The doctrine of the Fall (both of man and of some ‘gods,’ ‘eldils’ or ‘angels’) is the only satisfactory explanation. Evil begins, in a universe where all was good, from free will, which was permitted because it makes possible the greatest good of all. The corruption of the first sinner consists not in choosing some evil thing (there are no evil things for him to choose) but in preferring a lesser good (himself) before a greater (God). The Fall is, in fact, Pride. The possibility of this wrong preference is inherent in the v. (very) fact of having, or being, a self at all. But though freedom is real it is not infinite. Every choice reduces a little one’s freedom to choose the next time. There therefore comes a time when the creature is fully built, irrevocably attached either to God or to itself. This irrevocableness is what we call Heaven or Hell. Every conscious agent is finally committed in the long run: i.e., it rises above freedom into willed, but henceforth unalterable, union with God, or else sinks below freedom into the black fire of self-imprisonment. That is why the universe (as even the physicists now admit) has a real history, a fifth act with a finale in which the good characters ‘live happily ever after’ and the bad ones are cast out. At least that is how I see it.
Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity
October 26, 2014
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” These words of our Savior, which we have just heard, are repeated at this parish everyday at every Anglican Use Mass. It is very good for us to hear these words at every Mass so that we are constantly reminded of our need to put God first by loving Him above all things; but, when something becomes so familiar to us we can develop a tendency to ignore its true meaning. What does it mean to love God with your entire being? This is a very serious question to which we must have the correct answer so that we can rightly order our lives toward God. But in addition, without the right understanding for the love of God we will not know how to keep the second of our Lord’s commands: to love our neighbor as ourselves. So, what does it mean to love God with all your heart, soul and mind? Before looking for the answer I want to address modern man’s take on this question.
In our secular and pluralistic society, modern man asks a similar but altogether different question. Instead of asking how to rightly love God, modern society demands an answer to the question “Why should we love God, if there is one? What has He ever done for us?” And even we as Catholics, and who claim to love God, don’t always prove it. Too often in our speech we say we love God, but in our actions towards Him we show a profound indifference. We let our lives get in the way of loving God by saying to ourselves – I just don’t have time go to Mass this Sunday, or to pray, or go to adoration, or to do some work of mercy. By so doing we functionally become agnostics because through our actions we ask the same question that our modern society constantly asks – why should we love God? Continue reading
‘Niceness’—wholesome, integrated personality—is an excellent thing. We must try by every medical, educational, economic, and political means in our power to produce a world where as many people as possible grow up ‘nice’; just as we must try to produce a world where all have plenty to eat. But we must not suppose that even if we succeeded in making everyone nice we should have saved their souls. A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world—and might even be more difficult to save.
For mere improvement is not redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine. God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to pro- duce a new kind of man. It is not like teaching a horse to jump better and better but like turning a horse into a winged creature. Of course, once it has got its wings, it will soar over fences which could never have been jumped and thus beat the natural horse at its own game. But there may be a period, while the wings are just beginning to grow, when it cannot do so: and at that stage the lumps on the shoulders—no one could tell by looking at them that they are going to be wings—may even give it an awkward appearance.
Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis
On this day in 1845 a significant event took place. It was an event that would figure prominently in my own life as well as the life of many others throughout the years. The event in question was the reception of Blessed John Henry Newman from the Church of England into the fullness of the Catholic Faith. He, having been an Anglican priest, was subsequently ordained a Catholic priest and later made a Cardinal in the Catholic Church. He was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on September 19, 2010 (which happens to be the same date, in 2004, that I was ordained as an Anglican priest). The reason he is so important for me and many others (former Anglican priests as well as laity) is that he was our forerunner. His courage of leaving all behind in order to follow his conscience in regards to his faith is something that has inspired countless people to also leave everything behind for the cause of the Kingdom of God. His writings have taught many Anglicans the Truths of the Catholic Faith. His life, in fact, is an enduring witness of the relentless pursuit of the Truth. I cannot help thinking that if he had not followed the path that was laid before him then I may not be where I am right now: a priest in Christ’s one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. And, even more than that, without Newman’s witness I might not have become Catholic at all.
