Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Modern Day Apologetics ... Has the Game Changed?

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." (1 Peter 3:15)


 The Baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch by the Deacon Philip by Sustris

When I first looked into Catholic apologetics about 15 years ago I was having a reversion of faith and did not understand the teachings of the Catholic Church when questioned by other Christians.  This was mostly evangelicals who were questioning Marian theology or the communion of the saints.  Since that time those attacks have seemed to subsided at least in my circles.  I still enjoy the occasional discussion with the Jehovah's Witness at the door.  I do not argue but emphasis our similarities, state my beliefs and usually end up agreeing to disagree.  It is important to know your faith and not get trampled on and twisted about what your own faith teaches.

I see the new battleground is not being rooted in the Bible and how Catholics understand it different than some protestant denominations.   The most recent attacks of the Catholic faith are not coming from within Christianity, but coming from the secular world.  They do not have a bible backing, but a belief that the Bible is a two thousand year old text that is no longer valid in today’s world.  It seems the apologetics arena has shifted from a scriptural battle to a battle about natural law.

This puts many defenders of the faith at a disadvantage, while they have been exposed to scripture in church they have a much smaller exposure to teaching of natural law and even less of an ability to articulate an argument based on it.  While we hear Catholic doctrine explained in homilies on Marian and saint  feast days, when was the last time the teachings of Thomas Aquinas were talked about more than passively in a homily? 

There have always been battle against moral relativism, where there are no absolutes in regard to morals and a God if he exists makes no rules in regards to what I can or cannot do.  They follow that “I am in charge of my own destiny and create my own moral code as I see fit”.  The Catholic Church has been battling this since before Descartes uttered “I think therefore I am.”  Which is as self centered as you can get with attributing your very being to the fact that you can think.  

Pope Paul VI warned against some of this in regard to human sexuality in his encyclical Humanae Vitae.  Many of his predictions have come true in the since it was written in 1968.

It seems that sexuality and birth control are just the tip of the iceberg that critics feel should be wiped away as Catholic teaching that are outdated and need to be “modernized”.  Every time the Pope says something mildly related to sexuality.  The Media jumps on it to say “The Church is coming around to our way of thinking.” or something to that effect.  The Church does not change her core principles, nor should she.  The Church does not follow with society and change morality based on a what the trendy thing to do it, nor should she.

If the Church just implemented all the changes that secular world wanted, it would cease to be the Church, it would be a hodgepodge of individual morality that have no basis in anything besides a persons individual idea of what they want to do.  

So what is the basis of this new morality?  Anything?  Do they have any guidance at all other than what they want?  Where is the moral line drawn and what is the standards for not crossing it?  

The Church has a mission and cannot be dragged along as society with a basis of nothing concrete.  They want to keep moving the line forward on what is acceptable and it changes with a “hot button” issue every few years.

The Church has its basis in the teaching of Jesus Christ, the Bible and 2000 years of tradition.  It has not always been popular, but it has always stood by its convictions.  But even more so the Church is able to articulate its teaching if anyone looks deeper than a simple soundbite.  The catechism explains why the Church believes what she believes and backs it with more documents.  The Church has two thousand years of teaching on the topic of natural law by the likes of Augustine, Aquinas and Bonaventure.   

All the studies of the apologetics from years ago with an understanding of the biblical basis of Catholicism are no longer pertain to the current fight to defend and explain the faith.  Our new battle is that of attacks on us as being insensitive to those who want to do at they please and there is no overarching moral authority and everyone makes their own decision on morality, does what they would like and if you disagree you are “intolerant”.  

As Catholics(and Christians in general) we can’t sit by silently and be fed this bill of goods and told to stand by idly.  If the those who promote the idea that they can do anything they like can bring it to the public square, we need to be in the square too.  It won’t be popular but it will be a slippery slope to the next thing that the “People” decide is OK.

If everyone is afraid to offend some other group then everything becomes insignificant and everything no longer has meaning.

The new battleground for Catholics to defend the faith is more than understanding that we don’t worship Mary.  We need to come to a deeper understanding of natural law, theology of the body and the roots of Catholic moral teachings.  Aquinas, Bonaventure and even John Paul II are a difficult reads for most people.  Luckily we have resources like Christopher West and Scott Hahn that can articulate some of this to more digestible information that can inform our faith and help us understand why some of the messages coming out of popular culture are wrong and what we can go to argue against it.  

Some helpful resources for further study on this topic:
The original theology of the body by John Paul II (very dense read)  

A couple of other resources that are a little more readable 
Christopher West 

Natural Law book by Charles Rice

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Want to help your prayer life… there’s an app for that.

