Thursday, January 25, 2007

Wake Up America

I'm a little late, but due to the recent Roe v. Wade anniversary, here's a relevant message from Fr. Corapi. (Curtsy to Tiber Jumper)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Here is some of the aftermath of ice storm of '07. I wish we would have had more snow and less ice, but I'll take what I can get!!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Believe That You May Understand...

The past week or so, I've been engaged in a discussion with some fellow ex-ers who ended up losing faith in God. I have to admit that I have a hard time understanding what it's like not to have faith in God, because for some reason, despite my turbulent conversion, that never happened to me. That was the one thing that I clung to when I was confused and faith in God. It honestly never crossed my mind to doubt His existence. And so, sometimes it's hard for me to discuss with those who have lost faith, because I want to understand them and to be able to communicate with them effectively, but I think there are obstacles to effective communication on both sides.

On my side, it's because, as I mentioned, I can't really grasp what it's like not to believe in God, and I have a hard time relating to their disbelief, which in turn makes it hard for me to explain my own belief in a way they can understand or relate to. On their side, depending on who I'm discussing with, the fact that I never seriously doubted God's existence may cause them to consider anything I say to be tainted with ignorance or naïveté. (I have to say that I am very fortunate to know some very respectful atheists and agnostics who, even if they might think this about me, refrain from using it as an excuse or an attack, and at least seem to thoughtfully consider my remarks.) Obviously, I can't do anything about the latter obstacle, but I can at least try to understand where they are coming from a bit better. So, I decided to read what some former atheists have to say on the matter!

This led me to a couple blogs, namely Et-tu, Jen? and Chez Joel. After spending way too much time devouring the contents of blog posts related to atheism and God's existence and proving His existence (or not), I think I finally started to discover better ways to describe the differences between evidence and proof, what it is to have faith, to believe, and why such things are even necessary when discussing with my atheist friends. (At least, things are a little less muddled in my own head now, even if I haven't necessarily helped them!)

Evidence vs. Proof

I was first trying to find a way to explain the difference between evidence and proof. I hear a lot about wanting "proof" of something, but when I say that there will never be proof, I often get responses like, "Well then why shouldn't I believe that fairies are what make the world go round?" or the like. But when I say there won't be proof, I'm not saying there won't be evidence. It's just that, because of the nature (or "super" nature) of God, we can't always demand natural evidence, or scientific evidence, we need to be open to considering supernatural or anecdotal evidence. If someone rules out this kind of evidence to begin with, they're closing the case before giving it a chance. One of the blog posts that helped me on this point was from Jennifer's blog on proof.

Atheists often accuse the religious of having different (specifically subpar) standards for evidence when it comes to belief in God. It seems to me, though, that it is the atheists who hold religion and the existence of God to an impossibly high standard, compared to many other things in everyday life, and then complain (or rejoice, depending) when the evidence fails to meet their standards. And yet these standards are not used on other equally unprovable things in life, such as love. Just as we can't prove scientifically the existence of love, we can't prove scientifically the existence of God. Yet because of evidence I have seen in my life, I believe both exist, and I simply don't find this unreasonable or irrational.


During the course of our discussion, the proposition was made that belief is a choice. Of course, again, the agnostics/atheists of the group say, "Well I'm sorry, but I can't choose to believe in God anymore than I can choose to believe that fairies make the world go round." It seemed to me that they often equate belief or faith with feelings...and this got me thinking about love.

Just as atheists say "I can't make myself believe," many people today say, "I can't make myself love." But what they mean by this is they can't conjure up fuzzy warm feelings. But I believe that real love is a choice...if it weren't, there's no way we could promise to love our spouse for the rest of our lives in our wedding vows. (In fact, I propose that this widespread understanding of love as merely an uncontrollable feeling is partly responsible for the current divorce rate.)

Then I started to wonder, what is belief anyway? If it's not just a feeling, what is it? I found a wonderful answer in a post called How to Find God in Three Arduous Steps on Chez Joel. He said:

To believe is not to change your mind, or your feelings. It's no good to trick yourself into thinking differently. To believe is simply to act on the assumption that something is true.

This!! THIS is what I had been looking for!

The quote from St. Augustine immediately jumped to mind, "Seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand."

I know the atheist doesn't like to hear this, and often sees it as a cop out, or as a form of brainwashing, or something along those lines. But if we look at this quote as it applies to love, I think it holds true there as well. If we tweak the quote a bit, and change just one word, we can say, "Seek not to understand that you may love, but love that you may understand."

