Christian Marriage a Restored Truth, Not an Ideal

Wedding Feast at Cana

In this era of the Synod on the Family, I’ve noticed that a certain expression has become common – almost omnipresent.  I’ve seen this expression many times in secular news reports on the synod, I’ve read it in speeches of and interviews with synod fathers, I’ve found it in the comments of Catholic writers, and I recently heard it in a Sunday homily.  The expression I refer to is: “ideal.”  The teachings of Christ and His Church on Marriage are allegedly an ideal.

Marriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines the term “ideal” in this way:

“1: A standard of perfection, beauty, or excellence 2: one regarded as exemplifying an ideal and often taken as a model for imitation”

By this definition, and according to the popular understanding of the expression “ideal,” it appears that the teachings of Christ and His Church on Holy Matrimony are standards we should try to imitate, high marks we should attempt to reach, but which most of us will miss simply because the ideal is just too high and too impractical.  After all, that’s the nature of an ideal: only a gifted few can attain it, while the ordinary masses cannot.

The teachings of Christ and His Church on Marriage are not an ideal; rather, they are a definition, a truth, a reality revealed by the Creator of Marriage, restored by the Savior of Marriage, sanctified by the Holy Spirit of Marriage, and entrusted to the Church to expound and uphold forever. In Christ we have been taught by God both what Christian Marriage is and what it is not.  We have not been given an ideal; we have been shown a truth that peoples, cultures, nations, and religions have denied and continue to deny with an increasing militancy.  And to the degree we begin to consider Christian Marriage only an ideal, only a lofty standard to shoot for, we will begin to justify and accept as “close enough” a thousand worldly standards that are not Christian Marriage.

Let me give a related example – the topic of priestly celibacy.  Christ and St. Paul both highly commended the renunciation of marriage for the sake of the Kingdom of God (Mt. 19:12; 1 Cor. 7:32-35).  The purpose of celibacy is to sanctify individuals and free them for a life of undivided devotion to God and service of His Church.  Protestants generally believe that this teaching is biblical but optional for ministers, and many Catholics now feel it should be the same for priests.  In other words, celibacy is an ideal, but it should not be a rule or requirement for all. The priest himself should be free to decide whether or not he will marry.

Now, how does celibacy as an “ideal” exist in the Protestant world?  Remember, Protestants generally do not deny that celibacy is a biblical teaching; they simply claim that, as an ideal, it is optional.

Celibacy among Protestant clergy is nearly non-existent.  I’ve never met a celibate minister and I’ve never heard of a celibate minister.  I presume that celibate ministers exist somewhere, but I can’t prove it.  And the minister that was celibate would be a loner, an odd-ball who would be a cause of suspicion for going against a long-standing Protestant tradition of married ministers.

Often, in order to lead people to follow the hard and narrow way, that way must be made into a rule. It must develop from an “ideal” into a norm or requirement for all.  Otherwise, people – succumbing to their fallen nature which always prefers ease to exertion – will invariably follow the wide and easy way, to the near total abandonment of the other way.  Such is the case with celibacy and such is the case with marriage.  And yet, Christian Marriage is more than a rule: it is a truth.  Marriage, as a life-long union of one man and one woman, is not a precept or law, but a reality defined by the Creator.  And whatever imperfections had crept into it through the hardness of human hearts and had been tolerated during the Old Testament period, Christ has removed.  Such corruptions – including divorce and remarriage, and polygamy – have been excluded by our Lord in restoring marriage to the original will of the Creator.

If Christ had presented His teachings on Holy Matrimony only as an ideal, rather than as a restored truth, then He would have had nothing new to say about it.  Then His ideas would have gone unnoticed; they would have been the same as the rabbis of the time, and, in fact, the same as the Gentile world in its widespread acceptance of divorce and remarriage and even polygamy.  What sets the teachings of Christ and His Church apart from the ways of pagandom is the refusal to dignify in any way, and to any degree, the grave sin of adultery.  And where a valid sacramental marriage has been confected, divorce and attempted remarriage constitute adultery.  To receive Holy Communion in such a state is to commit a grave sin of sacrilege.  That is the unchangeable Gospel truth.

