Monthly Archives: March 2016

Eternal rest grant to Mary Angelica, O Lord…

There. I’ve said one prayer for the soul of Mother Angelica. I figure that’s all she needs, and now she’s in heaven, ready to rock and roll.

There was someone in a combox yesterday, lamenting everyone else’s assurance that Mother Angelica is / will very, very soon be enjoying the Beatific Vision. She said that everyone’s flawed, so a Catholic funeral ought to focus on prayers for the soul of the departed, acknowledging their many flaws, etc., etc.

And in general, I agree. It is possible to focus too much on what isn’t an absolute positive, after all. The vast majority of us need a pretty thorough in-processing evolution before we get to the final party.

HOWEVER… I don’t think that that means that we can’t acknowledge that some people are already extremely holy when they die, and that we can’t have a pretty good idea of their state when they shuffle off this mortal coil. Throughout Christian history, there have been stories of people who, as soon as they stopped breathing, were pretty much mauled for relics, because everyone around them knew, by virtue of their life and actions, that they would soon be in heaven.

Full disclosure: I am one of the group that believes that Mother Angelica ought to be canonized as soon as legally possible after her death. (In fact, I’m peeved that she died the day after I entered the Church; I would have chosen Angelica as my confirmation name!) I recognize that not everyone feels this way. But to deny that we can have any idea at all where someone’s final destination is defies common sense. It is up to the Church (now, at any rate), to determine when someone has achieved sainthood, and I will patiently wait for that to happen. But I can hold my own personal, private, pious belief that God allowed Mother Angelica to undergo most of her purification while still on this earth, and that she only needed a bare touch-up before being escorted into His presence by choirs of angels.

All that being said, who needs a miracle? I don’t really need anything, otherwise I’d be invoking her intercession for something huge. Come on, people, let’s get this show on the road!

Mother Angelica, pray for us!

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Crossing the Tiber

Holy Saturday / Easter Vigil, 2016: Successfully made entry into the Catholic Church. Notes follow.

First confession: after days of anticipatory terror, was somewhat anticlimactic, mainly because I managed to royally screw it up. I had labored on a list of sins so that I wouldn’t forget anything — and managed, somehow, to forget the list. So I only had about four things to confess, and I forgot some fairly major ones. So I’ll be going back fairly soon to tidy that up, although it is comforting to know that I can make such a huge mess of something, and it still counts, because its effectiveness has nothing to do with my efforts. Thankfully!

Easter Vigil: the original plan was for the four-year-old to stay home in the afternoon and take a nap, so that she would be able to make it through the Vigil. Alternatively, she could go to the Easter egg hunt at the Methodist church, and stay up all afternoon. We went with the latter option.

We had our showers before we left for church, and I cut the time too close, so I forgot to put on nice earrings and change necklaces. And I was nearly out of gas, so I was standing there at the pump shivering in my stockings and summery dress, pumping as fast as I could so we wouldn’t be late.

I realized that I had left my to-do notebook at another church on Friday night during Stations of the Cross, so we had to scramble to find another notebook for my daughter to color in. She ended up with multiple notebooks and workbooks and pens, which she scattered all over three separate pews as she climbed around throughout the Mass.

In general, I was too terrified about getting up in front of people and messing things up to really pay attention to what was going on; fortunately, I think the pastor uses the same homily every year. And I can go back through and read everything in my missalette. I basically just sat/stood/knelt there and tried to keep from shaking while trying to keep my daughter quiet and not miss my cues.

First communion: again, so terrified about missing cues, and the assembling of the candidates up at the altar was a mess, so more trying not to knock into people than focusing on the Eucharist.

All in all, the take-away was that despite all of our efforts, we managed to mess up a bunch of pretty simple stuff. But that didn’t matter, because none of what we received was anything we earned. God pours out the graces from the generosity of His nature, not because of anything we’ve done to earn it.

Also: priests have WAY too much fun slinging holy water onto people with that aspergillum thing.

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Definition of terms, lack of (part 2)

Last time I spent a bunch of time critiquing a Protestant author’s understanding of Catholic theology. There were two fundamental problems: 1) the author is operating under a mistaken conception of what the Catholic Church teaches, and 2) since there is no attempt to define terms (on either side), most criticisms turn out to be directed against straw men.

I mentioned that I was frustrated because of the lack of defined terms, and also because of the lack of citations. It wouldn’t be so bad if the author was honestly trying to understand the Catholic position, but if you’re going to straight up claim that something isn’t a true church (“At the moment the Roman Catholic Church condemned the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone, she denied the gospel and ceased to be a legitimate church, regardless of all the rest of her affirmations of Christian orthodoxy.”), then you’d better have at least some footnotes or something to show where you’re getting these ideas.

So there are a couple of issues happening here: confusion about terms, and a certain amount of confusion about some underlying principles of logic.

The first underlying principle is a common meme among Protestant converts to Catholicism: “either/or” versus “both/and.” In many instances, Protestant theology tries to make hard distinctions between various things, forcing them into “either/or” positions against each other. In contrast, Catholic thought is much more likely to utilize a “both/and” understanding of various concepts. To wit, I present a quote from this Protestant author:

The fundamental issue is this: is the basis by which I am justified a righteousness that is my own? Or is it a righteousness that is, as Luther said, “an alien righteousness,” a righteousness that is extra nos, apart from us—the righteousness of another, namely, the righteousness of Christ?

