Tag Archives: Truth

Prudent Evangelization

Mark 12:18-27

Jesus’s dialogue with the Sadducees in today’s Gospel highlights prudence while evangelizing. What most people don’t know about the Sadducees is that despite being Jewish, they differed strongly in theological beliefs with other sects like the Pharisees, Essenes or Zealots.

The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection. Apart from this, the Sadducees only accepted the first five books of the Old Testament, or what the Jews refer to as the ‘Torah’ or ‘Books of Law’. Basically, only Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy were considered inspired Scripture to them.

It is in this context that they desired to ‘trap’ Jesus by asking whose husband would a wife who has seven husbands belong to in heaven. The Sadducees’ intent was to mock the idea of a ‘life after physical death’.

Here is where it gets interesting. Jesus wisely answered NOT from the books of the prophets like Isaiah or from the historical books like Chronicles. Instead, Jesus drew upon THEIR ‘canon’ of Scripture and quoted from Exodus, stating that God is a “LIVING God, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

Still Life with Bible, Vincent van Gogh (1885)
Still Life with Bible, Vincent van Gogh (1885)

This is a subtle but important point to take away when it comes to sharing God’s Word. The Evangeliser has to go down to the level of the Evangelisee. If the Evangelisee is a non-believer, it would not be prudent to throw Bible verses at them. Instead, the Evangeliser should find out what the non-believer’s view of God is and reflect/point out the errors in his thinking. However, if the Evangelisee believes in Jesus and has at least Scripture as a starting point, then it becomes essential to quote Scripture with contextual history and logic.

Let us remember Jesus’s example of sharing the Truths of Christianity prudently at a level which others can relate to. Most importantly, the heart of Evangelisation is through small actions in our daily lives. If we radiate Christ through us, the world will notice and inquire automatically.

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Originally posted on Instagram.
Image: PD-US

Suffering Servant

Mark 10:32-45

The Apostles heard Jesus preach about the kingdom many times and they believed this kingdom was to come before His death. It is in this context that James and John, two beloved Apostles in the inner circle of Jesus, asked to be seated at His left and right hand (Mk 10:37).

Jesus’s reply was not so much an answer but a statement that

“His kingdom will not be of this world, and that to sit by His side is something so great it surpasses the angelic orders — which they did not yet merit.” (St. Theophylact)

Influenced by human feelings, the remaining Apostles became ridden with envy and felt indignant at James and John (Mk 10:41). Jesus however, intervenes and ‘called them to Him’ (Mk 10:42), teaching that the greatest amongst them must be their servant (Mk 10:43). Jesus substantiates His statement with living proof of Himself, since He came down from Heaven to give His life for the world (Mk 10:45).

Christ Carrying the Cross, El Greco (1577–87)

This consistent theme of the “Suffering Servant” throughout the entirety of Mark’s Gospel is something beautiful and rich with wisdom. Jesus, like Christianity today, continues to challenge worldly norms even though the Church has always been in the minority. Catholics have been the only ones consistently speaking out against the world on intrinsic evils like Abortion, Euthanasia and Contraception. An inevitable blooming Culture of Death.

Yet, while the Church continues to guard and promulgate the Truth, she will always do so from the perspective of a Suffering Servant, not a demanding tyrant. The world will always mock and hate us, but as a wise man once told me — being hated by the world is a sign that you’re in the right Church. As the Saints have echoed through the centuries, “The Truth which subsists in the Church will always be rejected by the world.”

If I were not a Catholic, and were looking for the true Church in the world today, I would look for the one Church which did not get along well with the world; in other words, I would look for the Church which the world hated. My reason for doing this would be, that if Christ is in any one of the churches of the world today, He must still be hated as He was when He was on earth in the flesh.

If you would find Christ today, then find the Church that does not get along with the world. Look for the Church that is hated by the world as Christ was hated by the world. Look for the Church that is accused of being behind the times, as our Lord was accused of being ignorant and never having learned. Look for the Church which men sneer at as socially inferior, as they sneered at Our Lord because He came from Nazareth.

