Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Poor Christ Who Judges


The following was a reflection I preached before my community during a recent weekly Eucharistic Adoration liturgy.

We’ll begin with a true story. “Father John” was a well-known priest in New York City. Once a week in the middle of the night he would go to St Clare’s Hospital to clean the bedpans of patients dying of AIDS and to give pastoral counsel to those who despaired of life while suffering not only the agony of physical deterioration but also rejection by society, friends, and even family. Father John was so famous that he had to work in the middle of the night. In fact, every one of the hospital staff who knew him were under the strictest orders to refer to him only as “Father John” and were forbidden from using his last name.

Who was this “Father John”? None other than His Eminence John Cardinal O’Connor, Archbishop of New York, retired Rear Admiral of the United States Navy. A Prince of the Church, an occupant of one of the world’s premier episcopal Sees; he was such an important man that he had the American President, General Secretary of the United Nations, and even the Holy Father only one phone call away, and yet he did not think himself above cleaning infected waste and loving those who may—may—have rejected God’s plan for human sexuality. This man whom Pope John Paul II once addressed as “the Archbishop of the capital of the world” was a profound lover of the poor. Because of him, the Archdiocese of New York was said to be “haemorrhaging” two million dollars per year in works of charity. Those who had the privilege of meeting him could anticipate the same words of greeting every time: “What can I do for you?”

I think that the example of this late Archbishop of New York is an important one, because at the time of his appointment, the Church in America was in its most difficult moment. Cardinal O’Connor was one of the few but resounding voices who could articulate the teachings of Holy Church and who many bishops saw as their senior in the episcopate. He was a doctrinally sound Pastor who, at the same time, was keen on the Church’s social tradition. In fact his episcopal motto came from Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Populorum progressio—“There can be no peace without justice.”

I think we can all agree, more or less, that the Church in North America has been polarized, on one hand, between Catholics who wish to be loyal to the Magisterium but place less emphasis on social justice and charity, and on the other hand Catholics who are passionate about human dignity, the rights of workers, peace, but place less emphasis on doctrinal orthodoxy. For example, I’m sure we have heard otherwise doctrinally sound believers speak contemptuously of the Canadian Catholic Organisation for Development and Peace, and we’ve no doubt met Catholics who love Bl. John XXXIII’s Pacem in terris but dismiss Paul VI’s Humanae vitae. What has emerged is a tragic dichotomy between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. It is a false dichotomy and it has no place in the Catholic Faith. Our Father Rector has mentioned, on not a few occasions, of the unacceptability of pitting the ‘integralists’ and the ‘progressives’ against each other. I even accuse myself who am Catholic and Republican. Or perhaps I should say ‘Catholic but Republican.’

Let us no mistake: it is the same Christ of the Councils and Fathers who is the Christ of the Margins. It is Jesus Christ, God and Man, who is also Jesus Christ, hungry and poor.

We are at the threshold of a new liturgical year; on this last Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Roman Liturgy turns her attention to the Last Judgment. In the gospel we’ve just heard, the Lord Jesus makes it abundantly clear that He is Really Present in the margins—in the hungry and thirsty, in the immigrant and foreigner, in the homeless and imprisoned. “Amen, I say to you,” Christ will say to the blessed, “whatever you did for one of the least [sisters and] brothers of mine, you did for me.” He could not be clearer. “[F]or one of the least...” Who are the least for us? I shudder to think of what the Lord will say to me for all of those homeless people I pretended not to see, all of those mentally retarded people I ignored, all of those alcoholics I condemned, because it means I pretended not to see, I ignored, I condemned Christ of the Margins, Christ in distressing disguise.

We can be sure that there is indeed a ‘Real Presence’ of Christ in the poor for at least three reasons. In the first place, they too were created by Him, because every human person is the crowning work of Creation. It is fallen human nature to organize the human race into an hierarchy of ‘more valuable’ people over and against the ‘less valuable’—our culture prizes the successful entrepreneur but makes fun of those who have meagre bank accounts, let alone those who have nothing. But it is an authoritative teaching of the Magisterium that all people are of equal dignity— When God looks upon the world, there isn’t anyone who isn’t V.I.P.; there is not a whit of difference in dignity between a Hollywood celebrity or the Queen of Canada or even the pope and a person who lives on the streets and subsists on alcohol or sells her body to feed her children. This leads us to a second reason why we know that there is a ‘Real Presence’ of Christ in the poor—evangelizare pauperibus misit me, “He sent me to preach good news to the poor.” The Incarnation had in view not only God’s solidarity with the human race, but especially his solidarity with the poor. Finally, Christ died on the Cross for those on the margins no less than he died for those who are esteemed, financially secure, and impious.

Consider the words of another “Father John,” this time the fourth-century Archbishop of Constantinople, St John Chrysostom. We could not find a better time to listen to his words than here in the presence of the Most Blessed Sacrament whom we adore at this moment:

Do you wish to honour the Body of Christ? Then do not disdain Him when you see Him in rags. After having honoured Him in Church with silken vestments, do not leave Him to die of cold outside for lack of clothing. For it is the same Jesus Who says, “This is My Body” and Who says “I was hungry but you would not feed Me. Whenever you refused to help one of these least important ones, you refused to help me.”

The Eucharist, then, is the meeting-point between orthodoxy and orthopraxy, between right belief and upright life, the life which has as its foundation the precept of charity [cf. Jn 13:37], this charity which, as St Augustine tells us, is ‘why’ God is a Trinity. Doctrine and life—inseparable. Fidelity to the Magisterium, social action—absolutely mutually inclusive.

For us who are discerning a call to Holy Orders, our relationship to the Christ of the Margins is even more demanding—because priests are not simply called to a life of philanthropy but, in imitation of the Mystery of the Incarnation, to a life of solidarity with the poor. In the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Life of Ministry of Priests, we read that: “...priests are invited to embrace voluntary poverty. By it they become more clearly conformed to Christ and more ready to devote themselves to their sacred ministry.” Blessed John Paul II later wrote in his Pastores dabo vobis:

Poverty for the priest, by virtue of his sacramental configuration to Christ, the head and shepherd, takes on specific ‘pastoral’ connotations which the synod fathers took up from the Council's teachings and further developed. Among other things, they wrote: “Priests, following the example of Christ, who, rich though he was, became poor for love of us (cf. 2 Cor. 8:9)—should consider the poor and the weakest as people entrusted in a special way to them, and they should be capable of witnessing to poverty with a simple and austere lifestyle, having learned the generous renunciation of superfluous things” [n. 30].

