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Separating human-made law from natural law

July 11, 2013

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There's a reason behind every law--even ones governing ducks on the head. Not all laws have reason on their side, however. Photo/keepon. Licensed under Creative Commons.

There’s a reason behind every law–even ones governing ducks on the head. Not all laws have reason on their side, however. Photo/keepon. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Cross the Minnesota border with a duck on your head and you may face legal consequences. Tap your foot to the music in a New Hampshire tavern and you’ve violated the law. Throw pickle juice at a Rhode Island trolley (if you can find one) and you could receive a citation.

These old laws must have made sense when they were enacted but now we just wonder what legislators were thinking.

Those studying our laws 100 years from now might also scratch their heads at some of our statutes—and they may already feel the effect of some of our human-enacted laws that diverge from God’s natural law.

All human-made statutory laws are considered positive law. What exactly is positive law? What’s the difference between positive law and natural law? Do they have anything to do with each other? And what happens if positive law doesn’t align with natural law?

The term “positive law” was first used by the philosopher Thomas Hobbes in his 1651 work “Leviathan:”

Positive, are those which have not been for Eternity; but have been made Lawes by the Will of those that have had the Soveraign Power over others; and are either written, or made known to men, by some other argument of the Will of their Legislator.

Positive law also refers to the establishment of specific rights for an individual or group.

According to one legal definition:

Positive laws may be promulgated, passed, adopted, or otherwise “posited” by an official or entity vested with authority by the government to prescribe the rules and regulations for a particular community. In the United States, positive laws come in a variety of forms at both the state and federal levels, including legislative enactments, judicial orders, executive decrees, and administrative regulations. In short, a positive law is any express written command of the government.

Positive law can also be divine. Canon law and other Church laws are humanly instituted but inspired by God’s revelation. Natural law, on the other hand, refers to God’s laws governing the nature of things. Positive divine law can’t contradict natural law, instead it confirms and further defines it.

Separable or inseparable from our nature?

Natural law is proclaimed to us by the natural light of reason and is inseparable from our nature, whereas positive law is made known by outward signs—word of mouth or writing and is not inseparable from our nature.

Natural law is the foundation and root of the obligation of all positive laws. We can’t violate the natural moral law and the positive laws that are rooted in it without opposing God’s will.

Human-enacted positive laws can be amended or rescinded. Natural law, however, comes from the unchanging God and can’t be revised or avoided. When a positive law violates natural law, as sure as the former is temporal and the latter is immutable, there will be consequences.

A law governing pickle juice and trolleys doesn’t challenge the natural law, although maybe someone was spared inconvenience or even injury because of it.

Defying natural laws

But positive laws that disregard natural law are still subject to it, much the way someone who exercises a legal right to “fly” from a 15-story building will quickly become acquainted with the more established law of gravity.

In the case of some of our newer laws, especially those dealing with sexual morality, it just might take a little longer to hit the ground.

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In defense of Christian music

March 5, 2013

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Photo/hoyasmeg. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Is Christian music really Christian? Is it even any good?  Photo/hoyasmeg. Licensed under Creative Commons.

I had a discussion with a music student once about whether there was such a thing as an “African sound” — popular music with an identifiable sound produced in a number of African countries. This person had studied different forms of indigenous African music and argued that it would be impossible to pick out one “sound” for the continent.

A visit to the iTunes Store reveals how many “sounds” or musical genres are out there—African pop music falls under “World.” Christian music also has its own category along with hip-hop, classical and heavy metal.

Do we need a Christian category?

Does Christian music have its own “sound”? Isn’t all music somehow inspired? Don’t we serve God by writing about life without having to say Jesus’s name all the time? Do we risk ghetto-izing Christian music by creating this category? Isn’t the Christian category just a place for musicians who aren’t good enough for the real musical world?

The blogger at Bad Catholic Read or Die raised these questions in their recent post, Five Reasons to Kill Christian Music. While I think they’re right to say that some Christian music isn’t that great, I’d like to argue in favor of keeping the Christian category.

First of all, I assume the criticism was directed at contemporary Christian music and not the work of masters such as St. Thomas Aquinas, Mozart, Palestrina or King David of the Old Testament, all of whom wrote overtly God-centered music.

The biggest defense I would give for any self-identified Christian music is that it points us toward God and helps us become better Christians.

