230s). Heretics might be imprisoned, but were rarely tortured or killed, and that only happened when some local politician decided to be helpful. Things changed when the Cathar heresy infested southern France. Cathars were a  gnostic sect.

Gnosticism is a belief that one is saved by secret knowledge. The Cathars believed that procreation was evil since matter was evil. The Church believes that marriage and family life are sacred. So the battle lines were drawn. In January 1208 the papal legate, Pierre de Castelnau was sent to meet Count Raymond VI of Toulouse, who supported the Cathars.  Castelnau excommunicated Raymond after a heated argument and Raymond had Castelnau ambushed and killed on his way back to Rome. It’s downhill from here. The pope asked the king of France to launch a Crusade against the Cathars, or Albigensians as they were also called, and the northern French aristocrats thought it would be a fine thing to take over the south. The pope sent St. Dominic to try to win the battle by prayer and preaching, but to the barons, swords seemed a more direct method.

    The Inquisition was established in 1229 to uproot the remaining Cathars. Enter St. Peter of Verona. He preached the Catholic faith so eloquently, criticizing both the heretics and the Catholics who professed faith, but didn’t live it. As a result of his preaching, many Cathars returned to the Church. This caused Cathars to eventually assassinate St. Peter.

 It was April 6, 1252, when two assassins ambushed Peter and killed him. Carino, the assassin, later repented and confessed his crime. He converted to Catholicism and became a  Dominican. Now he’s known as Blessed Carino of Balsamo. So much for the swift revenge of the Inquisition. The death of St. Peter prompted the pope to issue a papal bull (Just a note on the word “bull.” It comes from the Latin word “bulla” meaning “a seal.” Hence a papal bull is a letter sealed with the pope’s seal. It has nothing to do with the veracity of the contents or any other modern sense of the word “bull”) In 1252,“Ad exstirpanda” (Latin for “In Order to Root out a Few Things...”) was published. The bull argued that heretics are “murderers of souls,” they are “ be coerced — as are thieves and bandits — into confessing their errors.” People really believed that their souls were important. We moderns know better. We’ve sold ours at a good price. The bull limited the use of torture. It could not “...cause loss of life or limb, it could be used only once if the investigator deemed the evidence against the accused to be virtually certain.”  Thus ended the medieval Inquisition and 1000 years of mostly nonviolent persuasion.

   What most people think of as the Inquisition is more about the other three forms of the Inquisition: the Spanish, Portugese and Roman Inquisitions,. (the Spanish Inquisition 1478–1834, the Portuguese Inquisition 1536–1821, the Roman Inquisition 1542 – c. 1860)

King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile set up the Spanish Inquisition in 1478. In contrast to the previous inquisitions, it operated completely under royal authority, independently of the pope. In fact, the pope wanted to disband the Inquisition, but the Spanish government refused. In its three and a half century career, the Inquisition managed to execute between 2 and 4, 000 people, not the millions for which it is blamed.

“What!” I can hear you gasp, “Are you trying to say that it wasn’t that bad? Only 2,000 - 4,000 people? How barbaric!!!”  Yes! The public burning of thousands of people by the Spanish government or any government is barbaric, even at the leisurely rate of 5 or 10 a year. My point in all this is that ,yes, Catholic Christians have been complicit in the torture and deaths of thousands. The papacy tried to stop the madness, but politicians wouldn’t have it.

    In the Church, it finally ended 200 years ago. However, the United States is still doing it. The public burning of heretics was called an auto da fe, an act of faith. A public execution of the murderer of souls was thought to be edifying. So it is with the public burnings conducted by the American state. The most recent American victim of an auto da state was Paul Powell on March 18, 2010. He was burned alive not at the stake, but at in the electric chair, while solemn witnesses looked on. The surviving victims of his crime, who were present to witness his death by burning, forgave him. He apologized to them. Still, said the witnesses, it was better that he be executed, so that they could go on with their lives. Thus, it was better for the well being of society, just as the Inquisition claimed to be. Electrocution really is burning alive and it is preceded by months and years on death row, years of fear and psychological torture, sleepless nights and pointless days. If you don’t think of it as burning, listen to this account of the first judicial electrocution.