So then: What is the bottom line? Cardinal O’Connor can answer that for us: the bottom line is eternity. In a homily he once gave, the Cardinal reminded the faithful of the crypt underneath the high altar at St Patrick’s Cathedral where the Archbishops of New York are buried. He was keenly aware that, on a fixed date pre-determined by God the just Judge, he will be interred in that narrow cubicle—about two feet wide, two feet tall, and six feet deep—and his body consigned to dust and ashes. What really matters, the Cardinal said, was not the fact that he was ‘Cardinal O’Connor,’ but rather, how he lived his life, and whether he lived it in faithful obedience to the precepts of Jesus Christ, the same Jesus Christ who commands us even now: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of Mine, you did for Me,” the same Christ who wanders around the Marian Centre, Hope Mission, or the Mustard Seed. Our salvation hinges upon our veneration of Christ, here in this Most Blessed Sacrament, and out there where He wanders cold, hungry, marginalised, and imprisoned.

Let us adore Christ, wherever we find Him, whether here in this monstrance of gold, or out there in a monstrance of rags. Let us love Christ, let us serve Christ.

O Jesus, You who are in disguise here, may we see You who are disguised in Your poor.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Is RealCatholicTV.com Really Catholic?

Well, is it?

To be fair, the disclaimer on the website's About Us page states: "No materials on this website are intended to speak in the name of the Church."

One must wonder, then: Wherefore the name "RealCatholicTV"? Does this indicate that the producers of RealCatholicTV.com perceive themselves as "more Catholic" than, say, EWTN or Salt+Light Television? (It would seem that the contemporary movement to "out-Catholic" another represents a spiritual malaise which breeds polarity, division, and hostility in the Church--precisely what the enemy of our salvation wishes to accomplish.)

To push the question further, why would an organisation identify itself as "Real Catholic" when in fact it does not intend "to speak in the name of the Church"? To separate Catholicity from its ecclesial reality is an instant recipe for schism. Just ask St Cyprian of Carthage.

Canon law is quite specific in who gets to call themselves Catholic. Individuals who are baptised and profess the Catholic faith are, of course, Catholic. This, mind you, pertains to physical persons, a category in canon law referring specifically to individuals like you and I (canon 96). Two other categories of persons exist in canon law, moral persons and juridic persons (cf. canon 113.1 and .2). Moral persons are mere de facto aggregates of physical persons, whereas juridic persons are--you guessed it--de iure aggregates of physical, or even moral, persons.

Thus, insofar as the members of RealCatholicTV.com have received the Sacraments of Initiation and profess the Catholic Faith in its entirety, they are, individually, Catholic. The problem, though, is that the name of the organisation begs to differ: (1) real, (2) Catholic, (TV). A television station or broadcasting network cannot be physical persons. The members who work for the station might be moral persons, but according to canon law, the only the "Church" and the "Apostolic See" are moral persons by divine right and only these moral persons can be properly called "Catholic."

Now we get to the crux of the issue: "No association is to assume the name Catholic without the consent of competent ecclesiastical authority according to the norm of can. 312)." The only "competent ecclesiastical authority" that can grant the title of "Catholic"--assuming that RealCatholicTV intends at least to be a private association of the faithful--is the Holy See, the episcopal conference, or the local Ordinary.

In other words, the only thing that is really and truly Catholic are (1) the Catholic Church and the Apostolic See, (2) individual believers, and (3) those associations of the faithful who have been granted, lawfully, the title "Catholic."

So, is RealCatholicTV.com really Catholic? No, it isn't.

We can go even further. It is well-known, now, that certain speakers associated with the said organisation have fallen out of favour with certain bishops who, unlike laypersons, exercise a divine right to govern their diocese and their subjects. And then we have the recent news that the organisers of World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid, Spain, have clearly noted that any speaking engagement by RealCatholicTV constitutes an unofficial presence.

It goes without saying that RealCatholicTV.com is known for its combative style and forcefully uncharitiable--indeed un-Christian--diatribes. Thus we conclude with the magisterial words of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council: "Even though incorporated into the Church, one who does not however persevere in charity is not saved. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but 'in body' and not 'in heart.' All children of the Church should nevertheless remember that their exalted condition results, not from their own merits, but from the grace of Christ. If they fail to respond in thought, word, and deed to that grace, not only shall they not be saved, but they shall be the more severely judged" (Lumen gentium n. 14).

If the viewers of RealCatholicTV.com want exposure to real Catholicity, then they should be attuned in heart and mind to the Church's liturgy, especially the Most Holy Eucharist, and to receive with docility and obedience the teachings of the Magisterium rather than view the rantings of a few disgruntled Catholic believers.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Of Biblical, Historical, Geographical,
and Statistical Illiteracy

George Berkeley once said that "truth is the cry of many but the game of few." The same could very well be said of people who take pride in their reputation of being Biblically literate.

I was in Italy recently, and got to see firsthand the city of Rome. When I returned home, I stumbled across a story posted by a Dominican friar on the Internet in which he was accosted by someone who asked whether he'd read Revelation 17 recently. The insinuation, of course, was obvious: That the Catholic Church fits the description found of "the harlot" in Revelation 13 and 17. In this brief post I intend to demonstrate why this interpretation is not only based upon a sloppy reading of the Sacred Page but also founded upon an ignorance of geography, history, and statistics.

The idea that the harlot spoken of in Rev 17 is the Catholic Church became popular with Martin Luther. But equivocations differ: some say that the popes are the "seven kings"; others say that he is "the beast." At this point the metaphor becomes confused: who rides upon whom? The pope upon the Church? The Church upon the pope?

The idea, or confusion, is still popular. Several denominations publish this idea in their official handbooks of doctrine. The late Jack Chick of Chick Publications is perhaps its most famous propagandist. But as we will see, it is insurmountably difficult to sustain such an interpretation of Rev 17 (and 13).

The basic motif in Rev 17 is found in v. 3, "...a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of blasphemous names, and ti had seven heads and seven horns." Later, in v. 9, we read that "the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated" (RSV). The Greek noun translated as "mountains" here, or
ē, is derived from oros which can be translated either "mountain," "mount," or "hill" (cf. W. C. Trenchard, A Concise Dictionary of New Testament Greek [New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2003], 114). In fact the NIV translates this precisely as "The seven heads are the seven hills on which the woman sits."

(We might add that, if one wants to be literalist about Rev 17:3, one would have to find, exactly, a city with seven mountains instead of hills--especially if one is a "King James Only believer.")

What locale fits the description of "the seven hills"? Rome, of course, does: it is famously known as "the City of the Seven Hills"--with the Aventine Hill, the Caelian Hill, the Capitoline Hill, the Esquiline Hill, the Palatine Hill, the Quirinal Hill, and the Viminal Hill. This is where anti-Catholics get lost--I have yet to meet one who interprets Rev 17 as referring to the Catholic Church and can name the Seven Hills of Rome.

