Saturday, December 30, 2006

Why Do We Ask "Favors" of Mary?

This question, “Why do you ask favors of God through mary” came in the comment box for my brief “Merry Christmas” post last week. There are a few things I’ll say regarding it.

First, Mary should be capitalized, just as we would with the proper name of anything. I know I sound like a smart-aleck pointing this out, but I’ll make an important point with it in a bit.

The second thing worth mentioning is that the phrase “ask favors” seems to suggest the kind of misinterpretation of what we, as Catholics, actually believe. We don’t ask favors of God. I’ve never asked him to pick up my mail while I was out of town, and I’ve never asked him to lend me his weed-trimmer.

We ask for God’s graces, and both Protestants and Catholics alike do this. Most Protestants will refer to these graces as his “blessings”. They have a very specific definition of the word “grace”, but in this instance, we’re talking about the same thing. It’s just semantics.

We don’t ask for favors through Mary. We ask for her to pray for us and to pray with us. We ask her (and the other saints) to join our prayer circle.

Really, I’ve never understood why Protestants have such a difficult time with this. All Protestant groups are just fine with asking their pastors, family members, friends, hairdressers, co-workers, neighbors, and random strangers to pray for them.

So why not Mary? Why not all the saints, for that matter? Is there some reason we can ask our second-cousin, twice removed, a plumber from Arkansas to pray for us, but we can’t ask the mother of God? Would Christ be less likely to listen to the prayers of his mom than, say, our Uncle Dave?

After all, Paul tells us that the prayers of a righteous man availeth much. And who is more righteous than those who have already been sanctified so perfectly as to enter Heaven?

And if we need more reasons to ask for Mary’s prayers, here they are:

-The Bible tells us to
-Christians have done it for 2,000 years (including most of the reformers)
-The church built by Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit tells us to
-The miracles that have come from Mary’s intercession testify to the power of such prayers
-The body of Christ is built up when we join our prayers to one another (including with those members of the body who are in Heaven.

I apologize for my curt tone in the beginning of this post, and I'm sure that the person who asked the question did not intentionally omit capitalization in Mary's name. However, that was my tongue-in-cheek way of suggesting, however, that what so many non-Catholic Christians have done is to "lower case" Mary's role in their own lives, exluding her from the same dignity of "prayer partner" that we would ask of any friend or relative. So, considering all this, I think it’s about time that Catholics stopped having to explain why we do ask for Mary’s prayers and intercession, and about time for non-Catholics to explain why they don’t.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Why Non-Catholics Can't Recieve Communion

With the holidays upon us, many of us might be bringing our non-Catholic friends to church with us. Of course, the church teaches that they should not receive the Eucharist (just as we should not receive in a non-Catholic church). As this topic might come up within your family, I thought I'd post an old essay I wrote on the subject:

While Catholics and Protestants have different views of the celebration of the Lord’s supper, Catholics are taught, according to the official Catechism of the Catholic Church to respect that Protestant churches, while not claiming the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist, are genuinely seeking a deeper spiritual “communion” with Christ through the remembrance of his last supper and subsequent sacrifice.

However, there are three basic reasons why Protestants should not partake in the celebration of communion at a Catholic Church. Unfortunately, since the reformation, there are deep and divisive differences between the theology of Catholics and their Protestant brothers and sisters. For this reason, in matters of spirituality, we are not truly “one” in thought, as Christ asked us to be in John 17:21. It is perfectly acceptable for a congregation of Catholics (who had made themselves spiritually worthy) to join together in communion because they are spiritually in communion. Likewise, it is perfectly acceptable for a congregation of Baptists to join to join together in communion because their common spiritual philosophies unite them. However, as long as division, unfortunately exists between denominations, it contradicts Scripture for a Protestants to receive communion among Catholics OR for a Catholic to receive communion among Protestants. 1 Cor. 10:17 explains, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” Unfortunately, for non-Catholics to receive “Holy Communion” proclaims a unity to exist that, regrettably, does not.

