Sunday, November 30, 2003


"The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made,..." -- (Jer 33:14a)

Happy New Year to all my siblings in the Christian faith.

Today begins the new year in the liturgical calendar for all Christian rites following the Latin Rite Lectionary. The quotation above is the first line of the first reading for this new liturgical year. Today, we recall a promise fulfilled, a promise being fulfilled, and a promise made for our future.

Included in this fold of Christians celebrating Advent today are Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, some Eastern rites, Presbyterians, and many others.

The Church year begins with preparation for the celebration of the incarnation of God in human flesh that will occur on Christmas. Beginning four weeks prior to Christmas, we enter a state of longing and joyful expectation.

Advent calls to mind three ways that God comes to His people.

First, we look back to the preeminent coming of God in Jesus Christ. In the incarnation, God reveals that humanity is the center of Her attention. God reveals the incomparable dignity of the human person by assuming a human nature. In the incarnation, the human condition was sanctified. The readings of Masses and Liturgy of the Hours over the next four weeks will focus our attention sharply on how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament longing for God to come to His people.

Secondly, we celebrate that God is coming in our world even now. Through Word and Sacrament, and in each other we know that God continues to dwell in our midst. The reign of God is at hand, and is indeed among us (Lk 17:21).

Finally, we sharpen and re-ignite our longing for that day when the Lord will return in glory with all of his saints to create a new world that will be incorruptible and undefiled, where every tear will be wiped away and we will enjoy eternal life with Christ.

Traditionally, the season of Advent is a season of "penance" in the Church. Penance has sometimes been confused with self-righteous acts of mortification - as though we have to make up for our sins by punishing ourselves. This is not the true meaning of the word.

The concept of penance comes form the Biblical notion of metanoia, meaning conversion. Thus, John the Baptist was preaching "Convert, for the Lord is coming." and Jesus preached, "Convert, for the reign of God is at hand."

The word choice used by John and Jesus is rooted etymologically in a notion of turning a stiff neck. There may be some pain involved, but the pain is not sought for its own sake. Rather, we work out the stiffness to be free to turn about and look around us.

There are several different practices that we engage in to heighten our awareness of the meaning of the Advent season. One beautiful way to prepare for Christmas is to make use of the sacrament of reconciliation. This powerful sign of God's infinite mercy helps to set a tone of consciousness of those areas where we fall short of our ideals so that we can begin to change. Through a minister, we seek the prayers of the community of faith in making this conversion.

Fasting is a charismatic gesture of self-emptying to be filled by God. In a season where we wait with longing, hunger can call to mind our spiritual longings. Fasting can help us to enter into solidarity with the poor during the Advent season. If fasting, donate the money saved on a meal to charity, and use the time for extra prayer or some volunteer activity.

Advent is a special time to recommit to prayer and building a personal relationship with God. Spending just an extra five minutes per day with prayer or Scripture reflection over the next four weeks is a wonderful preparation for Christmas.

The Church has a wonderful tradition of the Advent wreath to help us with prayer. The Advent wreath can be a beautiful family prayer. The Advent wreath is a circular wreath made of evergreen branches laid flat on a table or other flat surface. Four candles are placed in or around the wreath. The candles are typically violet or blue, which are colors for penance. Three candles might be violet (or blue), while the fourth could be a lighter shade of pink.

The circular shape of the wreath reminds us of God's endless love. The candles remind us that Christ is the light of the world. The evergreen reminds us of the promise of everlasting life.

Each day, a candle is lit while the family prays a special Advent prayer. One candle is used the first week, then two the second week, then three the third, then all four on the fourth week leading up to Christmas day. This symbolizes the light of Christ growing brighter as approach the celebration of the incarnation. The lighter candle, usually pink, is lit on the third week, and the lighter color calls to mind the joy that our expectation is close to fulfillment.

I like to use Lauds and Vespers from the Liturgy of the Hours as my prayer with the Advent wreath, and one can find other good Scriptural prayers in almost any Christian or Catholic Christian bookstore.

Another idea for special prayer might be to read through the Gospel of Luke one chapter per day. The reason for using Luke is that we are entering cycle C of the liturgical calendar, and Luke's Gospel will be the focus of the Gospel readings for both Advent and Ordinary time. Also, since it is 24 chapters long, it neatly divides over the month of December so that you will read the final chapter on Christmas Eve if you start tomorrow.

On the feast of Saint Steven, the day after Christmas, you may want to go right into Luke's Acts of the Apostles to read his story.

The Latino culture also brings a ritual of going house to house re-enacting the search of Mary and Joseph for room in the Inn. The tradition is called posadas. If there is a Latino immigrant community in your area, check it out.

I'm a believer in the Twelve Days of Christmas celebration, so don't think that Christmas is over on December 26th. We keep right on celebrating through the New Year on the secular calendar until the feast of the three kings and the epiphany. The Liturgy of the Hours is a good way to keep in touch with this, and daily Mass would another way.

To circumvent some of the commercialism of the Christmas season, I recommend that all Christians tell their children the truth about Santa Clause. I don't necessarily mean that you talk about whether a fat man lives at the North Pole or not either.

I think it is healthy for children to imagine a world of nearly magic possibilities. You don't have to lie to children either - they'll pick up the myth on their own through our culture. My own father simply said, "Some people believe that..." and left the rest to our imagination. On Christmas morning, he would not say Santa left something. Instead, he would ask a question, "Who do you think left that...?"

Christians will have different opinions about this, with some people wanting to tell the bare naked truth, and others blatantly telling children lies. As I say, my own feeling is that we shouldn't lie, but we shouldn't raise our children a sterile world of bare naked facts all the time either.

There is a true story of Santa Clause many Christians have forgotten, and we should not shy from this.

Santa Clause (Saint Nicholas) was a fourth century bishop known for his charity. His feast day in the Church is on December 6, and you can look him up in any "lives of the saints." Candy might be given to younger children to commemorate his feast day. Tell his story and how his spirit lives on as a sign of Christ's love in the tradition of gift giving. As the kids grow older, they can sort through reality from myth, but the important thing is to ensure that they hear more than the secular myth of the in a flying sleigh.

Speaking of secular myths, you will likely run into some people who are offended by the emphasis on Christian themes at this time of year. Some prefer that we speak to the universal human celebration of the winter solstice and the turning of a new year. Likewise, the Jews will celebrate Hannakah, which commemorates the story in the Book of Maccabbees. African Americans will celebrate Kwanza. All these other celebrations are good and spiritual.

The Christian meaning of the season is not in competition with other interpretations of the season. Indeed, many of our own rituals are Christianized versions of celebrations of our pagan ancestors. Perhaps if we were more open to understanding these other celebrations, others might wish to hear our about our own faith traditions and why we say "Jesus is the reason for the season". We can keep Christ at the center in our families through prayer. Avoid the "either/or" mentality. We can have "both/and" and let other people enjoy the season too. My wife and I celebrated Hannakah last year with friends form Israel, and I felt more connected to Jesus, the Jew, in this ritual than some Christian celebrations.

Finally, I once heard from a devotee of Marian apparitions that Our Lady supposedly said to some child that she supposedly appeared to that God is most pleased at Christmas time by our charity and that more souls are released from purgatory on Christmas than on all souls day. Well, I do not personally place too much stock in these types of private revelations, and this all sounds a bit superstitious to me. Nevertheless, I do think that God is pleased by the spirit of generosity that emerges at Christmas time.

If only it would last all year! As part of the conversion process of preparing the way for the Lord, let us seek opportunities to be especially charitable. Maybe we could visit the relative in a nursing home, or the friend in prison, or the neighbor dying of AIDs. Maybe we could give a little more of our time, talent, and treasure at the local parish. Maybe we could go out of our way to work in a soup kitchen or gather clothing for the thrift shops. This is a special time for Christians to make the reign of God break into the world through our words and deeds. Have fun doing so.

Peace and Blessings!


Saturday, November 29, 2003

The Spirit of Poverty: Was Jesus a Marxist?

My latest article added to my homepage looks at the absolute imperative to Christian charity, and how charity goes beyond giving a hand-out to the poor, and calls us to solidarity with the poor.

I'm not sure if my thinking is stated in a way that is clear to others, so I am very interested in questions and critique if anyone has any reaction to this piece.


Thursday, November 27, 2003


Today is Thanksgiving in America. I give thanks to God for all of the following:

For the incarnation, which shows us the human face of God, reveals the incomparable dignity of the human person, and God's love for each human being.

For the teachings of Christ which reveal God's mercy, the way to happiness, and the dignity of the poor and marginalized.

For the cross, which reveals that God is with us in our suffering, and by which the perfect atonement for sin occurred.

For the resurrection, which reveals that death and sin have been conquered and we have been given new life.

For baptism, by which we are immersed in the death and resurrection of Christ, born again as a new creation, washed clean of original sin, conformed to Christ and incorporated in the Body of Christ which is the Church.