What we listen to matters

St. Paul gives us an idea of what music is best for our souls: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil. 4:8)

This doesn’t mean we should only listen to songs eligible for a Dove award but it does seem to exclude music that focuses on hook ups, break ups or anything else that draws us away from God. Of course there are quality artists writing morally meaningful songs on secular radio but often you have to sit through a lot of junk before you find something beneficial.

Music is a reflection of what’s in the heart of the musician. It can be beautiful but sometimes it’s not so good morally. In his 1999 Letter to Artists, Bl. John Paul II draws a distinction between an artist’s moral and artistic self:

“It is one thing for human beings to be the authors of their own acts, with responsibility for their moral value; it is another to be an artist, able, that is, to respond to the demands of art and faithfully to accept art’s specific dictates. This is what makes the artist capable of producing objects, but it says nothing as yet of his moral character.”

Can’t  get regular air time?

Why is there a separate category for Christian music? Not because all the Christian musicians decided to go off into a corner to sing only to the “saved.” It’s because the secular world doesn’t have much tolerance for messages about God unless they’re critical or derogatory.

If you love someone, you want to talk about them. That’s why people write songs about God. Expressing their faith is real life for Christian artists. If we did away with the Christian category, musicians would have to write codes into their songs to express their faith. Maybe some are already doing that. Living under persecution, the early Christians communicated with codes; I hope it doesn’t come to that again.

It seems to me, the biggest reason the blogger thinks Christian music should be scrapped is that they think it’s bad. They apparently believe Christian musicians copy their “successful” secular counterparts to create insipid, formulaic songs about angelic praise, clouds and how “Jesus saves.” Some of it is like that but I would challenge anyone who thinks this to listen to Christian radio for more than five minutes and check out artists such as Matt Maher and For King and Country.

According to Bl. John Paul II, the Church does need music that explicitly expresses the faith:

“How many sacred works have been composed through the centuries by people deeply imbued with the sense of the mystery! The faith of countless believers has been nourished by melodies flowing from the hearts of other believers, either introduced into the liturgy or used as an aid to dignified worship. In song, faith is experienced as vibrant joy, love, and confident expectation of the saving intervention of God.”

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Christ, His Church and the teaching on Infallibility

February 25, 2013

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The pope is infallible only when he speaks on doctrine of faith and morals. Photo/Jess Pac    Licensed under Creative Commons.

The pope’s proclamations on doctrine of faith and morals are infallible, the Church teaches. Photo/Jess Pac. Licensed under Creative Commons.

I know it’s been quite a while since my last post. I wish I could say I’ve been taking a break from the blog to study in Rome this winter. Someday, maybe …

I recently heard a radio news announcer almost deify the Holy Father when he asked whether Pope Benedict would “continue to be infallible” in his retirement. Even after another journalist tried to clarify the teaching on papal infallibility, the program host persisted in his error.

With such confusion around us, I thought it might be good to look at what the Church really teaches on infallibility.

Popes themselves are not infallible

First of all, popes themselves are not infallible, which means to be exempt or immune from liability to error. Most have been holy men but also bearers of original sin like the rest of us. The Church teaches that only papal proclamations connected to doctrinal authority are considered infallible.

According to the Catechism, “The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful – who confirms his brethren in the faith – he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals …” (CCC891)

Since infallibility comes with the office, any statements Pope Benedict makes after he retires will not be considered infallible. Though history tells us some popes led less than exemplary lives, none of them compromised the Church’s Magisterium (teaching authority).

We hear a lot about papal infallibility but in reality, Catholics believe Christ granted this attribute not just to St. Peter and his successors but to His Church. He desires the unity of faith. Belief in the Church’s infallibility in defining faith and morals is Church dogma established at the first Vatican Council (1869-1870). Many Church fathers also wrote in support of the Church’s infallibility.

Evidence in Scripture

The concept of infallibility is not found explicitly in a particular scripture verse but the following passages, together with explanation from Catholic Encyclopedia, offer evidence that the Lord intended it.