A second reason we ask non-Catholics not to receive the Eucharist is that our interpretation of Scripture demands us to do so for their safety. “For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (1 Cor. 11:29-30). Since most Protestants, by their own admission, do not feel that the true body of Christ exists in the Eucharist, as Catholics we feel the only Christian thing for us to do is to ask that, for their own safety, they not “drink judgment upon” themselves.

Lastly, Scripture tells us many times that we are showing our respect for God in the way we respect or treat others. As Catholics believe that the Eucharist is the true body and blood of our savior and that to receive it one must truly discern this miracle and be of have received reconciliation for grave sins, etc., if a Protestant were to partake in “Holy Communion” within the context of a Catholic Mass (which calls for the invocation of the Spirit to accomplish the miracle of transubstantiation), we would not only see this as a profaning of Christ, himself, but also as a sign of disrespect towards Catholics and their beliefs. Although we may disagree seriously on many issues, we all agree that we must truly respect the sincere beliefs of one another because to do show disrespect to children of Christ is to show disrespect to Christ, himself.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Dishonest Manager

It probably seems like I am writing a lot lately, but quite a bit of what I've posted was written for other projects and just edited for this format. Actually, I hate to admit it, but much of my downtime (while the kids are asleep and Christy is occupied) has been absorbed by an addiction to Sudoku. A friend got me this themed book which presents a challenge once one solves all the puzzles throughout, so ...

Anyway, I've taken on the task of answering e-mails that people send in through our parish website. I thought that occasionally I would post those here, as well. Remember how it was in school, even though one person asked the question, five more had it on their minds, so hopefully this is helpful to some of you.

This question came a couple months ago from a woman in Ohio:

"Hope you will be willing to answer a question from a curious group not of your parish .... We look at the Mass readings on a weekly basis, usually sticking to the Sunday readings. However, in discussion of yesterdays' Gospel we all realized that we had significant questions concerning the meaning of the parable of the Dishonest Manager. What is the Catholic interpretation of this passage? If you could include verse 9 in your answer we would really appreciate it, it is just as hard to understand that verse, for the same reasons."

My answer:

Regarding the parable from Luke, I will start out by saying there is no official Catholic interpretation. The verses that the Catholic church have defined infallibly are very few, and the church allows for personal interpretation on the rest, as long as we follow three rules: 1) our interpretation must take into account the unity of Scripture (rather than just pulling a verse out of context), 2) our interpretation must not contradict Sacred Tradition (as Tradition and Scripture are complementary records of the revelation delivered during the apostolic period), and 3) our interpretation cannot contradict doctrines of faith (things which we are required to believe as members of the Catholic-Christian community), as these have come from the guidance of the Holy Spirit (John 16).

That said, you are struggling with one of the toughest parables in Scripture, and I applaud your attempts to understand it. So many people, both Catholic and Protestant, tend to skip over it rather than to grapple with its meaning. To summarize, the manager, or steward, was being wasteful with the rich man's money. When this came to his attention, the rich man dismissed him from his position. Realizing that he had nowhere to turn and was not about to resort to "digging" (a job usually reserved for slaves) or begging, he goes to several debtors and reduces their debt to the rich man (even though he has no authority to do this any longer) so that they will accept them into their houses when he is cast out. Ironically, the rich man "commended" him for this action, rather than seek revenge. Even more ironically, Christ seems to approve of this action, which brings us to the troubling ninth verse, where Christ tells his disciples to "make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations."

Some commentaries tell us that the amount that each debt was reduced was the manager's "commission" in collecting this interest, and that by eliminating this, he was attempting restitution for the wrong he had done in being sloppy with the rich man's fortune. He had, after all, not been dishonest at first - just irresponsible, and perhaps he was trying to show that he wanted to be accountable for his wrong doings, an act that the rich man might approve of. Unfortunately, he chose a dishonest means of doing so.

However, the context points to something more. Let's say, for argument's sake, that he was not simply reducing his commission (to which he was no longer entitled, incidentally), and that he was actually reducing the debt that these others owed the rich man. What was the manager's motivation? Realizing he was being kicked out of the rich man's service, he was making shrewd arrangements to have a home among these debtors.