At this point, it is difficult to see how the Catholic Church is referenced here.

In the first place, St Peter's Basilica sits on the Vatican Hill, which is not even counted among the "Seven Hills of Rome." To make matters worse, St Peter's Basilica sits on the west side of the Tiber River; when the Revelation to John was composed, the City of Rome extended only to the east bank of the Tiber River. In point of fact, what is now "Vatican City" does not even coincide with the old city of Rome, which can be said to have two sets of boundaries. Originally, the Servian Wall surrounded the city in the fourth century B.C. and later expanded with the Aurelian Wall, constructed in the third century A.D.

But it gets worse.

St Peter's Basilica is not even the head of Catholic Christendom, it's the Lateran Basilica and it does sit on a hill--the Lateran Hill which, again, is not one of the Seven Hills of Rome. The Lateran Basilica--which is properly called the "Papal Archbasilica of the Most Holy Saviour"--is situated between the Esquiline and the Caelian Hills.

It is even harder to see how we can square the number "seven" with the Church of Rome. There are indeed "patriarchial basilicas" in Rome where the pope has the title to--but there are only five of them. In addition to the Vatican and Lateran Basilicas, there is also Santa Maria Maggiore (St Mary Major), San Paolo fuori le Mura (St Paul Outside-the-Walls) and San Lorenzo fuori le Mura (St Lawrence Outside-the-Walls). As you can see, two additional patriarchal basilicas are outside the boundaries of old Rome.

There are a few more difficulties with the equivocation of Rev 17 and the Catholic Church.

Rome wasn't always the site of the papal curia. Several times throughout its history, the popes resided in other cities, especially Orvieto, Viterbo, and Avignon, which isn't even on the periphery of Rome.

And then, of course, we have the "seven kings" (vv. 10-12), one of whom was dealt a "mortal wound" (Rev 13:14). These "seven kings" have often been referred to as popes, but since Pope Benedict XVI is number two hundred sixty-five in the papal succession, it is difficult to see how 10 can equal 265.

Moreover, "the woman that you saw is the great city which has dominion over the kings of the earth." The Catholic Church, obviously, is not a city. It is, well, a Church.

What can I say now? Probably none other than what can be found in the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church under the entry "Antichrist": "...the identification of the Pope with the Antichrist has been frequently made, especially in the less educated circles of Protestantism" ([New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1997], 76).

And good riddance, since the word "antichrist" is nowhere to be found in the book of Revelation.

For further reading: http://www.catholic.com/library/Hunting_the_Whore_of_Babylon.asp
Link

Monday, May 23, 2011

Mr Camping and Fundamentalism

So the purported 'rapture' came and went. As a Catholic, I am not in the least bit surprised.

What does surprise me still is the way in which Fundamentalists read the Bible. Certainly, Mr Harold Camping does not represent Fundamentalism insofar as he set a date for the End. He does, however, represent Fundamentalism insofar as his method of Biblical interpretation sets up the individual reader (or one to whom the individual reader defers to) as a magisterium unto himself. The grand irony of Fundamentalism in particular, and Protestantism in general, is that it rejects the authority of the Church, only to insist on the authority of the individual believer, the pastor, or a denomination. In other words, the very premise that is rejected--the authority of the Church--becomes the very premise of Protestantism--the authority of the individual. Protestantism, and especially Fundamentalism, is founded upon a self-contradiction.

Even more than this, however, is the way in which Fundamentalism brings the obscure passages of Scripture into high relief to the point of suppressing some of the more prima facie assertions of the Biblical writers. In the case of Mr Camping and his followers, there was a strange silence on the question of Mt 24:36, "But about that day and hour, no-one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (cf. Mk 13:32). Even more astonishing is that, for all the reputed Biblical literacy which Fundamentalists advertise to be their greatest asset, hardly anything was said about the fact that even the Lord Jesus did not know the time of the End.

My point here, really, is the metod of setting aside the prima facie meanings of certain Biblical passages in favour of a collection of more obscure passages in the Protestant method of reading the Bible. A classic example is the Bread of Life discourse: "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh" (Jn 6:51). Jesus repeats his assertion several times in vv. 53, 54, 55, 56, 58. In the attempt to escape the prima facie meaning of Jesus' Eucharistic words, the Old Testament prohibition of eating blood is often invoked. Still others resort to a kind of Rationalism: "How can bread and wine be the flesh and blood of Jesus?" And, despite the masterful study of the Lutheran exegete Joachim Jeremias (The Eucharistic Words of Jesus [London, UK: SCM Press, 1990]). The same can be said about holy baptism as effecting interior regentation by a realist participation in the Passion of Christ (cf. Jn 3:5; Mk 16:16; 1 Pt 3:21; Col 2:12-13; Rom 6:3-4); the falsity of 'eternal security' (1 Cor 4:4; Gal 5:4; Heb 6:4-6, 10:26-27; 2 Jn 8-9, et al.); the existence of a doctrinal and moral Magisterium in the Church (Acts 15, et al.).

Unfortunately, the loudest bark provokes the greatest scare, and Mr Camping's doctrinal monstrosities have already caught the attention of the world and away from the authentic Christianity which has existed for two millenia. As an insider--I hold two Masters' degrees in sacred theology and I am in preparation for Holy Orders--I know that the Catholic Church does not share the eschatological views of Mr Camping or of Fundamentalism, and so I am surprised when strangers ask me whether Mr Camping is correct in his calculations. To ask a Catholic whether Mr Camping is correct is like asking a Latinist whether the magical incantations in the Harry Potter series are pronounced correctly. Although I will save the topic for a different posting, I seriously suspect that, given the theology of Divine Revelation professed by Fundamentalists, Fundamentalism disqualifies itself as "Christianity."

Yet Mr Camping has done incalculabe harm to the Church's mission. The propaganda stir he effected has rubbed off onto Christianity and damaged its credibility because most people--especially the New Atheists--are unable to ditinguish between the "christianities" of Protestantism and the Christianity of the Catholic Church. Five years ago, any theological discussion by a nonbeliever necessarily included a refutation of the historical fiction that is The Da Vinci Code. Now, any such theological discussion will necessarily include a disclaimer on Mr Camping. In fact, Mr Camping can rightly be called the next Dan Brown.

Heresy is serious business, so serious that it was a capital crime in certain parts of medieval Europe. Instead, today, we have hundreds of disappointed people, without jobs, massive credit card debts, shattered faith, and hundreds of secularists who have since become even more hardened in their unbelief. I suppose the element of surprise in the actual coming of the End will have something to do with the incredulity contributed by Mr Camping.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Dogmatic Theology and Systematic Theology

For some time now, I have been thinking about the phrase 'dogmatic theology.' In particular I have been reflecting on the difference between dogmatic theology and systematic theology. Is there a difference? Should there be a difference?

