The Grace Trifecta
Standing before a room of 30 or so women facilitating my first faith sharing back in 2006, I fumbled around for the proper words as I tried to answer one participant’s seemingly simple question on the grace of God. What is grace? While I had this innate understanding, I could not formulate the right words to express what I believed it to be. I realized, I had no definition.
Fast forward a few years, I am sitting in a small chapel in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament (aka Jesus in the Eucharist). In my reading I once again face the question, what is grace? This time I open the Catechism of the Catholic Church; and prayed for guidance from the Holy Spirit. That day the Allison abridged version of how I define the grace of God, was born … Read More at Reconciled To You
All Rights Reserved, Allison Gingras 2016
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, a seminary professor, formation advisor and parish priest, has preached and commented about Christ, the Church, popular culture and events of consequence on his popular blog, Domine mihi hanc aquam! Featured are thought provoking homilies through which readers know and love the mind of Christ. I interviewed Fr. Powell about his blog, his call to the priesthood, the future of the Church, and his advice for those considering a Dominican vocation.
You have written about your past “postmodernist occult life” before coming to the Catholic Church and joining the Order of Preachers. In this increasingly secularized world, where many reject Christ, to what do you attribute your faith? Read more…
In the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation we renounce Satan and all his works, and profess our faith in Christ and in the Church. Sacred Scripture speaks of God’s protection and power over Satan. The first letter of John testifies that as children of God, in whom the Holy Spirit dwells, the evil one cannot touch us. But it also states that “the whole world is under the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:18-20).
Chapter 12 in the Book of Revelation tells how the angel Lucifer rebelled against God. In the ensuing battle, one third of the angels in heaven fell to earth as demons. Since demons hail from all nine choirs of angels, some demons are more powerful than others. Moreover, demons still possess the perfect knowledge God gave them, thus, they are infinitely superior to human beings in intelligence. Read more…
Some people become or stay Catholics because they agree that the Church has the authority to teach and give their assent to that teaching. Others become or stay Catholics because they find her position on certain topics compatible with their own. The former is like a house built on rock, the latter is like a house built on sand. Like the houses in Our Lord’s parable, the one built on sand faces ruin.
Why do I say this? Because the Church is simultaneously gifted with Our Lord’s authority (Luke 10:16) and protected from teaching error (Matthew 16:18. Matthew 28:19-20) on one hand and filled with sinful people who need salvation on the other. So when the Church teaches and we dislike the teaching, or if we get scandalized by the bad behavior of some churchmen, the only thing that will keep us on the right path is faith that God protects His Church. If we treat our affiliation with the Church like a political affiliation, what will we do when the Church goes in a direction we don’t like?
It’s time for some more short observations on topics. I write this set about the rebellion against the magisterium and how we excuse it when we find ourselves in the wrong. We do this so well that whatever the Church teaches what we dislike, we automatically treat it as proof of their error.
Double Standards Make Us Hypocrites
When it comes to people citing Scripture or Church teaching in a partisan attack, it always gets quoted in a way which condemns an opponent but ignores one’s own transgressions. The liberal Catholic points to Scripture or Church teaching about charity and care for the poor, condemning his conservative opponent for hypocrisy. But he ignores them on morality. Likewise, the conservative Catholic points out what they have to say about living rightly, but ignores them on the topic of mercy.
Both of them take pleasure in accusing the other of being bad Christians but both behave hypocritically. They edit Scripture Church teaching to what pleases them and ignore the parts they violate. Our Lord gets transformed into an endorsement of a theological or political position. The problem is, our faith calls us to be both moral and charitable; both just and merciful. If we only obey the faith we profess when it suits us, we disobey and cause scandal to non-believers who can plainly see our hypocrisy.
Western nations attacking Christians don’t normally use the violent, brutal attacks we associate with the term “persecution.” Because of that, it is easy to pretend that Western Christians are not targeted for their beliefs. But that’s the fallacy of relative privation. The fact that attacks on Christians in Country A are far worse than harassment of Christians in Country B does not mean the situation in Country B is not unjust.
In the West, attacks on Christians begin over teachings against popular vices. Foes portray Christian opposition to moral wrongs as hating the people who commit them. Then they accuse Christians of violating an esteemed cultural value out of bad will. These accusations justify laws (or, more commonly, executive action and court rulings) against the alleged wrongdoing of Christians. When Christians insist on obeying their faith despite unjust laws, foes harass them by Criminal and Civil complaints aimed at forcing compliance.
Political and cultural elites argue that the injustice is just a consequence of Christians doing wrong. If they would abandon their “bigotry,” they would not face legal harassment. The problem is, they accuse us of wrongdoing, but we are not guilty of wrongdoing. We deny that we base our moral beliefs on the hatred of people who do what we profess is wrong. They must prove their accusation. People cannot simply assume it is true.