For the Church, the community of faith where Christ continues to live.

For the sacrament of confirmation, by which we are sealed in the Spirit, confirmed in the faith, and connected to the Apostles through the laying on of hands by their successors.

For the Eucharist, the most holy and august gift of God's very self to us, the precious body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ made present in signs of bread and wine. I give thanks that in this meal, we receive the whole Christ - Jesus and one another, who together form the Body of Christ. I give thanks for the fellowship created in this meal, which is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. I give thanks for the remembrance of the one who ate and drank with sinners. I give thanks for the symbol of the broken body and shed blood for the remission of sins. I give thanks for the real presence of the Resurrected One who promises us that we will rise with him. I give thanks for the real union formed in this sacrament with God and one another.

I give thanks for the sacrament of reconciliation, by which I am constantly reminded of the infinite love and mercy of God for those of us who are sinners.

I give thanks for the sacrament of marriage, by which I am schooled in love and made one flesh with another in a fecund sharing of the creative power of God. I thank God for my beautiful and lovely wife, my best friend and helpmate and life partner who shares many of my dreams and goals and through whom I am given an opportunity to serve and be served. I thank God for her good heart, her companionship and the way she completes me.

I give thanks to God for the sacrament of orders by which ministers are called to bring us together to become what we are: the Body of Christ.

I give thanks to God for the sacrament of healing through the anointing of the sick. May I also be prepared for burial and resurrection in this sign when the time comes.

I give thanks to God for revealing Herself to me in Word and Sacrament, and through Scripture and Tradition, and through the sense of the faithful and the teaching authority of the Church.

I give thanks to God for the communion of saints interceeding for us in heaven, and especially for the Blessed Mother of Jesus and our Mother who prays for us constantly.

I give thanks to God for the liberty and the material blessings of living in America.

I give thanks to God for my parents, my brothers and sisters, my wife's family and all the close bonds of biological relationship that brought me into the world and continue to support me.

I give thanks to God for my parish community, and especially my fellow choir members and lectors.

I give thanks to God for my education and my teachers and classmates who have been friends and mentors to me.

I give thanks for the Latino community that shares their culture with me as I share my culture with them in the volunteer activities of the Church in my area.

I give thanks to God for the multi-cultural experience of my parish, where Africans, African Americans, Latinos, and Asians come together as one.

I give thanks to God for my co-workers and clients who challenge me continually to growth and provide opportunities for me to grow in love.

I give thanks to God for my food, shelter, clothing, job, and all the ways He sustains my life.

I give thanks to God for the beauty of the created world with its varied plants, the moon and the stars and the sun, and for all the awesome wonder around me.

I give thanks to God for my mind, body and soul, and the gifts of faith, hope, and love, and the gift of prayer and the gift of saving grace, and the gift of Her very life within me.

I give thanks to God for my health and my senses of hearing, sight, taste, touch, and smell and all the senses of this body.

I give thanks to God for my imagination and intuition and the gift of reason, understanding, and memory.

I give thanks to God for the gift of freedom and for the gift of my will.

I give thanks to God for all good things and all that He sends my way to make me a stronger and better person.

Praise be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, three persons in one God, forever and ever. Amen!


Wednesday, November 26, 2003


I had the day off today, and was spending some time working on two new articles, and I decided to also spend some time getting caught up on my email inbox. The new articles should be ready in a day or two. Anyone I owed an email response should have received one by now.

As I was cleaning out my inbox, a new reader sent a mail just today and challenged my article on the existence of hell. We had some exchanges, and I decided to use them for today's post. Of course, all should feel free to comment.

My reader's initial comments are in bold, followed by mine in plain text, then his response in italics, followed by second response in plain text.

1.You assume the absence of God in hell. This however is an impossibility, because God is omnipresent, thus also in hell. By the way there is no mention in the Bible about any absence of God anywhere, so I don't find it based on biblical facts.

I agree with you completely that God is present in hell. However, the person "in hell" is not just in a physical place. The person is in a mental and spiritual state whereby the individual is not open to God's presence.

What I am saying is that if we cannot freely chose to put ourselves in such a state, we are not free at all. We would be mere puppets forced to love God by our internal programming - no more human than a computer chip.

Life is a gift of God, directed by God alone. You say that you can't choose freely if there is no hell. What "the hell :)" got hell to do with the freedom of choice? Choice has to do with whether there are alternatives or not. There are two, according to scriptures, eternal life with God or eternal DEATH. Life apart from God is

IMPOSSIBLE, in hell or anywhere. There is no need for hellish torment to exist in order to have a free choice. You can choose death, what's your point?

Please re-read my article. I explicitly say that it possible to believe that hell exists even if nobody inhabits it. This is what I wrote verbatim: "The condition for the possibility of choosing God is the possibility of rejecting God. Hell is the reality of this choice, even if no soul actually inhabits the reality. "

As far as your notion of "eternal death", this is simply not what the New Testament teaches, no matter what we want it to teach. The New testament clearly teaches that there is a possibility of choosing against God eternally, and that such a choice is torment.

I sent you a later email using an analogy of deliberately wearing a blindfold in a lighted room or deliberately plucking out your eyes as an example of how God could be present in hell and the sinner be unaware of his presence. Just as the blindfolded one or the one without eyes is unaware of the light shining upon him or her, so too, the sinner, through his or her own choice, can be unaware of God's presence. The New Testament clearly describes through images the possibility of such a choice, and paints a rather gruesome image of the consequences of making such a choice.

Freedom is not simply the choice between two good alternatives...though it certainly includes this. A parent who gives a young adult child a choice between eating broccoli or carrots is giving the young adult a choice.

However, a parent who says you're old enough to fix your own dinner is giving the young adult FREEDOM.

Freedom is more than limited and protected choices that a parent ives a child too young for freedom. Freedom is the ability to choose between good and evil. Yet, by definition, evil must have bad consequences, or it is not evil. Indeed, the ultimate evidence for the existence of hell is the temporal experience of suffering when we sin!

Ultimate freedom is the freedom to choose between several good choices, and several bad choices. The ultimate freedom is the choice to make a choice of eternal significance!

2. No passage in the Bible refers to any kind of "Hell", except in this life. Instead are the words like Tophet(=Abomination), Sheol(=Hades=Grave), Tartaroos(=Hades (greek mythology) ), and Gehenna(=Valley of the Sons of Hinnom) outside Jerusalem (worship of Moloch) used. Thus the word "Hell" is entirely alien from biblical point of view.

Well, the Bible is not originally written in English. Of course the word "hell" is not there in English. Neither is the word "heaven" there in English. I am aware that Gehenna is a valley outside of Jerusalem where trash was burned. The question is how the New Testament uses this image to describe a state of afterlife that seems to be eternal.

Mark 9:44 describes Gehenna as an unquenchable fire, and 9:48 repeats the theme with an allusion to the worm that never dies. Revelations 20:10 also speaks of the devil and his angels being cast into the pool of fire forever to be tormented day and night. Of course, as my article indicates, I accept a non-literal interpretation to these metaphors of fire, but the text clearly indicate eternal or everlasting states of some type of horrendous torment.

Of course Bible wasn't written in english. Every idiot knows that. You should however understand that we are not talking here about specific words, but internal meaning of a specific term in a specific language. Every word in every language awakes certain feelings and understanding of it's meaning. The word HELL doesn't have the same meaning for an english man of today as the word SHEOL or HADES had for the ancient people. Words like HADES were taken from GREEK MYTHOLOGY and such place doesn't really exist as it was understood by ancient greeks. Hades and other places of torment has pagan origin, not biblical (ie Judeo-Christian) Jesus and the Apostles used these words for metaphorical reasons to make themselves comprehensible in their surroundings. These words should most often be translated merely as GRAVE and not HELL(place of torment).

It is entirely possible that the early Christians who write in Greek would borrow images or concepts or even words from the Greeks. Indeed, since Israel was occupied by the Greeks during the Maccabean period, and continued to trrade with the Greeks at the time of Christ, it is entirely possible that Jesus actually held such a conept. We cannot rule out this interpretation "a priori" simply because the Greeks thought it up first. We need to deal with the New Testament text as they are, and they seem to point to imagery of an eternal place of torment.

3. Old Testament Jews, including Abraham, Moses, Jacob, Solomon and David didn't believe in any hell, thus there's no mention about it, or any kind of reference in any place. How could they miss such an important warning? Probably the most important!!! The wisest man of all times, Solomon, said that all creatures go down the same path to Sheol (=Grave), humans alike animals.

I agree that the Old Testement figures did not know about hell. They did not know about heaven either. For that matter, they did not knwo the world is round. Revelation progressively develops over time and our understanding of truth deepens within a tradition. The Old Testament figures did not know a lot of things we know today. So what?