   “Men accustomed to every form of suffering grew faint as the awful spectacle unfolded before their eyes..... (the current) slowly, disintegrated the fibre and tissues of the body through which it passed...The heaving of a chest..., the foaming of the mouth, the bloody sweat, the writhing shoulders and all the other signs of life. Horrible as these were they were made infinitely more horrible by the premature removal of the electrodes and the subsequent replacing of them for not seconds but minutes, until the room was filled with the odor of burning flesh and strong men fell like logs upon the floor. And all this done in the name of science.” We have burned 4,458 people in the years between 1890-2002. That’s a brisk rate of about 50 a year. Torquemada could have learned a thing or two from the black robes who preside over the state religion of modern America. Can we judge a nation which Islam wanted to devour and a time when religious diversity was not an affordable luxury? The Church has learned her lesson. The state has not.

   Speaking of the black robed clergy of the state religion, a couple of Chicago judges are railing against the Catholic Church, saying that displays of pomp should be curtailed by pope and clergy in repentance for Catholic sins. According to a 2006 National Review Online column Dr. Charol Shakeshaft reported that 290,000 students in public schools had been victimized by those who in effect are employees of the state.  Four and a half million had been approached or harassed!!! Where is the outcry? Where is the press whose sole concern is the protection of children? How many more have been put at risk by the inaction of the government since then?

  I am deeply ashamed of the sins committed by Catholics, but perhaps it is a bit hypocritical of some who don black robes in the service of the state to criticize the papal vestments.

Rev. Know-it-all    

Saturday, August 14, 2010

How can you believe in miracles?

Dear Rev. Know it all,
I have friends who are not Christians and they are challenging me about my religion. They ask, “how can I believe in a religion that has talking donkeys and talking bushes that burn and prophets popping out of fish and giant boats full of animals?”  Can you explain all this?

Albert “Al” Bondigas
Dear Al,

Of course I can explain it. I am, after all, the Rev. Know it all. First of all, the stories you are talking about are in the Bible. If you treat the Bible as a history book, you are going to run into things that are patently absurd.  Even if you treat it as a book, you are going to run into trouble. It isn’t a book. It’s a library. There are 73 books all collected in the anthology. There is poetry, parables, proverbs, visions, law, history and much, much more.

The first Catholics understood this. Take St. Augustine (354-430 AD), Bishop of Hippo, for instance. Augustine taught that the Biblical text was sometimes to be taken metaphorically, not literally, when it contradicted science and reason. St. Ambrose before him taught the same thing. Catholics have never believed that the Bible was intended to be used as history except in those accounts which are clearly historical. They do not necessarily give us history, but the Holy Spirit’s explanation of history.

Let’s start with the book of Genesis. There are three primary stories in the first 11 chapters of Genesis. They are 1) the divine origins of humanity and all creation, and humanity’s subsequent fall from grace, 2) the tower of Babel, and the subsequent divisions of humanity, and 3) the great flood. Every culture has its origin stories.  A lot of cultures have a flood story. It seems that at some point, somewhere there was a flood. Clearly the world and human beings exist and are separated by language and ethnicity. 

The Bible doesn’t tell you how these things happened, as much as it tells you the meaning of these realities. They can be summed up very simply by saying that the world is not a random creation, but willed by God, the Supreme Being.  Humanity is not composed of lesser and greater races, as some nonsensical racial theories propose. We are all descended from the same ancestors, no matter our ethnicity, language or skin color. It was disobedience that deprived us of our relationship with God and towering pride that deprived us of our relationship with each other, but we are still one human family. The Bible taught this long before genetics proved it.  These allegories are not so much history as they are God’s statement about history and the human situation.

“So they aren’t real?” I can hear you asking. Oh yes, they are real. They are as real as a love-struck poet telling the object of his desire that her eyes are pools of light, her hair a torrent of gold. Where the poet sees light and gold, the chemist sees a carbon based life form. Both are right, but most of us would rather chat with the poet than the chemist (though I have met some very poetic chemists and some very boring poets.) 

In the 11th chapter of Genesis, we enter a kind of history more in keeping with the tedious standards of our age. Still, it is filled with poetry and meaning. What about all those numbers, like Methuselah living for a gazillion years? Numbers have word meanings in certain cultures. The older the person, the closer to the Garden of Eden. It is a statement that the fall from grace continued in the worsening condition of humanity. I suspect that it’s poetry. “So it’s just poetry?” I can hear you ask. No, it’s not just poetry, it’s poetry about real events and real people in stories that have been told for thousands of years. It conveys not only real history, but God’s commentary on that history.

“Well, what about the talking donkeys and burning bushes and the parting of seas and all that? I’ve never seen anything like that. Is it just mythology? How come it happened thousands of years ago and it doesn’t happen now?”  What do you mean it doesn’t happen now?  Miracles are real and exist to remind us that this short and sorry life is not all there is. I dare you to do a web search on a few things.