When people attack the Catholic Church and her teaching on morality, they point to laws in past eras that were brutal by our standards. They argue that these past laws show that the teaching that “X is a sin” caused brutal punishments. That presumes law and morality are the same, which is false. Not all sins are against the law, and sometimes law interferes with moral behavior. St. Thomas Aquinas makes this distinction:
Now human law is framed for a number of human beings, the majority of whom are not perfect in virtue. Wherefore human laws do not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain, but only the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain; and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained: thus human law prohibits murder, theft and suchlike.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, STh., I-II q.96 a.2 resp. trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne,).
In other words, Not every sin was against the law in Christian societies. Morality distinguishes between right and wrong behavior. Morality tells what we must do or must not do regardless of what the law says. If theft is wrong, then we must not steal even if the law allows it. But while morality deals with what we must or must not do, law deals with what penalty we give when people violate morality in such a way that harms human society. Morality does not change over time, but laws can change over time.
Those who think the Pope’s emphasis on mercy supports laxity—whether critics or people who wrongly hope for change of teaching—misunderstand what mercy is. I find that Bishop Robert Barron has a good response, rejecting that view:
Many receive the message of divine mercy as tantamount to a denial of the reality of sin, as though sin no longer matters. But just the contrary is the case. To speak of mercy is to be intensely aware of sin and its peculiar form of destructiveness.
Barron, Robert (2016-03-31). Vibrant Paradoxes: The Both/And of Catholicism (Kindle Locations 199-201). Word on Fire. Kindle Edition.
His response is a good one. Jesus showed mercy to sinners. He did not tell the that their sins did not matter. The Pope doesn’t tell people that their sins do not matter either. What the Pope does say is it is not enough to tell people what is wrong. We also have to help them get back to what is right.
Membership in the Catholic Church is different from memberships in other religious groups. Unlike other religious bodies that insist on members accepting the authority of holy books or certain practices, the Catholic Church insists her Pope and bishops are the successors to the Apostles and have the same authority which Our Lord gave to the Apostles. To reject the authority of the Pope and bishops is far more serious than a Presbyterian rejecting the authority of his minister. The Presbyterian can go to another denomination or to another church within his denomination and still be Protestant. But a Catholic who denies the teaching authority of the Pope and bishops has damaged their relationship with the Church we profess was founded by Christ.
That’s a serious matter. The person for whom membership in the Catholic Church is important, must justify rejecting the authority of the Pope and bishops in communion with him by arguing that he is not in opposition to the Church. Rather he is being faithful in larger matters. The people who do this have different motivations and political leanings. Some try to argue that the Church teaching is harsher than Our Lord ever intended and this justifies disobedience. But others claim that they follow the Catholic teaching as it was always practiced, claiming that the Church fell into error beginning with St. John XXIII and will be in error until the Church rejects Vatican II and all the changes which followed. This is the position of Radical Traditionalism.
Before continuing, we need to make some distinctions. A radical traditionalist differs from the Catholic who simply prefers the pre-Vatican II form of worship and devotion (commonly called “traditionalist.” [†] The traditionalist may wish the Church handled things differently, but recognizes the magisterium today has the authority to decide on these matters and seeks to obey despite misgivings over their prudence. The radical traditionalist rejects the authority of the magisterium when that authority challenges something they hold dear.
We need to remember that while all radical traditionalists are traditionalists, not all traditionalists are radical traditionalists. So we need to be careful not to assume that a Catholic who prefers the extraordinary form of the Mass must be guilty of disobedience. All A = B does not mean All B is A.
I find myself shaking my head in disbelief when I come across people who write off Catholic teaching with some variant of “that’s just your opinion.” I shake my head because rationally that means we can write off their views of right and wrong on the same grounds. If one rejects a Christian’s arguments on these grounds, one can reject the arguments of an atheist on the same grounds. Under those assumptions, we can’t find truth about anything and we can only use legal or physical force to compel anyone to accept something. It’s ironic that people who claim to champion reason and enlightenment should promote a throwback to “Do what I say or I will bash you with my club!”
It’s not surprising that people believe this tripe. I recall a teacher in High School once give us a couplet: “Opinions are never right or wrong. Opinions are only weak or strong.“ The couplet confuses “opinion” with “preference” or “feeling,” leading to people thinking that a religious view on abortion is no different than a preference for a flavor of ice cream. Many dictionaries give that interpretation to opinion as well. But that is only one of the meanings.
An opinion on matters of right and wrong, as Merriam-Webster describes it, “implies a conclusion thought out yet open to dispute.” This means that the value of the opinion depends on how it matches reality.