Christ obviously does not approve of his dishonesty, but the parable was an attempt to show us that, as Christians, many of us are put to shame in our ambition to reach Heaven. We should be just as concerned about having an eternal "home" after we leave this world as the manager is in his own situation. The point of the story isn't his moral behavior, but the energy that "sons of this world" put into their matters, that "sons of light" could do to emulate.

Why would Christ pick such an example? Why not a more moral protagonist? Well, if we go with the idea that he was simply reducing his own interest, his actions were not as severe as they appear. On the other hand, some commentaries indicate that this story - where a slave or servant outsmarts his master - was a popular type in the Jewish communities, and that Christ was just pulling upon a popular genre in order to make a greater point. He was, after all, emphasizing the manager's ambition, but not his methods, and the community would have recognized that better than we do in the modern reading. They wouldn't have taken his story as an endorsement of dishonestly, but as an illustration of zeal.

Another problem is why the manager would approve of this action? The obvious consequence of the manager's dishonesty would be that the debtors would assume that his actions had come from the rich man, himself, and were he to discipline the manager, the debtors would suddenly realize that the rich man deserved no credit and disapproved. He needed, at least publicly, to show approval. More likely, however, the rich man recognized in the manager some of the shrewdness and enthusiasm that had helped him become rich in the first place, and his approval goes to indicate that this was the intent of Christ's story - the enthusiasm that we should display as Christians toward reaching eternity with God.

As for the troublesome verse nine, the phrase "dishonest mammon" can be more accurately translated as "mammon of inequity" and is a phrase used to indicate those things which can make us focus on worldly things or even money acquired dishonestly. We should use this "mammon", or money, to make friends who can receive us into "eternal habitations". These friends must be those in Heaven because none of our earthly friends can provide eternal habitats. So, the point of this verse must mean that we should take money and use it to make restitution for our wrongful acquisition of it or (if it was not "wrongly" acquired) to help us to perform holy and pleasing actions, such as alms giving and creating work opportunities, in order to turn our material possessions into signs of our spiritual devotion, making the type of friends that can house us through all of time.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Let's be "Frank"

As long as a comment is not insulting or outright heretical, I'm happy to publish anyone's thoughts, no matter how much they disagree with me. Thus, while a commenter named "Frank" and I apparently do not see eye to eye, he is respectful in his tone, and I hope that the blog sees more of this type of discussion. Before continuing, I have to apologize for the play on his screen name for the title of this blog - sometimes I really have to stretch for a witty title (and I usually fail). I also want to make note that I won't generally make an entirely new post to respond to a comment (or series of them), but I think this is enough of a worthwhile conversation that I hope others of you join in. For that reason, I wanted a fresher look at it as the old treatment will soon slip in the archives as I add new posts.

Regarding my post on "Blacklisting", Frank has made some fairly substantial claims, and I would like to see him substantiate them. I will try to hit the bigger points that he brought up.

1) In his last comment he writes that withholding communion is "nothing more than a way for these church officials to inspire their conservative base." Our bishops would disagree, of course, and suggest that this action (had it been taken) was a matter of pastoral discipline. So ... as much as Frank claims to "respect" and have "admiration" for our bishops, the implication here seems to be that they are being dishonest in their motives. He alludes to this earlier by suggesting that the only time the church talks about homosexuality is during election time. This is an interesting comment as the recent guidelines on ministering to people with homosexual tendencies came out after mid-term election and about two years before any other major election. So, this is proof to the contrary. I would hope that Frank can point to evidence to substantiate his claim about our bishop's motives.

2) It is also interesting that of the post and the three comments so far, Frank is the first to even mention the words "Democrat" and "Republican". I'm hoping he can substantiate his implication that this discussion of the Eucharist is a political effort to help one party exclusively. In the last two major elections, I personally voted for at least two different pro-life Democrats and voted against at least one or two Republicans because of their rejection of certain pro-life issues. Can Frank point to any place in my post or in any documents from the Church or professional Catholic organizations to support his suggestion that this is ultimately a strategical move, rather than a concern for the sanctity of life? The Catholic Church cannot help that one party might attempt (however successfully) to align itself with the pro-life troops, but it is quite a stretch to suggest, then, that the Church, itself, has political affiliation or preferences.