  •  Matthew 28:18-20; The Church believes Christ gave the Apostles teaching authority, not just for themselves but to pass on to their successors.
  • Matthew 16:18; “The gates of hell will not prevail” against the Church, which implies the assurance of infallibility in the exercise of her teaching office.
  • John 14, 15, and 16; Jesus promises the Holy Spirit’s presence and assistance to His Church; the Spirit of truth is responsible for the veracity of Church teaching.
  • I Timothy 3:14-15; St. Paul states that the Church is the “pillar and foundation” of truth.
  • Acts 15:28 The authority of the Holy Spirit in Church teaching.

Since papal infallibility was defined at Vatican I, it has only been used directly once, to define the doctrine of the Assumption in 1950. Bl. John Paul II used it indirectly to declare in a 1994 apostolic letter that the Church  doesn’t have authority to ordain women. The following year the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared that teaching belongs to the deposit of faith — the body of saving truth entrusted by Christ to the Apostles to be preserved and proclaimed.

Besides the pope himself, the college of bishops also speaks infallibly when exercising the Church’s Magisterium.

Drawing from Vatican II documents the Catechism states:  “ … The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter’s successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium, above all in an Ecumenical Council. When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine ‘for belief as being divinely revealed,’ and as the teaching of Christ the definitions ‘must be adhered to with the obedience of faith.’ This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself.” (CCC891)

The Holy Spirit’s 2,000-year guidance of the Catholic Church is evidence of the infallibility of her Magisterium. Not that it hasn’t been rocky sometimes. Still, it’s why I have confidence that the new pope will continue the tradition of teaching authoritatively — and infallibly — on faith and morals.

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Notes from the Cliff: 2012 highlights to help you forget the fiscal uncertainty

December 31, 2012

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Photo/LindsayT   Licensed under Creative Commons

Photo/LindsayT.  Licensed under Creative Commons

As we move into 2013, I wonder if we should rename the “Fiscal Cliff” the “Cliffs of Insanity” as in The Princess Bride. If you saw the movie, the characters mostly climbed up those cliffs, rather than crashing onto the rocks below. When they got to the top things were fine for a while–except for the kidnappers. Regardless of what the government does or doesn’t do, hopefully things will turn out OK.

2012 had enough insanity but through it all, Faith and Reasons tried to offer a rational response–with the help of priests and theologians who generously offered their expertise and reviewed the posts.

I’ve put together some of this blog’s highlights from the year, trying to keep each of them at about tweet-length. They’re in order of appearance; if you want to read more, click on “older posts.”

May God bless you in the New Year and keep you away from the cliff.

Grace vs. Karma: Grace is God’s free gift of help offered when we need it while karma is payback for good or bad actions in this or a past life.

Conscience is our “secret core and sanctuary” where God has inscribed a law calling us to love and do what is good, and avoid evil.

Satan isn’t responsible for all evil–we contribute some through our wrong choices–but he brings intelligent direction to evil tendencies and forces.

Natural Law: a human instinct given by God, which when understood through right reason, calls for using things in accord with their nature.

Confession:  The sacrament is valid if we’re truly sorry for our sins, confess grave sins or some venial sins, and perform the penance the confessor gives.

Ordaining will vs. permissive will: God’s ordaining will is His holy plan. His permissive will is what He allows through our free will, the laws of Nature and the actions of angels and demons.

Complementarity in marriage:  Man and woman are “two reciprocally completing ways of being a body.” In marriage they enrich and give each other the positive influence of the opposite sex.

Fruitfulness  in marriage:  Because fruitfulness is at the core of love, a husband and wife’s sexual union creatively overflows beyond itself, physically or spiritually.

Marriage and Society: The interest of the Church and society in protecting the biological family “cell” is for the well-being of children and the entire nation.

Church and State: The Church’s position on social questions comes from our moral conscience; she addresses them with a view to promote the common good.

Truth, beauty and goodness are the chief attributes of God. The more we seek them, the more godly we become.

The Other Immaculate Conception: Our Lady shares the name “Immaculate Conception” with her spiritual spouse, the Holy Spirit, who lives in her and makes her fruitful.

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The journey to Bethlehem from the carpenter’s perspective

December 24, 2012

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KABUL, Afghanistan - International Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and civilians celebrated Christmas Eve with a non-denominational candlelight service, Christmas carols. Photo/isafmedia.  Licensed under Creative Commons.

International Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and civilians celebrated Christmas Eve in Kabul, Afghanistan, with a non-denominational candlelight service and Christmas carols. Photo/isafmedia. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Joseph’s wooden staff left a trail of small, evenly spaced circles in the dusty road. So many miles they’d traveled on the road to Bethlehem. Though he was a strong man accustomed to hard work, Joseph could feel the long days of travel in his back and feet. He glanced at his wife riding on the plodding donkey and saw that she was near exhaustion.

“Not far now,” he said softly. Mary smiled and gently caressed her abdomen.

“Oh Lord, lead us the place where this baby is to be born,” Joseph prayed silently.

The sun would soon set, and the trees and rocks cast shadows across the deserted road. Finally, they could see the outskirts of Bethlehem. When they reached the first small houses, Joseph stopped a woman carrying a jar of water and asked for a drink for Mary. The woman smiled kindly.

“Have you come for the census?”  she inquired.

“Yes,” Joseph replied. “Do you know of an inn nearby where my wife could rest?”

“It’s nearly your time, isn’t it dear?” the woman asked kindly.

Mary nodded.

“I fear most of the inns around here are full,” she said. But you might try Jacob’s. He’s got a nice big place. Follow this road until you reach a small grove of cedars. Go to the right and you will find it.”

Joseph thanked the woman and led the donkey down the road.

As daylight faded, they reached the place the woman had told them about. Warm light and the smell of dinner beckoned from the windows. Before Joseph could knock, a neat, rather portly man opened the broad wooden door.

“Yes?” the innkeeper asked.

“Sir, I wondered if you might have a room for the night,” Joseph asked with fatigue in his voice.

Cradling his chin in his left hand, the innkeeper studied the tired travelers. Joseph’s cloak was worn, and the donkey thin and bedraggled. Mary looked as if she were ready to give birth at any moment.

“I could take them in out of charity,” he thought, “because they certainly can’t pay enough. But I don’t want to deal with childbirth tonight.”

“Yes, well, I would like to offer you a room,” the innkeeper said to Joseph. “I have one left and the price is two denarii.”

Joseph’s face fell. “Sir, we can’t afford that. Please, my wife must rest.”

The innkeeper hesitated, and then crossed his arms. “I’m sorry, I have expenses.”

“Thank you,” Joseph said patiently as he turned to leave. After a bit, Mary said to him: “Don’t worry, Joseph. That wasn’t the place for us. When I close my eyes, I can sense a simple and peaceful spot where He will be born.”

As they continued into the city they came to another inn, more modest than the last.  A group of travelers waited at the door.

“Are there any rooms here?” Joseph asked one of them.

In an agitated voice the man replied, “The innkeeper has one room left and he wants to get his price. I’ve got my wife and two girls, and I don’t know where we’ll go if we don’t get it.”

Before Joseph could get the innkeeper’s attention,  another couple put a bag of coins in the man’s hand.

“Please sir—” he started.

The innkeeper eyed Joseph with irritation. “You people come for the census and expect to be treated like royalty. You may be of royal David’s line, but you’re no better than anyone else. I have no more rooms, so you’ll have to keep looking.”

“Sir, I just want to know if you could recommend another inn. My wife is—“

“Continue on this road to the edge of the city,” the innkeeper snapped, “and you will find another place. Good luck and good riddance.” He turned and entered the inn, slamming the door behind him.

Joseph sighed and wondered how much longer Mary could travel before they would have to stop … somewhere. Dejected, he told her the bad news. Mary touched his arm and said, “God will provide, Joseph, and He will not be one minute late.”

He marveled at her faith as he coaxed the donkey onto the road. Mary was so young, barely reaching his shoulder, yet there was a grace and maturity about her. And she was to give birth to the Holy One of Israel—with his help.  Joseph didn’t fully understand how this could be happening to him.

They passed through the darkening city and into the surrounding hills. At last they came to the place the other innkeeper had mentioned. Located at the base of a large hill, this inn was small and poor. Mary shifted her weight on the donkey, in obvious discomfort. “Our King will arrive soon, Joseph. Won’t it be wonderful to see Him?”

“Yes, yes it will,” Joseph said, the worry lines on his face giving way to a gentle smile. Joseph knocked on the door and a tall, thin man answered. He looked at Joseph and Mary on the donkey and said in a tired voice, “I’m sorry but we don’t have room for you tonight.”