Look up the miracle of Fatima. That was 1917. The sun appeared to fall from the sky in Fatima, Portugal. The event changed history and eventually brought down European Marxism. Not only was it seen in Portugal but all over Europe. My old pastor saw it and the father of a friend of mine who was a soldier in the trenches of World War I saw it.

What about talking donkeys? I don’t know about talking donkeys, but my grandmother knew a saint who could talk to insects. True story. Venerable Solanus Casey, a Franciscan Friar from Wisconsin, came up to a bunch of friars who were being chased by bees. Father Solanus walked into the cloud of  bees, went up to the hive, reached in and wrapped a queen bee in his handkerchief, talking calmly to her all the time. The bees calmed down and returned to their hive. He explained to the friars that there had been two queens in the hive. Father Solanus wasn’t stung or hurt in any way. I knew a Franciscan friar who was there when it happened. As for voices, whether they happen in the ears or in the heart, who knows? God whispers to us all the time if we are quiet enough to hear and, like Solanus’s bees, smart enough to pay attention.

How about this? Do a web search for Marie Lebranchu or Marie LeMarchand or Sophie Couteau, who became a Little Sister of the Assumption taking the name of Sister Agnes Marie.  Emile Zola, the great French novelist new all three and met them when they were at the point of death, and visibly, even repulsively sick. They were instantly cured at Lourdes. Zola saw them both the day before they were healed and the day after. He went on to lie about the whole thing. In his novel “Lourdes,” he changed the facts. He renamed Marie Lebranchu, calling her La Grivotte, and said that she died on the train home. On the contrary! She lived in perfect health until 1920! As for Marie Le Marchand whom he called Elisa, whom he also killed off in the novel, she married and had 8 children. Sophie went on to become a nun and lived many years after her healing. The great journalist/novelist Zola preferred to lie rather than face a fact that would have changed his life.

Okay, that was long ago and far away. What about here and now? How about four people I know well, two of whom you know as well as I do. My brother-in-law was stricken with polio in the early fifties. He was taken to the healing shrine of St. Anne de Beaupre. He was in line in a wheel chair, waiting for prayer. A severely handicapped girl was taken past him to the front of the church. As she struggled past, their eyes met. There was a commotion at the altar and a few moments later the young woman strode down the main aisle in perfect health. As she passed my brother-in-law, their eyes met again and in that moment he knew he would never be healed, but that God would be with him and provide for him all his life and so He did. 

Then there was my cousin who, when she was a little girl, had a mastoid bone infection in the days before antibiotics. She was in such agony the night before her surgery that they packed her off in the middle of the night to see Father Solanus, of bee-calming fame. Father Solanus talked to her parents for a bit and stroked the little girl’s hair and told them to take her home. She would be fine. The little girl, my cousin, felt better and slept. The next day, the doctor who was to operate couldn’t understand why the little girl was even there. She had no infection. That was 70 years ago, and she is fine to this day.

You actually know the next two people I want to talk about. You worked with one years ago helping to feed the poor.  Your friend went for a routine check up and they found blood where blood shouldn’t be. The results of the test were slow in coming, and the doctor delayed things, but suddenly our mutual friend was told he had cancer of the bladder. He went for prayer and as a prayer group prayed for him he felt the cancer leave him. He went back and subsequent tests showed that he was cancer free. Perhaps the doctors were wrong. Perhaps they misread the tests…..perhaps...explain it away just like Zola would. Our friend knew that God had given him a miracle.

The last story I have to tell is about a woman you know very well. I knew her when she was a girl. I met her the night she was healed. She was carried into church, unable to walk because she was heavily sedated. She had epilepsy.  She suffered numerous grand mal seizures daily and was so ill that she couldn’t attend school. By the end of the prayer meeting she was running up and down the side aisle of the church and has never had a seizure since.

“Well,” I can hear you ask, “if God can cure the sick and speak through bushes and donkeys, why doesn’t he do it for everyone?” He does do it for everyone. Each breath is miracle, each sunrise a vision. Every breeze and each singing bird is a prophecy. “No!” you say, “They are just breezes and sunrises and birds.” For those who believe, no miracle is necessary. For those who, like Emile Zola and perhaps your friends, no miracle is possible. Jesus promised that He would never turn away anyone who called on Him. He may not give you the miracle you want, but I promise you, He will give you the miracle you need.