3) He implies that my post is slanted toward abortion when "pro-life" issues such as the death penalty and just war are "equally as important". Unfortunately, according to our catechism (#2309, #2265, #2272), there is quite a bit of gray area in issues of war and death penalty, but abortion is an absolute evil. Likewise, we see Scriptural evidence to support the idea that a society may support itself through just war (such as here) and death penalty, but not once do we see the inspired text supporting the killing of the innocent unborn. Abortion is, as the Catholic Answers folks put it, a "non-negotiable" (here). He has also made the sweeping suggestion that there is no such thing as a completely "pro-life" politician, and I would be interested to know where he has come by this comprehensive overview of the political field.

4) Frank writes that the politicians are not as culpable as the doctors, mothers, and fathers who participate directly in abortions because they are only arguing the legality of it. Perhaps he is unaware that many of these same politicians also support taxpayer supported funding of abortion providers. Sure, the doctor may do the dirty work, but much of that money comes from the government's coffers, approved by the votes of these politicians.

5) Frank insists that it "should not be up to a priest, bishop, or ANYONE ELSE for that matter to decide an individual's worthiness to receive Jesus." Really? Because Scripture and the Magisterium tells us differently. In fact, a priest's job in the confessional is to withhold absolution from an individual if it is apparent that this individual has not truly repented. This is supported by the text of John 20 ("whose sins you retain"), and I would think that seeing a politician on national television supporting abortion is fairly strong evidence for a priest or bishop in determining his level of repentance. In addition, 1 Cor. 11 tells us that if we receive the Eucharist unworthily, we are sinning against the body of blood of Christ, and that this is the reason that many of the Corinthians have gotten sick and died.

6) This brings us to the last point, which is that Frank writes that the Eucharist "is the very Body and Blood of Jesus meant to nourish us, strengthen us, and send us forth to be the very presence of Jesus in the world. By withholding the Eucharist from these politicians, these bishops and priests are denying them one of the strongest ways to create change in them." Frank seems to forget that the Eucharist only effects that positive change IF we approach in a state of grace. However, if we approach in a state of mortal sin (which the Church has declared any conscious support of abortion to be), we are adding additional mortal sin to that by receiving the Eucharist. Thus, it has the very opposite effect in that it removes us even further from our relationship with God. See #1415 in the catechism for this. Frank claims, rightfully so, that we are a church of hope and reconciliation. Does knowingly allowing an individual to push himself deeper into mortal sin add to our hope and reconciliation, or would this be a cruel disregard for the eternal salvation of our human souls?

Withholding the Eucharist is a disciplinary measure in order to bring sinners back to the church. Indifference would allow them to continue on in their sins (and compounding them). As another commenter pointed out through the story of Ananias and Sapphira, and as I have pointed out with my references to Matt. 18 and John 20:23, the Holy Spirit guided Scriptures strongly support a rebuke of those sinners who are stubbornly refusing to repent. "What would Jesus think of this?" Frank asks. Well, considering that Christ is one and the same God that also inspired these passages, as well as those like Galatians 1:8, I think he would agree that love and compassion has nothing to do with allowing members of the flock to slip deeper into mortal sin by unworthy reception of his Holy body and blood. And it has nothing to do with allowing the scandal and indifference that would be caused by having our leaders turn blind eyes to such blatant, public disregard for the teachings of his church.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Blacklists


Last Friday, a woman from I.C. parish wrote in to the Catholic Missourian, expressing her relief that the U.S. bishops chose not to approve a "blacklist" of Catholic politicians who are pro-abortion, though the conference continues to express that such a position makes one unsuited for reception of the body and blood of Christ.

First off, to be clear on what the bishops did write, one would do well to read the document Happy Are Those Who Are Called To His Supper: On Preparing To Receive Christ Worthily in the Eucharist, which can be found here. In particular, the (short) section "Causing Public Scandal" addresses the issue of individuals who publicly reject Catholic teachings. I'm not sure that this document adds anything to what the bishops wrote in 2004, in the Interim Reflections Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians. A relevant passage from that text reads, "However, in our view the battles for human life and dignity and for the weak and vulnerable should be fought not at the Communion rail, but in the public square, in hearts and minds, in our pulpits and public advocacy, in our consciences and communities. To read the full text, visit: http://www.usccb.org/bishops/intreflections.shtml

Anyway, putting aside the obvious comment that one should examine himself (as Paul directs in 1 Cor. 11:27) before receiving communion, I'd like to focus on that horrible and repugnant idea of a blacklist.