The mobile app Laudate is the most comprehensive Catholic app that I have seen so far.  It not only covers common prayers but also links to liturgy of the hours as well as bibles and vatican documents.  Most people won’t need all of this but I could see a use if someone was expanding their prayer life, discerning a religious calling or doing research on a topic.  

Having used the app through a few upgrades, I have seen it continue to develop and grow to incorporate greater functionality.  The complexity of this app is amazing and the amount of information is very broad.  The prayer section is categorized and there is also a search functionality to help find he needed prayer. 

This app is truly and everyday app that offer the reading of the day plus reflections and even podcast from the USCCB.  It also changes the Liturgy of the Hours for the current day.  There is an option to save favorite prayers and to search for new one.  

This is a must have for anyone with a smart phone.  You never know when you will need the right prayer or when you will need to answer a question about the faith.  

Link to get the app from the Google Play store


Friday, January 10, 2014

Ordinary time: Extraordinary or Example for Living

 Sermon on the Mount fresco by Rosselli in the Sistine Chapel 

I once took a Lutheran friend to Catholic Mass with me.  It was during the summer and my friend was confused from the beginning when the cantor started with “This is the 15th Sunday of ordinary time…”.  My friend said what is this “ordinary time”.  I gave an answer about how it’s not Lent or Easter and and it’s not Advent or Christmas so its ordinary time.  Having never been outside my Catholic shell, I didn’t know anything else.  It wasn’t till a few weeks later when my friend invited me to Lutheran church and they started with “This is the 8th Sunday after trinity…” did i finally get it.  They continue to count after trinity where we switch to ordinary time.  

But the term ordinary time is misleading.  No time in the life of Jesus was ordinary.  During this time we hear all the stories of his public ministry.  We hear about miracles, healing and sermons.  These are pivotal things to our faith and our faith understanding.  By definition this term “ordinary” doesn’t seem right, as an adjective ordinary is defined as “with no special or distinctive features; normal” and as a noun “what is commonplace or standard”.  But when looking closer at the life of Jesus we see that throughout his 3 year public ministry this was the norm for him and should become so for us.  

During his public ministry Jesus travels all over Galilee preaching, teaching and healing.  For Jesus this was normal and commonplace.  This is how his reputation grew and why great crowds of thousands came to hear him.  His public ministry seems extraordinary for a you or I, but it may be an example of what we should be striving.  The parts of Jesus life that are extraordinary are the parts we celebrate not in ordinary time that only God can do.  Examples being an angel appearing to a virgin or the extraordinary pinnacle of suffering and dying on the cross to save mankind from their own sins, then rising from the dead.  The Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter time are when God was doing extraordinary work.

The everyday of life of Jesus where he shows us how to live a true Christian life, loving one another and working to heal those in distress.  These events of Jesus public ministry should be ordinary for us too.  We should strive to live just as Jesus did in his “ordinary time”.  We will never be born of a virgin or save the world by offering ourselves as a perfect sacrifice for the sins of humanity, that’s not within our capabilities.  But we should be doing the things Jesus did during his everyday life in our own ordinary time.  Will we spread the good news to all those we encounter?  Will we offer comfort to the suffering and the dying?  And most importantly will we offer hope to the desperate world we are born into?

Jesus came to show us how our ordinary time should be.  So as we enter the season of ordinary time, it is not about what you call it, it is about how you live it.           

Monday, January 6, 2014

Everyday life in a Catholic seminary

When I tell people I was in the seminary for 3 years studying to be a priest.  I get a wide range of responses.  People that know me already know and if they know me well enough they are not surprised.  It’s the people that only know me professionally or are only acquaintances that seem surprised.  I don’t hide the fact that I went to seminary and I don’t hide the fact or reasons that I left.  My wife and kids are evidence that I left and I believe further evidence that it was always the right reason.  I know that God called me in and I believe that God called me out of the seminary and it had a profound effect on my life.  In future blogs I will explain in more depth the ways that affects shows up in my life, even out of religious settings.  

For this post I wanted to address a question I get about everyday life of at a seminary.  Future blog post may deal with specifics of discernment, why I went to seminary and why i left but for now i want to talk about life in seminary itself.  There is also thoughts churning about an e-book of my whole story of in and out as a whole.  

Let start with a typical conversation

Acquaintance: What were you doing before you this?
Me: Before this I was in the seminary for three years studying to be a Catholic priest
Acquaintance: *short pause* What was that like?  Was it difficult to live like that?