Always and faithfully yours,

Rev. Know-it-all   

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Why would that bishop wear a Cappa Magna?

Dear Rev. Know it all,

I just read the most wonderful speech by a very brave bishop from South Africa. He was so brave, the way he defied the pope. Have you seen the speech?
Ann T. Smelzenbels
Dear Ann,

Yes, I have read the speech and would like to respond, inasmuch as someone I consider a friend has been mocked and slandered. You can find the whole speech simply by doing a web search for Bishop Kevin Dowling. I will summarize briefly, first the main points as far as I understand them, then a digest of the speech. (NCR report here)

Bishop Slattery just showed how pompous the Church is again becoming by wearing a Cappa Magna at a Tridentine Mass.
Conservatives are turning their back on the second Vatican Council.
Young people find the Church irrelevant because of the old Mass.
Everyone, including the Bishop of Rome, is obliged to obey the council and its liturgical reforms because it was an ECUMENICAL council and has more weight than a papal pronouncement. (At least this seems to be what he is implying.)

The following address was given by Bishop Kevin Dowling CSsR in Cape Town, South Africa on 1 June.
.....On April 24, 2010, Edward James Slattery, bishop of Tulsa, Oklahoma, celebrated the Mass in Latin... in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
For the first time in my life....I saw the grandiose display of the “cappa magna,” the 20-yard-long brilliant red train behind a bishop or cardinal that has come to be one of the symbols of the revival of the Tridentine Mass. Fifteen minutes before the Mass, Slattery processed up the shrine’s main aisle wearing the extravagant cloak, held up in the back by a young altar server; before the main altar, there was a magnificent turn to exit stage left, at which point the cappa magna stretched almost the entire width of the sanctuary in front of the main altar.

'Throughout more than half an hour of pre-Mass entertainment with beautiful Latin music .... the entire basilica congregation of more than 3,000 sat passively as an audience to a musical concert, with nary a word to say in the liturgy.....By that point I had come to realize that this Tridentine liturgy was a... manifestation of ecclesiastical rank, not a Mass in conformity with the... Vatican II mandate for .. participation by the faithful.....Such a display of .. triumphalism in a Church torn apart by scandal, is most unfortunate. (It bears) the marks of a medieval royal court, not the..servant leadership modeled by Jesus...This is also a symbol of what has been happening in the Church especially since Pope John Paul II became the Bishop of Rome “restorationism”, the carefully planned dismantling of the theology, ecclesiology, pastoral vision, of Vatican II.. Vatican II was an Ecumenical Council, a solemn exercise of the magisterium of the Church, i.e. the college of bishops gathered together with the Bishop of Rome and exercising a teaching function for the whole Church. In other words, its vision, its principles and the direction it gave are to be followed by all, from the Pope to the peasant farmer..

Young people are alienated from the Church.. (They are).. very open to issues of injustice, poverty and misery in the world, aware of structural injustice in the political and economic systems which dominated the world…(they) increasingly feel that the “official” Church is... out of touch with reality.

The rise of conservative groups.. in the Church over the past 40 years and more, has led to a phenomenon which I find difficult to deal with, viz. an inward looking Church, .... relying on a strong central authority to ensure unity through uniformity in belief and praxis....This is all about a fundamentally different .... “vision” of the Church..... I think the moral authority of the Church’s leadership today has never been weaker. It is, therefore, important in my view that Church leadership, instead of giving an impression of its power, privilege and prestige, should rather be experienced as a humble, searching ministry....One of the truly significant contributions of the Church to the building up of a world has been Catholic Social Teaching (He lists a bunch of noble sentiments among which are Subsidiarity, The Common Destiny of Goods, The Integrity of Creation, and People-Centredness....A democratic culture and praxis.),

At this point he goes into a rather long disquisition on his hard work of seventeen years in South African politics and finally defines subsidiarity) “The principle of subsidiarity protects the rights of individuals and groups in the face of the powerful,”..“Applied to the Church, the principle of subsidiarity requires of its leadership to actively promote participation, personal responsibility and effective engagement by everyone in terms of their particular calling and ministry in the Church and world according to their opportunities and gifts.”

Most of the rest of the speech can be summarized in the following line. (For leadership read Josef Ratzinger) “However, I think that today we have a leadership in the Church which actually undermines the very notion of subsidiarity.”