First, it should be said that I'm not to aware of how much dialog and consideration went into such an idea, so I won't comment one way or the other on what the bishops decided. I have a great respect for our U.S. bishops, especially the bishop of our diocese, and understand that their decisions are made with consideration for myriad factors, including pastoral, ecumenical, and doctrinal considerations. What I'd like to do is look at the hypothetical concept of such a blacklist and ask this question:

Would it really be such a bad idea?

The author of this letter to the editor colored most of her commentary with references to McCarthyism. In addition, she made the implication that people in high-profile positions who speak out vehemently against something are usually, themselves, hiding something. To support this, she made reference to former congressman Mark Foley, who spoke out against gay marriages but had been secretly making advances toward young males.

In the world of rational thought, what we usually call arguments such as this woman makes is an ad hominem attack, or "name calling". It's the same thing she accuses McCarthyism of doing (but only because she misunderstands McCarthyism). Even more ironic is her accusation that high people are hiding something when they come out so vocally against certain behaviors. She, herself, is coming out publicly against blacklisting, so does this mean that she is hiding something similar in her own personal behavior? By her own logic, it would.

See, Joseph McCarthy never actually "blacklisted" any actors during his pursuit of communist sympathizers. He went specifically after members of the State Department (the House Un-American Activities Committee went after the actors). Can we blame Joe? After all, we live in a Republic (with strong Democratic leanings), and do we want people who subscribe to the most diametrically opposed system of government secretly subverting our pursuit of our national principals?

We could argue that for hours, but see ... the thing is, a blacklist such as what the letter's author rejects is nothing like what McCarthy did at all. There is nothing "secret" about Catholic politicians who publicly promote the baby-killing agenda.

It is a slippery slope argument to suggest that attempting to identify such politicians would lead to a scrutiny of every Catholic's individual worthiness to receive communion. The situation we have with such politicians is that they are placing themselves in front of cameras and microphones to advocate the legality of embryo-slaughter.

Some try to rationalize this with lines like, "I am personally opposed, but I cannot impose my faith on others?" This is a cop-out because, if this politician truly believes that an embryo is life, then he is essentially saying, "I am personally opposed to murder, but I cannot impose my faith on others." How would it sound if legislation was proposed to legalized spousal abuse in order to accommodate immigrants from cultures where this is embraced? "I am personally against beating one's wife, but I cannot impose this view on others." We cannot impose our religious views on others, but politicians have a responsibility to protect life, whether or not someone else chooses to recognize it as life. So either A) these politicians don't really believe that embryos are life or B) they don't prioritize "life" in their political decisions. Either way, they are actively leading others, by example, into gravely offensive moral decay.

They are causing public scandal, and so their offense is not longer a matter "between them and God", as it might be if you or I privately sin, but one between them and the church. We see this clearly in Matthew 18, where if one sins against us, we are to go to him privately, and if he still rejects us, we are to take two or three witnesses, and if he still rejects us, we take it to the church, and if he rejects us still, he is to be as a leper or a tax collector (cut off from the church society). Have we not already gone to these politicians privately in our letters and e-mails as their constituents? Have we not already gone with two or three witnesses in our protests and petitions?

Nobody said such a "list" would even have to be public record. It could, after all, be only for the information of local bishops who are faced with pro-death politicians in their diocese. However, local priests and bishops need to know that they have the support of the church leadership when the person in the communion line had just days before publicly advocated the legality of cutting a baby into pieces and crushing its skull for, say, a late term abortion.

In Interim Reflections, the bishops write that "the battles for human life and dignity and for the weak and vulnerable should be fought not at the Communion rail." Whether or not they are correct in this, the unfortunate fact is that the battle is already being fought there, and the body of Christ suffers a small defeat every time a pro-death politician, surround by cameras,
walks up to receive the Eucharist in smug defiance of the inspired words of Scripture and the Holy Spirit guided church that Christ built.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Abbysmal Advice

In matters of morality, "Dear Abby" gives some really awful advice once in a while.