So, how does Bl. Cardinal Newman fit into my current series on Islam, you ask? It is because of something he wrote in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. There he writes,
True religion is the summit and perfection of false religions; it combines in one whatever there is of good and true separately remaining in each. And in like manner the Catholic Creed is for the most part the combination of separate truths, which heretics have divided among themselves, and err in dividing. So that, in matter of fact, if a religious mind were educated in and sincerely attached to some form of heathenism or heresy, and then were brought under the light of truth, it would be drawn off from error into the truth, not by losing what it had, but by gaining what it had not, not by being unclothed, but by being ‘clothed upon,’ ‘that mortality may be swallowed by of life.’ That same principle of faith which attaches it at first to the wrong doctrine would attach it to the truth; and that portion of its original doctrine, which was to be cast off as absolutely false, would not be directly rejected, but indirectly, in the reception of the truth which is its opposite. True conversion is ever of a positive, not a negative character.
An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 6th ed., 2005, p.200-1
The point that concerns us here, in regards to individual Muslims and their possibility of conversion, is here, “…if a religious mind were educated in and sincerely attached to some form of heathenism or heresy, and then were brought under the light of truth, it would be drawn off from error into the truth, not by losing what it had, but by gaining what it had not.” What this means is that those sincere Muslims who are earnestly seeking God through their religion would, if confronted with the Truth of the Catholic Faith and received it in an unbiased manner, be converted to the Truth of the Catholic Faith. This is because if they are truly searching for God, for the Truth, then when confronted with the fullness of that Truth which they seek they would not be able turn away from it. But, of course, this would depend upon them being able to hear the Gospel in a unbiased manner, meaning with no preconceived notions about the Catholic Faith. But that seems unlikely. But still, we must hold to the hope that those who have ears to hear will hear the Truth, accept it, and live it out in their lives.
Clarification on the last post…which is why this is called part 2 continued
My last post is one of those instances of pushing the ‘publish’ button too soon. If I had reflected on it more, specifically the last paragraph, then I probably would have noticed a change that needed to be made before posting it. I say ‘probably’ because I am not actually the one that noticed the problem – it was pointed out to me by my friend (who is also the one that has prompted me to write this particular series).
The paragraph in question is as follows:
The problem with this paragraph centers on the wording “simply God’s desire for all mankind to be saved.” The reason that this is a problem is because the plan of salvation is much more than “simply God’s desire” for all mankind to be saved. Instead, it is God actively working throughout the entire history of mankind to bring about our salvation. Although, it could be argued that since God is pure act then His desire for something to happen is the same as the action itself. Nevertheless, for the sake of clarity it should have been stated more precisely to begin with.
What to do about Lumen Gentium 16?
I continue today my reflection on Islam that has been prompted by an email I received from a friend. In that email he brings up the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium, §16, which in part states:
But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Muslims, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things, and as Saviour wills that all men be saved.
The part I am struggling with here is “the plan of salvation also includes…the Muslims”. Without explaining what is meant by “the plan of salvation” the document makes it sound like (at least to me) that all religions are valid paths to salvation. (The idea that all religions are valid paths to God makes me apprehensive and defensive, which in turn can lead to quick tempered reactions on my part. But, such reactions can obviously be counterproductive, which I will address later in this series.) But of course this couldn’t be true because it contradicts what the Church has always taught: that salvation comes to us only through Jesus Christ.