It is not that Christian Marriage is an ideal or a high mark to shoot for, below which other less ideal forms of marriage are also acceptable; rather, it is that these “lesser forms” – cohabitation, divorce and remarriage, same-sex unions, and polygamy – are not marriage at all but are grave offenses against the nature and dignity of marriage.

Just as Christ would not dignify adultery before the Pharisees, neither can the Catholic Church dignify it before the world, not even in the name of an alleged “mercy” that only makes Christ Himself appear most unmerciful for having given the teaching in the first place  For He, and not man, is the Author of the Church’s teaching on Christian Marriage.  It is not a Pharisaical addendum to the Gospel, but a central principle of it.

Every difficult marital situation was foreseen by our Lord, and yet, He did not propose a lame compromised version of the marital covenant, such as many are proposing in the Church today.  This is not pastoral sensitivity to real situations; it is an incomprehensible arrogance that holds that Christ’s standard is just too high, too much to ask for; hence, man must improve upon it by lowering that standard.  Such a denial of a central Gospel truth is unworthy of any person who dares to call himself a Catholic, never mind a pastor of souls.

Classes in Catholicism

Saint Paul Preaching

As usual, our apologetics classes will resume at the end of September.  There are presently three groups.  The course, Catholic Apologetics, will be taught at the Little Sisters of the Poor St. Joseph’s Residence in Enfield, CT (1365 Enfield St.), beginning Monday, September 28, and at Christ the King parish center in Ludlow, MA (41 Warsaw Ave.), beginning on Tuesday, September 29.

Another course called, Answering Common Objections, held on the first and third Thursdays of the month, will resume on Thursday, October 1, at Holy Trinity parish center in Westfield, MA (335 Elm St.).

All classes are held approximately from 7-8:30pm.

Catholic Apologetics is a four-year course, but students are welcome to take only as much as they choose.  The course is well-organized and intended to give students a thorough knowledge of the faith, with an emphasis on defending the faith.  This would be an especially good time to join because this September is the beginning of year one of the entire course.

Answering Common Objections is less of a course and more of a series of ongoing talks on the faith.  It’s somewhat directed towards those who may be inquiring into the faith for the first time, and is open to fallen-away and non-Catholics.  In other words, it’s much simpler than the Catholic Apologetics course.

It goes without saying that these groups are small in number – anything from 2-20 people.  So, new students are always welcome.  In addition, I would be happy to start new classes wherever there is interest (in the southern New England area).  All that is needed is at least three students, a small room, and a relatively quiet environment.  I’ve taught these classes in classrooms, boardrooms, living rooms, and kitchens, and I’m willing to offer them wherever there is a sincere interest in Catholic truth.  So, please spread the word!

I’ve been teaching these classes for about fourteen years now, and have had perhaps ten different locations.  They tend to take on a life of their own and often become quite important personally to the students.  They are the rarest places where faithful Catholics can learn about the faith, ask any question, and find a small friendly gathering of like-minded souls struggling to be holy in a godless world.  (I think I can go further than that and now say, “in a profoundly anti-Catholic world”.)  I would encourage any and all to consider taking these classes.  All who are seeking the truth are welcome.

For more information, please leave a phone message at (413) 568-4429, and I’ll get back to you.  Or else, send an email to:

Saint Justin Martyr, Patron Saint of Apologists and Philosophers

Only the First

Kim Davis

The homosexual agenda continues to reveal itself, to exercise its intolerance and hatred towards those who disagree with same-sex “marriage” and who respect and observe instead the natural law, the divine moral law.  And the defenders of this unjust court ruling have the audacity to portray themselves as upright law-abiding citizens, when, in fact, the course to this law was fraught with the violating of existing laws and the denying of citizens’ votes.  All this, under a president who himself ignores those laws with which he personally disagrees.  The only binding precepts in America, increasingly, seem to be those arbitrarily invented just yesterday by leftists and imposed on all without mercy.  Civil laws that violate moral laws are only lawlessness in disguise.

Kentucky Rowan County clerk Kim Davis, a Born-Again Christian who refused to issue marriage licenses to homosexual couples, has been put in jail for adhering to her Christian faith, by order of US District Judge David L. Bunning.  This was entirely predictable.  Unless this unjust ruling which offers no hope to conscientious objectors is modified, Kim will be only the first among many to suffer fines and/or imprisonment.