I find myself groaning, sometimes, when I read her column and see the twisted road down which she sends some of those who, for whatever reason, write in.

Earlier this week, in the same column, our dear Abby renewed her undaunted support of the gay lifestyle. I don't want to write about homosexuality per se in this post, but I think that anyone who reads Dear Abby with any regularity knows that this is a personal pet topic of hers, and she will stray off topic to remind readers exactly how natural and normal same-sex relationships are.

But the question and answer that really caught my attention was from a mother whose daughter had been invited to an all-girl party, at which all of the girls, including the hosting mother (single), played a game of strip-poker. The mom who wrote in was shocked, especially because her daughter had so much fun they planned on doing it again soon.

Dearest Abby, while conceding that the host mom shouldn't have joined the game, saw no problem whatsoever with the game, especially since all the participants were girls.

But wait a second ... I thought homosexual relationships were perfectly normal and natural.

In which case, couldn't it be argued that one or several of the young ladies in that card game happened to be gay? In other words, why is that card game any more appropriate than if this woman's' daughter (a young teenager) had been invited to a boy-girl strip party?

Dear Abby's advice on morality is so often this off-base because she doesn't seem to use any foundation for her moral advice than political correctness. Aside from the scenario I described above, there are other reasons her advice in this column was wrong.

Considering how fun the all-girl strip poker game was, especially when condoned by adults, doesn't it seem even more likely that the girls might try this same game at a boy-girl party (when the adult supervision isn't present). Doesn't the host-mom's approval seem to provide a gateway into even less appropriate party behavior?

Why Scripture-alone is really bad baseball

The metaphor I turn to most often when talking about Scripture and Tradition is that of little league baseball. Imagine if I decided to coach a little league team and, deciding that my "coaching traditions" would only corrupt the pure game of baseball, I gave each of these little sluggers a copy of the official book of baseball rules and said, "Have at it, boys. Memorize it. Highlight it. Our first game's in three weeks."

That first game would be a disaster. The book of rules contains all the rules and protocol to play the game of baseball, but there's something missing when we remove the good coach, who brings with him a tradition of good coaches right on down through the history of the game. The book of rules tells us that we must swing the bat and hit the ball, but it doesn't show us how to choke up, to keep our eye on the ball, or to follow through.

Likewise, many Christian groups try to go by the book of rules alone, defining their Christianity by the Bible alone (sola-fide in Latin). This is a mistake. A big one.

As Catholics, we believe that the Bible, like that book of baseball rules, is "materially sufficient", in that it contains, either explicitly or implicitly, all that has been revealed about salvation. Scripture is not, though, "formally sufficient", in that we can interpret Scripture by the plain sense of its words.

And guess what ... Scripture agrees. Nowhere does Scripture ever tell us to go by Scripture alone. Think about this. If we are to "speak where Scripture speaks and be silent where Scripture is silent", as so many claim, where does Scripture "speak" about going by the Bible alone? Jesus never wrote any of his teachings down (at least in a form that is available to us today), nor did he ever command his apostles to put everything in print for his Bible-alone Christianity. The inspired writers also never tells us that Scripture should be our final authority. In fact John even goes so far in his epistles as to tell us that he would rather pass his message "face-to-face", rather than using "paper and ink" (2 John 12).

Not only does Scripture not tell us to go by Scripture alone, but there are many places where we are told to go by the oral teachings of Christianity, as well, such as 2 Tim. 2:2 and 2 Thes. 2:15.

Why? Well, to use another baseball analogy, I once played with a woman who had an artificial eye. Because she had vision in only one eye, she had lost her depth-perception, which is given through our two-perspective vision. Playing outfield was nearly impossible for her because she would very often misjudge pop-flies.

Likewise, combining Scripture and Tradition gives us depth perception, and to see the danger of limiting ourselves to only one eye (Scripture alone), consider how horribly Christianity has splintered since the reformation. Some sources put the number of distinct Christian groups at tens of thousands. And many of these groups, which disagree with one another over key doctrine, claim to go by the "simply truth" of Scripture alone.