Do we expect people who have never experienced love to understand it? I mean, it often defies can people be self sacrificing and self giving? Why would they do such things, what are they getting out of it? It doesn't really make sense, no one can study love enough to understand it, you have to believe in love, to act on the assumption that it is true, to experience it, before you really understand it. But I don't see people demanding "proof" that love exists before acting as if it does the way they demand proof that God exists, and yet it's not considered unreasonable to make that leap when it comes to love, presumably because most of us experience it from a very early age.


Another commonly mentioned argument is the "God, I would believe in you if..." argument. (Once again, Jen's blog was extremely helpful!)There are some very good points made about how even a miracle wouldn't be proof enough, because doubts arise, and eventually we would just want more proof. Certainly God could hand deliver miracles on demand if He wanted, so the fact that He doesn't should push us to consider the possibility that there must be a reason. What does God get out of wanting us to make a leap of faith? What do we get out of having to make that leap of faith? Perhaps taking our example of love, once again, can help us understand.

So many people say, "I would only believe if I could just have one miracle," but what if we asked a potential spouse before we agreed to marriage, "I will believe your love for me exists, and act as if it's true, only if you prove it to me first." This would be virtually impossible, there would be no way to definitively prove such a thing. Part of the beauty of marriage vows is the mutual vulnerability, because this turns into a strength as trust is built and love grows, but the vulnerability must come first. As scary as it is, it is this vulnerability, this surrender that God wants to be able to help us grow...this humility, this is the fertile soil needed to be able to plant that seed of faith. It's only when we recognize our inability to do it ourselves, when we acknowledge the intellect alone isn't enough, it's only when we submit, when we ask God for the faith we need to believe that we can even begin to understand. We simply can't do it on our own, and if we expect or demand to understand before we believe, we'll only end up disappointed.

Friday, January 12, 2007

For Camille's 29th!

Catholicism and Pelagianism

I was asked by a fellow ex-er to explain why Catholicism isn't Pelagian. This is a good question, because it's actually a common claim against Catholicism (despite the fact that it was the Catholic Church who originally rejected Palagianism as heresy!)

So, Pelagianism says that because we have free will, grace is unnecessary, you just have to choose to avoid sin, and do good, and you could theoretically choose never to sin, and so "earn" your salvation. This is your basic "saved by works apart from grace" mentality.

In contrast, Catholics believe all good works are a result of God's grace.

Partly because I'm lazy, and partly because I don't think I can say it better than Mark Shea, I'm going to quote from an article he wrote about merit.

The Second Council of Orange said, "As often as we do good God operates in us and with us, so that we may operate" (canon 9), and "Man does no good except that which God brings about and man performs" (canon 20). In other words, the Church affirms as strongly as Luther, Calvin, and my Evangelical pastor that God's grace is always prior to our good works (or "prevenient," to use theological technobabble).

For Trent, as for Evangelicals, fruit (or its Catholicese equivalent "merit") is always the result, not the initiator, of grace. As Paul said, "We are God's workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works" (Eph. 2:10), or, as our Lord said, "If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).

But what happens when we bear much fruit? It is to this question that Trent addresses itself in the passage Martin quoted. Essentially Trent is saying that grace, incarnate in us, has tangible and eternal effects on us and our relationship with God according to our cooperation with it. As in the parable of the sower, the seed of the word bears fruit depending on the kind of reception we give it.

If we freely respond to grace and do good, this changes us and makes us able to respond to more grace, which God seeks to give. (Repeat steps 1 and 2 as necessary till sinner is perfected and glorified.) We indeed bear fruit for eternal life. We indeed are rewarded for what we do. Yet it is all the work of grace.
Lewis says, just like Trent, that grace-induced meritorious actions (there are no other kinds of meritorious actions) lead to an increase of grace, and this fits the biblical witness. It thoroughly illuminates all the biblical language about God's rewards for our good deeds (consider the parables of the talents and of the sheep and the goats), yet it leads us a million miles away from the Pelagian notion that we can put God in our debt. Both Lewis and Rome say (to paraphrase Pascal), "God has instituted not only prayer, but all good deeds in order to lend his creatures the dignity of being causes."

I'll end with a quick note on semi-pelagianism, which says that man can make the first move towards God, so to speak, he can, by his own will alone have faith and then God will increase it, even though ultimate salvation can not be obtained without grace (as Pelagianism holds). The Catholic Church believes grace always precedes faith, one cannot have faith without first receiving grace.

More about that here.

On a related note, here is a wonderful article by Jimmy Akin about Righteousness and Merit.

Hope that helps!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Pelagianism and the CoC - Bootstrap Theology

An interesting characteristic of the Church of Christ is that they definitely know what they don't believe and love to point out where other denominations have gone wrong, in their opinion, but ask them what exactly they believe, and it's not always so clear.

While discussing Church history with some CoC members recently, the topic of Pelagianism arose and I decided to check it out. I'm still in the process of learning about all the various heresies, so it was interesting to learn that the CoC is very Pelagian in their beliefs!