A basic rule of linguistics is that there are not two words with the exact same definition. By this alone we should know that 'dogmatics' and 'systematics' cannot mean the same thing.

But we can also know that these two names denote different things by the way they 'behave' in discourse. If I say something about "Christological dogma," one should naturally think about the Nicaean response to the Arian crisis, the "Chalcedonian definition," and the "God-Man" of St Anselm's satisfaction theory. If, however, I say something about the "Christological system," instinctively my hearers know that I am speaking of quite another thing. It could very well mean the taximony of Christological beliefs, their interrelation, and speculative reflection on the person of Christ (as, for example, Roger Haight's failed experiment in Jesus as the "symbol of God" or Gustavo Guiterrez's successful experiment in Jesus as the one who is on the side of the marginalised and oppressed).

What is even more interesting, I think, is that some theological faculties describe themselves differently. Let's take Dunwoodie Seminary--a place I hold in very high esteem--in Yonkers, New York. The professors of theology are given the title of "professor of dogmatic theology." Some of them have received doctorates precisely in dogmatic theology from the Gregorianum. Others, holding to the same title, have doctorates from the Catholic University of America which has a department in "Historical and Systematic Theology."

Should there be a difference? As a lecturer in theology at my alma mater told me recently, every theologian has his method--and he said this in a less-than-endearing way.

Rather than saying that there are different methods between dogmatics and systematics (which is nonetheless true), I think it is better to say that each has its own paedagogy. The word 'dogma' should suffice to tell us this.

'Dogma,' as you know, is a narrower range of Catholic belief than is 'doctrine.' In contemporary theological discourse, dogma pertains strictly to the primary object of infallibility which requires the "assent of faith," a specific modality of belief that is owed the person of God; 'authoritative doctrine' pertains to the secondary object of infallibility which requires "firm retention and adherence." As far as 'dogma' goes, the definition proposed by Fr Philip Neri Chrismann OFM has proven to be enduring: "a dogma of the faith is nothing other than a divinely revealed doctrine and truth which is proposed by the public judgment of the Church as something to be believed with divine faith, in such wise that the contrary is condemned by the Church as heretical doctrine" (Regula fidei catholicae, quoted in W. Kasper, Dogma unter dem Wort Gottes [Mainz, 1965], 36). Those who are familiar with the dogmatic constitution on the Catholic Faith Dei Filius will immediately recognise Fr Chrismann's definition.

Dogma, then, has to do with something that is (1) divinely revealed, (2) proposed by the magisterium, and (3) to be believed with "divine faith."

What is distinctive about dogma is that the belief is disclosed by Divine Revelation. In other words, certain beliefs are knowable only because God has disclosed them. An example of this would be the Trinity, the Hypostatic Union of Christ, or the Immaculate Conception and Assumption of Mary. None of these can be known by pure reason as, can be, for example, the existence of a Creator or the natural moral law.

Let's put this aside and take a look at how sacramental theology has been done since the closing of the Second Vatican Council. According to Trent, a sacrament was "instituted by Jesus Christ our Lord" (DS 1601). Now when one takes, for example, the Sacrament of Penance, just how or when Christ instituted it asks a question that does not give full justice to the event of Divine Revelation (see D. Coffey, The Sacrament of Reconciliation [Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2001], 32ff). There is no question that Christ established Penance as a means of absolving post-baptismal grave sins. But it must be understood within the context of Christ as the "primoridal sacrament." In other words, the economy of the Incarnate Word, especially the life of Christ, achieved a certain 'plurification' in the sacramental system of the Church. Christ, obviously, instituted baptism and Eucharist, but less obviously but no less truly instituted penance, confirmation, and the other sacraments in virtue of certain patterns in his life. As K. Rahner said,

The sacramentality of the Church's basic activity is implied by the very essence of the Church as the irreversible presence of God's salvific offer in Christ. The sacramentality is interpreted by the Church in the seven sacraments, just as the Church developed its own essence in its constitution.

I am convinced that dogmatic theology has developed in a fashion not wholly unlike the seven sacraments. If the sacraments represents an endurance of Christ's Incarnation (as, indeed, the Incarnation is the very "principle" of sacramentality), then dogma represents an endurance of Divine Revelation. I would go so far as to say this: If Christ is the primordial sacrament, the Divine Revelation is the primordial dogma.

The next step, then, has to do with the believer's response to Divine Revelation as 'crystallized' in the Church's dogmatic definitions. This is precisely what is meant by "divine faith" or, to put it juridically, by "the assent of faith." Thus dogmatic theology requires a modus operandi that demands the habitus of the theological virtue of faith than perhaps even systematic theology does, as the latter may deal with speculative questions that do not require the assent of faith (such as, for example, whether St John the Precursor was cleansed of sin in the womb of Elizabeth in virtue of Mary's greeting or whether the Mother of God was the first to know that Christ was risen from the dead).

Even more than that, it is perhaps worth considering--not without some degree of perplexity--that the various treatises of theology are presented almost in isolation from other treatises. For example, there is the commonly-heard complaint (especially by Rahner) that the treatises de Deo Uno and de Deo Trino are too often in total separation that a transition from the One Creator God to the Triune God is next-to-impossible to achieve, at least in the way that manual theology was taught. The Eastern Christians, however, do not make such a separation. (In fact, true to the form of St Gregory of Nyssa, the unity and oneness of God is inferred from the three hypostaseis).

To take another example, consider the treatise de Ecclesia. We know, of course, that there is no Church without the Eucharist; yet too infrequently do we hear a lecture on the centrality of the Eucharist in the Church. Moreover, there is a definite Trinitarian structure to the liturgy: how does this liturgical Trinitarianism bear on the Eucharist and, subsequently on the Church? Take treatise, and there is a guarantee that each and any one of them can be brought to bear upon every other treatise. De Quattuor novissimus and de Sacramentis; de Deo Trino and
de Natura et gratia (Pope John Paul II has done precisely this in his theology of the body); and de Incarnatione Verbi and de Mysterium Paschale; any one of these treatises can be brought to bear upon another.

This, I would propose, is what distinguishes dogmatic theology from systematics: it bears in mind the totality of Divine Revelation as the horizion against which to read the Church's dogmatic definitions. In other words, dogmatic theology stands closer to the "primordial dogma" of Divine Revelation and considers the articles of faith before its systematization in the different treatises. As such, it requires a different exercise of faith in its study. Systematic theology, then, is posterior to dogmatic theology, because it classifies the various dogmata of the Church into various treatises. The intermediary state between Divine Revelation and theological treatises, I would suggest, is precisely "dogmatic theology."