In order to try and resolve the problem of the meaning of “plan of salvation” I tried searching for a commentary on Lumen Gentium. There was only one document that appeared useful, which was by Daniel J. Castellano. And, to make sure the interpretation given to the phrase in question was valid, I tried looking up the author. I couldn't find much information but it does seem that he is very intelligent Catholic (undergrad from MIT, graduate studies at Boston University). Hopefully that means his interpretation can be trusted because I have not found anything to corroborate what he says. Below is what he has to say about the phrase in question (rest of the article here):
Since God’s “plan of salvation” is implemented solely through the Church, the Council is here asserting that the Church is linked in some way to all who believe in the Creator. This is most obviously the case with the Muslims, who share our belief in the one God of Abraham. It cannot be said that the God of Islam is another false god, even if the Muslims might differ from Christians in theological doctrines. They clearly give honor to the Creator, not a mere creature, and respect His sovereignty over all men. This ability to recognize the one God is a gift of the Holy Spirit administered through the Church. Going further, St. Paul famously commended the Athenians for honoring a mere “unknown God.” (Acts 17:23) Though they had no positive understanding of the one God as the Muslims do, they at least had the inclination to honor that which transcended their understanding of creation. This seeking is also a gift of the Holy Ghost to the Church. We should not be surprised to see this salvific activity beyond the visible structure of the Church, given the Savior’s desire for all men to be saved. (1 Tim. 2:4)
If this interpretation is accurate we could therefore say that the “plan of salvation” is simply God’s desire for all mankind to be saved, which is true and therefore, “plan of salvation” does not somehow make Islam, or any other religion, equal to the one and only true religion established by Jesus Christ.
Today is the Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael – the Holy Archangels. And as I was praying this morning in preparation for Mass I was reflecting on how these Holy Archangels help to protect us from the Evil One and the angels that followed him in revolt against God. But as I was thinking about this it occured to me that we can be susceptible to a false understanding of good vs. evil. In fact, to put it in such terms as ‘good vs. evil’ can lead to the danger of thinking that evil is merely the “opposite side of the coin” to that which is good.
To this someone might reply, “But is not evil the opposite of that which is good?” To that question I would have to answer yes and no for the following reasons. First of all I would say yes, evil is the opposite of good because as Christians we are to do good and avoid evil. But even though, philosophically speaking, everyone pursues that which is good (but to be more accurate we must say that they pursue that which they think is good and about which they could very easily be mistaken) evil deeds are still done by countless numbers of people everyday. And it is this tendency towards sin, which runs throughout the whole history of mankind, that can lead us into a wrong way of thinking about evil.
When we reflect on the prevalence of evil deeds done by mankind it may appear that evil is a power more intense or stronger than the power of good. And it is to this way of thinking that I would have to say that evil is not the opposite of good. What I mean is that to see the prevalence of evil deeds in the world and to think of the situation in terms of ‘good vs. evil’ is a dualistic and non-Christian way of understanding the world we live in. We must remember that good and evil are not equal but opposite forces. After all, if they were equal but opposite then there would be no objective standard by which to say which side was ‘good’ and which side was ‘bad’. To put this in the form of a question: if good and evil were both equal, and therefore presumably co-eternal, then how could we determine which was good and which was bad? Quite simply – we couldn’t.
As a result, the only thing that really makes any sense is the Christian understanding of good and evil. God is all good. It is He who created everything and He created it good, as we are told in the book of Genesis. It was the rebellion of Lucifer, and the angels that followed him (all of which had been created by God as good creatures) that led to the introduction of evil into God’s good creation. The question may then be asked: why did God create Lucifer if He already knew Lucifer would rebel? But if we ask this question then we might as well ask why did God create anything at all? Ultimately, we cannot really answer that question. There was no need for God to create anything – but, He did. Out of the superabundance of His love He created creatures with which to share His love. But love can only be given freely and that freedom, which in itself is a good thing, implies a choice that can, and does, lead to evil.* What is this choice? It is the choosing of what we want instead of what God wants for us: Lucifer and his angels chose evil, Adam and Eve chose evil and we too, everytime we succumb to temptation, choose evil instead of that which is good. And what is that good which we should choose? Ultimately, the true Good that we all desire (and we desire it because God created us for it) is God Himself. And we, if we want to reach that ultimate Good, must in the day to day choices that we are presented with choose to do God’s will instead of our own. The Holy Archangels we celebrate today, along with all the other good angels, are there to help us when we choose that which is good but they cannot make the choice for us. We must decide to choose the good.