Look for the Church which is accused of having a devil, as Our Lord was accused of being possessed by Beelzebub, the Prince of Devils. Look for the Church which, in seasons of bigotry, men say must be destroyed in the name of God as men crucified Christ and thought they had done a service to God.

Look for the Church which the world rejects because it claims it is infallible, as Pilate rejected Christ because He called Himself the Truth. Look for the Church which is rejected by the world as Our Lord was rejected by men.

Look for the Church which amid the confusions of conflicting opinions, its members love as they love Christ, and respect its Voice as the very voice of its Founder, and the suspicion will grow, that if the Church is unpopular with the spirit of the world, then it is unworldly, and if it is unworldly it is other worldly. since it is other-worldly, it is infinitely loved and infinitely hated as was Christ Himself. But only that which is Divine can be infinitely hated and infinitely loved. Therefore the Church is Divine.”

— Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

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Originally posted on Instagram.

How Do You Know There’s a God?

Often I get asked a few questions:
How do you know there’s a God?
How do you know that Christianity is the right religion?

Faith, of course. But never without reason.

As children, when we see something, we intuitively always inquire about its origins and inner workings.

Where did this table come from? Who made it?Earth
Where did the book come from? How is it made?
How come the telly can switch on with a flick of the button?

It seems reasonable that a child asks such questions. It is after all in our nature to be drawn towards the truth.
Imagine a parent now tells the child that the answer to the above questions is: “Chance”.
Stupid parent at best, lazy parent at worst.

Somehow… when it comes to the biggest questions of the world: “How did the world come to be?”… We seem to be content with the answer “it just happened by CHANCE.”

ABSURDITY? Perhaps.

Quoting Pope St. John Paul II (General Audience of Wed, 10 July 1985) because he has expressed it so concisely:

“To speak of chance for a universe which presents such a complex organization in its elements, and such a marvelous finality in its life would be equivalent to giving up the search for an explanation of the world as it appears to us. In fact, this would be equivalent to admitting effects without a cause. It would be an abdication of human intelligence which would thus refuse to think, to seek a solution for its problems.”

Prayers today for people who find it hard to even conceive of a day where they might believe that there is a creator of this world.

Fides Quaerens Intellectum, faith seeking understanding.

May God grant you the grace to believe so that you may understand.

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Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

At the Foot of the Cross

As I looked upon the cross today, I asked myself: would I have stood at the foot of the cross?

St. John Resting on Jesus, Sacro Speco Monastery at Subiaco, Fresco

A friend once asked me, if I could be anyone at the passion scene, who would I be?

In a heartbeat, I said I want to be like St. John.

He was at the cross, bound by a deep love for Christ. Even when the the world deserted him, even when all his disciples and supposed friends left him, he was there. He didn’t care that the world would think he was crazy for standing up for Christ.

He knew (and possessed a very deep understanding as to) who Christ was, and if we read the entire gospel of John, it is self-evident that John knew the divinity of Christ from the beginning.

I want to be like John, he saw the Truth of the Word, the Logos made flesh from the beginning.

He saw the Truth in everything Christ did. He saw everything (always) in relation to Christ, and therein lies true Wisdom: To love Christ and to order everything in your life in relation to Christ, our ultimate end.

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Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Deuteronomy 4:32-40, Psalm 33, Romans 8:14-17, Matthew 28:16-20

CCC 234: “The Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the MYSTERY OF GOD in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the “hierarchy of the truths of faith.”

The Trinity, Andrei Rublev (1425)

Just let that sink in – the Holy Trinity is the MYSTERY OF GOD Himself.

In Matthew’s Gospel, he beautifully opens up with the Emmanuel Prophecy when the Angel told Mary that her son would be called Emmanuel (God is with us). At the end of the Gospel, Jesus fulfills this by literally telling us that He (God) WILL be with us, forever till the end of time! Many people miss this, but Matthew’s Gospel concludes on Jesus’s Divinity.