Since dogmatics is to be studied in front of the horizon of Divine Revelation, it might be useful to take M. Lohrer's proposal that the function of dogma is to mediate the kerygma. That having been said, it is probably a good habit, when looking at the lens of dogma, to discern what aspect of the Gospel it is intended to highlight. Thus dogma bears greater promise of providing not only certitude but clear perception of Divine Revelation.

But here I must interject with a complaint. The study of theology, especially Catholic theology, ought to presuppose a basic knowledge of the Church's magisterial teachings. How often have we taken a course in Triadology (1) without a course in the Gospel of John as a prerequisite and (2) without any grounding in the letter of Pope Dionysius I to Dionysius of Alexandria, the Cappadocian Settlement, and the Eleventh Council of Toledo? This same pattern can be repeated across several fields of theology. I remember taking a course in Christology in which my professor, aware of the advancements of Biblical studies (and probably R. E. Brown's New Testament Christology), said that the lectures would not begin with an examination of the Gospels and Pauline/Johannine literature as that would be "anachronistic." Cardinal Schonborn's recent book, God Sent His Son, is a perfect example of how it is not anachronistic. Fr G. O'Collin's Christology likewise does a good job presenting the dogmatic picture of Christ, making use of both Scripture and the Church's teaching authority.

To translate what I've just said into practical terms: Denzinger-Schonmetzer.

Dogmatic theology and systematic theology, although there is a tendency to use the two terms interchangeably, should not be confused. They are differentiated not so much in their methods as in their paedagogy and, if we are to take B. Lonergan's very useful suggestion, then systematics is posterior to dogmatics.

To close, I pulled out an old paper and uploaded it for your viewing pleasure, if you are so inclined to investigate this question from the point-of-view of Bernard Lonergan.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Universal Call to Holiness
And Particular Vocations

Anyone who visits Washington, D.C., should take the time to visit the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, a magnificent structure dedicated to the Mother of God. Some of the readers who followed Pope Benedict XVI's Apostolic Journey to the United States may remember that he presided at a Solemn Vespers in the Crypt Church of the National Shrine. Yes, that one.

The Great Upper Church is a monument to the Catholic faith--we not only express our Catholicity in what we believe, in how we behave, and in the prayers we offer. Our Catholicity is expressed in the architectural and artistic patrimony of the Church. The National Shrine is a notable example of this.

When a pilgrim enters the Great Upper Church, immediately above the doors is one of the world's largest marble relief sculptures, titled The Universal Call to Holiness. It prominently features a dove in the upper centre, with streams of light radiating from him towards all sorts of people: priests, couples, single people, religious, as well as famous contemporaries such as Mother Theresa of Calcutta and Pope John Paul II.

The relief sculpture, proposed by His Eminence James Cardinal Hickey, then-Archbishop of Washington, is a tribute to a teaching of the Second Vatican Council, the "universal call to holiness." The holy Council taught:

Therefore in the Church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness, according to the saying of the Apostle: "For this is the will of God, your sanctification".(215) However, this holiness of the Church is unceasingly manifested, and must be manifested, in the fruits of grace which the Spirit produces in the faithful; it is expressed in many ways in individuals, who in their walk of life, tend toward the perfection of charity, thus causing the edification of others; in a very special way this (holiness) appears in the practice of the counsels, customarily called "evangelical."
...
Thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society. In order that the faithful may reach this perfection, they must use their strength accordingly as they have received it, as a gift from Christ. They must follow in His footsteps and conform themselves to His image seeking the will of the Father in all things. They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor. In this way, the holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest of good, as is admirably shown by the life of so many saints in Church history (Lumen gentium, 39, 41).

The Church's supreme authority is abundantly clear that each person, not just those who have a parish named after them, or those who lived in former times, but each and every one of the baptised, is called to live a life of holiness, of the perfection of charity. The late and great Pope John Paul II reiterated the Church's teaching in the following terms:

The Council Fathers laid such stress on this point, not just to embellish ecclesiology with a kind of spiritual veneer, but to make the call to holiness an intrinsic and essential aspect of their teaching on the Church. The rediscovery of the Church as "mystery", or as a people "gathered together by the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit", was bound to bring with it a rediscovery of the Church's "holiness", understood in the basic sense of belonging to him who is in essence the Holy One, the "thrice Holy" (cf. Is 6:3). To profess the Church as holy means to point to her as the Bride of Christ, for whom he gave himself precisely in order to make her holy (cf. Eph 5:25-26). This as it were objective gift of holiness is offered to all the baptized (Novo millennio inuente, 30).

Our Lord was clear that the programme of discipleship consisted in the perfection of charity (Jn 13:34-35); St Peter instructed his readers, "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, 'You shall be holy for I am holy'" (1 Pet 1:14-16). And, if we take our clue from the sacred liturgy, the fact that the gospel of the Beatitudes is proclaimed on the Solemnity of All Saints indicates to us that holy women and men are those who were obedient to the Beatitudes and that Christian holiness likewise requires obedience to the Beatitudes. Jesus taught the Beatitudes for all of His followers.

Holiness is for each and every Christian. Only when that is established can we approach the question of the particular vocation. Each figure in the relief sculpture of The Universal Call to Holiness falls into one of only four categories: (1) Holy Matrimony, (2) Holy Orders, (3) consecrated life, and (4) the single life. These four "states in life" are a particular means to holiness. In Holy Matrimony, the husband and the wife offer each other in exclusive and life-giving generosity, whose expression of love yields a growth in spousal love and parental love. In Holy Orders, the ordained man is configured to either Christ the Servant (as a deacon) or Christ the Good Shepherd (as a priest or bishop) for exercising the ministries of teaching, sanctifying, and governing the Church. Consecrated life is one of profound self-donation to the Lord by the profession of the evangelical counsels. The single life is the state in which one offers her or his virginal and celibate consecration in witness of the Age to Come, in which "none are married or given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven" (Mt 22:30). Every baptised Christian, in addition to her or his obligation to pursue holiness in the perfection of charity, is called to one of these states in life.

What is significant, however, is how each of these four states are rooted in the mystery of Christ. Our Lord, and Our Lord alone, lived each of these states in life all at once.

Christ is given into Holy Matrimony in a nuptial bond with the Church as His spouse (Eph 5:21-33). In fact, the Magisterium teaches that the sacrament of Holy Matrimony is founded upon the mystery of Christ's union with His Church (cf. Pius XI, Casti connubii; Leo XIII, Arcanum divinae sapientiae).

Christ is our Good Shepherd (Jn 10:1-18) and is therefore our Great High Priest (cf. Letter to the Hebrews).