The Protestant says, “There must be only one kind of righteousness: righteousness of my own, or the righteousness of Christ. Since I cannot merit salvation myself, then it must only be Christ’s righteousness.” The Catholic looks at the same scenario and says, “On my own, I have no righteousness. Christ has righteousness, which He then gives to me, so that I, too, have righteousness.”

You will notice that in neither case does the person claim to have earned or merited the righteousness themselves, but the Catholic sees righteousness as a thing that God truly gives to us, that changes us and makes us righteous, whereas the Protestant seems to claim that while God is willing to impute Christ’s righteousness to us, He doesn’t see any reason to actually change us, to make us righteous ourselves. See? Either/Or vs. Both/And

…Which leads into the next issue, the divergence in term definition. I’ll start with the Protestant version, because that’s the one I learned first (caveat: I was raised non-denominational, evangelical, fundamentalist, etc. I recognize that other Protestants have different understandings, but mine matches fairly closely to the article in question.)

In Protestant thought, “justification” and “sanctification” means different things.

I was going to try to explain this, but I couldn’t verbalize my thoughts clearly, so I’m going to use a metaphor, okay? Basically, in our fallen state, we’re like criminals in prison. We’ve done bad things, and have been convicted of those bad things we did. We got what we deserved, and there’s no way we can escape the prison ourselves. Justification is a one-time event, when God gives us a full pardon.  We didn’t earn it, but God just lets us walk right out of the prison, even though we are still, objectively, guilty. Sanctification is a separate process, that is seen to begin at the same time justification occurs, but that takes time. Sanctification is like rehabilitation: after we get out of the prison, God works with us to gradually make us holy, so that we won’t keep doing the things that get us thrown in prison in the first place.

In Catholic theology, justification and sanctification are used interchangeably, based on the usage in the New Testament. To the Catholic mind, it is impossible to be sanctified (made holy) without being justified (receiving the merit of Christ’s work), and it’s impossible to receive the merits of Christ’s work without those merits making you holy. They occur simultaneously, relying on and supporting each other, like a man walking on two legs. For a Catholic, the thought that God could justify you without sanctifying you is a contradiction in terms, a logical impossibility.

Now, this is where the differences in these particular definitions gets difficult. Ever since the Protestant reformers started preaching “justification by faith alone,” they’ve struggled to parse how one could become right with God and still live in blatant, unrepentant sin. It’s something that offends common sense, as well as Scripture, but according to faith alone, the only important thing is intellectual assent to the truth of God, regardless of repentance and becoming actually holy. Here’s the important thing: most Protestants, despite how they may parrot what they’ve been taught, don’t actually believe this. They are steeped in Scripture, and they KNOW that true Christianity involves an actual change of life, that God actually changes the people who follow Him, that striving to become holy is part of the real Christian life. But they’ve been told that “sola fide” is the foundation of their faith, so they suppress the cognitive dissonance. In real life, they act according to the Bible: that faith, hope, and charity are all necessary parts of the true believer’s life.

Sometimes, when you press them, Protestants will try to resolve the conflict by defining faith as “intellectual assent that is lived out in works that are empowered by God.” And the Catholic Church has agreed that, if you define faith this way, then to say “by faith alone” would be correct.

But the terminology that the Catholic Church uses separates faith (intellectual assent to the truth that God has revealed), hope (trust in the sufficiency of Christ to bring us to salvation), and charity (the active working out of love for God and neighbor), as all necessary to the Christian walk, and all three as what God gives to us in justification/sanctification.

This is an area where the great divergence of Protestant thought makes discussion difficult: some Protestants will buckle down on “faith alone,” and claim that as long as intellectual assent is present, nothing else is required: one could live in gross violation of every moral code, but as long as one claimed to “believe,” then one is justified before God, and is heaven-bound. Other Protestants will say that such a person is not genuinely saved, otherwise the sanctification process would have started, and the person would show signs of a regenerate life. Catholics have more options to work with: the person could either 1) never have been saved at all, or 2) have been saved, but exercised his free will in a direction that took him away from God, and is no longer saved.

If I have made this clear enough, hopefully you’ll be able to see the overlap in the Catholic and Protestant positions.

Again, I’m not claiming that there aren’t significant differences between certain Catholic and Protestant positions, but some are a lot closer than Protestants, at least, have been led to think.

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Definition of terms, lack of (part 1)

I stumbled across this article earlier today, and I haven’t been able to stop prodding it. It bugs me, because 1) the guy is making claims based on incorrect information, and 2) he doesn’t CITE anything, so I can’t even tell where he’s getting said mistaken information. (Also, he doesn’t have any contact info, so I can’t even ask for clarification.)

As Jimmy Akin often says, one of the primary difficulties for Catholics and Protestants attempting to discuss their theological differences is that they often use the same term for different things, or different terms for the same things. So they can both walk away convinced that the other person is a resounding heretic, not realizing that they are in more agreement than disagreement.