This is what the mere freedom of worship allows – the persecution of those who actually practice their religion outside of a church building.  No, we do not want merely the liberty to shut ourselves up within buildings and there do our pious thing, for this would not be true Christianity.  Rather, we insist on true freedom of religion, on the liberty both to openly exercise our beliefs and to take part in the public debates of our times without fear of retribution from officials who disagree with us.  Christianity cannot be silenced; true faith cannot be concealed.  The Church’s very essence is missionary, to go out to all the nations and make disciples.  Therefore, the Christian religion must be public, and it will be public, regardless of the threats and punishments of a godless state.  Christians will die, rather than be gagged.  “Semen est sanguis Christianorum.”  “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” (Tertullian).

However, there is one fortunate aspect to this outrage: it is bad publicity for the homosexualist crusade.  The movement operates best by cover of night, in that the media fully cooperate with its objectives, reporting only what serves those objectives and neglecting to cover its more radical theories, intentions, and activities.  Hence, the poorly-informed American sees and hears through the liberal media only nice things about the gay rights movement, only benign stories about its admirable pursuit of tolerance and civil rights for all.  The story of Kim Davis exposes this delusion and reveals the true character of a movement that is ruthless, intolerant, and determined to crush all opposition, denying to citizens civil rights that they possessed only a month ago.

Freedom of conscience?  Forget it.  Submit or be fined and jailed.  Welcome to Brokeback America.


Henry David Thoreau

“Can there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience? – in which majorities decide only those questions to which the rule of expediency is applicable?  Must the citizen even for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator?  Why has every man a conscience, then?”

“Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.”

– From Civil Disobedience, by Henry David Thoreau


Martin Luther King, Jr.

“There are just laws, and there are unjust laws.  I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘An unjust law is no law at all'”.

“Now, what is the difference between the two?  How does one determine when a law is just or unjust?  A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law, or the law of God.  An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.  To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law.”

– From the Letter from a Birmingham Jail, by Martin Luther King, Jr.


Joseph Ratzinger

“In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty.  One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application.  In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection.”

–  From the 2003 document, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

Vatican Interview on the Pope’s Letter

Vatican Radio

Vatican Radio, responding to the confusion over Pope Francis’ recent letter on the Year of Mercy, abortion, and confession, has posted an interview between Christopher Wells and  Fr. Robert Gahl, associate professor of ethics at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (Santa Croce).  The following are some important excerpts.


Has the Pope Changed Church Doctrine on Abortion?

“With this new concession, Pope Francis has reaffirmed traditional doctrine, practice, and law.  He has not changed Church teaching; he has confirmed it. For the Church, abortion is both a sin and a crime.  The Fifth Commandment prohibits taking innocent human life. And Canon 1398 of the Code of Canon Law specifies that abortion is also a penal crime and that those who abort automatically incur the penalty of excommunication.  This means that at the very moment that the abortion is successfully accomplished, the woman and all formal conspirators are excommunicated.”

What are the Effects of the Year of Mercy?

“What the pope has done with this letter of September 1 is, he’s extended the faculty or the authorization of all priests around the world to release people, or to remit them, or to lift that penalty – release them from the penalty – that’s under law, and also to absolve them from their sin.”

And Outside the Year of Mercy?

“Generally, Church law, in order to emphasize, to teach the gravity of abortion, specifies that only local diocesan bishops have the authority to lift the penalty from this crime, and therefore allow people to come back to the sacraments after having committed the crime of abortion.  What Pope Francis has done is, he’s extended that authorization to all the priests, starting next December 8, 2015 until November 20, 2016 – so during the entirety of the Jubilee year.”

“It should be taken into account that, nonetheless, already many bishops have, with their own authority, delegated this responsibility to the priests in the diocese, especially in the west.  For instance, in England and Wales and most of the United States, most of the bishops have given this authorization already to the priests in their dioceses.  So there’s no need to wait until December 8.  Certainly, if anyone is carrying this burden of having participated in an abortion, they should immediately, as soon as possible, go to their closest priest and seek the forgiveness.  This is what Pope Francis intends for the Church.”

There Is No Reason to Wait

“Moreover, Pope Francis has asserted that God’s mercy indicates His omnipotence.  God is all-powerful; there’s no sin that is so big that God cannot forgive it.”