Your inconsequence in reasoning worries me. Hell is not based upon some arbitrary revelation that comes with time. It's not some low order information, like discovering electricity or finding new resources on the moon. It's crucial for our faith and image of God and in extension for our choice? You should remember what you said about free choice. According to your reasoning we need Hell in order to have a free choice, otherwise we're mere puppets. Were Abraham, Moses, Jacob, Solomon etc. mere puppets? Was there any plausible reason for God to mention every detail of the law and every form of punishment for every form of sin, yet come short of mentioning the place of eternal torment in afterlife? Is it consistent with God's character? Is it rational thinking?

You are correct that the Old Testament does not teach ANYTHING significant about the afterlife, and no matter how much you want to argue about what you or I think Solomon and Moses or David or Abraham SHOULD have known, the fact is they knew little to nothing about the afterlife, and it simply wasn't an issue they concerned themselves with. There is nothing in the text or even extra-Biblical texts that supports the notion that the Old Testament Jews gave whole lot of thought to any sort of afterlife. That may bug the hell out of us today, but it is simply the fact that they did not consider it important.

Why would God not reveal it to them?

That opens a whole can of worms I don't think you have thought through. Revelation does not occur through some unique experience of a so-called prophet, as though some human beings have a direct phone line to God. My trust is not in Moses, but in God.

All of us receive revelation through the imagination. The imagination is the place where all knowledge starts.

Even before anyone knew the world was round, they imagined that it could be round. The rest was proving that it is, in fact, round. Of course, our imaginations can lead us astray. Some people imagined the world was flat, and they were proven wrong. It also takes time (often through a process of debate) for people to imagine new ways of seeing reality that make sense. It's a process we are all involved in, and the process as it develops in history is called tradition. The Bible is the earliest written portion of Christian tradition, but the tradition continues to develop under the guidance of the Holy Spirit working through people!

This is why I remain Catholic, because our faith is not in dead letters, but in a living tradition that we openly admit is in the process of development!

We completely and utterly reject the entire notion of "sola scriptura" (the Bible alone), even as we affirm that the Bible is, indeed, God's inspired word and that all within it is true.

For us, the Bible AND Tradition go hand in hand to lead to the fullness of truth.

In my mind, anyone reading a book written 3,000 years ago expecting to find all the answers to every conceivable question life throws at us today is just wasting their time. Our ancestors did not ask certain questions 3,000 years ago, or 2,000 years ago, or even 100 years ago (i.e. - nobody imagined a "homosexual orientation" as a possibility 100 years ago. Now we can imagine it. So how do we deal with what we imagine today?)

In some matters, we can test our newly imagined conceptions of reality against reality. This is especially apparent in the process of the physical sciences, but it also applies to politics and social sciences and so forth.

In these fields, new truths are being "revealed" through the process of imagining a hypothesis, and testing the hypothesis.

When we're dealing with the afterlife, we can't test our imagination against reality - except by dying, in which case we won't be alive to tell anyone here about it.

Yet, we can test our hypothesis by what is meaningful and beautiful and what speaks to the goodness of God.

This is precisely what you INTEND to do by continually asking me how a good and gracious God could allow hell.

And again, I REPEAT, maybe there is NOBODY actually in hell. All I am saying is that if a good and gracious God does not allow the POSSIBILITY of a hell as I describe it, that God is not really allowing us the ultimate freedom. Therefore, the existence of hell is true because it speaks more eloquently to the goodness of God than its non-existence.

Another way of putting it is to say that god loves each one of us too much to snuff us out (eternal death as you seem to imagine it). In his own goodness, we who were created by him are too good to be annihilated.

With all this in mind, I go to the New Testament not to find the answer to the question. Rather, I find it startling that the answer that makes the most sense today was already imagined 2,000 years ago by the authors of the Gospels recording the words of Christ. If Jesus did not teach the existence of hell, I would be questioning whether he was truly God, because hell, as a possibility, must exist or God is not good.

7. Parable about Lazarus and the rich man is the most frequent quote used by believers in hell. Here's the problems:
a.). Absence of God?
The rich man communicated with the paradise and those living there.

As I said above and as I stated in my article, God is not ONTOLOGICALLY absent in hell. Rather, a sinner, is incapable of feeling God's presence.

What prove are leading you to that conclusion? First you ASSUME that there is a hell and then you ASSUME people in there are incapable of feeling God's presence? Are people capable of feeling God's presence on earth? Are atheists capable of feeling God's presence? I know few atheists who are quite happy, probably more than many christians!

How can an atheist simultaneously claim to feel God's presence and deny his existence? As far as his earthly happiness goes, I don't affirm or deny that he or she is happy. What's that got to do with hell?

The only connection I can see is that we who believe claim ultimate happiness comes from God, but I would not deny that the world is full of smaller pleasures and comforts and that we can live here on earth fairly happy without thinking much or anything about God.

Describing the joy of relationship with God to an atheist is a bit like trying to describe the joy of sex to a child. The child might ask if it's better than chocolate, and I'd say it sure is. Yet, the child can certainly keep enjoying chocolate, and even when he or she discovers sex, the joy of chocolate can continue. Of course atheist can be happy, but I don't see what that has to do with the existence or non-existence of hell.

Furthermore, if is possible (as I have said) that hell exist and is empty, I am not saying atheist are on a straight path to hell. I am merely saying that the condition for the possibility of real freedom is the existence of hell.

The sum of God's presence is life. God CANNOT be present where death is in control (no life), neither can life exist without God's very presence. Where ever God IS, life is there in some form. On earth, he's present in his creation (nature) and our breath (life). How would he manifest himself in hell?

He is as manifest to the people in hell (if there are any) as he is manifest to rocks, which are not capable of perceiving his presence, even though he is present to rocks as much as he is to us.

God's presence in hell is however of subordinate importance when it comes to the rich man's communication with Abraham. The main issue is that they WERE ABLE to communicate!

I can communicate with my wife when we make love, or we could be in an argument over the telephone while I am on a business trip. In one case she is clearly more present to me than other, even though in both cases communication occurs.

b.). Every tear shall be removed and former things forgotten? (Rev) How can it be if those in paradise has to watch their loved ones burn in hell, gnashing with teeth.

This is clearly a promise made to the righteous. There is absolutely nothing in the text to indicate it is meant for all of creation. Indeed, the specific passage in question is Rev 21:4, where every tear is wiped away from the righteous, and verse 8 of the same chapter specifically says the cowards, the unfaithful, the unchaste, sorcerers, idol-worshipers, and deceivers of every sort will receive a burning fire instead of the promise made to the righteous!

Will there be, according to you, any other kind of presence in the new creation apart from the righteous ones? Unrighteous cannot and will not enter the Kingdom of God! The verse of Revelation is obviously referring to all future existence. The first world was destroyed by water, the next will be destroyed by fire. Let us be reasonable, God has to use something in order to destroy the sinners!! In this case it's gonna be fire. There is however no indication whatsoever of any eternal life in torment for these people. Be careful how you read your Bible! Eternal fire is not equal to eternal torment!!! Things thrown into fire are gradually consumed, aren't they!? Wording "eternal fire" is an allegory taken from the valley of Gehenna where fires were burning continually. The garbage thrown inside however got destroyed.

Again, I point to the texts in contexts - both Mark and Revelation considered together as expressions of the faith of the early Church that accepted both into the same canon. We cannot tie it all together without saying that there is eternal punishment because the passage in Mark tells us to interpret Revelation as an eternal torment.

c.). Is there love and compassion in a vile place like Hell? Doesn't love come from God through Holy Spirit?

That is precisely the point of my article. God DOES offer mercy to the damned. They refuse to accept it! That's the definition of blashpemy of the spirit, which is the only unforgivabel sin. A person refuses forgiveness in two ways: 1) Either denying they need it by denying they are in sin, or 2) admitting they are in sin, but failing to believe that God CAN and DOES forgive their sins.

Love cannot exist in a place like hell, because it goes against its very definition, its very nature. If there is life and love, than what the HELL is HELL all about!? It's not much of a death, isn't it? God does offer mercy to the damned here on earth. In the aftermath however your chances are burned out. There is no purgatory, it has pagan origins and is not biblical. Nor will there be any second chance. "Today is the day", said Paul. No promises are given of any afterlife chances or salvation.

It would get off topic to go too deeply into purgatory, but 1 Cor 3:15 seems to clearly point to it, as did your own words. You're backpedalling when your own logic leads you where you don't want to wind up. see Where is Purgatory in the Bible?

The rich man, out of compassion for his loved ones, asked to go back and warn them of this evil place. The rich man gives proof of more love, compassion and unselfishness "outside presence of God" than Lazarus "in the presence of God", interesting, huh?

Baloney. You're reading into the text motives for Lazarus that are not stated at all. Be careful of the habit of "isogesis", which is reading into texts ideas and meanings that are not stated.

What was the reason, according to your understanding, of his eagerness to return from the dead and warn his family and Israel? What was the reason for Lazarus indifference of helping others? Didn't he want to help other people avoid such a hideous place like hell?