But that brings up a serious question because I have already mentioned that we can be mistaken about that which is good. Therefore, how can we choose that which is good if we can be mistaken about it? To answer this we simply need to remember that God is good and therefore, would not leave us without guidance. And this guidance He has sent to us through His Son, Jesus Christ. Of course, we still make mistakes and that is why He left us the Sacrament of Penance. But the more and more we learn to follow Christ – to allow ourselves to be transformed into the image of Christ – the more we will not only know that which is good but also to choose it.
*This choice that can lead to evil is possible only for creatures but not the Creator. To go into the reasons why this is so would make this post too long. Perhaps a topic for another day.
Just a few moments ago, as I was preparing to write, the bells for the Angelus started to ring. The Angelus has been a part of my life going back to the Episcopal seminary I attended. It was there that three times a day the bell would ring and everyone, no matter what they were doing, would stop and remember the Incarnation of Jesus beginning with the words, “The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary; and she conceived by the Holy Ghost.” And that angel was, of course, the Archangel Gabriel. And so it seemed to me very Providential today that the Angelus would ring out just as I was preparing to write about the Archangel Gabriel.
Specifically, my purpose today is to make an important point in regards to my last post. That being said, we must ask how does the ‘religion of peace’ relate to the Archangel Gabriel? Well, I would say that he does not relate in the least to Islam, which I will explain below. But Islam, on the other hand, has something else to say in regards to Gabriel.
Before we get to the Muslim belief on Gabriel, let us recap the Christian understanding. Gabriel appeared to the Blessed Virgin Mary and announced to her the coming of the Son of God, and that she was to be His mother. Mary accepted this very special vocation from God by agreeing to God’s plan and she conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Old Testament prophesied about this event and the New Testament consistently expresses that Jesus, the Son of Mary, was and truly is the Son of God. Even Jesus Himself confirms this in the Gospels. And all of this was announced by the Archangel Gabriel.
Now to Islam: Muslims believe that it was the Archangel Gabriel that appeared Muhammad and revealed to him Islam. They believe that it was Gabriel that dictated the Koran for Muhammed to right down. But, the Koran says that even though Jesus was indeed born to the Virgin Mary, He was only a prophet and not God.
Therefore we are left with two religions claiming contradictory things about the same angelic being. Common sense dictates that it is not possible that Gabriel came to Mary announcing the birth of God's Son and also came to Muhammad saying that Jesus was not God's Son. There is only one option: one of the religions is true and the other is a lie. As a Catholic priest I am sure you know with which religion I side.
Now this isn’t to say I don’t believe an angel appeared to Muhammad. It is entirely possible that an angel did appear to him. But, we must remember that there are two camps of angels: those who chose to do God’s will and those who did not. The angels that serve God would not say anything contradictory to the Truth; in other words, they would never lie. And so Gabriel could not have appeared to both Mary and Muhammad. But, there are a group of angels which would have no qualms whatsoever about lying. In regards to the leader of these angels Jesus said, “he is a liar and the father of lies.” This would be none other than Satan.
This is the reason that I called Islam an evil religion in my last post. It is a religion that is based on a lie that says that Jesus is not the Son of God. But, and this is very important, notice that I said it is the religion that is evil – not the people within the religion, at least not all of them. Yes, there are many within Islam that have done terrible, awful, and evil things, but that doesn’t change the fact that all Muslims, Christians, Jews, and everyone else on this planet were made in the image of God and Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died for all of them on the Cross. He desires that all be saved. Therefore, let us remember that Muslims live within a lie and then do what we can to show them the Truth. And let us not hate them like so many of them hate us. Instead, let us pray for their eternal souls remembering that we too need prayers for our own.
For a few weeks now I have been planning to do a piece on Islam. And today, the anniversary of the Islamic terrorist attacks on this country, seems to be a good day to reflect on the so-called ‘religion of peace’ and what was done to the people of this country 13 years ago. (And which continues to be done today in other parts of the world.)