“So one ought not to delay.  This is the most important thing.”

“Through this concession, this letter of yesterday, Pope Francis is really teaching the gravity of abortion and the beauty of forgiveness and of the sacrament of confession.”


“This doesn’t establish a change in Church teaching.  The gravity, in fact, of the crime of abortion is sin, is reaffirmed by Pope Francis.  And at the same time, he’s extending God’s mercy to all people.  So it’s a gesture, a powerful gesture, of welcoming.”


“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it..  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt. 16:18-19).

Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt. 18:18).

Letter of Pope Francis on the Jubilee Year of Mercy


“To My Venerable Brother
Archbishop Rino Fisichella
President of the Pontifical Council
for the Promotion of the New Evangelization

With the approach of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy I would like to focus on several points which I believe require attention to enable the celebration of the Holy Year to be for all believers a true moment of encounter with the mercy of God. It is indeed my wish that the Jubilee be a living experience of the closeness of the Father, whose tenderness is almost tangible, so that the faith of every believer may be strengthened and thus testimony to it be ever more effective.

My thought first of all goes to all the faithful who, whether in individual Dioceses or as pilgrims to Rome, will experience the grace of the Jubilee. I wish that the Jubilee Indulgence may reach each one as a genuine experience of God’s mercy, which comes to meet each person in the Face of the Father who welcomes and forgives, forgetting completely the sin committed. To experience and obtain the Indulgence, the faithful are called to make a brief pilgrimage to the Holy Door, open in every Cathedral or in the churches designated by the Diocesan Bishop, and in the four Papal Basilicas in Rome, as a sign of the deep desire for true conversion. Likewise, I dispose that the Indulgence may be obtained in the Shrines in which the Door of Mercy is open and in the churches which traditionally are identified as Jubilee Churches. It is important that this moment be linked, first and foremost, to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to the celebration of the Holy Eucharist with a reflection on mercy. It will be necessary to accompany these celebrations with the profession of faith and with prayer for me and for the intentions that I bear in my heart for the good of the Church and of the entire world.

Additionally, I am thinking of those for whom, for various reasons, it will be impossible to enter the Holy Door, particularly the sick and people who are elderly and alone, often confined to the home. For them it will be of great help to live their sickness and suffering as an experience of closeness to the Lord who in the mystery of his Passion, death and Resurrection indicates the royal road which gives meaning to pain and loneliness. Living with faith and joyful hope this moment of trial, receiving communion or attending Holy Mass and community prayer, even through the various means of communication, will be for them the means of obtaining the Jubilee Indulgence. My thoughts also turn to those incarcerated, whose freedom is limited. The Jubilee Year has always constituted an opportunity for great amnesty, which is intended to include the many people who, despite deserving punishment, have become conscious of the injustice they worked and sincerely wish to re-enter society and make their honest contribution to it. May they all be touched in a tangible way by the mercy of the Father who wants to be close to those who have the greatest need of his forgiveness. They may obtain the Indulgence in the chapels of the prisons. May the gesture of directing their thought and prayer to the Father each time they cross the threshold of their cell signify for them their passage through the Holy Door, because the mercy of God is able to transform hearts, and is also able to transform bars into an experience of freedom.

I have asked the Church in this Jubilee Year to rediscover the richness encompassed by the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. The experience of mercy, indeed, becomes visible in the witness of concrete signs as Jesus himself taught us. Each time that one of the faithful personally performs one or more of these actions, he or she shall surely obtain the Jubilee Indulgence. Hence the commitment to live by mercy so as to obtain the grace of complete and exhaustive forgiveness by the power of the love of the Father who excludes no one. The Jubilee Indulgence is thus full, the fruit of the very event which is to be celebrated and experienced with faith, hope and charity.

Furthermore, the Jubilee Indulgence can also be obtained for the deceased. We are bound to them by the witness of faith and charity that they have left us. Thus, as we remember them in the Eucharistic celebration, thus we can, in the great mystery of the Communion of Saints, pray for them, that the merciful Face of the Father free them of every remnant of fault and strongly embrace them in the unending beatitude.