I can't judge why the man wanted to return from the dead, and the text does not offer his precise motive as love. Maybe he just wanted to get out of the heat for a bit for all we know. As far as Lazarus' supposed "indifference, where does the text say he was indifferent?

It's not reading ideas into texts, its called interpretation. Interpretation is important in understanding any written word, whether it's Bible or Shakespeare.

It is reading into the text when the story is clearly saying that the rich man was in torment. He was not simply snuffed out!

By the way, the parable has nothing to do with christians or people of the world. It has to do with Jews and the Israel. What did Abraham answer the rich man? They have Moses and the law, if they do not believe it, they won't believe it even if one of the dead would return! The story has to be seen from the historical and circumstantial point of view, not just taken out of context!

I'm not sure what your point is here, but I agree that the context does not support Christian verses the world mentality. If anything, it supports a poor verses rich mentality.

d) Fire?
The word fire is most often used in relation to trials and hardships. Not a physical fire! John the Baptist said, I baptize you with water, but he that comes after me, shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and FIRE. The Bible states we have to be refined in the "fire" in order to prove blameless.

As stated in my article and above, I ACCEPT that the image of fire used in Rev 20:10 and Mark 9:44-48 is metaphoric. As a Catholic, I also believe in purgatory, which is a state where we are "proved" or "purified", but not eternally punished. Nevertheless, the imagery of fire is explicitly stated in the Biblical narrative. To read it as metaphor is to go beyond the literal, and my justification for doing so is precisely what you pointed out: Gehennah was a real place where we know the fire DID go out, so the authors MUST have intended fire as a metaphor, or else there is error in the Bible. Now, the question is whether their use of words like "everlasting" or "unquenchable" were hyperbolic or literal. I presented the case in my article that it makes good theological sense and is a compliment to our freedom to read it literally. You have not presented any reason to believe it is not.

The lake of fire was prepared for Satan, Antichrist and his false prophet! The reference of torment stands in relation to these individuals alone, and not ordinary people.

That's simply not what the text says in the context of the whole of what each author says, and I already gave you the verses.

By the way, any progressive Catholics who doubt the existence of hell, I invite you to consider Rahner's treatment of the subject, which is where I am borrowing my theological principles.


Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Rebecca Starts Another Liberal Blog

I just found this site today, called Journey to Vatican III. I like what I see so far, and you have to love the title. Rebecca is articulate and committed. She looks like another strong voice for liberal Catholicism in blogdom.


Hindu Leader Accuses Pope and Christians of Trying to Undermine India's Cultural Integrity Through Conversions

The good news is that the Church seems to continue to grow throughout the world. Indeed, since the Apostle Thomas is said to have founded ancient churches in India, conversions of Indians to Christianity is nothing new. I think the Gospel can be particularly good news to the lower castes in some quarters of India, and I applaud the Pope and the Indian Church's efforts to combat this racist system.

The bad news is that with conversions to Christianity form other religious systems, there is always a risk of imposing one culture on another in an imperialist fashion that has nothing to do with religious truth. There also exist a danger of denying the truth and value of another religious system. Let us pray that the Church in India receives guidence from the Holy Spirit so that the Christian Church there is salt and light that brings out the best India has to offer.


Washington Post Reports that Hill Negotiators Agree to Bar Patents for Human Organisms

Ironically, when it comes to patent law, Congress seems to have absolutely no qualms about how to define human life forms that includes embryos and fetuses as sytages of human development. Turn the question to abortion, and we seem to have problems.


Tablet Article Speaks of Violence in the Church

I doubt this article will appeal to conservative lay Catholics. Those who have lived in religious life will find echoes in their own experience. Father Camilio Macisse of the Discalced Carmelites speaks of heavy handed tactics by the Vatican to squash ligitimate pluralims and the great gift of the various charisms different of religious orders.

I remember while I was with a Franciscan group, we elected a non-ordained Friar as our General and Vicar to Rome. The Vatican said that they would not permit a brother to tell priests what to do, and we had to present a priest for this role.

Ironically, Saint Francis of Assisi was not ordained when he started the Friars Minor, and he never sought priesthood as part of his calling. Among the Friars, all are brothers, and some brothers happen to be priests.

When one looks at the history of religious orders, often the founder had a different vision than what the order became after Trent. For example, many women's communities founded in the middle ages refused to wear habits and were active communities. They were forced into habits and contemplative communities after Trent, and then renewed their original charism after Vatican II. It seems the conservatives want to force these women back into habits again.

Those who are not familiar with the history of religious orders often mistakenly think that the Pre-Vatican II way of doing things is old. It wasn't. Can anyone seriously imagine Saint Basil wearing a Roman collar and black suit? How about Saint Ignatius Loyola?

Liberals won the day at Vatican II preceisely because history was on their side. How long is it going to take for Vatican II to be fully implemented? Vatican II was not a departure from our tradition. It was an invitation to stop reacting to the Protestants and return to our original traditions. The Church was once more democratic, and more open to diversity and pluralism. This is what made us "Catholic" and set us apart from the sects. We were in the process of renewing this after Vatican II, and now our tradition is under attack again.


On Union With God

The latest article I have posted to my homepage explores the great mystery that God dwells substantially within each of us and transforms our very nature such that we are made partakers in the divine nature.

While the article quotes many authoritative texts to mek the point, my ultimate aim is to demonstrate why women can act in persona Christi and why minority voices in the Church must be heard with humility, openess, and love.


Monday, November 24, 2003

On liberal and conservative labels:

At Flos Carmeli's, a comment was made by Disputations that he did not like the fact that I labeled him a "moderate conservative" on my homepage. I told him that I would change the description on my homepage, which I have done.

Yet, I do not think that anyone would contest the idea that Tom is to the right of me. Evidence for such a distinction is our differences in opinion over the use of inclusive language and women priests, the meaning of the cross and resurrection, our different views on political theology and the role of psychology in the spiritual life. In each case, Tom is more to the right than I am.

Yet, Tom is correct that sometimes labels are not very helpful.

An old theology professor from my graduate school days in theology emailed me to determine if I was the same person he had taught some time ago. I confirmed that I was, and he stated that he would place himself to the left of me on some of my thoughts. This is true, and I say this holding the highest regard for this professor, whom I consider a sort of mentor!

I had dinner with an old friend of mine who is wrapping up his PhD in Sacred Scripture just a week ago. He is teaching undergraduates in a Catholic university, and he expressed some of his frustration that his students seem to consider Raymond Brown and John Meier to be "liberal" Biblical scholars. Raymond Brown was on The Pontifical Biblical Commission while he was alive, and is considered by most people in the scholarly community to be somewhat right of center.

I worship at a more progressive multi-cultural parish and sing in the choir with a recent convert to Catholicism. Just last night, I was eating dinner with this man who occassionally travels abroad. He mentioned that while he was traveling abroad, he was in a place where EWTN was one of only three telivision channels he could receive. As he watched EWTN for the first time, he saw a side of Catholicsm that was completely foreign to him compared to our parish. His comment was, "Wow. Catholicism is a much bigger tent than I imagined if it includes those people" [referring to Mother Angelica as "those people"].

Our current Pope has probably traveled more than any other Pope since Saint Peter. I am always amazed by the diversity in the images of the Masses where he is presiding. I recall images of half naked tribesmen in Papua New Guinea dancing in honor of a papal visit, and wonder how the same Pope can be behind implying that liturgical dance in the United States needs to be limited.

I occassionally receive emails from liberals and progressives who wish me to post articles or thoughts by people far more radical than I am. While I appreciate the thoughts of these more liberal theologians, my goal out here in blogdom is to help those who are further right than I am to see that those who are further left than I am are not simply lunatics. It's a challenge, and I have to take things step by step - occassionally pointing out to liberals that they may be going too far too fast and/or departing from the sense of the faithful. At the same time, I am always pointing out to the conservatives that our own internal authoritative sources allow more room for diversity and pluralism of worship and opinion than the average conservative tends to want to admit.

Being Catholic, as I've indicated in some of my articles, does not mean that we are all of the exact same mind. It means that we are members of a family, and family members disagree. We are bound by love, not ideology. When we lose sight of this, we lose sight of what it really means to be Catholic.


Saturday, November 22, 2003


Todd at Catholic Sensibilities rightly raises the question whether the Bride of Christ metaphor helps us understand the exclusion of women from ministerial priesthood. Here were my comments in the discussion:

I once was in a debate on a threaded web forum with a Catholic grad student in theology who was strongly appealing to this bridegroom metaphor. Another conservative actually opposed him with these words:

"I think you have mistaken the menu for the meal."

The bride and bridegroom imagery actually points to union: two become one. If you carefully examine all the uses of this metaphor in the New Testament, they point not a distinction between Christ and the Church, but the union of the members in the body of Christ. Indeed, the metaphor of the Body of Christ is used far more frequently, and the bridal imagery is always contextualized in the metaphor of the Body.