I know Bishop Slattery. Nice guy. Very humble. Big on serving Latinos, the missions and the poor. He was recently vilified in the press for his support of just and reasonable immigration policies. I have always found him remarkably unambitious. He’s the brave one. I’ve seen a few clergy role their eyes when Slattery and the cappa magna are mentioned. All he has done is to remind us of something beautiful. Whom did it hurt?

Dowling is stuck in the beige period of Catholic art. As chairman Mao said "Let a thousand flowers bloom." You are perfectly free to go to a beige Mass and to sing 50 year old sea chanteys and hackneyed Broadway melodies written by aging ex-Jesuits. No one insists that you go to a Latin Mass or endure a cappa magna. I am always amazed that those who consider themselves liberal insist that everyone think and do as they do. All other religious or cultural expressions, or for that matter political convictions, are somehow evil. Remember the saying, that no one is so conservative as a liberal.

As for the cappa magna, it's just theater. No one was charged admission to enter the church. It costs 100 bucks to see a stage play. The poor are generally excluded from beauty, art museums, concerts and stage. I’ve never seen the musical, “Les Miserables.” I got close once. One cold winter night I made the rounds with a friend who served poor beggars and addicts in Chicago. He turned down a dark alley next to a high end theater and knocked on a pile of boxes. Out came a lot of young African American men who greeted him like a long lost brother. The pile of boxes was their home. They took advantage of the hot air coming up form the heating system that warmed the well-heeled theater goers who were inside gushing over the sufferings of the poor in nineteenth century Paris. I have never been able to go to a performance like that since.

Anyone of these poor beggars would have been welcome at no charge in a church to see the eternal drama of redemption. The new and improved beige Catholicism pretends that it is all about the poor. In my experience, the feigned simplicity of the beige liturgy is more about making the prosperous feel less guilty about their prosperity. It may move people’s emotions, but it has very little power to move their souls. The older, more dramatic liturgy had a power to fascinate. It could transport you to a different world if you let it. One walks into a modern Mass and it's nice. You say to yourself, “This is okay, nothing very special. People are chatting. Some people are drinking a Starbucks waiting for Mass to start. (I’ve actually seen this.) A Broadway style tune passes for a “gathering song.”

The presider comes to the a throne situated behind the altar/table, and says “Good morning!” The congregation responds, “Good morning, Father”. The presider continues, “Welcome to St. Tiffany’s our theme today is ....” He eventually gets around to “In the Name of the Father (or perhaps ‘Creator’ or ‘Mother’...” (I’ve heard this, too.) The way some celebrants begin is not in God’s name, but in his own name, “I would like to welcome you.” What narcissism.

You walk into an old Mass and say to yourself, “Whoa, this is different. What’s going on? I don’t understand this.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing. You have to ask questions. The drama and mystery of the old liturgy captured men’s souls for a thousand years and sometimes actually impelled them to virtue. The Catholic Church is the greatest charitable institution in human history and for more than a millennium it was fed by a liturgy that Bishop Dowling thinks is, well, evil in its implications. What hubris!

Allow me to quote Fr. Anthony Brankin, “Perhaps the good bishop should look up the liturgical meaning of the cappa magna, and he will learn that it does indeed stand for all worldly pomp. But when the celebrating bishop removes the cappa just before the mass begins, he is forsaking all that stands between him and Our Lord. He is proclaiming that he is nothing now in the eyes of the world and everything is about Jesus. But then, Bishop Dowling thinks it is about the celebrant."

In other words, the greatest magnates and prelates are no more important than a country priest when they are at the altar. An emperor and peasant went to the same Mass. Liberal is still a useful word. It has to do with the Protestant reaction to the enlightenment. Liberalism is all about the individual. It is about “ME” and “MY” rights. Look it up in the dictionary. The new Mass highlights the celebrant and his smiling face. In the old Mass you didn’t see his face and half the time you couldn’t hear his voice, because the Mass wasn’t about him. That’s the symbolism of the cappa magna and it is lost on modern puritans.

I don’t think that one form of the Mass is better than the other. I really don’t. I love the Ordinary form of the Mass, if it’s done by the book, Gregorian chant works just fine even in English and there is a dignity and simplicity to it all. My point in all this is that it’s a wonderful time to be alive. If beige is my favorite color, then there is a liturgy for me. If pomp and purple are my favorite color, well, guess what! There is a liturgical expression for me too!

As for the youth who find the Church irrelevant, let me remind his Excellency Bishop Dowling, it is the new and improved liturgy they find irrelevant, not the old one. They’ve never experienced the old Mass. When the so called extraordinary form was still the ordinary form, the church was packed. Now, in a lot of places, it is inhabited by a scattering of grey heads.