It is in this context that Jesus reveals His Triune Divinic nature when He commands all His followers to Baptize in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. For Catholics, we do this every day when we make the sign of the cross. We must not forget this Great Commission whenever we call upon the Holy Trinity.

I’d like to close with a fun fact: the word ‘Trinity’ is NOT found in the Bible. Instead, the Doctrine of the Trinity was written and declared infallibly by Pope Dionysius:

“The most sacred proclamation of the Church of God, making of it the Trinity, as it were, three powers and three distinct substances subsisting in one being… [Some heretics] proclaim that there are in some way three gods, when they divide the sacred unity into three substances foreign to each other and completely separate.” (A.D. 262)

Today, (thank God for this) all Christians accept this Sacred Tradition, which was hard fought for. The Doctrine of the Trinity is a prime example of why we need to recognize the Church as an infallible interpreter and why we can’t just rely on the Bible alone. After all, Jesus did leave us a Church, not a book!

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Originally posted on Instagram.

The Conscience of the Modern Man

By guest writer Kachi Ngai.

“Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself, but which he must obey, its voice ever calling him to love and do what is good and to avoid evil… For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God… There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths.”
— Article 1776, Catechism of the Catholic Church

We no longer live in an age where truth and reason guide our principles. The mood of the current age is one of emotionalism, where a person’s feelings now become the inviolable truth for that person, and God forbid if someone else should dare to question it. The objective truth has given way to the subjective truth, provided that someone feels strongly enough about it. Take a look at how love is considered these days. The concept of agape (the supernatural, and certainly superior, sacrificial form of love) has been overthrown in favor of eros, the natural and more receptive form of love.

Variations on catchy slogans such as “love is love” and “love wins” are thrown around to somehow suggest that we as a society have thrown off the shackles of discrimination, and that only by “following what’s inside our hearts” will we find inner fulfillment and freedom. Arguments in favor of the protection of the family unit and society are pitted against the supposed personal fulfillment of the individual. If someone “follows their heart”, then they cannot stray.

I accept that I am taking liberties by assuming that the objective truth is a given, mainly because whether truth is objective is not the focus of this. I will discuss objective truth and how it is tied to human dignity in a later article. For now I will focus only upon the actual nature of the conscience, something on which Cardinal John Henry Newman spoke at great length, and how it applies to our Catholic Faith and the spiritual journey.

Newman was 15 when he experienced his first conversion which brought him into the Protestant faith. It was not until much later that he converted to the Roman Catholic Church, which he describes in his Apologia as largely due to the acting of his conscience.

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman saw the conscience as the connecting principle between the creature and his Creator. He went as far as to describe it as the aboriginal Vicar of Christ (Newman, 1885). In the secular world, a certain primacy is given to the conscience, almost as if it is some infallible judge. This is a far cry from the notions Newman had.

Our concept of conscience is misconstrued these days, whereby if our conscience dictates that we can act upon our whims even if they be contrary to Mother Church’s teachings, this would be permitted provided that we are at peace with it. Newman argued that this disparity between the internal conscience and the teachings of the Church did not give us free rein to reject the Church’s teaching. When the conscience no longer points towards the external (the Church’s teachings), but instead towards the internal, instead of directing us towards God and a life of virtue through obedience and discipline, it is turned towards the selfish and interior. Instead of God being our Lord and Master, it will be as Henley once poetically described in his famous poem Invictus:

“I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” (Henley, 1875)

A lovely-sounding sentiment of the triumph of the human soul over suffering, but it encapsulates the current idea that the personal conscience is the final judge.

Newman argues that conscience advocates for the truth, and that the conscience is much cruder and almost ruthless. The conscience is the compass for non-believers by which God re-directs us towards Him. The voice of conscience has nothing gentle, nothing to do with mercy in its tone. It is severe and stern. It does not speak of forgiveness, but of punishment” (Newman). This is why the redemption by Our Lord Jesus Christ is The Good News. It provides the relief for the condemnation offered by the accusing conscience. The conscience is to direct us towards where there is a particular deficiency or uncertainty in our judgement and spiritual life, and the conscience is the starting point for a particular conversion in our life.