The more fundamental metaphor for the Church is the Body of Christ, perfectly symbolized in the Eucharist, where we become what we receive.

And herein lies the problem with using the bridal imagery to exclude women from ordination: if a woman cannot act as another Christ, she cannot be a member of the Body of Christ. If she cannot be a member of the Body of Christ, she should not receive communion. If she should not receive communion because she cannot be another Christ, she should not be baptized, because baptism conforms one to Christ. If a woman cannot be baptized, she cannot be saved.

To go back to the beginning, if a woman cannot be another Christ due to ontology, which means essence, nature, or substance, what is being said is that she is as different from the nature of Christ as a dog is a different nature from Christ.

On the other hand, if she is saved by virtue of the fact that Christ shares her nature by virtue of his human nature, then any human nature can image him or be an icon of him. Thus, women can be saved because, unlike a dog, they are human!

And if any human nature can icon Christ (which must be true in order for any human nature to receive baptism), then any human nature can serve as a ministerial priest if called to it by God.

Thus, pushing the bridal imagery too far into a literal direction leads to absurd conclusions.

Another absurd conclusion that can be drawn from overliteralization of this metaphor is that a male cannot belong to the laity, because otherwise the the male ministerial priest would be married to the male member of the common priesthood. Thus, we'd have a homosexual marriage, and there's no such thing according to the conservatives.

Then there is the whole issue that if the bridal imagery is meant literally, shouldn't all priest be married men?

I see the marriage metaphor in the New Testament as pointing to a love relationship between God and humanity that leads to union. In the Bible, two opposites become "one flesh" in marriage. In Christ's marriage to the Church, God and sinner become one, and we are made partakers of the divine nature. The marriage metaphor does not sharpen distinctions. It obliterates them!

Thus, in Christ, all distinctions between people that create inequity are dissolved. There is no longer a distinction between male and female (Gal 3:28).

The whole argument against women priest based on this literal use of a marriage metaphor seems to lead to conclusions nobody would accept. Appeal to this metaphor to exclude women from ministerial priesthood appears to many progressives as the proverbial "grabbing at straws".

A better argument would be to simply say, "I don't know why they can't be ordained. It's a mystery, and I accept it based on the authority of the current Pontiff."

The reason nobody wants to use this argument is that it seems to imply the teaching can change if another Pope disagrees - and progressives say "Of course it can". This is the thought that the conservative wishes to change in the progressive, but appeal to the Bride of Christ metaphor simply is not going to change our minds, since it appears to lead to absurdisms. If the conservatives are right, there's got to be a better argument.


Friday, November 21, 2003

A Case for Christian Vegetarianism

I practice vegetarianism myself for reasons similar to those made by the priest in this sight.

At the same time, I must confess that while vegetarianism is a great way to exercise compassion for all God's creation, as the author suggest, I am wearing a leather belt and leather shoes. I am well aware of the contradiction, and make no claim to be consistent or perfect in this matter.

Though the author presents a Scriptural argument, rightly pointing out that the Bible claims people were vegetarians prior to Noah, Saint Paul tells us that the reign of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink (Rom 14:17) and Mark's Christ tells us that it is not what goes into a person that makes the person unclean, but what comes out (Mk 7:15).

According to Paul, I'd be weak in faith - a scrupulous person. In context, Paul was speaking about people who refused to eat meat offered to idols, and Mark's Christ is talking about eating non-kosher food. Yet, it is clear that the New Testament does not emphasize special dietary regulations as the primary principle of Christianity.

I think the argument for vegetarianism as an expression of Christian compassion adds a dimension that the two Biblical authors were not addressing. I don't think of vegetarianism as a binding discipline. Rather, like fasting, I think of it as an optional ascetic discipline.

The discipline expresses something of Christian values for those who wish to live in a greater consciousness of compassion for all living creatures, including humanity and the unborn. It can also be considered a type of penance for those who really love meat, and it's a healthy diet.



These are not John Allen's favorite candidates, but the ten he thinks most likely to be the next Pope whether he likes them or not:

• Francis Arinze (Nigeria, 71), prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship
• Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Argentina, 66), archbishop of Buenos Aires
• Godfried Danneels (Belgium, 70), archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels
• Ivan Dias (India, 67), archbishop of Mumbai (Bombay)
• Claudio Hummes (Brazil, 69), archbishop of Sao Paolo
• Walter Kasper (Germany, 70), president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity
• Norberto Rivera Carrera (México, 61): archbishop of México City
• Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga (Honduras, 60): archbishop of Tegucigalpa
• Christoph Schonborn (Austria, 58), archbishop of Vienna
• Dionigi Tettamanzi (Italy, 69), archbishop of Milan


Thursday, November 20, 2003


Well, so far, the two comments I have received on the post immediately below this one regarding the incomprehensibility of the Church's current teaching on contraception agree with me: the teaching makes no sense.

Does this mean that those of us who cannot understand this teaching are devoid of morals?

I think not. I reflected some more on this, and wish to try to attempt to articulate and defend what I think the average married U.S. Catholic really thinks is moral sexuality. I am attempting to describe what I believe is the actual "sense of the faithful" on this issue. Of course, it's a risky venture to try to speak for millions of Catholics, so I invite feedback and critique.

Simply put, I think most of us agree that children are a blessing from God, and we believe that marriage should be open to children. Yet, the Vatican acknowledges that there are legitimate reasons to seek to space children apart or limit the number of children, and we agree with this - it is confirmed in our average experience that sex is not always about making babies.

Thus, both the Vatican and the rest of us acknowledge that not every single sexual act must have procreation as its intent. The Vatican accepts natural family planning or abstinence as legitimate means to achive this end, and the rest of us accept not only natural family planning and abstinence, but barrier methods or non-abortificient drugs. We feel a pill made from the stuff of the earth is no more "artificial" than taking aspirin for headache, and no more "unnatural" than daily temperature measurement and daily vaginal mucus examination.

Yet, the bottom line is that not every single sexual act between married partners needs to intend procreation. On this, the laity and the Vatican agree.

But if a sexual act that does not intend procreation is legitimate, why is it legitimate? How is it that such acts are not simply the selfish pursuit of pleasure - treating others as a means rather than an end, as John Paul II warns against in his personalist philosophy?

The answer lies in the fact that the Church acknowledges that sexual acts not only serve the human good of procreation, but they can also be an expression of self-donation: a sacramental gesture expressing the unitive dimension of committed love.

Thus, the moral principle that drives progressive understandings of human sexuality to a consistent view is that the unitive dimesion of self-donation in committed love is the primary meaning of human sexuality, and openess to procreation applies to the relationship between two people, rather than individual sexual acts.

"Making love" is the act of offering the whole self to another symbolically. The act inherently says to another, "I love you", where love is a decisive act of the will to remain committed in partnership and friendship and even a mystical union forever. The act is a mutual self offering between two persons that images our union with God.

With this view in mind, natural family planning and some other forms of contraception are morally permissible in a marriage relationship. Likewise, gay domestic parnterships may meet the criteria, since homosexuals may be expressing the same unitive dimension of sexuality.

Yet, fornication (pre-marital sex) is wrong because it lacks commitment. Adultery is wrong because if you gave yourself in total self-docation to your spouse, your body no longer belongs solely to you to give to another. Pedophilia is wrong, because a child is incapable of a committment of total self-donation, which by its nature is a permanent commitment. It is not the child who sins, but the adult who takes advantage of the child's immaturity for selfish reasons. Bestiality is wrong because an animal cannot enter into committed love with a human being. Pornaography is wrong because it does not involve self donation between two people, but is an act of self-gratification falling short of the inherent meaning of human sexuality.

In other words, most traditional sexuality is still maintained with the progressive view of human sexuality. We can claim a continuity with our past and uphold a Sacred Tradition that was expressed most clearly in the Vatican II decrees that address marriage. The unitive dimension of sexuality explains the good in our Catholic Tradition that conservatives really wish to preserve.

If the unitive dimension of human sexuality is not the basis of Catholic sexual morality, there is nothing else in the Church's teaching that explains why it is permissible to use natural family planning, or why infertile couples can licitly engage in married sex, or why our senior parents can still make love after menopause.

Thus, whether the Vatican has officially and infallibly defined it or not, I would maintain that the Church's own teachings on a unitive dimension of married love are the infallible portion of Catholic sexual morality. The attempt to simply hold to old formulas for fear of change simply confuses and obfuscates the real truth.


