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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

If They Won't Tell You

Longtime ESPN journalist and personality John Saunders is dead at the age of 61. He was good. Really good. He always seemed to be having a good time, and to be legitimately joyful. Appearances can always deceive, I suppose.

In fact, I have to assume it was a suicide. If it were anything else, they'd say it, even if they had to say "apparent" first, pending an investigation. It may not have been. But when it is, we need to stop saying "passed away." A person who commits suicide doesn't "pass away". They violently took their own life. Whatever else we say about mental illness, and mitigating factors (especially as Catholics), we need to not surrender to a cultural tendency not to face the ugliness of this, and other things. 

To take another example, an artist who dies from a drug addiction is not "gone too soon." In one sense, yes. Middle age or younger is not the ordinary time to die. But we should expect to die, if we are doing things that cause death. It's not a misfortune; it's a choice. And we really should stop behaving as though a self-destructive person has contracted a rare disease out of the blue.

Which is not to say we shouldn't be sad, or that we can't appreciate the life they led, and be thankful. It is to say that the truth is the truth, and better to face it than to run from it. And we can certainly pray for the repose of John's soul, as we often do as Catholics.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Why Catholic? Further Thoughts

It seems to me that the real implied meaning of Newman's "To be deep in history..." statement is that there is theological significance to the visible ecclesial continuity of which the facts of history give ample testimony. A Protestant position is exactly the opposite: there is no theological significance to any visible ecclesial continuity, whether real or perceived.

As appealing as that Protestant position may be on certain occasions, reflection surely indicates that if visible ecclesial continuity has no theological significance, then the exercise of authority to maintain orthodoxy in faith and morals ultimately is a fruitless undertaking, even in those Protestant communities. It is the revenge of a bad principle, applied consistently. "If I submit only when I agree, the one to whom I submit is me." In other words, there is no golden mean for the principle of individual interpretation; it will destroy the supposed authority of Willow Creek Community Church as truly as it did to Catholic Europe in the 16th century.

It's the frank recognition of that truth that leads to the binary choice between the Catholic Church or atheism. So intermingled is the witness of Christian history with the alleged authority of the Catholic Church that we must in all honesty consider if that authority is divine.

It's of course possible to believe that a great apostasy overtook the Christian people soon after the death of the last apostle, but in the martyrs we are forced to consider that the ones in error are in fact us.

For Christ and His Vicar did they die, not some nebulous concept. When the heathen took the head of Pope Fabian, they knew exactly whom they were attacking. He was not simply one among many; he was in some sense the head of the Church.

There is no reason to profess anything that has no conceivable claim to be true. If the biblical story is the story of God's faithfulness to His people in spite of their unfaithfulness, then the unfolding story of that faithfulness in the New Covenant must be the Catholic Church. The God who sent His only Son for us does not, and could not, hide His gospel after the coming of Christ for more than 1500 years. The New Covenant is about splendor, not beleaguered remnants. Daniel 2 says nothing about secrets. It's pretty clear who and what that Rock is. We may suffer, but it seems that the Church has been suffering in plain sight all this time. Just like her Lord.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Why Catholic?

I got asked this today. I like this question, but I like it even more when cradle Catholics ask me. Why am I Catholic? Because it's true.
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Readers of this blog, however, tend to be Christians, so they don't need to have the concept of divinely revealed truth explained. They do want to know how it can be known that the Catholic Church is the Church, and therefore, why refraining from joining it is a grave sin.

To be as brief as I can, it is not reasonable to believe that the commonalities between various Christian communities--not their differences, mind you--can be explained without reference to the Catholic Church. Understand that differences are easy to explain. A guy says one thing, or a community says one thing, and someone else disagrees. Disagrees passionately enough to start over. It's happened often enough, the details aren't that important. But dogma is an important thing. Most of the time you see this word, it's someone mocking someone else's slavish adherence to some belief or ideology. But its meaning in theology isn't as loaded. A dogma is a statement or formulation of supernaturally revealed truth that would not otherwise be known, but for the fact that God has revealed it. The fact that God is a Trinity of Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, this is a dogma of the faith. Christ's resurrection from the dead on the third day after His death on the cross is another example. I would not otherwise know these things; I cannot reason my way to the Trinity, or scores of other things.

Now, many things are shared between Christians dogmatically, and we are grateful for those things. But some things are not. Many of my Christian brethren would not affirm the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, body and soul into Heaven, but that is also a dogma. So we come to realize with a little exploring that different people disagree what counts as dogma. To put it very simply, we have different sources and different methods for knowing what the content of revealed truth is. This problem is no small matter, actually. Faith, properly speaking, is assent to what has been revealed. If Christians do not agree on what has been revealed, then they do not profess a common faith, and those who know nothing of God will not understand what to believe, and why it's important.

I could easily account for my old Reformed and Presbyterian profession: we broke away from those horribly misguided and possibly unsaved Roman Catholics when the great Martin Luther threw off their authority, and got us back to the Scriptures. Actually, that's a pretty standard Protestant storyline, and each group alters the details--and the heroes and villains--to taste.

For one thing, is it true? What if it weren't? How do I find out? Let's even suppose that many people had a sincere desire for moral reform. Why would the dogmas change, if all we need to do is stop sinning?

We had said a great many things about the Catholic Church which were either untrue, or were feelings that couldn't be proved one way or the other. If what we know of the ancient Church is Catholic in their way of believing and doing, then we must condemn them as ignorant at best, because the same sickness that afflicts the Catholic Church has grabbed them also. What we cannot do is exhort ourselves to learn from the ancients, whilst believing that what they professed is impure at best. We had become experts at picking and choosing from the lives of the ancient fathers in ways that would make the most ardent "cafeteria Catholic" blush. Yet perhaps they seem Catholic because they are. Dogma cannot change; it may be formed in feeble human words, but either God said it, or He did not.

It became a much more plausible account to say that we had truncated the faith of the ancients as Protestants, because it became too difficult or strange. We came up with a story to hide the shame of following the men who had attempted to tear the Church into pieces. Those who came later wouldn't know better. We called our story "the gospel" and "the invisible Church throughout the ages."