The conscience is the call for conversion and a sign of humility. This is counter-cultural to the secular understanding of conscience as a sign of personal freedom, especially the freedom to reject the objective truth when it makes one uncomfortable (Pell, 2005). As a result of free will, man can choose to reject the prickles of their conscience, but the conscience is the beginning of the exploration and conversion through prayer and discernment, it is not some infallible judge. In Veritatis Splendour, Pope St. John Paul II describes the formation of the Catholic Conscience as a dignifying and liberating experience (Pp. St. JPII, 1993), which is why as Catholics we have a moral responsibility to develop an informed conscience (CCC 1780).

By divorcing the Catholic Faith from reason, reason becomes effectively neutered because we fail to see the impact of moral predispositions in reasoning. Simply put, the conscience can easily be fooled by our own inclinations and desires whether subconscious or otherwise, and can lead us down the path of lining up our reasoning in view of a desired result (Armstrong, 2015). This is the danger of reducing the conscience to a mere moral sense. Natural religion is based upon the sense of sin; it recognizes the disease, but cannot find the remedy (Armstrong, 2015). To emphasize the earlier point, this is where the call to conversion is required, and through this we can start to appreciate the necessity of Christ’s redemptive act.

The conscience points towards the need for constant discernment, prayer, and the turning of the heart towards the objective authority of Christ through His Church. To follow one’s conscience is not to do as one pleases, but to earnestly seek what is true and good, and to hold fast to this, as repulsive as it may appear. Only then can we truly and honestly say to our Lord: Speak Lord, your servant is listening (1 Sam 3:10).

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References:

Armstrong, David (2015). “Newman’s Conversion of Conscience and the Resolution of the Crisis of Modernity.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible.

Henley, William (1875). Invictus. England.

Newman, John Henry (1885). “Letter to the Duke of Norfolk,” V, in Certain Difficulties felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching II (London: Longmans Green, 1885), 248.

Pell, George (2005). “The Inconvenient Conscience.”

Trust and Truth

tumblr_o2cxh2udzd1re8qseo1_500Sometimes, when one hears of a poor fellow being scammed, losing his savings to a nonexistent online girlfriend, or wasting thousands on damaging psychobabble seminars, one wonders—how could he have believed such an incredulous thing?

Trust is the bedrock of human society—every time we have a conversation with a friend, conduct business, or worship, we trust that overall, what we are hearing and doing is true. The feeling of betrayal and disillusionment when one finds that one has been duped is the absolute pits.

Yet, one has to accept that others and ourselves have limited vision, and that our weaknesses will more often than not cause us to make bad decisions. Scams play on people’s desire for something good—a relationship, money, or a way to fix their life’s problems. This world is disordered by sin and strife, and it is not always easy to find peace with oneself and one’s circumstances. People grow tired of struggling through painful loneliness or the trials of life and leap at seemingly easy solutions.

However, it is through struggles that we grow in maturity and wisdom. One may have to accept the pain of being scammed—that, too, is an opportunity for self-reflection and a reality check that ultimately we cannot fully trust ourselves or other creatures, but must place our full trust in God alone, Who gives us the peace that the world cannot give, no matter how terrible our tribulations and failures. “Truth Himself speaks truly / Or there’s nothing true,” as St Thomas Aquinas hymned.

How incredible that God trusts us, frail humans, with bearing His Word to others!


Image: Joy-Sorrow

Order

Most of the liturgical year is comprised of “Ordinary Time”, when the Gospels follow the earthly ministry of Christ. This does not mean that the time is humdrum or nondescript; rather, it refers to ordinal numbers – first, second, third, and so on.