Check this out, from Catholic Answers:

Much of its appeal lay in Pelagius's zeal: "[H]e set to work preaching against the lukewarm morality that had entered so many Christian circles. Soon the stricter Christians were flocking to his sermons."..(Here we see a foreshadowing of the appeal of present-day Fundamentalism, which may be weak theologically, but is strong morally--and therefore attractive.)
"Pelagianism was based on a very respectable moral rigorism, but its anxiety to champion man's free will and to urge him on to sanctity resulted in its denying original sin and the necessity of divine grace: For the Pelagian, access to the Kingdom is made possible by baptism, and since perfect sanctity is an obligation and a possibility for everyone, it rests with each individual Christian to merit eternal life by his conduct, modeled on the precepts and example of Christ."

Bingo! No wonder I grew up with a kind of vague idea of what grace was and why we needed it, or if we did at all. Underneath it all we believed we could simply avoid sin and be "good enough" all on our own. It sounds easy enough in theory...we have free will, we can choose right or wrong, all we have to do is choose right. Who needs grace to do that, right?

Since Adam's sin was personal, argued Pelagius, everyone is born sinless, there being no such thing as original sin. (In modern parlance, we are all immaculately conceived.) This makes infant baptism useless; a child, being incapable of sin, needs no washing away of sin, and an infant who dies goes immediately to heaven. Baptism should be reserved for adults.

This is certainly right on track with CoC beliefs!

Then why, one might ask, is sin so prevalent? Pelagius speculated that, from childhood, we contract the habit of sinning and this habit become second nature. The newborn child is as pure as Adam and Eve at their creation, but, as he advances in age, the child learns to sin from those around him. Specifically, he learns from the bad examples of his elders, and then he becomes a bad example himself. If he were isolated from the "contagion," he could grow into a sinless adult, but no one grows up in complete isolation. Pelagius's problem, wrote a historian of dogmas, is that "[h]e saw only guilty individuals, not a whole sinful human race."

Again, since the CoC is often kind of vague on their beliefs, I can't say with certainty, but I think they would agree with the above. (I especially think the part in bold is relevant, more on that later.) However, I don't think they would go quite this far:

Since the human race does not labor under original sin or any other consequences of the Fall (since the Fall affected only Adam and Eve), there was no need for a redemption as such--there was nothing to be redeemed from. Why did Christ come then? To give us an example, to be a role model. Adam was the bad role model, Christ the good.

I know the CoC sees Christ as their savior, and would say they could not be saved without Christ...although, I'm not sure if they've thought through their theology here, because if they think they can be good enough on their own (even theoretically) I'm not sure why Christ's sacrifice would be necessary.

Now, hold onto your hats, look at this next part:

"As spiritual director, [Pelagius] became tired of hearing men excuse themselves for sin and tepidity on the plea of human frailty. To such alibis he gradually developed the retort that these were but excuses for indolence [and that] every man is quite capable of perfection by his own efforts provided that he only apply them to action."

How often do we hear of the pressure CoC members feel to be perfect? And of the judgemental attitudes and condemnation when someone fails to live up to perfection? THIS IS WHY!!! Because they don't believe grace is really all that necessary, they believe you really can do it all on your own if you just try hard enough. Remember that "guilty individual" thing mentioned previously? When people are having a hard time, there is a sternness of attitude that basically implies that it shouldn't be all that hard...just do it! Just choose not to sin! Why can't you do that? You have free will, it's simple enough, just don't sin! And then we sat around wondering why we were so weak that we couldn't make a simple choice not to sin. I mean, they made it sound like picking out which color socks to wear...just pick them! What's so hard about that?

Aaahhh...the pickles we get ourselves into when we miss crucial aspects of human nature, and in this case especially our *fallen* human nature. We set ourselves up for failure time and time again because we rejected, or simply didn't realize the necessity of grace. We cannot do good without it! It seems pretty clear from scripture that this is, indeed, the case:

Phil. 2:13 - For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work.

John 15:5 - I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.

Another quote on Pelagianism from the Catholic Encyclopedia made an interesting assertion:

[Pelagianism] laid down the proud assertion that the sovereign will may ultimately raise itself to complete holiness and impeccability (impeccantia, anamartesia) through the persevering observance of all the precepts, even the most difficult, and through the infallible triumph over every temptation, even the most vehement. This was an unmistakable reproduction of the ancient Stoic ideal of virtue. For the self-confident Pelagian, the petition of the Lord's Prayer, "Lead us not into temptation", served, properly speaking, no purpose: it was at most a proof of his humility, not a profession of the truth. (emphasis mine)

The proud assertion...self-confidence...pride...what was that post I had a while back on arrogance? It all makes sense when one looks at the Pelagian beliefs, the boostrap theology. If we are all depending upon ourselves to be "good enough," we'll end up being self-centered instead of Christ centered. And that's why it's so important to recognize the necessity of God's grace.