One of the serious problems of our time is clearly the changed relationship with respect to life. A widespread and insensitive mentality has led to the loss of the proper personal and social sensitivity to welcome new life. The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails. Many others, on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe that they have no other option. I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision. What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope. The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father. For this reason too, I have decided, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it. May priests fulfil this great task by expressing words of genuine welcome combined with a reflection that explains the gravity of the sin committed, besides indicating a path of authentic conversion by which to obtain the true and generous forgiveness of the Father who renews all with his presence.

A final consideration concerns those faithful who for various reasons choose to attend churches officiated by priests of the Fraternity of St Pius X. This Jubilee Year of Mercy excludes no one. From various quarters, several Brother Bishops have told me of their good faith and sacramental practice, combined however with an uneasy situation from the pastoral standpoint. I trust that in the near future solutions may be found to recover full communion with the priests and superiors of the Fraternity. In the meantime, motivated by the need to respond to the good of these faithful, through my own disposition, I establish that those who during the Holy Year of Mercy approach these priests of the Fraternity of St Pius X to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation shall validly and licitly receive the absolution of their sins.

Trusting in the intercession of the Mother of Mercy, I entrust the preparations for this Extraordinary Jubilee Year to her protection.

From the Vatican, 1 September 2015



I’ve posted this Letter of Pope Francis on the Jubilee Year of Mercy (addressed to Archbishop Rino Fisichella, the president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization), in part, because it contains several themes that will be distorted by the media and predictably used for their own leftist purposes.  I’ve highlighted the section on abortion and would add the following comments:

  • Repentance gains God’s forgiveness; repentance.  The pope does not repeat the moral relativist’s favorite platitude, “God’s mercy is unconditional”.
  • The pope requests the use of the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart.  He is not inventing some sort of Catholicism-without-confession.
  • This means, first, that abortion is truly a sin, and second, that those who have committed this sin must repent with a sincere heart and confess it in the Sacrament of Penance.
  •  The priest/confessor is to welcome such penitents and explain to them the gravity of the sin of abortion and that authentic conversion gains the forgiveness of the Father.
  • It’s not that the pope is reducing the gravity of the sin of abortion in any way.  On the contrary, he’s appealing to sinners to turn away from it and change, as the Church has always taught.
  • Permitting all priests to “absolve the sin of abortion” is only a slight and possibly temporary change in the Church’s pastoral practice.  In some countries or dioceses, sacramental absolution of such a grave sin has been the prerogative only of bishops or priests delegated by them, especially where an automatic excommunication was concerned; whereas, now the prerogative is being extended to all priests.  In fact, this prerogative was already granted to all priests in the US.
  • Bishops in the past have granted the same faculty to priests during the seasons of Lent and Advent.
  • Francis is not the first pope to offer such a gesture towards those who have procured abortions.  Pope Saint John Paul II did the same in 1983.
  • This “Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy” lasts from December 8, 2015 to November 20, 2016.

I have no doubt whatsoever that both the secular and the liberal Catholic media will use the occasion of this Jubilee Year of Mercy to claim that the Church has changed her teachings regarding abortion, saying that the killing of a pre-born baby is no longer considered a mortal sin and need not be confessed.  By no means.  The above letter of Pope Francis only reaffirms Catholic teachings and practices.  But it’s also true that the letter leaves unanswered a number of important canonical questions.  Hopefully, the Vatican will clarify and resolve these.

Filial Appeal to Pope Francis on the Future of the Family

Click on the link below and sign an appeal addressed to Pope Francis that the upcoming synod on the family will uphold Catholic moral teaching.  And meanwhile, pray that the many wolves disguised as sheep in the Church will entirely fail in their effort to violate the divine moral law and contradict Gospel truth.

Marx and Engels

The Spirituality of Study


In 1975, on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Paul VI issued a document on a theme that has come to dominate the language and thought of the modern Church. It was entitled, On Evangelization in the Modern Word. Quoting a previous document, the pope reminded us,

“We wish to confirm once more that the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church.”

He then wrote,

“Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity.”

From the pontificate of Paul VI to the present time, we have heard and seen countless references to what is now called, the “New Evangelization.” It is an expression that, unfortunately, has been used ad nauseam, to the point that it has lost the force of its actual meaning. The New Evangelization has now come to include not evangelizing, not bringing the faith to non-believers, but rather, celebrating the immense diversity of theological and religious viewpoints in some sort of ecumenical inter-religious spasmodic fit.