Let us first get one thing straight: I am not saying that there are no peaceful Muslims. I am sure some of them are. But I believe it to be a lie to call Islam a religion of peace. Now I would imagine, in our politically correct society, that there are many people who would take offense at my calling the 9/11 attacks an ‘Islamic terriost attack’. They would say that it was only the ‘extremists’ that performed the attacks. But, let us be real, it was an Islamic attack. To deny this would be to say that the people who perpetrated the attacks were not Muslim, which would be untrue. To this someone might respond, “Yes, but many members of the Mafia are Roman Catholic, and they are responsible for many horrible crimes as well.” That is true, but it is not their Catholic faith that motivates their evil deeds. In fact, the Church denounces any such evil deeds done by one of its members or any evil done by anyone else for that matter. On the other hand, the same cannot be said of the 9/11 attacks or any of the things going on in the Middle East at this time. The actions 13 years ago and the atrocities being committed right now are very much an outgrowth of the religion of Islam, which is evidenced by the fact that the terrorists are directly motivated by the teachings of Muhammad.
But most people don’t want to think critically about such things. They just want to believe what the media tells them over and over and over again – Islam is a religion of peace. It is not hard to discover how big a lie this is. Here are some examples of what I am talking about. (There is much more that can be found at the website located here.)
Quran (5:33) – “The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement.”
Quran (8:12) – “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.”
And that is not all. In total there are “at least 109 verses that call Muslims to war with nonbelievers for the sake of Islamic rule.” (From the above mentioned website.) To this some might say, “Yes, but jihad is supposed to be understood as a spiritual struggle.” Good luck convincing the family of James Foley and countless others throughout Islam’s history of that particular bit of nonsense.
Now that is enough about the whole religion of peace nonsense. If you still believe in that then go and see what the teachings of Islam really say instead taking your opinion from the talking heads on TV.
My main purpose is not to show how bad Islam really is. Instead, my main purpose today is to call for forgiveness toward those Muslims who have done such evil things against others. This is a case of hate the sin but love the sinner. On days like today when we remember such senseless evil done to us we can very easily become upset and angry, even to the point of hatred for those who do such evil deeds. When this kind of evil is done against a person or group of people there are sometimes those who will say, “I can never forgive them for that.” But as Christians we cannot allow ourselves to fall into such a trap. Yes, what was done was very evil, but look at the evil that was done to Christ and what did He say from the Cross? “Father forgive them.”
We need to understand that by giving forgiveness we are not condoning the evil that is done agaist us. Instead, when we forgive others we are saying in effect, “What you did to me was wrong, but, I do not hold it against you.” And why should we do this? Well, for one, Jesus told us, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27b-28, RSV-CE) And in addition He said “if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Those are very strong words which show us the importance of forgiving others. We must remember that we are all sinners in need of forgiveness, but if we do not give forgiveness to others, even to our worst enemies, then God will not forgive us either.
And why is this? Why does God require us to forgive and why did Jesus forgive His tormentors from the Cross? In fact, why did Jesus, the Son of God, die for us in the first place? Because each and every one of us, whether we be Muslim, Jew, Christian, atheist, or whatever, are made in the image and likeness of God and He desires all those who He has created to be with Him in Heaven.
And all of this brings up a final point. We should be concerned with those who are trapped within the religion of Islam. In our egalitarian “any religion is good as any other” mentality we do not understand what it means to be a Muslim. The people within it, especially the women, cannot just leave and join themselves to another religion if they feel so called. Muslims who dare to convert to Christianity are quite literally risking their lives because other Muslims, even their own family members, will kill them rather than let them leave Islam. Yes, the religion of Islam is a hateful, despotic, and even evil religion that has led to much suffering for centuries throughout the world. But those who are within it are still people in need of salvation and to carry around hatred in our hearts for them is equivalent to wishing them to hell. What we must do instead is forgive, pray for, and if possible, evangelize Muslims for the sake of their souls and our own.
St. Gregory the Great and St. Augustine of Canterbury
Perhaps you have heard this story before but not perhaps from St. Bede the Venerable. This passage starts on page 86 of the pdf, which is numbered 74 in the text of the book. The whole book can be found here for free.