Christ lived, perfectly, a life of obedience, material and spiritual poverty, and chastity in his utter dedication to God the Father. In fact many scholars believe that "Jesus the Nazorean" refers His taking of the Nazirite vow of asceticism (cf. Num 6:1-21). Those who have read Prof Jaroslav Pelikan's famous tome Christ Through the Centuries may remember his chapter "The Monk Who Rules the World." Some may even recall Dom Columba Marmion's Christ the Ideal of the Monk.

Christ, of course, was unmarried, at least in the earthly sense. He had no wife and experienced perfect virginity in His complete self-donation to the Father's will and the proclamation of the Kingdom.

Each of us who is called to a particular vocation--whether married, ordained, consecrated, or single--will find in Christ the Perfection and the Ideal. In Christ we find the Exemplar of Holiness and the Exemplar of Vocations!

Finally, we cannot forget that the root of the vocation is in the family. Once, when I lived in New York, I visited the mother-house of the Sisters of Life, founded by His Eminence John Cardinal O'Connor and Mother Agnes Mary Donovan SV. At the mother-house, we were challenged with a question from one of the sisters: "Where does a vocation begin?" After each of us gave a failed answer, the sister said: "The family! It is in the family that the Lord plants the seed of a vocation."

Holy Church teaches that the Incarnate Word was born into a family and was raised in a family. Thus we have a devotion to the "Holy Family"--the original "domestic church" where the Incarnate Word began His vocation--as a nuptial, a priest, a religious, and a single Man. It is in the family, therefore, that the parents have a grave obligation, indeed, a privileged role with God to assist their children in pursuing holiness of life and in discerning a vocation to either marriage, ordination, religion, or as a single person. Even as we grow older and continue to discern, we must never forget that each of us is a member of the Holy Family--and that we can continue to invoke the prayers of St Joseph and the Mother of God to assist us in our vocation, just as they assisted Jesus Christ in His.

I invite you to make the following a regular part of your daily prayers:

Heavenly Father,
bless Your Church with an abundance of holy and zealous
priests, deacons, brothers, and sisters.
Give those You have called
to the married state
and those You have chosen to live
as single persons in the world
the special graces that their lives require.
Form us all in the likeness of Your Son
so that in Him, with Him, and through Him
we may love You more deeply
and serve You more faithfully,
always and everywhere.
With Mary we ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

This post is a tribute to the Revd Fr P. Terrio, Director of Vocations of the Archdiocese of New York, and Mr M. Irizar, a candidate to Holy Orders in the same archdiocese.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Church's Bible, the Bible's Church

As of tomorrow, 10 January 2011, I will have been a Catholic for eighteen years. I was baptised at St Mary's Parish in Muskegon, Michigan, by the late Fr Marvin Archer on the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord in 1993.

I came to join the Catholic Church from the Baptist denomination. In seventh grade, I read a book about the Catholic Church that utterly astounded me: as a Baptist, I was always under the impression that any gathering of "Bible-believing Christians" was haphazard. As a former confrere put it, "I am a Christian; I happen to go to a Baptist church." My reading of Church history, on the other hand, demonstrated to me beyond any reasonable doubt that the Catholic Church of today traces its lineage to the original community of disciples gathered by Jesus Christ. In other words, no other denomination could make the same claim as did the Catholic Church: that Jesus Christ is our Founder. It would not be until I was a sophomore in high school, however, that I was received into Holy Catholicity.

At a local parish, I introduced myself to a priest after Mass and indicated that I wanted to become a Catholic. He was an elderly man, and a serious one, but full of warmth. I remember his tight grip on my hand as he was greeting parishioners on their way out of Mass. In front of me was a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that seemed strangely familiar, strangely "right." We never had statues in Baptist churches, but the mere gaze upon this figure proclaimed to me Christ who was eager to receive my soul, full of love and mercy.

After the priest finished greeting the parishioners, we drove to his rectory. I was shocked by how bare and simple it was--hardly any furniture, a small television, and a little dog. At the time, I had been attending a Baptist church just around the corner from this parish, much to the priest's surprise, since he was accustomed to slander and misinformation about the Catholic Faith on the part of non-Catholics, especially Baptists and Fundamentalists. We chatted for a while and, as I was leaving, he gave me two books. The first, Catholic Answers to Fundamentalists' Questions, was a useful compendium of Catholic replies to common Fundamentalist misinformation. The second was a catechism, Instructions in the Catholic Faith, which is unfortunately out of print.

Instructions in the Catholic Faith was unique in that the beginning of each chapter began with a section from the Scriptures and the documents of the Second Vatican Council. I distinctly remember reading those chapters on the peculiarly "Catholic" doctrines like the Eucharist, papal primacy, and purgatory with the accompanying texts from Scripture. I was astounded at how biblical the Catholic Faith was, so astounded in fact that I checked these Biblical references in my NIV Bible just to make sure. And, sure enough, those Scripture texts cited by the catechism to substantiate those peculiarly Catholic beliefs. From that book began my journey to the study of sacred theology, my "love affair with the Truth" to use the title of a documentary on Pope Benedict XVI.

I had been vaguely aware of the Baptist comment that "Catholics don't read the Bible." My experience of the Catholic Church during the first few years of exploration completely obliterated that. When I attended Sunday Mass, I noticed that there were always three readings from the Scriptures, generally the first from the Old Testament, the second from the New Testament, and a Gospel. Between the first and second readings was a sung Psalm. We never sang the Psalter in the Baptist church! In fact, it was fairly common for there to be only two to five verses read by the pastor followed by a forty-five minute speech. The Catholic homily, on the other hand, is rarely more than ten minutes, but is preceded by a "Liturgy of the Word" that is often lengthy. More to the point, at the Easter Vigil, there is an extremely long Liturgy of the Word with eight readings from Scripture. The charge that Catholics don't read the Bible is nothing more than misinformation. Really, "misinformation" is a euphemism for "lie"--it is a patent lie that Catholics don't read the Bible. What do we have Lectionaries for?

A year after my baptism, when I was seventeen, I ordered a set of the Liturgy of the Hours and began to use it, albeit with some difficulty at first. Coming from a Fundamentalist background, the breviary is a most unusual book: in four volumes, the Bible arranged for prayer at least five times daily, preceded (generally) by three Psalms and a short reading (as is the case for Morning Prayer, Daytime Prayer, and Evening Prayer). The so-called "Office of Readings" began with three Psalms but concluded with two lengthy readings--the first from Scripture and the second, generally, from one of the Fathers of the Church. Here again I encountered what was assumed nonexistent as a Baptist--that there are writings from the first Christian centuries, and let me tell you, they don't sound anything like any Baptist preacher I know!