Wednesday, November 19, 2003

NCR Asks Why the Bishops Choose to Spend Energy on Contraception Ban

This article raised an interesting question in my mind. Here is just a section of the article:

To ignore it [the bishops effort to reaffirm the ban on contraception], however, would be to overlook what this latest initiative symbolizes -- a reversion to a discredited teaching, insistence on perpetuating a theology of sex and marriage that has little relationship to the lived experience of millions of married Catholics, and yet another hollow assertion of authority from a leadership that has yet to face up to the deep and disturbing institutional problems that beset the church in the United States.
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, outgoing chairman of the bishops' pro-life committee, reportedly dismissed a question about Catholics’ rejection of the teaching: "The church's teaching on charity is ignored by virtually all of us also. The church teaches a lot of things we don't practice."
That's a witty sound bite, but it's also way off base. Catholics may not perfectly practice the teachings on charity -- humans being humans, after all -- and that might amount to ignoring them at times, but the archbishop would be hard put, we believe, to find Catholics who reject outright the teachings on charity the way they have the teachings on contraception.
That very last sentence says it all. It is one thing to say I am trying to practice a teaching and I fall on occassion. It's another thing to say that the teaching makes no sense.

I know Bishop Charlie Chaput personally, and have debated women's ordination with him face-to-face in private, as well as sending him an emailed version of my petition to the Holy Father for women's ordination. I like him as a person, but I disagree with what he is saying here.

Occassionally I get mad at my wife and speak harshly, and I feel bad about this. Sometimes, I feel I spend too much time on the internet to the detriment of other wholesome activities and relationships, and I struggle to maintain balance. I want to show greater care for my co-workers. In a word, though my charity is not perfect, I believe in the Church's teaching on charity.

On the other hand, with the Church's teaching on contraception, I actually follow it perfectly since the day I married, but I don't understand it at all. I cannot see how it is any more sinful to use a condom than to practice natural family planning. Both intend to prevent conception. Done properly, both achieve the desired intent. Both use aspects of God's creation to acheive the desired outcome.

My wife and I wish to conceive, so we use neither NFP nor contraception, and we have no desire at this point in our lives to ever try to limit the number of children we have. We both come from large Catholic families, we both love children, and we would both be satisfied to live simply in order to support a larger family.

But the Church acknowledges that not everyone is called to have large families. Humanae Vitae and subsequent teaching acknowledges that it is not wrong for Catholics to desire to space children, or even limit the number of offspring.

If the intent to space and limit children is not morally wrong, and if sexual activity is permissible where there is no intent to concieve (such as with NFP), then why are condoms or certain pills wrong?

The difference here is that with charity, I accept the ideal (and I would argue it may be impossible to find a Catholic who doesn't accept the ideal of charity), even though I have trouble living the ideal.

With the Church teaching on contraception, I find obedience easy, but I simply cannot understand what the Pope and Bishops are saying. It literally makes no sense. It appears that I am being asked to believe the irrational.

This is not even like belief in the Trinity, which goes beyond reason, but is not internally inconsistent. On the other hand, the Church's articulation of the teaching on contraception (and women's ordination) is internally inconsistent as it is currently stated.

As I ponder, I have come to believe that what the Church really should be saying is that children are a blessing from the Lord. Children should not generally be thought of as a disease to be prevented by pills or removed by surgury.

As one who is trying to have children with no success so far, I say to all parents, be grateful for the blessings you have.

The trouble is that while my line of reasoning here may shed some light on the Church's ban, it does not explain why natural family planning is permissible. If one should not think of children as a burden or disease - something to be prevented -- one should not be taking daily temperatures and examining mucus to avoid pregnancy either! Talk about unnatural!

But back to the original point....what the bishops are not paying attention to is that there is a difference between failing to live our ideals, and outright disagreement about what the ideal really is in the first place.

Conservatives will argue that the bishops have been invested with the authority by Christ to set the bar on what is to be considered the ideal.

Yet, an assertion made with authority does not make people believe. If the Pope declared in an Apostolic Letter or Encyclical that the moon is made of blue cheese, or 2+2 = 5, I'd say baloney and go about my life remaining in the Church in good conscience. I think most conservatives would as well.

Unless the Pope did declare such nonsense with ex cathedra authority through an Apostolic Constitution addressed to all of us with the full weight of his office and a clear intent to define such things as matter sof morals, most Catholics would not seriously consider that the moon is made of blue cheese or that 2+2=5. If such an ex cathedra statement were made, it would result in a crisis of faith for may of us.

The Chruch's teaching on contraception and natural family planning, as well as the teachings on women's ordination strike many Catholics as rational equivalents of saying the moon is made of blue cheese or 2+2=5. These are teachings that simply don't match our experience of reality or simply don't add up.

Progressives respond to conservatives on the authority issue that the teaching authority of the Church acts as definers and spokespersons for what Christ reveals through the whole Church - the sense of the faithful as we all reflect on Scripture and Sacrament in history and community.

The bishops should not simply ignore the fact that even though they have repeatedly asserted the teaching, the sense of the faithful seems completely and utterly unable to understand or accept it - not out of simple willful disobedience, or sinful falling, but out of genuine inability to comprehend at all what they are trying to say.


Quiz Time

Can you tell which of these statements were said about same sex marriage, and which refer to interacial heterosexual marriage.

Being in an interacial heterosexual marriage myself, I was quite surprised by the results.


Lot's of Debate on Inclusive Language at Disputations

There's an interesting debate going on at Disputations about the use of inclusive language. The comments boxes are a little too short for me to comment in depth. If anyone wants to help Todd and me out, feel free to chime in with your two cents.


Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Scalia Accuses High Court Peers of Ignoring Limits to Affirmative Action

Thank God that Scalia did not get his way on this one. How conservatives can deny that racism exist in this nation and does not need to be rectified is completely beyond me.


Massachusetts Court States it is Wrong to Ban Gay Marriage

The Massachusetts courts rules the following:

Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support; it brings stability to our society. For those who choose to marry, and for their children, marriage provides an abundance of legal, financial, and social benefits. In return it imposes weighty legal, financial, and social obligations. The question before us is whether, consistent with the Massachusetts Constitution, the Commonwealth may deny the protections, benefits, and obligations conferred by civil marriage to two individuals of the same sex who wish to marry. We conclude that it may not. The Massachusetts Constitution affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals. It forbids the creation of second-class citizens. In reaching our conclusion we have given full deference to the arguments made by the Commonwealth. But it has failed to identify any constitutionally adequate reason for denying civil marriage to same-sex couples.
Conservatives need to demonstrate why this is not a valid legal argument about a civil matter of human rights.

From the viewpoint of Catholic theology, the Church considers marriage something that the state cannot determine: a sacrament instituted by God, meaning it is an outward sign of God's grace.

Even if we allow a civil marriage between members of the same sex, is such a union a sacramental marriage?

Once again, I post my Thoughts on Homosexuality where I argue theologically that the Church can bless a gay union!



Ask your Senators to support S. 1700, the Advance Justice Through DNA Technology Act of 2003. Ask them to act on these bills before Congress adjourns. (Congress is expected to adjourn on November 21.)

BACKGROUND: DNA testing has already exonerated more than a dozen people who were on death row and helped identify the real criminals. However, DNA testing is only part of the story. Since 1973, 111 people have been sentenced to death and then subsequently found innocent mostly because of mistakes made by prosecutors, false eye witness testimony and incompetent defense counsel. The best way to ensure fair and accurate trials is to make sure the lawyers are qualified, experienced, and have the tools they need to do the job.

On Wednesday, November 5, the United States House of Representatives passed H.R. 3214, the Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology Act of 2003, which will authorize funding for DNA testing to help prove the innocence of some death row inmates. The legislation garnered broad bipartisan support, 357 to 67, and will now move to the Senate where it is still waiting to be scheduled for floor debate.

S.1700 and H.R.3214 will ensure that federal inmates have access to post conviction DNA testing; authorizing $755 million over the next five years, to reduce the backlog of DNA samples sitting untested in our nation's crime laboratories; authorizes up to $500 million over the next five years for grants to the states to improve the prosecution of capital cases and to build systems in which defendants have access to competent legal representation. The aid is structured so that states that request prosecution improvement grants must also develop a system to train defense lawyers who accept capital cases.

The President and many prosecutors support this bill because it will give greater access to DNA testing and improve the legal representation in capital cases.

CHURCH POSITION: See the attached letter from Cardinal McCarrick to Senator Patrick Leahy thanking him for his work on this issue.

October 21, 2003

The Honorable Patrick Leahy
Ranking Member
United States Senate Judiciary Committee
152 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Leahy:

On behalf of the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, I want to express our appreciation for your leadership and hard work on S. 1700, Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology Act of 2003, which includes the Innocence Protection Act (IPA). We are pleased to hear that your efforts, along with those of Chairman Hatch, Chairman Sensenbrenner, Ranking Member Conyers and other congressional leaders have helped to craft this truly bipartisan package of criminal justice reforms. This legislation will help reduce the risk of innocent persons being executed by encouraging and enabling states to provide indigent defendants in capital cases with competent counsel and ensuring that inmates who have been wrongfully convicted have access to evidence that could establish their innocence.