Humans have a compulsion to order things, and Catholics are no exception – we have ordered time according to the Gregorian calendar, constructed by Aloysius Lilius and Christopher Clavius SJ, and introduced by Pope Gregory XIII so that we could celebrate Easter in accordance with the seasons. Monks invented our system of timekeeping in order to pray the Divine Office. Catholics have formed healthcare, charity, school and art patronage systems throughout the ages, ordering human society according to Christian conceptions of what is good, true and beautiful.

Why do we do this? Watching the news is often depressing, because we are constantly reminded of the terrible suffering and disorder throughout the world. A friend asked me, “Can there be a world which is completely good?” We are used to living with contrasts: good and bad, better and worse.

Even just looking at ourselves and our loved ones can be a sobering process. We are so full of faults! Fr. Edmund Campion wrote in A Place in the City: “All attempts to live a religious life are partial, for to be human is to be a failure.1

Why, then, do we strive so hard for excellence or even perfection?

The word primordial comes from primus ordiri, “first” and “to begin”. In the beginning, God created a perfectly good, orderly world; Adam and Eve lived in harmony with God, each other, and creation, in a state of grace. The Greek word kósmos literally means “order”. With sin, humankind’s friendship with God was broken; suffering and chaos entered the world. Sin occurs when we act against our human nature, bringing harm to ourselves or to others.

Most ancient creation myths have the gods creating order out of chaos. The Judeo-Christian tradition is unique in positing creation ex nihilo, out of nothing. It is from this tradition that the Belgian priest and astronomer Msgr. Georges Lemaître formulated the “Big Bang Theory”, or hypothesis of the primeval atom.

Thus, in the Christian tradition, we do not subscribe to dualism. In the beginning, everything was good. Evil is a corruption or absence of goodness; it is not an equal force, but a parasite that distorts the goodness of creation.

Amsterdam

Our entire lives are strivings toward things we perceive to be good. The drug addict or chain smoker did not start off the habit of substance abuse simply by deciding to harm themselves thereby – even in a decision to self-harm, there is a perceived good of relief from emotional pain, or destroying what one thinks is irrevocably bad.

People who form cults generally seek some good, based on an ideal. The historian Ian Breward wrote in his book Australia: The Most Godless Place Under Heaven?:

“The desire to experience new kinds of community led a number of thoughtful and idealistic people to reject the patterns of vocation, family life and religion with which they had grown up. Their attempt to establish new patterns of social bonding in uncontaminated rural retreats can be seen as a secular monasticism, but they often discovered that to abolish the boundaries of authority, family and property created a whole series of problems which they did not have the spiritual and personal resources to solve. At their best, such groups have opened up new horizons of discipleship, but they have often learned some hard lessons about the intractable sinfulness and selfishness of partly-redeemed human nature.”2

We are tasked with proclaiming the good news that the Kingdom of God is at hand; at the same time, we are faced with the reality of living out the Gospel in a world wracked by sin, and have to accept the limitations and sufferings which come with it. It is out of these very sufferings that God recreates the world, restoring it according to His divine plan. We were made in the image and likeness of God, but we are marred by concupiscence and sin; we are wonky compasses which need to be realigned with the magnet of the Gospel, so that we may point accurately to Christ, and lead others to Him.

Discord would not offend our ears if there were not a standard of perfect harmony against which to judge all sounds. In the same way the existence of evil is an argument for the existence of God. We should not recognize imperfections as such unless there were a Perfect which they opposed. The world cannot be rationally explained without God; its very complexity forces the mind to believe that there must be something beyond all this, to have put it together. When we see a painting inside a frame, we know that someone has joined the two together. When we see a watch, we know that some intelligence has assembled it. Matter does not form itself into patterns without intelligence to guide it. The whole material universe is an argument for God.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Crisis in History

Image: Amsterdam (via Joy-Sorrow).

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1 A Place in the City, p. 107. [Penguin Books Australia (Sydney, 1994)].

2 Australia: The Most Godless Place Under Heaven?, pp. 79-80 [Beacon Hill Books (Melbourne, 1988)].

Will We Listen to John the Baptist?