So here I am, attending Sunday Mass with three readings, praying the Liturgy of the Hours, and reading the Bible on my own time. I was getting myself soaked in Scripture.

One day, I was with my Boy Scout troop manning a fundraising booth at the annual fair. I saw one of my former confreres at the Baptist church I attended during my earliest years. When I mentioned that I had become a Catholic, he launched into a two-dimensional commentary on how Catholics don't read the Bible. Catholics attend Sunday Mass with three readings, but "Catholics don't read the Bible." Priests and religious are required to celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours but "Catholics don't read the Bible." Every parish had a Bible study group going on but "Catholics don't read the Bible." I remember being very, very irritated by this man whose contact with the world beyond his prejudice was governed by the garbage he was fed at my former Baptist church, passed off as "Sunday School." Little did I know that this promised to be a consistent experience.

When I was a senior in high school, one of the sign-language interpreters came from my former Baptist church (which was, in fact, right across the street from the school). She is a wonderful lady, and to this day she is a friend of mine. A genuine Christian. But, for the life of me, her self-advertisement as a "Bible-believer" had little to show for it. I distinctly recall a discussion in the hallway before class about why the Catholic Old Testament was slighly longer than the Protestant one. I had begun to explain that the Jews of Alexandria had translated the Old Testament into Greek and this was the Old Testament used by the earliest Christians...

"I'm really not interested in that," was her interruption.

I was astounded. A "Bible believer" not interested in the history of the Bible? Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Fundamentalism.

As a Catholic, I am continually in awe of the reverence that the Church shows to the Bible. "The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures as she venerated the Body of the Lord, in so far as she never ceases, particualrly in the sacred liturgy" (Dei Verbum, 21). The parish I was baptized had a beautiful, silver-plated cover for the Book of the Gospels. During the reading of the Gospel, it was held aloft by the priest during the singing of the Celtic Alleluia, and kissed when the reading reached its conclusion. Anyone can see this sort of thing when they watch the pope's Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve: an ornate Book of the Gospels is enthroned on an elaborate stand , then carried in procession accompanied by candles, enveloped in clouds of incense, and not just read alout but sung. It is brought to the pope at the conclusion of its proclamation for him to kiss and to take up and bless us with the sign of the Cross. I am appalled, on the other hand, to see Bibles rolled up in one hand by television "preachers," slammed on the pulpit, and worst of all, quoted in isolation from the rest of the text. If singing the Bible, incensing the Bible, kissing the Bible, enthroning the Bible, does not count for reverence and veneration, I don't know what does!

Additionally, an ancient monastic praxis of reading the Bible known as lectio divina is a uniquely Catholic patrimony. Every silent retreat I have ever attended as a Catholic has included strong encouragement not only to spend time with the Bible in prayer each day, but has recommended especially the method of lectio divina.

There is more! The 'Biblicality' of the Catholic Faith, if I may coin a word, is understood in terms of culture. Catholics are not satisfied with simply a retrieval of doctrine from the Bible but even more a celebration of Biblical symbols in the life of the Church. It is true that there is a three-year cycle of Scripture readings on Sundays (and a two-year cycle for weekdays), but there is also a liturgical year which commemorates the various events of the Biblical narrative: the Annunciation (25 March), the visit of the Magi on Epiphany (6 January), the Baptism of the Lord (Sunday after Epiphany), the Presentation of the Lord (2 February), the Purification of Mary, the Temptation in the Desert (First Sunday of Lent), the Transfiguration of the Lord (6 August), Pentecost (fiftieth day of Easter), and so forth. There are also days in which the memory of various Biblical figures are commemorated, such as Sts Peter and Paul (29 June), St Andrew the First-Called (30 November), St John the Apostle and Evangelist (27 December), the Prophet King David (29 December), the Prophet Isaiah (6 July), the Prophet Elijah (20 July), and so forth. Still, Fundamentalists say that "Catholics don't read the Bible."

And again, the symbols of Biblical narratives are used: on Epiphany, extra candles are lit in the church as a reminder of the Star that led the Magi to the infant Jesus. On the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord, water is sprinkled on the liturgical assembly as a reminder of our baptism. At Easter, the astronomical interplay of the sun and the moon reminds us of the Light of the World who was resurrected. During the Advent season, the "Jesse Tree" serves to remind us of the ancestry of Jesus, rooted in the history of Israel. I could go on. And still, Fundamentalists say that "Catholics dont' read the Bible."

As a seminarian preparing for Holy Orders, I am required to devote a bulk of my time to the study of Scripture. According to the supreme authority of the Church, "Hence, [seminarians] should be trained for the ministry of the Word, so that they may gain an ever increasign understanding of the revealed Word of God, making it their own by meditation and giving it expression in their speech and in their lives" (Optatum totius, 4). At my own seminary, I am proud to say, at least eight, 3-credit courses in Scripture are required for Ordination: Introduction to Scripture, Matthew and Mark, Like-Acts, Pauline Literature, Johannine Literature, Prophets, Psalms and Wisdom Literature, and the Pentateuch.

Every non-Catholic institution of higher learning offers degrees in the study of Scripture, but the Catholic Church alone has a system of credentialing those who undertake such a study at a higher level. These degrees are known as the Licentiate of Sacred Scripture (abbreviated "S.S.L.") and the Doctorate of Sacred Scripture ("S.S.D."). In Rome, there are at least two institutions of higher learning known for their curricula in Scripture, the Pontifical Biblical Institute and the Pontifical Gregorian University, both of which are operated by the Society of Jesus (popularly known as the Jesuits). In point of fact, one of the editors of the current Critical Text of the Greek New Testament is himself a Jesuit, His Eminence Carlos Cardinal Martini, who holds a double doctorate in both fundamental theology and Scripture. The pope also has a body of advisors on matters of Scripture known as the Pontifical Biblical Commission. And, according to Fundamentalists, "Catholics don't read the Bible"?

In recent times, popes have issued numerous documents on the Scriptures, beginning with Providentissimus Deus (Pope Leo XIII, 1893), Dei Filius (First Vatican Council, promulgated by Pope Pius IX, 1870), Spiritus Paraclitus (Pope Benedict XV, 1920), Divino afflante Spiritu (Pope Pius XII, 1943), Dei Verbum (Second Vatican Council, promulgated by Pope Paul VI, 1965), and most recently Verbum Domini (Pope Benedict XVI, 2010). I wonder how many Fundamentalist have even heard of these documents, let alone read them.

The Catholic Church is, for lack of better phraseology, the house of the Scriptures. Our art, our study, our liturgy, our prayer is saturated with the Scriptures.