Then the man’s wife came to the door and said, “David, look, she’s going to have a baby. Couldn’t we find a place for them?”

The innkeeper thought for a moment and said, “You could stay in our stable. It would be warm and dry, and I just filled it with fresh hay. It’s humble, but it would be peaceful.”

Joseph thought indignantly, “So it’s come to this. What kind of provider brings his wife and child to stay in a stable? What must she think of me…?” He glanced tentatively at Mary.

She calmly asked the innkeepers: “Are there many animals in your stable?

“Ma’am, an ox, a donkey, a ewe and her lamb, along with the dog and cat. But don’t worry. They’re all as gentle as can be.”

Mary turned to Joseph and said, “This is the place, I am quite sure. Our King has chosen a humble birth.”

The innkeeper led them to a cave where they could feel the animals’ warm breath. The innkeeper helped Joseph make a fire and a bed for Mary. He promised to bring water, clean cloths and food.

After the innkeeper left, Joseph looked around at how God had provided for them. Then kneeling on the hard ground, he said a silent prayer of thanks.

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Ready for Christmas? How about for Jesus’ coming this Sunday?

December 17, 2012

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As we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ coming at Christmas, it’s good to remember His coming in every Eucharist. Photo/khrawlings. Licensed under Creative Commons.

As the holiday storm hits me again, I’ve been wondering if I spend more time getting ready for Christmas than I do all year preparing for Jesus’ coming at each Eucharist.

I’m afraid Christmas probably wins.

We know Advent is about preparing to celebrate Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem on Christmas. And in the pre-Advent readings we’ve reflected on His coming again at the end of time.  But the Church also reminds us that the Lord is coming today and tomorrow and next Sunday at Mass.

Thinking about Jesus the baby born in a stable surrounded by angels or Jesus the king coming on a cloud to save us is more exciting than reflecting on Jesus as we’re most used to seeing Him: in the form of a humble piece of bread.

For “so great and so holy a moment”

The Catechism tells us that in order to respond to Christ’s invitation to the Eucharist “we must prepare ourselves for so great and so holy a moment.” (CCC1385)  The Church requires preparation for receiving the Lord and there are a number of other ways we can make ourselves ready both before and during Mass.

The most basic preparation for communion is living the Christian life well. In the early Church, St. Justin wrote about the Eucharist, “… no one may take part in it unless he believes that what we teach is true, has received baptism for the forgiveness of sins and new birth, and lives in keeping with what Christ taught.” (CCC1355)

The sacrament of Reconciliation is necessary preparation for communion for anyone who is conscious of having committed grave or mortal sin. Regular confession is also good preparation in general for the Eucharist because it “strengthens us against temptation and sin and helps us cultivate a life of virtue,” the U.S. Bishops state in their 2006 document, “Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper:” On Preparing to Receive Christ Worthily in the Eucharist.”

Fasting from food and drink (except water) for one hour before receiving the Eucharist is another requirement. Canon law states that the elderly, the sick and their caregivers do not have to observe this fast.

Preparing every day and right before Communion

The Bishops offer guidelines for preparing for the Eucharist before coming to Mass, as well as right before receiving the sacrament.

In daily life we can prepare by:

  • Reading scripture and spending time in prayer;
  • Being faithful to our state in life; and
  • Seeking forgiveness daily for our sins and going regularly to confession.

When we arrive at Mass we should:

  • Be dressed modestly in respect for the dignity of the liturgy and one another;
  • Spend time in silence and prayerful recollection or read the Mass readings;
  • Participate actively in the liturgy; and
  • Approach “the altar with reverence, love, and awe as part of the Eucharistic procession of the faithful.”

Jesus made the Apostles aware of the “simplicity and solemnity” of the Eucharist when He told them to prepare carefully the “large upper room” for the Last Supper, Bl. John Paul II wrote in an encyclical on the Eucharist.

Preparation is thinking of the Lord and making “fervent acts of faith, hope, love and contrition,” according to EWTN television. It’s also important to approach the sacrament each time as devoutly and fervently as if it were our only communion.

I’m sure Christmas wouldn’t be the same this year if we knew it was our last one. How differently would Jesus’ coming in the Eucharist this Sunday be if we considered it the same way?