Nor must we pass by in silence the story of the blessed Gregory, handed down to us by the tradition of our ancestors, which explains his earnest care for the salvation of our nation. It is said that one day, when some merchants had lately arrived at Rome, many things were exposed for sale in the market place, and much people resorted thither to buy: Gregory himself went with the rest, and saw among other wares some boys put up for sale, of fair complexion, with pleasing countenances, and very beautiful hair. When he beheld them, he asked, it is said, from what region or country they were brought? and was told, from the island of Britain, and that the inhabitants were like that in appearance. He again inquired whether those islanders were Christians, or still involved in the errors of paganism, and was informed that they were pagans. Then fetching a deep sigh from the bottom of his heart, “Alas! what pity,” said he, “that the author of darkness should own men of such fair countenances; and that with such grace of outward form, their minds should be void of inward grace. He therefore again asked, what was the name of that nation? and was answered, that they were called Angles. “Right,” said he, “for they have an angelic face, and it is meet that such should be co-heirs with the Angels in heaven. What is the name of the province from which they are brought?” It was replied, that the natives of that province were called Deiri. (Note: Southern Northumbria) “Truly are they Deira,” said he, “saved from wrath, and called to the mercy of Christ. How is the king of that called?” They told him his name was Aelli;’ and he, playing upon the name, said, “Allelujah, the praise of God the Creator must be sung in those parts.”
Then he went to the bishop of the Roman Apostolic see (for he was not himself then made pope), and entreated him to send some ministers of the Word into Britain to the nation of the English, that it might be converted to Christ by them; declaring himself ready to carry out that work with the help of God, if the Apostolic Pope should think fit to have it done. But not being then able to perform this task, because, though the Pope was willing to grant his request, yet the citizens of Rome could not be brought to consent that he should depart so far from the city, as soon as he was himself made Pope, he carried out the long-desired work, sending, indeed, other preachers, but himself by his exhortations and prayers helping the preaching to bear fruit. This account, which we have received from a past generation, we have thought fit to insert in our Ecclesiastical History.
The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, St. Bede
I have always thought this to be a wonderful story. I suppose the main reason I find this story so intriguing and inspiring is because it led to the salvation of the English people, which is very important for me as an Anglican convert to the Catholic Faith. But of course there would be no ‘Anglican’ if St. Gregory had not first sent St. Augustine, which eventually led to Anglicanism after Henry VIII. So it is very appropriate that as Gregory sent Augustine to preach the Catholic Faith to the people and bring them into the one Fold of Christ, so also Benedict XVI published Anglicanorum coetibus to bring the lost sheep of Anglicanism back into the one Fold originally proclaimed by Augustine.
But there is another reason I am bringing up this story today. Notice what happens when Gregory sees the Angles being sold in the marketplace. His immediate and primary concern is not to see the slaves freed from their physical chains that hold them down. Instead, he is focused on another slavery that is far worse – that of being pagans, of being completely and hopelessly lost without a knowledge of Christ. It was the chains that enslaved their souls that he sought to free them from because it is those which have eternal consequences.
Many people today though have it completely backwards. They might see physical chains of some sort, some form of ‘social justice’ that needs to be performed, and through mere sentiment they seek to put right the perceived wrong. But of the spiritual situation of those in need they could not care less. This mindset is at least understandable in relief work done for the needy through various non-sectarian agencies. But when this is the attitude of those within the Church it makes no sense whatsoever!
Our Lord died to bring eternal, not temporal, salvation to mankind. This isn’t to say that we should not be concerned with the physical needs of our suffering brothers and sisters. We should – in fact our Lord demands it of us. But, we must have our priorities straight and remember that the help that others need most desparately, more than anything else, is not ‘justice’, whether it be social or otherwise. Instead what they need is mercy – the mercy that we can only receive through Christ’s redemption that He won for us on the Cross. St. Gregory understood this and we, as a Church that can see pagans of all kinds surrounding us, need to understand it.