At a deeper level, however, Catholicity and Protestantism differs enormously in the "reception" of the Scriptures. Since the Catholic Church was founded by Christ, the "deposit of faith"--that is to say, the body of doctrines--was "once for all entrusted to the holy ones." In other words, the delivery of the doctrine of Christ happened once and only once; it cannot be "delivered again." The body of Catholic doctrines that is believed today was set in motion by Christ and His Apostles; Scripture is a reminder of what Christ and the Apostles has taught. This is a crucial difference between the fundamental theology of Catholicity and of Protestantism. Recall that, at the Transfiguration, God commanded Sts Peter, James, and John to "Listen to Him!" Colossians 2:3 speaks of "the knowledge of God's mystery, that is Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." It is Jesus Christ who is the locus of Divine Revelation, it is He who discloses God, not the Bible. Remember that the Pauline communities were already Chrisians when the Apostle wrote his epistles (cf. Rom 15:15); many of these communities were founded by Paul himself, and not one of the ancient Christian communities were founded on the basis of an apostolic letter! This is precisely the Catholic position: the Faith is handed on to us by the preaching and teaching of the Church's leadership and the Bible is a reminder of what was handed on. Protestantism, on the contrary, is only one-quarter as old as Christianity itself, and for that reason it does not exist in the privileged stream of apostolic succession; it has tried to use the Bible to represent a "leapfrogging" of Church history from the age fo the Apostles to the time of Martin Luther. Christianity is just that: the religion of Christ, not the religion of the Bible, otherwise it would be called 'Bibleanity.' The Bible cannot be a 'reset button' that can be hit whenever we suspect our pastor of un-Biblical doctrines--to do so is to usurp the privileged work of the Holy Spirit, who was sent to lead us "into all the Truth." The Catholic Church, therefore, is a Biblical culture. Fundamentalism--the attempt to be "Bible-based"--is ultimately an idolatrous and blasphemous endeavour because it is Christ who is our foundation. Christ reveals God. To substitute the Bible for Christ...I won't bother to finish that thought because, if I needed to, then my reader has wasted time reading this post.

The Scriptures is preeminently the Book of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. That's all there is to it.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Top Ten Reasons Why I Am A Catholic Christian

The eighteenth anniversary of my baptism is fast approaching, and a recent viewing of anti-Catholic propaganda on my Facebook page has led me to decide upon a series of postings on why I left the Baptist denomination to become a Catholic. I am, to be frank, exhausted by the sheer intentional ignorance of so many people about the Catholic Faith. Despite my two masters' degrees in theology and Scripture, there will still be people with no more than a high-school education who will pontificate a contrarian position.

Bring it on.

As I said, this is a first in a series, and in this particular posting I wish to provide my own "top ten" list of why I became a Catholic, in no particular order:

1. The Baptist denomination, as well as every other Protestant denomination, is a product of human imagination. The Catholic Church of today, on the other hand, is descended from the first community of disciples organized by Jesus Christ. As the Psalmist says, "Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain" (Ps 127:1).

2. Some Fundamentalists insist that the "true church" remained in hiding from the end of the Apostolic Age until the Protestant Reformation. The evidence of NT manuscripts and the field of textual criticism contradicts this assertion at least five thousand times over. (For you duller ones, it means this: if the "true church" went into hiding, then show me at least one NT manuscript that was created by these supposedly "hidden Christians.")

3. Many Protestants insist that the Bible is a toolkit for becoming a Christian when, in fact, the collection of writings that constitute the Bible were determined to be "inspired" and therefore "canonical" on the basis of ecclesiastical authority. To be a Protestant, then, is to use a Catholic book to engage in antii-Catholicism. That's analogous to using the United States Constitution as a Communist manifesto.

4. No other community claiming the name of "Christian" has maintained Jesus' commitment to the poor and marginalised as much as the Catholic Church. Who could possibly be the Pentecostal counterpart to Mother Theresa of Calcutta or the Baptist counterpart to Francis of Assisi?

5. As a Protestant, I often came across passages in the Bible that was difficult to understand. When I asked my Sunday School teacher or my pastor about these passages, a common rejoinder was "you'll find out when you get to heaven" which, even to my twelve-year-old mind was a plain cop-out. If the Bible is the toolkit for a "personal relationship" with God, why would He even bother to put in a passage that was undecipherable?

6. The radicality of Christian discipleship exhibited by the early martyrs, Desert Fathers, of Sts John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Dominic Guzman, Ignatius Loyola, Edmund Campion, Isaac Jogues, of the late Archbishop Oscar Romero, John Cardinal O'Connor, and many others is unmatched by Protestantism. There are, to be sure, towering figures who command even my respect such as John Stott and C.S. Lewis, but for the life of me I cannot find any Protestant spirituality that is comparable to the Imitation of Christ or Christ the Life of the Soul.

7. Protestantism is only one-quarter as old as Christianity itself. Need I really explain this one?

8. The liturgy of the Catholic Church is chock-full of Scripture. When I attended Protestant churches (and anyone can pick this up from your average televangelist), an entire sermon consisted of a long-winded exposition of one to five verses of Scripture. The Catholic liturgy, on the other hand, consists of three Scripture readings on Sundays and a number of Rites that is plentous of allusion to Scripture. Not only that, but the Divine Office--prayed five times a day by clerics--is full of Psalms, Canticles and Readings. To say that "Catholics don't read the Bible"--as one member of my former Baptist church told me even as I carried my copy of the Divine Office with me!--is patently false. Heck, I even run a Bible study camp for Deaf Catholic adults every year in New York!

9. There have been some real idiots for popes and bishops, and I really do mean idiots. That having been said, enter A. J. Tonybee: "...no merely human institution with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight." What would Rabbi Gamaliel say to this? (Cf. Acts 5:34-39).

10. I have met Jesus Christ in the Catholic Church. Since I have become a Catholic, Jesus has consistently beckoned me to follow Him more closely than the day before. He has made His voice clearer with every reading of the Scripture, with every prayer I offer, and every act of charity I show. To not be a Catholic, then, is to abandon Jesus Christ for an idol of my own fashioning.

Okay, okay I lied. I really have eleven reasons off the top of my head, and here is #11:

Almost every exposure to the Protestant "gospel" has been about what God can do for me: get me a pre-booked place in heaven, get me prosperity and wealth, get me the gift of tongues, or whatever. As a Catholic, I know that God offers salvation freely in Jesus Christ, but the Catholic Church has been more interested in what we can give to God--our own lives. In other words, if I had to describe the difference between Protestantism and Catholicism, I'd say that whereas Protestantism asks what God can do for me, Catholicism asks what we can do for God. It's the difference between being selfish and being self-giving.

Stay tuned for more.