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The Other Immaculate Conception

December 8, 2012

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Virgin Mary by Carlo Dolci Photo/JonDissed Licensed under Creative Commons

Why did Our Lady call herself the Immaculate Conception when she appeared to St. Bernadette in Lourdes more than 150 years ago? If she’d called herself the Mother of God or Holy Virgin, the French authorities might not have given St. Bernadette such a hard time.

It turns out that Immaculate Conception is the Blessed Mother’s married name.

No, that doesn’t mean St. Joseph is Mr. Immaculate Conception. According to St. Maximilian Kolbe, “Immaculate Conception” is the name Mary shares with her spiritual spouse, the Holy Spirit. Since she’s a creature and He is God what brings them together so intimately that they share a name?  As St. Maximilian writes, it has to do with their unique relationship and the Divine fruit of their union: Jesus.

Preparation for her vocation

What exactly is the Immaculate Conception? In the Blessed Mother’s case it means that from the beginning of her existence God willed that she would be free of original sin and filled with sanctifying grace. The Church teaches that He gave her this special grace to prepare her to be the mother of Christ. As the Catechism states,

“…In order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God’s grace.” (CCC490)

I learned about this recently while reading Fr. Michael Gaitley’s 33 Days to Morning Glory, a preparation for Marian consecration. (It’s a great book that presents Marian consecration from the point of view of not only St. Maximilian but also St. Louis de Montfort, Bl. Mother Teresa and Bl. John Paul II.)

A human being, Mary was conceived. But obviously the Holy Spirit wasn’t. So what makes Him the Immaculate Conception? Father Gaitley explains St. Maximilian’s thought that the Holy Spirit is the uncreated Immaculate Conception because He is the Life and Love that springs from the love of the Father and the Son.1

In Dwight P. Campbell’s Catholic Culture article, he quotes St. Maximilian as saying that the Holy Spirit is “the flowering of the love of the Father and the Son. If the fruit of created love is a created conception, then the fruit of divine Love, that prototype of all created love, is necessarily a divine ‘conception.’” This Love is the model for all the conceptions that multiply life throughout the whole universe.

The Holy Spirit makes Mary fruitful

Clearly, fruitfulness is part of this. Where does Mary fit into this? Because the Holy Spirit is fruitful He produces divine life in her in the womb of her soul which makes her his spouse, the Immaculate Conception, St. Maximilian writes.2

“In a much more precise, more interior, more essential manner, the Holy Spirit lives in the soul of the Immaculata, in the depths of her very being. He makes her fruitful, from the very first instant of her existence, all during her life, and for all eternity.”3

Because of the grace of her Immaculate Conception, Mary is totally receptive to God’s love, Campbell states. She receives that love at the Annunciation and “in cooperation with the Holy Spirit makes that love fruitful — infinitely so — in conceiving the Incarnate Word.”

The fruit of the uncreated Immaculate Conception and the created Immaculate Conception is Jesus! St. Maximilian said it makes sense that as a married couple and as parents, the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Mother would share the same name.

“…If among human beings the wife takes the name of her husband because she belongs to him, is one with him, becomes equal to him and is, with him, the source of new life, with how much greater reason should the name of the Holy Spirit, who is the divine Immaculate Conception, be used as the name of her in whom he lives as uncreated Love, the principle of life in the whole supernatural order of grace?”4


Endnotes

1 33 Days to Morning Glory, Fr. Michael Gaitley (Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception of the B.V.M, 2011), p. 52.
2 Ibid., p. 54.
3 Ibid., pp. 53-54.
4 Ibid. p. 54.

 

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Why and How to Pray for Deceased Loved Ones

November 1, 2012

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Photo/libertygrace0. Licensed under Creative Commons

A close friend’s unexpected death last year was devastating for me. As her casket was lowered into the ground on a spring afternoon, I felt she was gone forever.

She’s not gone though. Since her death I’ve frequently sensed her presence—in memories, through other people and most of all in prayer.

Praying for her soul is a natural continuation of our friendship because we prayed for each other when she was alive.

The Church teaches that believers remain connected—whether they’re in heaven, on earth or in purgatory, and that it is beneficial to pray for those who have died but are not canonized saints. Since this week we celebrate All Souls Day, here is a little background on the Nov. 2 feast day, some reasons to pray for your loved ones and prayers you can use, including the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

Praying for the Dead in the Early Church

Early Christians remembered and prayed for the dead, and the practice has continued since then. Different dioceses began adopting a formal feast day in the 11thcentury.