During Advent and Christmas, I often think of the Holy Family. I look at the poor and homeless in my community in relation to Mary and Joseph as they sought shelter in Bethlehem. Glancing at manger scenes, I contemplate the poverty of the Holy Family, and the impoverished in my community. I ponder their flight into Egypt, and think about refugees, fleeing from persecution. This year, however, I have frequently found myself thinking of someone else.

“John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea
and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” ~Mt 3:1-2

This passage from Scripture was proclaimed on the Second Sunday of Advent, and we heard John the Baptist urge people to prepare themselves for Christ. Each year, this same message of repentance and preparation from John the Baptist is spoken during Advent. Yet, how often do we really think about this saint and his words?

I often push away thoughts of John the Baptist during Advent, and instead choose to focus on the Holy Family. The image of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph is a lot cozier than that of an outspoken, blunt prophet who wore clothing made from camel hair and ate locusts! John the Baptist makes us uncomfortable. Yes, his appearance—from a modern standpoint—is rather strange. Even more than that, his message is unsettling to us. John the Baptist reminds us that we actually need to change our lives and hearts as we prepare for Christ. His words cause us to recall that in the mist of our warm and happy preparations for Christmas, our internal, spiritual preparations are most important.

As I look to John the Baptist’s words of wisdom in preparing for Christ, I also have begun to think about how I would react to his words if I lived at the time of Christ. Would I listen to the outspoken, passionate John the Baptist as he called for repentance and later stood up for the sanctity of marriage? Would I listen to John the Baptist as he directed people to Christ?

Of course, I’m not living two thousand years ago, when John the Baptist walked the Earth, so it’s hard to say what my reaction to him would be. However, in our modern world, there are people who—like John the Baptist—call for repentance. People who stand up for the sanctity of marriage. People who proclaim God’s Truth, even when it is unpopular. People who direct others to Christ. Will I hear what they–especially the pope, the Vicar of Christ–have to say? Furthermore, will I listen to John the Baptist’s message, and change my life so I may accept Christ fully?

They Call Today “Good”

Every Triduum, starting with Maundy Thursday through Easter Sunday, I re-read T.S. Eliot’s “The Four Quartets”. It is four of his best poems, and for anyone who only knows his poetry ala in “The Hollow Man” or “The Wasteland” (critiques of modernity, not praise), his words may be surprising.

For instance, it is in “East Coker”, the second of the quartet, in which Eliot wrote,
The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.

Crucifixion Icon by Olga Christine

How can this Friday be good? Today Jesus was denied, whipped, humiliated, crucified. And why? In today’s gospel, John remind us that all this happens to fulfill the Scriptures. Jesus accepted the cup his father passed him – he accepted, fully, what must happen. Did he have the power to prove himself, as Satan tempted him to in the desert? Of course. But the hardness of the high priests should not be softened by might, but by truth.

What is truth? asked Pilate; a question so modern still that audiences cannot help but relate. Good Friday is the day when Jesus seems the most human. He is condemned and he dies. We are reminded in the second reading that “we do not have a high priest/ who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,/ but one who has similarly been tested in every way,/ yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15-16).

Indeed, as the reading continues (Heb 5:7-9):
In the days when Christ was in the flesh,
he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears
to the one who was able to save him from death,
and he was heard because of his reverence.
Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered;
and when he was made perfect,
he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.

The goodness of this day lies in Jesus’ very passion for us all; a love to conquer death, a truth that “I AM” is a witness as well as a declaration. Today, the veil has been torn and we enter Golgotha, the place of skulls. The King of the Jews is dead, and so Eliot finishes his poem: “In the end is my beginning.”

Today was hard. Today was terrible. Today was good. We wait. The tomb is close by…

Is the Catholic Church Obsessed with Sex?