Christ prayed for unity within his church (John 17), and Paul makes clear that this is meant to be a doctrinal unity (1 Cor. 1:10; Phil. 2:2). Would Christ be happy to find up to three different Christian churches facing each other on a street corner, each preaching a different version of his gospel? Would his prayer be answered by the hundreds of churches listed in any given yellow pages section of the phone book?

Maybe someday all Christians will recognize the unity possible through Scripture and Sacred Tradition, both preserved through the "good coach" of the Catholic Church (who is protected from error by the Holy Spirit).

Unfortunately, many today still follow the man-made doctrine of "Scripture-alone", which robs a Christian of his spiritual depth-perception. And leaves him out in right field, missing the ball almost every time.

Cousins

When Catholics are defending the perpetual virginity of Mary, we often have to explain to others that, in Jewish culture, cousins were often considered a person's "brothers" or "sisters". While there exists a Greek word for "cousin", there exists no equivalent Hebrew or Aramaic word, which is why Jesus's cousins were identified, in some passages, as his brothers and sisters. While much of the New Testament was written in Greek (with some possible exceptions, such as Matthew), the inspired authors were writing in accordance to their Jewish customs. One legal reason for this is that, should a person die an only child, his male cousins would be considered his brothers for purposes of distributing an inheritance.

We live in such a vastly different culture today, though, and for whatever reason, it has become necessary for us to have, not just a word for our cousin, but linguistic devices for determining exactly what type of cousin he is. We might, for instance, have a "first cousin", a "second cousin", or even a "first cousin, once-removed".

In a lunchroom conversation yesterday, however, I realized that most people no-longer know the meaning of the terms "once-removed" or "twice-removed", words which previous generations used more frequently. So ... I thought I would use this blog as an opportunity to clarify.

Cousins must be of the same generation. For instance, if I have the same grandparents as somebody else, we are first-cousins. If I have the same great-grandparents, we are second-cousins. If we have the same great-great-grandparents, we are third cousins. Many, incorrectly assume that my mother's first-cousin would be my second cousin. However, the only way someone could be my second-cousin is if we are of the same generation.

By generation, of course, I mean that we are in the same location in line of descendants ... our branches fall at the same level on a family tree. This has nothing to do with age.

So, what is my relationship with my mom's first-cousin? She and I are not of the same generation; I am, actually, one generation "removed" from that relationship. This makes us "first-cousins (based on her relationship with my mother), once-removed." My daughter would be her first-cousin, twice removed. Likewise, if my second-cousin (the child of my mom's first cousin) had a kid, that child would be my "second-cousin, one removed."

Confused yet? Maybe it doesn't matter, but I think it's kind of a neat distinction.

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

I took the opportunity last Friday to wish all my non-Catholic co-workers a "blessed Feast of the Immaculate Conception". I was truly surprised with the variety of responses I received, from an amused chuckle to, "I don't even want to know what that is. It sounds like some sort of bizarre sexual thing."

To this, from one of my non-denominational co-workers, I answered, "No, it's just our celebration of Mary's having been born without original sin."

"Oh, I don't believe in that original sin nonsense," he answered. "That's just a big guilt trip."

"Hmm. I'm not sure you understand what original sin is," I answered. "What do you think Catholics mean by that?"

"Why don't you tell me what it means and I'll tell you what I think about it," he answered. I explained to him that, because our original parents fell from grace, we are subject to suffering and death and will undoubtedly lead lives dotted with sin, and that salvation means being brought back into a right relationship with God. "Well, I can buy that," he answered.
See, sometimes it just takes a clear explanation.

Another co-worker, a member of an instrumental Church of Christ, asked me, "Now this is the thing about Mary, right?"

"Yes," I answered. "It means that Mary was conceived without original sin."

"Mary was too born with original sin," she objected.

"So you believe in original sin?"

"Well, no, I don't believe in that, either," she said.

"So ... if you don't believe original sin exists, how could Mary have been born with it?"

"I'll have to think about that," she said.

Of course, my presentation of the faith in this last dialog is completely silly, it was a fun Catch-22.