As for the Vatican council and papal pronouncements, I wonder if His Excellency has bothered to read the Vatican council’s Constitution on the Liturgy, which maintains Latin Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony. It does not mention the turning around of the altars nor the use of beige polyester vestments. All those things were part of the liturgical renewal and were initiated by papal pronouncement, not the council, except of course for the turning around of the altars. That was never mandated anywhere as far as I can tell. It was just trendy at the time. If His Excellency really believes ecumenical councils are superior to papal pronouncements, has he returned to the use of Latin in his Masses, as the council demanded?

As for subsidiarity, defending the weak from the powerful, who is powerful here? Were the Pope a tyrant, Dowling would be out on his episcopal buskins for his support of condoms as an AIDS preventative. The few who enjoy the old Mass need protecting from the liturgical tyranny of those who are currently in power in some liturgy offices. The vast majority of the faithful were never consulted when sweeping change was mandated back in the early sixties, not by council, nor pope, but by committees and liturgists. If the principle of subsidiarity, so dear to His Excellency’s heart, means that diversity be preserved, does diversity not apply to those who relate to an older style of liturgy? I wonder if His Excellency is as supportive of collegiality and subsidiarity when he has a difficult pastor in his diocese, perhaps one who insists on saying the occasional Latin Mass?

This brings me to my last point. To believe that in some way that a council is superior to papal authority is a heresy called conciliarism. Bishop Dowling seems to imply this. If he believes and teaches it, he is a heretic.

Where are the rack and the thumbscrews when you really need them?

Rev. Know-it-all            

Sunday, August 1, 2010

What do you mean, "The Church is the mother of the Bible"?