Without a doubt, the articles I write which attract the most feedback (positive or negative) are always those that discuss sexual morality and the Catholic Church. Nothing seems to raise the emotions of people more than knowing that the Catholic Church has an opinion on sex. And while it may seem that issues such as contraception, IVF, masturbation or homosexuality are all different, they really revolve around one central hinge: the purpose and meaning of human sexuality. To get directly to the point, Christianity (Catholicism in particular) has a definite understanding of what human sexuality is, while the secular world has a vastly different understanding. In addition, this secular understanding has – for a host of reasons – fed into the minds of many Catholic people so that they no longer understand or agree with the Church’s stance on many of the basic moral issues. Instead of anyone actually seeking to understand the Catholic position, the Church is portrayed as having some sick obsession with matters of sex and telling others what they can (but mostly what they cannot) do.

As a case in point, following my last article which criticized the use of contraception by a Protestant aid agency in Papua New Guinea (PNG), I received an email from a dissatisfied reader. This particular woman – a practicing Catholic – was angered by my ‘narrow minded view’ and questioned whether I had ever been to PNG to truly understand the particular hardships endured by those people. I am grateful to this reader for taking the time to write and I am sure her words represent the thoughts of others – but it does demonstrate my point that there is a huge discrepancy in the public arena about the meaning and purpose of sex.

We live in an emotive age, we rely not on objective reason but on subjective feeling. If I was to make the basic statement that ‘contraception is bad’, that is not a judgement upon those who may use it, but rather it is a judgement on the act of contracepting a sexual union. I do not have the ability to cast a judgement on the conscience of an individual but we all need to (as citizens and even further as Christians) make judgements about actions, and indeed we all do it every day. In that sense it does not matter whether I have or have not been to PNG to witness the lives of the people there. If it is possible to objectively state that ‘contraception is bad’ then it would clearly be bad for any person, in the same way that consuming poison would be bad whether the people are from PNG, Australia or the USA.

In essence what the Catholic Church has to say about love and sex is fairly simple. We are human persons made up of body and soul so our actions are important. The only way we can express anything is through action. We are not and never will be pure spirits so we cannot consider matters just in terms of ideas. We often talk about ‘body language’ and indeed what we do with our bodies testifies to what we believe. I cannot walk up to someone, slap them across the face and then try to explain to that person that I just offered them a gesture of friendship. In the same way, sex speaks a language and deep down we all know that. If you don’t believe me ask a woman whose husband has committed adultery; she will certainly tell you that sex is more than just a random physical action. So then, the language of love and of sex is four-fold; it is something that is free, total, faithful and fruitful (fruitful meaning that it transcends itself). These qualities are not imposed upon us but rather we identify them as the deepest desires of our hearts. These four qualities are what make sexual love either truthful or a lie.

Contraception, IVF and homosexuality – as examples – make the sexual language into a lie by lacking one or more of those qualities. I am not saying that every person who engages in these practices is completely culpable each and every time, but on an objective level, those practices are never good for the human person because they are unable to speak the full truth of love. The Catholic Church is not obsessed with sex as much as she is obsessed with truth because it is only in truth that a human person can find interior peace.

The English Chancellor Thomas More chose to be executed in 1535 rather than speak a lie stating that the second marriage of King Henry VIII was valid. Today he is referred to as a martyr, someone who bears witness to the truth. How many of us would be more willing to go to our death rather than speak untruth? Most of us believe comfort and pleasure are the highest goods; they are not. This does not mean we should be seeking out suffering, we must do all in our power to relieve the difficulties of others but we can never do that with a lie. To return to the poverty stricken people of PNG, no matter how good the intention, contraception is always a lie. Material poverty does not justify us encouraging couples to turn the gift of their sexual love into a lie. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the Catholic vision for love and sex, we cannot be so foolhardy to think that the Church would or could turn around and encourage couples to reduce their sexual union into nothing more than an opportunity for individualistic pleasure seeking.

If the Catholic Church stands for anything it is for truth. This should come as no surprise considering the statement of Jesus who called himself ‘The Truth’. The reason the Catholic Church is so outspoken about issues around sexuality is because it is one of the most foundational ways that we can enter into the truth our hearts desire. The day the Church stops being obsessed with truth is the day she ceases being what she was called to be.