It was interesting to see the similarities between Pelagianism and the CoC, there is truly nothing new under the sun!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Too Cool!!

This is just really moving, Bobby McFerrin in concert getting the crowd involved to do Gounod's Ave Maria...

Seeings this makes me want to get the CD he did with Yo Yo Ma called Hush and the one called The Mozart Sessions. That is genuine talent!

Catholic Movie Meme

For Kasia :-D

Favorite Movie: Hmmm...I think after all these years Amadeus is still at the top of my list, I can watch that movie 20 times and still want to see it again!

Favorite Movie With A Religious Theme: The Passion is wonderful...The Mission is also very good, the music is breathtaking.

Favorite Movie Priest: Of course now I can't remember any, lol! Probably one of the priests from The Mission (is that vague enough?)

Favorite Movie Nun: Yeah, only one I can think of is Maria from you know where, but she wasn't even a full nun yet was she? I'm about to watch some Fr. O'Malley movies with lots of nuns in them (on my Netflix queue) so maybe I'll have more to choose from later!

Catholic Meme

1. Favorite devotion or prayer to Jesus. Probably the Fatima prayer.

2. Favorite Marian devotion or prayer. Ave Maria

3. Do you wear a scapular or medal? I have a miraculous medal from France (got it on my honeymoon from the Daughters of Charity in Paris, and saw the incorruptable body of St. Catherine Labouré!) that I wear sometimes.

4. Do you have holy water in your home? Actually I do, I have some holy water from Lourdes that was given to us by family (merci!)

5. Do you "offer up" your sufferings? Yes, it has been a great help in enduring them!

6. Do you observe First Fridays and First Saturdays? No

7. Do you go to Eucharistic Adoration? How frequently? I've been a handful of times, but unfortunately we don't go that often :-/

8. Are you a Saturday evening Mass person or a Sunday morning Mass person? Sunday morning, definitely.

9. Do you say prayers at mealtime? Umm...we go in spurts. We do for a while, then don't for a while, etc. I'm trying to make this a habit especially before kids come along!

10. Favorite saints: Hmm, St. Thomas Aquinas for his brilliance, St. Thérèse of Lisieux for her Little Way, St. Joseph just because, and the Blessed Mother for obvious reasons!

Favorite possible future saints: Well that's a no brainer, Mother Teresa and John Paul the Great!

11. Can you recite the Apostles' Creed by heart? Ack, no I can't!!! I always end up doing the Nicene creed, lol.

12. Do you usually say short prayers (aspirations) during the course of the day? Definitely, coming from a protestant background it's just a given!

13. Bonus Question: When you pass by an automobile accident or other serious mishap, do you say a quick prayer for the folks involved? I can't say I do every single time, but I try to.

Added bonus question: Have you named your Guardian Angel?, I think he already has a name, I would feel weird renaming him.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


Sometimes I get really tired of having to correct all those typical misconceptions about Catholicism. I also get tired of being accused of trying to push my faith onto other people because I see that they have their facts wrong and dare to point it out. I don't care if you agree with Church teaching or not, but if you're spreading misinformation about those teachings, I'm not going to sit back and say nothing. I tend to think that non-Catholics don't understand the constant barrage of completely WRONG info about what we believe that we have to endure as Catholics. It can be extremely frustrating at times, especially because it is really a never ending problem. So yeah, you're tired of hearing me constantly correct misconceptions? Guess what, I'm even more tired of having to do it! I would be so happy never to have to correct a misconception again, to always see my beliefs accurately represented...but I know that isn't happening any time soon. The Father of Lies has done a good job of confusing people and spreading lies about Christ's Church, especially among our separated protestant brothers and sisters in Christ. Sometimes the constant untruths I hear about my faith really get me down...but I know I have to keep plugging along, and with the help of God's grace, I'll do just that.

Here is a relevant quote from Bishop Fulton Sheen that sums up the problem precisely.

"There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church—which is, of course, quite a different thing. These millions can hardly be blamed for hating Catholics because Catholics “adore statues;” because they “put the Blessed Mother on the same level with God;” because they “say indulgence is a permission to commit sin;” because the Pope “is a Fascist;” because the Church “is the defender of Capitalism.” If the Church taught or believed any one of these things, it should be hated, but the fact is that the Church does not believe nor teach any one of them. It follows then that the hatred of the millions is directed against error and not against truth. As a matter of fact, if we Catholics believed all of the untruths and lies which were said against the Church, we probably would hate the Church a thousand times more than they do."