As you know, the bishops of the United States oppose the use of the death penalty. Catholic teaching on capital punishment is clear: If a bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person (Catechism of the Catholic Church). We support this bill because it brings together both opponents and supporters of capital punishment in a common effort to safeguard defendants from wrongful conviction and prevent lethal mistakes in death penalty cases at both the federal and state level. Nothing illustrates the need for such protection more than the number of death row inmates who have been exonerated, some within days or hours of being put to death. We also welcome this important effort because it focuses our nation's attention on the serious problems with the use of the death penalty.

Again, Senator Leahy, thank you for your longstanding commitment to addressing this important challenge. With every good wish, I am

Faithfully yours,

Theodore Cardinal McCarrick
Archbishop of Washington
Chair, Domestic Policy Committee
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops


America Letter on Worship Space

This article was emailed to me by a reader:

I was pleased to see a corrective to Cardinal Francis Arinze’s speech on Oct. 8 in San Antonio (Signs of the Times, 10/27) in the Rev. Richard S. Vosko’s article, "Building and Renovating Places of Worship" (11/3). Perhaps the timing of this article is only a coincidence, but I did appreciate it.
In my 40-plus years as a priest, I have never gotten the impression that worship spaces encouraged us to emphasize (ogle) one another. Over the years I have celebrated with hundreds of diverse communities. I never got the impression these persons came to look at one another during the liturgy. Did Cardinal Arinze suggest in his San Antonio address that the only suitable worship space is one that makes awareness of another difficult?
The more I read about the "theological" reasons for the priest's back to the people and hear arguments for re-installing barriers of separation between the priest who presides at the liturgy and the faithful who are the body of Christ, the less respect I have for such reasons. They seem to me to obfuscate rather than explain. They are similar to "Jesus was never married, ergo."
Over the years I have recognized a lack of education concerning the real presence. In proportion to our Catholic people as a whole, however, this lack is not a major crisis. It simply calls for better education. This responsibility rests squarely on the pastor's shoulders. Such education, however, should not suggest that Jesus must be protected, or that he needs our sympathy. He hardly needs protection or our reassurance. Our Lord wants intimacy with the one lost sheep as well as the other 99.
Gerald Paul, M.S.C.
Aurora, Ill.
Thanks for the thoughts....


Monday, November 17, 2003

My Response to a Charge of Violating the Ad Tuendam Fidem

This is a bit dense and technical for those who hate legalistic wrangling in canon law. I wrote it several accusations from conservatives that a Motu Propio issued by John Paul II implies that anyone who questions Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is either automatically excommunicated, or excommunicated after being warned by another lay-person.

This is not true. The language and intent of the law clearly leave the power to excommunicate in the hands of the bishops alone, and no act of questioning doctrine automatically excommunicates someone.

The reader who most recently tried to imply this in a comment to an essay on my homepage withdrew his comments. However, there have been many lay-people calling themselves conservatives who mis-use this text to grossly and inaccurately imply everyone they disagree with is excommunicated.

This article is now being posted to my homepage.


Holy Father Speaks Strongly Against Racism

The Holy Father was quoted as saying:

Discrimination based on race, color, creed, sex or ethnic origin must be rejected as totally incompatible with human dignity.
The statement was made to a group of Indian bishops in an ad limina visit to the Vatican. The Holy Father strongly criticized the cast system in India, and commended the bishops for their part and the part of the local Catholic Church in trying to irradicate racism in India. Regarding the caste system, the Holy Father stated:
Any semblance of a cast-based prejudice in relations between Christians is a countersign to authentic human solidarity.
Solidarity has been a constant theme of the Pontiff's social justice teaching, and the concept is now included in The Catechism of the Catholic Church, particularly in paragraphs 1939 to 1942.


NCR's Publisher, Tom Fox, Speaks of Supporting Gay and Lesbian Catholics

In Today's Take in the National Catholic Reporter, publisher, Tom Fox states that his wife and he have recently joined Dignity, USA, which is a leading organization formed by and for lesbian and gay Catholics. Included in Mr. Fox's essay is an interview with Dignity founder, Pat McArron.


Saturday, November 15, 2003


I am a huge fan of Amazon, and like to go sit and drink coffee and browse at the local Borders. It's time to make sacrifices. The workers are not being paid or treated justly, and their union will not be heard by management. Stop buying from these bookstores until the union is heard!



I hate to actively promote a consumerist mentality on this web log. However, let's face it: Someone is paying for our ability to blog and/or read blogs.

If you've never done so, take a second to look at the advertisement banner on the top of the page. Of course, don't buy anything that Blogger accidently posts that would cause you to violate your conscience. Yet, who knows, you might find something you were seeking anyway! I've noticed that there are even ads for Bibles and rosaries, religious communities, and all sorts of good stuff.


Lies that tell the Truth

This article was sent to me by a friend who enjoys debating theology with conservatives. The actual title is Lies, Truths, and the Person in the Pew: The Role of Myth in Modern Society, by Mark Stieger in 1996.

I hope my friend and Mr. Stieger do not mind if I critique this a bit.

I don't really like the implication that myths are lies, but it's a catchy way to grab our attention. I think of myth as creative narrative that expresses universal human truths.

The author of the article looks at some other definitions by Bultman, Eliad, Campbell and Tillich. Each adds different nuance than I do. This part of the article causes me no heartburn.

The author speaks of four classes of people: those who have never believed in myth, those who take myth literally, those believed in myth and reject it, and those who are remythylogozized. This latter category are those who stopped taking myth literally, but still find the narrative meaningful.

I wish there was another category in the article, because I don't neatly fit in anywhere in his schema. For example, I do not think of the resurrection event as a myth. By the resurrection event, I am refering to an event that occurs behind the formation of the texts. The narrative itself is in the literary class of myth, but there is something behind the narrative that is not a lie, and is more than truth in the sense of having human meaning, like poetry.

There is history behind the language used to describe the transcendent experience of the Risen One...but Jesus of Nazareth is truly risen from the dead. For me, it is the language that is mythic, but not the reality conveyed through the symbols of words. The reality is nothing less than true. Resurrection is not a lie!

To be clear as mud, the Gospels are not historical accounts, and I have no interest debating an atheist about the apparent contradicitions in the text. The literary devices used to in the Gospels are clearly "myth" in the literary sense.

Yet, I am not at all prepared to say that the story is simply a symbol of transformation that is equal to the story of the Phoenix. The Phoenix is truth in the sense of conveying the possibility of transformation and renewed life. Yet, the Phoenix is a "lie" in the sense of having no history behind the story: it is pure symbol. The resurrection of Jesus is the reality to which the story of the Phoenix ultimately points.

The language of the Gospels employs the literary vehicle of mythic language because there is no other way to talk seriously about the reality of what I experience when I go to Mass and encounter the Risen One!

Yet, there is a sense in which the literalists are correct to conceive of Jesus as physically risen, even if the body still lies in the tomb today.

If Jesus of Nazareth, the real Jesus that lived in history around the beginning of the first century, is not alive today, the resurrection is not a myth worthy of my attention, and neither is the Phoenix. Because God joined the human condition, died on a cross, and rose from the dead, I am able to understand the ultimate deep meaning of all other mythic language, such as the Phoenix. Pre-Christian myth pointed forward to what would happen in Christ. Now we can look back at the center of human history to find the meaning of our own lives.

I believe that there is a one-to-one correspondence between the Christ I know personally, and the Christ that Saint Mary Magdalene and Saint Peter encountered sometime shortly after the crucifixion. Perhaps they too never saw him with their eyes, or perhaps they did, but they encountered him in a way that assured them beyond doubt that He is Risen, and He is!!!

I believe we can and should make a distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. I think it is worthwhile to consider how the experience of the disciples of the first century was the same or different than my own experience of the Risen One. I accept that it is probably more the same as mine than many conservatives accept. Yet, conservatives are right to say this is more than a mere fable.

Distinction does not necessitate separation. The Jesus who lived in the first century and the Christ of faith are one and the same in the sense that there is continuity between them. It is the same "being" we speak of when we speak of each, though we are looking at this one being from different angles and different points of time in his existence.

Indeed, I'll add another distinction from John Meier: we need to distinguish between the Jesus of history and the real Jesus. Just as many people may feel like they know me from reading my blog even though they never met me, we know the Jesus of history through texts and historical analysis differently than we know him in an actual encounter with him. The Blessed Mother knows Jesus in a way I never really will, and Jesus knows himself in a way none of us will every know him!

The author also makes a very serious mistake indicating that he did not do enough homework.

Jesus was not immaculately conceived!

Mary was immaculately conceived. The doctrine of the immaculate conception refers to the sinlessness of Mary from the moment of her conception, and not the virgin birth. The virgin birth is a separate doctrine. This alone will prevent any conservative Catholic from taking the article seriously, because it is such a gross error to a Catholic well versed in traditional doctrine.