Dear Rev. Know it all,
Did I hear you correctly? The Church is the mother of the Bible? 
I feel compelled to write. Your statement implies that the Church has more authority than scripture. To say that the Roman Catholic Church is the only institution that can interpret the Bible because they were the “compilers..., editors..., authors... and guardians of the Bible" is false and misleading.  Moreover, your statement has some very dangerous implications. We know that all scripture is "God breathed" and therefore inspired and divine regardless of who or how the books were compiled.
Just because the Church compiled the books, doesn't in anyway mean that the Church somehow gave scripture its authority. Scripture's authority comes from God, not the Church! Therefore scripture must be interpreted in light of scripture - not in light of tradition or any institution. You are making the very dangerous mistake of giving an institution equal authority to God's word, which is eternal. I strongly caution anyone who raises tradition and any institution to the level of scripture. I fear that many  people are in danger of hell because of a misplaced faith. I pray that you will take your responsibility seriously by leading people to true faith in Christ alone.
Calvin Zwingli
Dear Calvin,
Yep, you heard me right. The Church has more authority than the Bible. That's what the Bible says. 1Timothy, 3:15 “...the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth." Do you really believe that, “The scripture must interpreted in the light of scripture?!?” There are somewhere around 40,000 different Christian denominations in the world today, each of them a fruit of someone who disagreed with someone else’s interpretation of scripture. The scriptures are not self interpreting as Luther and Calvin and the reformers believed. The classic example are the genealogies of Jesus found in Matthew 1:1–17 and  Luke 3:23–38,
   In the Gospel of Matthew, Joseph’s father is Jacob, whose father is Matthan whose father is Eleazar. In the Gospel of Luke.   Joseph’s father is Eli, whose father is  Matthat  whose father is Levi.  Note that these are two completely different families until you get to King David.  Which Gospel is right and which is wrong? The relatives of Jesus explained the answer to an ancient Christian historian about a hundred years after the time of Christ. One was a legal genealogy and one was biological. In order to keep families from dying out there was something called levirate marriage and Joseph was the product of such a family.
My point is that without an external source this problem would be inexplicable. There are other problems with the genealogies, but if you’re Catholic, it’s not a big deal. We have always known that the Bible has to be understood in the light of customs and context. We have always taught that there are levels of meaning and that there are parables and allegories, as well as history in the Bible. The Bible is full of fact and poetry. The problem is, who gets to say what’s poetry and what’s history? 
What do we mean by “Roman Catholic” anyway? The “Roman” is relatively new.  It was given us by Protestants. Around 1620, King James I (of King James Bible fame) was trying to wangle a wedding for his son Charles with the princess of Spain in a diplomatic fiasco called “the Spanish Match.” He referred to the Spaniards as Roman Catholics. Before that, we were just Catholics and before that were just the Church. After the Reformation, Roman Catholic was used to refer to those groups in union with the pope in Rome.
The use of the word Catholic referring to the Church goes back to the first days of the Church. “Catholic” is the Greek word for universal, or worldwide. It is only one of the four “marks” or qualities of the Church. She is the Church, One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, not just Catholic. Catholic is only one of her four titles, or attributes. 
The earliest recorded  use of the term “Catholic Church" is found in the Letter to the Smyrnaeans written by Ignatius of Antioch about 107AD. “Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the people be. In the same way, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church."  So Catholic is an ancient term, but for one thousand years, there was just “the Church.” She was called Catholic to differentiate her from the little sects that rose up now and then like the Nicolaitians or Docetists or ... a hundred other little groups with their own special interpretations of Christianity.
Though there were different styles of liturgy, there was essentially one worldwide understanding of the Gospel that involved the sacramental system and a hierarchical structure.  There were different centers of Christianity, principally Alexandria, Antioch and Rome from the beginning, but Rome was always looked at as the source of the authoritative teaching. The Church of Rome had been founded by Paul and Peter, especially Peter to whom Christ had given the keys of the kingdom. The first Christians believed this.
Around 175AD, St. Irenaeus of Lyon wrote “Against Heresies.” In it he said that Rome was the Church with which all other churches had to agree. He was a Greek bishop in France who had been educated by a disciple of St. John. He certainly didn’t invent the idea of the primacy of Rome. He inherited it.
The bishops of Jerusalem and Constantinople were given the status of patriarchs in 451 AD. The council of Constantinople in 381 tried to say that  "The Bishop of Constantinople shall have the primacy of honor after the Bishop of Rome.” At first, the other patriarchates, Rome, Antioch and Alexandria didn’t sign off on the idea.  Constantinople was founded in 330AD as the new capital of the Roman empire. Why should the new kid on the block be recognized as a patriarch? Jerusalem had been the first Church, but she had been wiped out around 135 AD by the Romans and her members had blended in with the Syrian (Antioch). Still, Jerusalem had been a Church at the time of the apostles. So, in the end there were five: Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem, and the new guy, Constantinople.  But they were all “the Church.” and so it endured for the first thousand years.