Slow Down and Think

By the time this post will actually be present on the good old internet, the Synod on the Family currently taking place in Rome will have concluded. While it might to you, then, seem a bit dated for me to write a commentary on a Synod that is over and probably will have fallen out of national news already, I quite like the timing.

At this world meeting of Bishops and a group of priests and lay people who were invited, some of the hottest issues of our time have been discussed, and it has happened with more than a little bit of controversy. Due to the age in which we find ourselves it would be impossible to read everything that has been written on the Synod. I am not writing a hot-off-the-press response, though; rather, the hope of this piece is to encourage the faithful to think rationally and deeply about the issues presented here, knowing that the teaching Body of our Church is alive and well as long as we allow it to be.

In a book I am currently reading called “My Brother, the Pope,” written by Monsignor Georg Ratzinger (really it’s an interview with him that was turned into a book, but his name is on the cover), he talks about the time when his brother was first brought to Rome as the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. If you remember the time of Ratzinger as the head of this Congregation (I barely do, but that’s why we have the internet to go back and read about things), you will remember a false but well-spread narrative which said that John Paul II, beloved by most everyone, wanted to change some things about the Church’s teachings. But this German Cardinal who was in charge of the Doctrine of the Faith wouldn’t allow it. This narrative of the media was obviously not true (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?), but draws our attention back to what was really happening in the Ratzinger-led Congregation during those years.

In commenting on this time, Michael Hesemann (the man who interviewed the former Pope’s brother for this book) explains that Cardinal Ratzinger had seventy-nine co-workers in this Congregation, people from five continents who were young theologians and were on the front lines of the theological debates the Congregation was called to discuss and define. He states that, in this office, they would often have discussions over coffee on one of their breaks, sometimes leading to some very heated arguments about this theological concept or that doctrinal implication. Before going any further, I hope that you will join me in thinking about how cool that image is; Cardinal Ratzinger, one of the best known minds in the world, hand-picked by Pope John Paul II to come to Rome and lead this congregation, sitting around drinking coffee with people from all over the world discussing theology and getting so passionate about it that he was getting into heated debates.

This moment, though, is not rare in the history of the Church. Throughout her past, the Church has debated the things She believes passionately, because the teachings of the Church are not things to be discussed lightly. In history, we have Jolly-Old Saint Nicholas, known by us as the inspiration of Santa Clause, spending a night in jail for walking across a room and hitting Arius because he was so angry with the (now known to be) heresy that Arius was trying to teach at Nicea. From then until now, we have continued to debate, discuss, and learn what the Lord has revealed to us, always being patient but diligent in our studies; if you want to read a little bit more about this history of debate, there’s some cool anecdotes and analysis from Fr. Robert Barron here: “Having Patience for the Sausage Making Synod.”

Let’s go back to that coffee break-room in the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, circa 1982, then, for a moment. The theologians joined together with Cardinal Ratzinger (himself, of course, quite a theologian) in open discussion because they knew it was important, and the Cardinal encouraged this because he knew that this was how the Church would come to understand the Truth which the Lord had revealed to them. This congregation was reading statements, books, and papers from theologians around the world who were saying and writing things that seemed totally erroneous and heretical, yet they needed to be discussed and debated in order that, in Her wisdom, the Church could define these Truths and pass them on to generations to come.

Today, we are clearly still in the midst of that conversation. Whether the conversation takes place in Ratzinger’s office or in the Synod of Bishops, the conversation is important because it is our conversation, our debate, our deep thought and our honest discussion that can allow the Church to understand what God is trying to say to Her and to the faithful. Instead of being upset when we read something we don’t like, then, maybe each of us should take the time to read about it, to learn the history of our Church’s teachings on that topic, and to form our own opinion, and then to have honest discussion about the faith with believers and non-believers alike. Then, in our patience and our rational thought, we might just be able to hear the voice of God speaking the Truth to us, whether it’s what we thought it was or not. As for the Synod, this would probably be a very good place to start.