According to the Catechism, most of us who don’t merit hell yet still need purification before we can enter heaven will pass through a state the Church calls purgatory when we die. (CCC1030)  With our prayers we can help their loved ones’ souls move from purgatory to heaven.

There are several scriptural bases for praying for the dead. One of them is found in the second book of Maccabees, one of a series of books in Catholic bibles that the Church recognizes as the apocrypha. In the story of a military commander who offers prayers and sacrifice for his dead soldiers (2 Macc. 12:38-45), it is clear that the living can help the dead: “for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death.” (2 Macc. 12:44)

In Romans 8:37-39, St. Paul echoed this idea when he wrote that nothing can separate us, “neither life nor death” from the love of God.

The Divine Mercy and the Poor Souls

There are many ways to help your deceased loved ones. One way is by praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet for them. A chaplet is a series of prayers that can be prayed on rosary or other beads. This chaplet doesn’t just benefit the living and the dying. According to Dr. Robert Stackpole the chaplet’s power is based on the Passion of Christ by which He merited every saving and sanctifying grace for the world and on the prayer offered with sincere trust in the Divine Mercy.

How to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

Other chaplets for the Poor Souls in Purgatory:

The De Profundis is the penitential Psalm 130 (in some bibles Psalm 129) which is prayed as part of evening prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours and also in commemorations of the dead. Each time you pray the De Profundis, you can receive a partial indulgence for yourself (the remission of a portion of punishment for sin).

More Ways to Pray

During November, there are more opportunities to help the Poor Souls by gaining indulgences that are only applicable to them.

  • Visit a Cemetery: obtain a partial indulgence by praying at a cemetery during November or a plenary indulgence for visiting a cemetery each day between Nov. 1 and Nov. 8.
  • Visit a Church or Public Oratory on Nov. 2: obtain a plenary indulgence after devoutly reciting the Our Father and the Creed.
  • Pray the Eternal Rest (Requiem aeternam): Obtain a partial indulgence year round, when reciting Requiem aeternam dona ei (eis), Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei (eis). Requiescat (-ant) in pace Amen. In English: Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them May they and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
  • Finally, here is an extensive list of prayers.
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God is found where these three elements meet

October 26, 2012

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Only in beauty is truth good, and goodness true. Photo/Temari 09 Licensed under Creative Commons

Truth, Goodness and Beauty.

If this were the title of an HBO miniseries I’m not sure it would be a hit. I wonder if many people would watch more than one episode of a show without crime, sex, lying or death.

Unfortunately, living in this Culture of Death we’re not attuned to fully recognize and appreciate truth, goodness and beauty, which are among the chief attributes of God. In fact, God can be found where these three qualities meet.

Called “God’s three great prophets in the human soul” by philosopher  Peter Kreeft, truth, goodness and beauty go way back in history to Judaism, Christian and Greek philosophy and pagan myth-makers. Dr. Kreeft writes:

 Beauty is known by the imagination; goodness, by conscience; and truth, by reason (in the large, ancient sense of wisdom, not just cleverness; understanding, not just calculation; reason, not just reasoning).

Closer to God

The more we seek truth, goodness and beauty in the Lord, the godlier we become. All that’s true, beautiful and good will grow if it is conformed to God, Pope Leo XIII wrote.

The three attributes have a lot to do with each other, as the Catechism points out:

 The practice of goodness is accompanied by spontaneous spiritual joy and moral beauty. Likewise, truth carries with it the joy and splendor of spiritual beauty. Truth is beautiful in itself. (CCC2500)

According to speaker and author Christopher West, beauty can lead us to goodness and truth:

 As Pope Benedict XVI says, when we allow beauty to pierce our hearts, it awakens in us our deepest desires, our desire for the Infinite.  Beauty has the ability to seize our hearts and transform us from within.

That’s what West had in mind when he and others began developing Fill These Hearts: God, Sex and the Universal Longing, a performance revealing–through the beauty of art–truth and goodness about human sexuality as found in Bl. Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

Revealing Theology of the Body through Beauty

West, indie-folk band Mike Mangione and the Union and sand artist David Leiberg are bringing Fill These Hearts in spoken word, music and art to the University of St. Thomas’s O’Shaunessy Education Center auditorium in St. Paul, Minn., this Saturday night, Oct. 27.