By the year 1000AD, Rome was a malarial swamp with maybe 10 or 20 thousand inhabitants. Constantinople was a city of a million people who actually took regular baths. Why should the new Rome bow before the old Rome? They had been growing apart for years and finally the break came in 1054. The Roman emperor in Constantinople spoke Greek by then and not Latin. He and his bishop went their own merry way, and pretty much took Antioch with them, but the Eastern and Western Churches still thought of themselves as one Church. Alexandria had been in a huff about the nature of Christ since the fourth century anyway. Things changed pretty fast however. The Muslims overwhelmed the east and the great churches of Alexandria, Antioch and Constantinople lost their freedom. At the same time, the Roman Church took off among the barbarians (my ancestors). The Visigoths kicked the Muslims out of Spain and Spain eventually brought the faith to half the world. 
Despite all the unpleasantness, these different churches recognized each other as “the Church” united despite her squabbles, holding essentially the same theology, the same liturgical kind of worship and all sharing ordination and authority from the apostles delegated by Jesus.  Over the years, some groups within the Byzantine and Eastern Churches have once again recognized the teaching authority of the bishop of Rome. They are known as Uniate, or Eastern Catholic Churches. Fasten your seat belts. The groups who have returned to reunion with Rome are as follows:
The Alexandrian Churches are:
  1) Coptic Catholic Church
2) Ethiopic Catholic Church.
The Antiochian or West Syrian Churches are:
1)Maronite Church
2) Syrian Catholic Church
3)Syro-Malankara Catholic Church. 
The Chaldean or East Syrian Churches are:
1) Chaldean Catholic Church
2) Syro-Malabar Church (in India, dating back to the Apostle Thomas)
The Byzantine (Constantinopolitan) Churches are:
1) Albanian Byzantine Catholic Church 
2) Belarusian Greek Catholic Church 
3) Bulgarian Greek Catholic Church  
4) Byzantine Church of the Eparchy of KriĹževci
5) Greek Byzantine Catholic Church 
6) Hungarian Greek Catholic Church
7) Italo -Albanian Catholic Church 
8) Macedonian Greek Catholic Church 
9) Melkite Greek Catholic Church  
10) Romanian Church United with Rome, Greek-Catholic
11) Russian Byzantine Catholic Church  
12) Ruthenian Catholic Church 
13)Slovak Greek Catholic Church  
14)Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.
And we can’t forget the Armenian Catholic Church. The Armenian Church started in 301 when St. Gregory the Illuminator, baptized King Trad. Gregory was from the Syrian tradition, but there are elements of the Greek and Latin Churches in the Armenian Church and it really is its own rite, though it most resembles the Syrian tradition. These along with the Latin rite, (us) are usually known as the Roman Catholic Church.
Then around 500 years ago in Europe, something really unpleasant happened: the Reformation. Not that the reformers didn’t have a point. The Church in Europe had really gotten caught up in European politics and needed reform. Everyone agreed on that. The problem was that a German priest (Luther), decided to do it his own way. He not only disagreed with the money and the politics, he disagreed with almost everything about basic theology. Things went from bad to worse. A French lawyer (Calvin) jumped into the fray. They both decided to reform the Church in their own way. Since then about 40,000 people have decided to reform the Church in their own way and the results have no historical or doctrinal continuity with what the apostles started.
So, who has the duty and ability to make sure the scriptures are understood? When you say that the Church is the “pillar and foundation of truth," which Church do you mean? Does the text apply to the Church in Ephesus which no longer exists? Do you mean the Greek Orthodox (founded 1054 by the Bishop of Constantinople, a city which didn't even exist when Paul and Peter were martyred in Rome? Or Lutheran (1517 Martin Luther in Germany) or  Anabaptist (1521 Nicholas Storch &Thomas Munzer, Germany) or Anglican (1534 Henry VII England and his charming wife Anne Boleyn) or Mennonites (1536 Menno Simons, Switzerland) or Calvinist (1555 John Calvin, Switzerland) or Presbyterian (1560 John Knox, Scotland) or  Congregational (1582 Robert Brown, Holland) or Baptist (1609 John Smyth, Amsterdam) or Dutch Reformed (1628 Michaelis Jones, New York) or Congregationalist (1648 Pilgrims and Puritans, Massachusetts) or Quakers (1649 George Fox, England) or Amish (1693 Jacob Amman, France) or  Methodist (1739 John & Charles Wesley, England) or Unitarian (1774 Theophilus Lindey, London) or Methodist Episcopal (1784 by 60 Preachers in Baltimore, MD) or Episcopalian (1789 Samuel Seabury, American Colonies) or United Brethren (1800 Philip Otterbein & Martin Boehn, Maryland) or Disciples of Christ (1827 Thomas & Alexander Campbell, Kentucky) or Mormon (1830 Joseph Smith, New York) or Methodist Protestant (1830 by break away Methodists,United States) or Church of Christ (1836 Warren Stone & Alexander Campbell, Kentucky) or Seventh Day Adventist (1844 Ellen White, Washington, NH) or Christadelphian or Brethren of Christ (1844 John Thomas, Richmond, VA) or Salvation Army (1865 William Booth, London) or Holiness (1867 Methodist, United States) or Jehovah's Witnesses (1874 Charles Taze Russell, Pennsylvania) or Christian Science (1879 Mary Baker Eddy, Boston) or Church of God in Christ (1895, by a convention in Arkansas) or Church of Nazarene (1850-1900 Pilot Point, TX) or Pentecostal (1901 Charles F. Parham ,Topeka, KS) or Aglipayan (1902 Gregorio Aglipay, Philippines) or Assemblies of God (1914 by a convention in Hot Springs, AK ) or Iglesia ni Christo (1914 Felix Manalo, Philippines) or Four-square Gospel (1917 Aimee Semple McPherson, Los Angeles, CA) or United Church of Christ (1961 Reformed and Congregationalist convention in  Philadelphia, PA) or Calvary Chapel (1965 Chuck Smith, Costa Mesa, CA) or United Methodist (1968 by Methodist and United Brethren convention Dallas, TX) or Harvest Christian (1972 Greg Laurie, Riverside, CA) or Saddleback (1982 Rick Warren, California) or all the non-denominational denomination mega-churches that have sprouted up since the 1990's.
Or THE Church which is one, holy (despite the best efforts of some) universal (catholic, that is ) and apostolic, established by Jesus through the ministry of the Apostles in Jerusalem and in the city of Rome by Sts. Peter and Paul around 50-60 AD? You decide if there is an organization that has the historical and biblical right to call itself THE Church.
You worship God in your way and I'll worship Him in His.

Rev. Know-it-all