The discussion of Polanyi's theory of knowledge was interesting, and I believe Rahner may have been communicating something similar about knowledge of God through his supernatural existential. I'm not sure though, since I am not extensively familiar with Polanyi's work. Perhpas Polanyi differs slightly from Rahner in the notion of grasping intuitive knowledge from a master, where Rahner claimed we are born with the capacity for transcendant experience.

Despite my critique, this is an interesting article. It is thought provoking and well worth taking a few moments to read. Enjoy!


Zogby Poll Indicates Lay Catholic Trends

The poll indicates that an overwhelming majority approaching near unanimity of Catholics think that a priest known to sexually abuse children should be removed permanently from priestly ministry.

I agree if the allegations are proven beyond doubt, and involve prepubescent minors that a priest should not be permitted to act publicly as a priest.

In the case of post-pubescent minors, I am not sure that such absolute rules should apply in every possible case.

I think there is a difference if a priest who has served well and lived perfect chastity for 20 years, but had an indiscretion when he was an immature newly ordained priest at the minimum 25 years old, and the indiscretion occurred with a mature 17 year old girl who seemed to consent as much as such a minor is capable of psychological consent.

This case should be treated differently than many other cases, since it is a one time falling, and all priests are human beings who will sin in one way or another. Absolute rules do not account for every conceivable particular.

Granted, such an indiscretion is immoral and even illegal, but mercy and compassion tell me there is a difference between this case and a pedophile or even a heterosexual serial adult sexual abuser.

I have also read of cases where parishes have welcomed priests known to abuse teen-age boys, so long as the entire parish knows of the prior misconduct. In these cases, the parishioners were willing to help the abuser live a reformed life.

Perhaps what is needed is not an absolute rule of zero tolerance. Instead, what I would like to see is a real commitment on the part of the bishops to act with transparency and accountability to others. Perhaps what is needed is that we see a real and demonstrated commitment by the bishops to involve laity in the decision making process, including victims, law officials, counselors, and others.

On a different question, a simple majority do not believe that homosexuality in the priesthood causes pedophilia. I agree with this assessment, and find it sad that the consensus is not a higher percentage of Catholic.

The Washington Post reports on the poll differently emphasizing exactly the principles of transparency and greater involvement of the laity in decision making. These are the key issues in my mind. The Post also reports that the bishops have such a low approval rating that they could lose an election if their office were an elected position.


Friday, November 14, 2003

Principles for USCCB Investments

This document by the USCCB issued two days ago addresses how the bishops make investment decisions in the stewardship of the Church's financial resources. There are some guiding principles for all investors here, and I number and summarize them more briefly and in a different format than the document itself:

1. The bishops encourage either divestment or withholding investment in companies that cause harm.

2. The bishops encourage active corporate participation by investors in shaping corporate policy and practice.

The bishops state that following such guidelines has not lead them to fail to see a good return on investment with Church funds. They refuse to invest in companies according to the following guidelines:

A. Absolute exclusion of investment form any company whose activities include direct participation in support for abortion.

B. The bishops will not invest in any company who derive a majority of revenue form the manufacture of contraceptives.

C. The bishops will not invest in any company that engage in embryonic stem cell research, fetal tissue research derived from embryos, or human cloning.

D. The bishops will work to actively support the corporate promotion of human rights.

E. The bishops will divest from companies that demonstrate a historical trend of racial discrimination.

F. The bishops will divest from companies that actively promote policies of gender discrimination.

G. The bishops will invest in companies that participate in programs to make life-sustaining drugs or reduced cost for such drugs.

H. The bishops will not invest in companies that derive a majority of revenue from the manufacture or sale of pornography. Where a minority of revenue is derived from such ventures, the bishops will actively work to promote family oriented program content.

I. The bishops will avoid investment in companies and firms primarily engaged in military weapons production or weapons inconsistent with church teaching on war.

J. The bishops will not invest in companies that are directly involved in the manufacture of land-mines.

K. The bishops will promote and support shareholder resolutions directed towards avoiding the use of sweatshops in the manufacture of goods.

L. The bishops will not deposit funds in a financial institution that receives lass than a "satisfactory" rating form federal regulatory agencies under the Community Reinvestment Act: This is part of supporting affordable housing and banking.

M. The bishops will actively promote and support shareholder resolutions which encourage corporations to protect the environment.

N. The bishops will encourage companies to report on social, environmental, and financial performance according to the highest standards of ethical and moral accountability.


Archbishop John Foley says TV makes us stupid

OK. He did not really say TV makes us stupid. What he said is this:

Media executives object [to using media educationally] because media education can and should make people critical, and I sometimes think that some media executives prefer couch potatoes – those who watch entertainment and perhaps news programming without a critical eye – and then buy most of the things that are advertised.
Sometimes, I think I watch too much stupid TV (i.e. - I confess to being a fan of The Bachelor - and Bob's a dog, I think he should have picked Mary, and I'm rooting for Estella now). I think it helps me unwind sometimes to watch stuff that is completely idiotic. I can't read theology and news all day, and while I enjoy good fiction novels too, sometimes I just don't feel like reading.

The Archbishop is right though. Media executives do seem to cater to the lowest common denominator, and it is sad how many people seem to avoid any critical thinking. Listen to kids sometimes. They think something is true just 'cause they saw it on TV. It's even sadder when adults think this.


Pope Supports What Many U.S. Lay Conservative Catholics Call Touchy Feely Psychobabble

At the Vatican's recent conference on psychological depression, the Holy Father was quoted at EWTN stating the following:

People who take care of the depressed "must help them to rediscover their self-esteem, confidence in their own capability, interest in the future, desire to live. Therefore, it is important to help the sick, to make them feel God’s tenderness, to integrate them into a community of faith and a life in which they feel loved, understood, supported, dignified, that is to love and to be loved." On the spiritual path, he added, reading and meditating on the psalms is of great help, as well as praying the rosary, participating in the Eucharist, a "source of interior peace."
Is the Pope becoming a liberal?

Combine this with statements on the war in Iraq and the death penalty, and the Holy Father appears to be a great big softie. Maybe liberals and progressives aren't all wrong if the Pope supports us on so much of the language and views we champion..., and maybe we aren't heretics if the conservatives feel they can pick and chose what they will assent to in "cafeteria Catholic" style.


Thursday, November 13, 2003

NCR Editorial Reminds us of Just War Statements Made 20 Years Ago

Writing for The National Catholic Reporter, Joe Feuerherd wrote in yesterdays editorial entitled War and Peace that the U.S. Bishops and a papal representative to the United Nations had clearly defined just war theory as precluding pre-emptive and unilateral uses of force 20 years ago.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Ireland made the following statements on November 10, 1983 to the U.N.:

"For the Holy See, any state or group of states which turns unilaterally to the use of force would be acting outside international legitimacy."
The editorial continues:
Absent U.N. authority, said Fr. Bryan Hehir -- who as director of the bishops' Office of Social Development and World Peace in the 1980s was a chief architect of the bishops' peace pastoral -- the United States risks becoming "the prosecuting attorney, the jury, the judge and the sheriff."
I made similar arguments against the war on the internet as early as October 21, 2002 at the Catholic Community Forum prior to being suspended. This was a good discussion, and I encourage those with time on their hands to take a look.

I also wrote these thoughts to my legislators. Both my senators used some of the same arguments to oppose the war. My congressional representative voted for the war, and I and others in my district voted him out and replaced him in November with a peace candidate. I reposted my thoughts on my home page after the war under the title Was the War in Iraq a Just War?

Conservatives sometimes seem to think that people opposed to the war are simply anti-Bush. What they fail to understand is that just war theory has been around long before Bush, and the war with Iraq did not even come close to meeting the criteria for just war.

Ironically, the more savvy conservative, like Mike Novak (alluded to in the article by NCR) are actually arguing that just war doctrine must be changed to meet new circumstances.

Isn't it ironic that conservatives argue for an actual change in doctrine when self-interest is at stake?


USCCB Issues Statement on Popular Devotions

It's a pretty decent document outlining why we Catholics have so many popular devotions, and clarifying there place within the life of the Church.

The document highlights the importance of Scripture and the relation to popular devotion by stating:

As the Bible stands at the core of what God has revealed to the Church, sound popular devotions should naturally be strongly imbued with biblical themes, language, and imagery.
The document also emphasizes that Eucharist and the liturgical life of the Church is primary:
Since the liturgy is the center of the life of the Church, popular devotions should never be portrayed as equal to the liturgy, nor can they adequately substitute for the liturgy.
The bishops provide encouragement for such popular practices as the Rosary, litanies, novenas and devotions to the saints. They offer suggestions on how to make devotions Scripture centered and how to use devotions to foster greater participation in the liturgy and Eucharist. At the same time, they offer caution to avoid certain tendencies of using devotions to form sects or become involved in superstition. There is even an appendix on indulgences.