Having gotten this question in various forms from various people, I can see where the person asking the questions stands based on how they ask.  A tone of “that’s interesting” verse a tone of “that’s awful, how did you ever survive”.  Ninety eight percent of the people asking have never been to or seen a seminary, they have a vague concept of what it is or what happens there.

So I’m going to unveil the mystery behind what happens in a seminary.  These are only my personal experiences at a specific time and place.  Others who have been in formation will have had vastly different experiences.  So with that disclaimer I will tell about my everyday life in seminary.  

As far as everyday life it is very similar to a college experience with a few extra things added in.  Most of the students have some “real world”  experience in academics or in the working force so for vast majority of us this was not our first time out on our own, most of us were many years removed from under our parents roof.  The diversity within a seminary is one the the most amazing things.  We had some guys that went into college seminary after high school but they were the minority.  Most of us had been in jobs ranging from mortuary technician, to burger king manager, some computer guys, teachers and the guy that was an anesthesiologist who still had his license and was planning to drop it when he got ordained.  The rumor around seminary was that the doctor frequently received job offers with six figure salary attached to leave seminary.  If that isn’t more pressure then i don’t know what is.   Last i heard the doctor was a faithful priest in New Jersey.  

I went to seminary in 2005 the church scandal had already broke and the church was in repair mode.  I was in seminary during the Vatican visitation to all seminaries.  I was in my first year so they didn’t ask me much because we had only been there four months, some of my upper classmate got more questions in their interview with the panel.  

The schedule during the week typically went like this (though I know other seminaries have mass in the morning)

8:00 - Morning prayer in chapel
8:30- 11:00 class periods
1130 mass
12:15 lunch
1:15 - 4:30 class periods
5:15 evening prayer
5:45 dinner
After dinner was study/free time

The seminary treated us as the adults we were, but also monitored us to make sure we were fulfilling our obligations.  So you were responsible for getting to chapel on time, but if you frequently overslept you would get called in to find out why.

The coursework was college/graduate level course work in the areas of theology(moral, systematic, scripture, history and liturgy) students coming without a philosophy background  had to take two years of philosophy before getting to theology.   

Like college you live with each other in a dorm.  Everyone has there own room with a bed, desk, dresser and sink in the corner.  We also had a telephone and a basic cable hookup.  The toilets, showers and washing machines are at the end of the hall.

Bonds are formed among the groups you see most often usually by class year, diocese and sometimes nationality.  

They do not call it formation for nothing.  The administration is taking what arrives at the door and trying to mold it into a priest that can be everything to everybody.  Not everyone is cut out for that responsibility.  It is the job of the formators to make sure they are doing there job.  They assess the students in classes and social situations(meal times etc.) to see how they are doing.  The student is also discerning the responsibility of priesthood as well.  Each student is assigned a faculty mentor to help guide him and keep him aware of any concerns that the faculty have about him.  The mentor's role is that of advocate for the student.

Each student also has a spiritual director with whom he is working out his discernment.  The spiritual director is a confidont and cannot share the topics that are covered in spiritual direction.  Some students choose an outside spiritual director just for a greater wall of privacy.  The mentor and the spiritual director cannot be the same person.   

Though the faculty meet throughout the year, once a year they have a vote, usually by class, on who should progress to the next level or who should be released.  This is no easy task for anyone.  They want everyone to progress by they also have an obligation to the people of God and to the bishop of the diocese that they are not just sailing people through.    

Coming in everyone has been through screenings by their own diocese as well as psychological evaluations so that takes out some of the people.  And if you get to the seminary you are obviously serious about it and are starting a deeper discernment.  Which was one of my problems with the A & E mini series “God or the Girl” which aired five or six years ago but that another story.

Being a small community everyone knows when “vote” day is, if a person get asked to leave it should not come as a surprise to him as he has should have been discussing it with his mentor for months.   But when someone is asked to leave especially if it unexpected it can be jarring and sad.  The seminary will only say “Joe Smith is no longer in formation” so sometimes you don’t know if Joe Smith left on his own or was asked to leave.  That is part of seminary as they try and give the people the best priest that they can.

Seminary life is college life with added pressure of formation and more prayer. It is not for everyone except those called to it.  It is one of the best fraternities I have ever seen with bonds formed that will last a lifetime.  Even after leaving I had many of my priest friends concelebrate my wedding.  The homilist remarked “you usually only see this many priest at an ordination not a wedding”.  My time in seminary wasn’t without trials but overall formation works and i am a better person for having done it.