The idea for the event, which is more theater than lecture, came out of Pope John Paul’s Letter to Artists and a desire to make Theology of the Body themes “contemplatively present in color, shape, and sound.” It is produced by the Cor Project, a team dedicated to sharing TOB.

Art can open us to beauty, which can “seize our hearts and transform us from within,” West said. “That’s our hope for this event in a nutshell, to lead people along the way of beauty.”

Beauty, truth and goodness are essentially Love in its full cosmic and personal meaning–which is the Glory of God, according to theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar.  Only in beauty is truth good, and goodness true, he writes.

If you’re looking for something true, good and beautiful this Saturday night, HBO probably isn’t your best bet—there’s a boxing match on. But you’ll find in the unique sensory experience of  Fill These Hearts, the Lord in His truth, goodness and beauty.

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Paul Ryan, Hugo Chavez and the Church’s view on right-sizing government

October 11, 2012

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Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Photo/www_ukberri_net.

Recently re-elected for a fourth term, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez ran his campaign the way he runs the country: from the top down. He seldom met would-be supporters in Venezuelan cities and towns; instead he filled all the country’s TV channels, which he controls, with his own campaign propaganda. To be fair, he has had health issues.

In a freer country, citizens on his campaign trail might have complained that governmental control over basically everything was resulting in the nation’s slow disintegration through problems such as widespread shortages, increasing violence and rolling blackouts.

But he won anyway, which I think indicates that Venezuela isn’t a “freer country.”

Though Chavez was once an altar boy, his manner of running his country shows that he is not now practicing an important principle of Catholic social teaching called “subsidiarity.”

On the other hand, U.S. Rep. and Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan says he does try to follow the principle in his role in Congress, though some have criticized his methods. So what exactly is subsidiarity? Derived from the Latin word subsidium, which means “support, help or assistance,” the Catechism describes it as:

 A community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good. (CCC1883)

Essentially, we and the organizations closest to us, acting according to our dignity and responsibility, should be able to meet many of our community’s needs better than a huge national government that tries to cover everything. Under subsidiarity there is a positive role for national government–it should support community and local government efforts.  However, unchecked it could overextend itself and harm the family and economic system.

For subsidiarity to work, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church offers a list of requirements: respect for individuals and families; appreciation for local organizations whose work can’t be duplicated; encouragement of private initiative that enables social entities to serve the common good; pluralism and safeguarding of human rights; bureaucratic and administrative decentralization; a balance between public and private sectors and ways to encourage citizens to be more responsible politically and socially.

That’s quite a list and yet the Church has advanced this principle since the 19th century. A lot of popes have had something to say about it along the way. Pope Pius XI wrote:

 Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do.

If a family in need can’t find help from their friends, neighbors or community organizations, they can seek it from the government but it would be a “great and pernicious error” for civil government to have intimate control over the family, wrote Pope Leo XIII.

Likewise the State and other agencies of public law shouldn’t seek control beyond the clear limits of what the common good requires, wrote Bl. Pope John XXXIII.  “Otherwise,” he wrote, “private ownership could be reduced beyond measure, or, even worse, completely destroyed.”

The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism, according to the Catechism, “It sets limits for state intervention. It aims at harmonizing the relationships between individuals and societies.” (CCC1885)

Subsidiarity recognizes private initiative and how it benefits the public, as well as personal responsibility, Bl. Pope John Paul II wrote.

It calls for citizens to find solidarity with others by serving them, which is part of their dignity.  Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “Subsidiarity respects personal dignity by recognizing in the person a subject who is always capable of giving something to others.”

Another reason subsidiarity is a good idea is because, as Venezuelans know, the government just can’t do everything well. According to Pope Pius XI: “The State has been overwhelmed and crushed by almost infinite tasks and duties.”

For as much as has been written about subsidiarity, to Paul Ryan’s defense and in hope for Mr. Chavez, there isn’t a manual on how to implement it.

People of good will, including Catholics who are trying to follow Catholic social teaching, may sometimes disagree on legislation or a course of government action, according to Christopher Kaczor writing on the CatholicCulture website.

 

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