It’s frustrating, but I can’t be too hard on the guy, because at one point I was the Protestant who was roundly ignorant of the Catholic Church, condemning a straw man, because I had never seen what the Catholic Church really teaches. Even so, it is painful to watch such a schism over what reduces to confusion over terms. (Not to say that there are no significant differences between the two, but that they are fewer than originally appear.)

He starts off talking about how good it is that the Catholic Church has stood firm on many Christian doctrines and moral teachings, unlike several mainline Protestant denominations. However, he ultimately condemns the Church for defining the Marian doctrines, papal infallibility, and affirming the Council of Trent‘s teaching on justification in the Catechism.

Then he (rightly) states:

The question, “what must I do to be saved?” is still a critical question for any person who is exposed to the wrath of God.

And that’s where he starts to get confused:

In the final analysis, the Roman Catholic Church affirmed at Trent and continues to affirm now that the basis by which God will declare a person just or unjust is found in one’s “inherent righteousness.”

Question #1: You use quotes around “inherent righteousness,” but you don’t cite any sources. What are you quoting?

Question #2: What do you mean by “inherent”? Do you mean something that we have in and of ourselves before the Holy Spirit works in our lives, that we can merit justification by our own efforts? Because that’s Pelagianism, and the Church condemned that at the Council of Carthage in the 400s.

His confusion continues as he mistakingly describes Purgatory as taking time:

If righteousness does not inhere in the person, that person at worst goes to hell and at best (if any impurities remain in his life) goes to purgatory for a time that may extend to millions of years.

Then he sets up the Protestant position, which he describes as contrast to the Catholic teaching:

In bold contrast to that, the biblical and Protestant view of justification is that the sole grounds of our justification is the righteousness of Christ, which righteousness is imputed to the believer, so that the moment a person has authentic faith in Christ, all that is necessary for salvation becomes theirs by virtue of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

Shall we contrast it to the Catechism of the Catholic Church on justification?

1987 The grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to justify us…

1989 The first work of the grace of the Holy Spirit is conversion, effecting justification … Moved by grace, man turns toward God and away from sin, thus accepting forgiveness and righteousness from on high.

1990 Justification detaches man from sin which contradicts the love of God, and purifies his heart of sin. Justification follows upon God’s merciful initiative of offering forgiveness

1991 Justification is at the same time the acceptance of God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ…

1992 Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ…

1994 Justification is the most excellent work of God’s love made manifest in Christ Jesus and granted by the Holy Spirit.

1996 Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God

1998 … It depends entirely on God’s gratuitous initiative, for he alone can reveal and give himself.

1999 The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of his own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it.

2003 Grace is first and foremost the gift of the Spirit who justifies and sanctifies us.

2007 With regard to God, there is no strict right to any merit on the part of man.

2010 Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification

2011 The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God. 

And how about quoting from the Council of Trent itself? (The language is a little archaic; I’ll try to make it comprehensible. How about a modern translation, somebody?)

…if [men] were not born again in Christ, they never would be justified; seeing that, in that new birth, there is bestowed upon them, through the merit of His passion, the grace whereby they are made just.

Of this Justification the causes are these: the final cause indeed is the glory of God and of Jesus Christ, and life everlasting; while the efficient cause is a merciful God who washes and sanctifies gratuitously, signing, and anointing with the holy Spirit of promise, who is the pledge of our inheritance; but the meritorious cause is His most beloved only-begotten, our Lord Jesus Christ, who, when we were enemies, for the exceeding charity wherewith he loved us, merited Justification for us by His most holy Passion on the wood of the cross, and made satisfaction for us unto God the Father…

…no one can be just, but he to whom the merits of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated…

…when by the merit of that same most holy Passion, the charity of God is poured forth, by the Holy Spirit, in the hearts of those that are justified, and is inherent therein: whence, man, through Jesus Christ, in whom he is ingrafted, receives, in the said justification, together with the remission of sins, all these (gifts) infused at once, faith, hope, and charity.

…we are therefore said to be justified freely, because that none of those things which precede justificationwhether faith or works-merit the grace itself of justification.

Thus, neither is our own justice established as our own as from ourselves; nor is the justice of God ignored or repudiated: for that justice which is called ours, because that we are justified from its being inherent in us, that same is (the justice) of God, because that it is infused into us of God, through the merit of Christ.

CANON I.- If any one saith, that man may be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ; let him be anathema.

CANON II.-If any one saith, that the grace of God, through Jesus Christ, is given only for this, that man may be able more easily to live justly, and to merit eternal life, as if, by free will without grace, he were able to do both, though hardly indeed and with difficulty; let him be anathema.

CANON III.-If any one saith, that without the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and without his help, man can believe, hope, love, or be penitent as he ought, so as that the grace of Justification may be bestowed upon him; let him be anathema.

This turned into a lot more quotes that I had counted on, but I just kept finding more and clearer teachings, from the Catholic Church, in the very documents that the author condemns, that we can merit nothing on our own, and that everything comes from the free gift of God.

I’ll save a comparison of various terms for the next post.






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