The Church must evangelize because she has been commissioned by Jesus Christ to preach the Gospel to all people – without exception – that they may be saved by the truth and grace of God. This also implies a seemingly unmentionable teaching of the Church: the possibility of the eternal loss of salvation. The world needs the Church to evangelize, because the world needs the Gospel of salvation.  To state what should be obvious, then – Christ sent the Church to teach and preach to non-believers.  She must do far more than merely make the Gospel available to those interested.  She must also bring it to those who are definitely not interested in it, and offer it, therefore, with persuasive arguments.  None of this entails force of any kind, for the Church is commissioned to draw souls to God, not drag them kicking and screaming.

In the same document, Pope Paul VI stated,

“The Church is an evangelizer, but she begins by being evangelized herself.”

The importance of this last statement cannot be emphasized enough. If the Church is to preach and teach the truth of the Gospel, then her individual members must first be evangelized. They must be prepared to evangelize others by being thoroughly instructed themselves in the fundamental teachings of the Catholic faith. One cannot effectively bear witness to a faith of which one is ignorant. The required knowledge can be gained in part by attending lectures and listening to recorded presentations, but it is gained primarily by assiduous personal study.

Tragically, Catholics often have an aversion for study. The notion of spending an hour or two reading the Bible, Catechism, magisterial documents, or other essential sources of Catholic truth, is considered mundane and unspiritual, as if such intellectual activities were a danger to personal faith and devotion. Supposedly, the truly pious Catholic – the one who loves God deeply and prays to Him fervidly – should not be attracted to reading religious books because the intellectual life is, by nature, a threat to the spiritual life. This is perhaps the most absurd idea I’ve ever heard from fellow Catholics. It’s detrimental to the mission of the Church and, therefore, to every confirmed Catholic’s dutiful participation in that mission.

I’ve often heard Catholics say, “I’m not an intellectual person. I have a simple faith and that’s enough for me.”  This statement reveals a laxity disguised as piety.

If you have an intellect, then you are an intellectual!  The only question is, will you use your intellect for godly purposes, or only godless purposes?

Why should every Catholic study the faith with substantial depth? For many reasons, but let me mention only two. First, because, if you truly love someone, you will seek out every means of coming to know that person better. We come to better know God – motivated primarily by a love for Him – by studying the record of His Word, the Bible, and the writings of His Church, including the Fathers, the great theologians and commentators, the catechisms, and the documents of the magisterium. These teachings are available on all levels of difficulty, from simple to sophisticated.  In coming to know God better through study and prayer, we enable ourselves to love Him more by knowing and understanding more about the salvific plan that is the Gospel.  That is, we acquire more reasons to love Him.  We also learn how He wants us to live – what we should do, and equally important, what we should not do.  For we cannot serve a God whose will is unknown to us due, not to His silence, but to our ignorance.

This first reason for studying the faith concerns our own sanctification and salvation, but so does the second reason. We should study also so that, knowing the faith well, we will then be able to effectively bring it to others. For a full two thousand years, the world has been sharpening and refining its methods and arguments to an impressive degree in opposition to the faith. The world is brilliant at resisting and undermining the Christian religion, and its dedication to the cause puts us to shame.  Responding to such arguments requires serious preparation through study, including both biblical catechesis and apologetics. We must know how to explain the faith and also how to defend it. This will make us effective missionaries in the New Evangelization, in the battle for souls waged by the spiritual army that is the Church of Jesus Christ.  Such study is not some sort of dry insipid exercise for high brows.  Rather, it is an act of devotion to God and to the truth He has purposefully revealed to us.  Which is to imply yet another truth: namely, the only person who is served by religious ignorance is the devil, who revels to see the human mind deprived of Gospel truth and absorbed primarily in the things of this world.  For religious ignorance is not a virtue, but a vice with awful consequences.

In other words, we must know the faith first for our own salvation, and second, for the salvation of others. And yet, our own salvation is actually dependent on our personal witness to Jesus Christ before others and on striving to bring salvation to others. Salvation is not an individual solitary pursuit, but a matter both of the love of God and the love of others. Hence, the person who says, “I’m not an intellectual person. I have my simple faith, and that’s enough for me,” has quite a self-centered view of the whole scheme of salvation. As if to say, “I’ve got mine. What else or who else do I care about?”

The highest purpose to which one can devote the human mind is the contemplation of God and His truth. It would be sacrilegious, then, to reserve the mind entirely for mundane things – for work, business, culture, politics, and recreation – to the neglect of the things of God. True piety requires that we make use of all that God has given us for His glory and His purposes. And this certainly includes the human intellect, which is the highest faculty possessed by man; it is the “place” where the individual knows God and has a relationship with Him.  It is entirely proper, then, to speak of the spirituality of study, and many teachings of the faith could be cited in support of this notion.

The Sermon on the Mount (found in the Gospel of Saint Matthew, chapters 5-7) is the most complete and elaborate body of our Lord’s teachings found in the New Testament. Unfortunately, the popular view holds that this sermon is a impenetrable theological treatise for sophisticated scholars alone. And yet, the Sermon on the Mount was addressed by Jesus to the crowds of ordinary folk. They constituted His regular and most devoted audience. Jesus constantly instructed the people and declared that He was sent by the Father to teach the masses. This teaching continued, not only until the Last Supper, but even beyond it to the Ascension. And in those last few moments before He departed this world, what did He do?   He commissioned His Church to go out and baptize and teach.

How strange it would be – considering the tremendous importance that Christ placed on teaching – if it were not equally important for us to receive this teaching, to learn its contents. Such an arrangement would make no sense whatsoever; which is to say that Christ’s primary activity during His public ministry would have been a pointless waste of time and effort.

On the contrary, it is the revealed will of Christ that we should study His teachings and learn from the Church their meaning. We must do this for our own salvation and for the salvation of others. In other words – as Pope Paul VI stated – we must first be evangelized ourselves, and then we must evangelize others. Such is the authentic Catholic program.

Study is not unspiritual; rather, it is profoundly spiritual and a participation in the divine plan of salvation. For, again, in order to witness to the faith, we must know the faith, and in order to correct the many lies told about Catholic teaching, we must know what the Church really teaches, and not merely in a vague or general way. The view held by many Catholics that a state of ignorance is equivalent to a state of purity – this will find no precedent in the teachings of the Holy Gospel. Religious ignorance renders a person substantially useless in the divine plan, but quite useful in the diabolical one.  It makes us “useful idiots” in the hopeless demonic attempt to prevent the establishment of the Kingdom of God.

Now consider the Church’s catechetical tradition. Of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, four especially concern the intellect: wisdom, understanding, counsel, and knowledge. Consider also the Seven Spiritual Works of Mercy. Three are especially intellectual: counseling the doubtful, instructing the ignorant, and admonishing sinners. Finally, consider the sacrament of Confirmation. At #1303 the Catechism says,

“[Confirmation] gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the cross.”

In light of this excerpt, an unavoidable question comes to mind: Considering the dedication and sophistication of those who seek to refute Catholic doctrine and confuse even the faithful, how effectively will a poorly instructed Catholic be able to “spread and defend the faith?” Not effectively at all. Ignorance will terribly hinder them in the complicated cause of evangelizing others, and it will even render them vulnerable to the clever arguments of anti-Catholics. The most immediate proof of this is seen in the success with which the promoters of same-sex “marriage” have transformed a large portion of the Catholic population into a reliable voting bloc. This is Catholic ignorance on display, and it will have a devastating effect in the very near future on religious freedom, on our freedom not merely to worship, but to publicly proclaim the Gospel and openly debate the moral issues of our age.

Will the Holy Spirit compensate for this ignorance? Should we wait for the proverbial bolt of lightening through which the Spirit will supernaturally infuse into our minds a deep knowledge of the mysteries of faith? On the contrary, the Holy Spirit gives us grace – moral conviction and the supernatural strength to act on it – so that we may overcome the sloth that renders us too lazy to study.

It is the teaching of both Scripture and Tradition that we should strive to acquire a deep knowledge of the Catholic faith. It is the will of God that we should possess this knowledge, and the Holy Spirit assists us with many gifts and graces related to it. To learn the faith, to study divinely revealed truth and constantly meditate on it, is exceedingly spiritual. To dedicate oneself to such a lofty pursuit is to consecrate one’s mind to God; it is to sanctify one’s intellect with the truths of the God who is Truth Himself.

“He who has ears, let him hear.”