Communion on the Tongue

It has long been an important item on the agenda of those who wish to de-catholicize the Catholic Church that the Holy Eucharist should be treated in a casual ordinary way. This treatment has included an emphasis on the Mass as a banquet, rather than as a sacrifice, the sanctuary as containing a table, rather than an altar, the Host as offered to everyone, rather than received only by those in the state of grace, and Holy Communion distributed in the hand, rather than on the tongue. The models followed by these sacramental vandals have been both Protestantism and secularism – the former rejecting the Holy Eucharist as the literal Body and Blood of Christ, the latter rejecting the very notion of sacred persons and objects.

Because Protestants do not believe in or have the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, they make no fuss over the manner in which the communion bread is to be taken. In fact, from the first days of the Protestant rebellion, the practice of communion in the hand became an important means of conveying to the congregation that – contrary to Catholic “superstition” – the substance distributed was bread and nothing more. It commemorated and symbolized the Passion of Our Lord, but it itself remained objectively unchanged during the communion service. Thus, belief in the Real Presence was effectively undermined by treating the communion bread in a casual way; that is, by receiving it in the hand as one would receive any other piece of bread.

During the present coronavirus spell, the same sacramental vandals have taken full advantage of the opportunity to promote – in the alleged name of preventing further spread of the virus – the practice of receiving Holy Communion in the hand. In most parishes, there is simply no option to receive on the tongue. Just as our constitutional rights were all at once suspended in the name of the pandemic, so, within the Catholic Church, our sacramental rights to receive Holy Communion in the time-tested traditional manner were all at once rescinded. And we, the faithful, were expected to have nothing whatsoever to say about it. Our only duty was immediate and unquestioning obedience to the episcopal powers that be.

To be clear, the magisterium of the Church has formally declared that every Catholic has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue if he or she so wishes, and no priest has the right to forbid it. To do so is to violate the rights of the laity. Nor has the priest a right to withhold Holy Communion from a Catholic who approaches to receives on the tongue, or while kneeling. Such is the law of the Church, which has been shockingly thrown aside in the name of preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

This situation has been a source of agony for many devout Catholics who rightly consider the Holy Mass to be the pinnacle of life, Holy Communion to be the highest point of that pinnacle, and therefore, regard the manner in which they receive their Eucharistic Lord as a matter of the gravest importance. And how wrong it is that the manner of this reception has been dictated to them through the bishops by medical professionals who, almost without exception, are not Catholics themselves.

If one dares to openly disagree with the current pandemic practice of receiving Holy Communion only in the hand, one is quickly and sternly informed that he or she is disobedient and selfish. Or else, one is “tongue-shamed” with unfriendly glares. Apparently, stopping the spread of the virus is of little interest to such a person, who probably also suffers from scrupulosity. To care deeply about the manner in which Christ is received is now considered a moral and psychological disorder!

If such insults are not enough, another popular approach is to assert that the Apostles received Holy Communion in the hand at the Last Supper, so what’s the problem with doing the same? Isn’t this the Apostolic Church? So then, do as the Apostles did.

To answer the second claim first, it’s actually not plainly stated in Holy Scripture that the Apostles received Holy Communion in the hand. It may have been the case, but it’s not entirely clear. More importantly, it simply doesn’t matter, because the twelve Apostles were not lay people; they were the first bishops of the Catholic Church. So even if they did receive Holy Communion in the hand, it has nothing to do with the prersent manner in which Holy Communion is distributed to the faithful at Mass.

Now the above first claim – that receiving Holy Communion in the hand is a matter of safety – has been corrected by Catholic health professionals. And they are not the first folks to make the argument, but only the most recent. Twenty-one Austrian doctors have just released a letter addressed to the bishops of their country explaining why, for health reasons, communion on the tongue is preferable to communion in the hand. It is sad that we must turn to “experts” for reasons that are altogether obvious and commonsensical, but such is our world of specialists who thrill at pontificating to us helpless little ignoramuses.

Here are the three primary reasons given by the doctors, along with my own comments.

The hand is the part of the body most likely to have come in contact with coronavirus germs.

I can speak only for myself, but I generally don’t open church doors with my tongue. I use my hand to grasp a handle that undoubtedly many other hands have grasped as well. Germs galore. When I genuflect at the pew, my knees rest on the dirty floor, which I might touch with my hands when standing up again. I may also hold onto the end of the pew to steady myself. After standing up, I slide into the pew using my hands, pull down a kneeler, kneel on it, and lean on the back of the pew in front of me while praying. Throughout the Mass, I repeatedly use my hands in standing, sitting, and kneeling. In many parishes, old missallettes or hymnals are used. Again and again, germs galore. Within a couple of minutes of appraoching the church, my hands have already made contact with multiple surfaces that may have virus germs on them, and this continues throughout the Mass. And all the while, I’ve kept my tongue in my mouth. Thus, if I’m carrying the germs, it is far more likely that they’re on the outside of my person than on the inside, and most likely that they’re on my hands, rather than in my mouth. If at Holy Communion the priest places a host in my hand, then that host has directly contacted the part of my body most likely to have come in contact with coronavirus germs. If I then take that host into my other hand and place it in my mouth, then there is a real possibility that I have ingested coronavirus germs.

In addition, even if a priest cleanses his hands with a disinfectant immediately before distributing Holy Communion, he will still come in contact with as many hands as he inadvertantly touches during the rite.

The danger our hands pose is demonstrated in two other ways: in the prudent discontinuation of the sign of peace with its handshake, and in the fact that when we leave a public establishment such as a grocery store and return to our car, we cleanse, not our mouths with mouthwash, but our hands with a towelette.

If a priest were to come in contact with a communicant’s tongue, he could immediately cleanse his hands in a reverent way.

A priest who is experienced at distributing Holy Communion on the tongue is capable of avoiding contact. The exceptions to this would be few in number, if any at all. But if he did accidentally touch a communicant’s tongue, he could reverently cleanse his fingers with the assistance of a server. It would be quick and easy, and would be regarded as a nuisance only by a man who didn’t care about the apex of his priestly vocation.

Kneeling would make the reception of Holy Communion even safer.

As another advantage to Catholic traditional practice, receiving Holy Communion while kneeling would further remove the priest and communicant from a potentially dangerous face-to-face encounter. Standing so close to each other at the same height would allow for contamination through virus droplets released by speaking or breathing. Kneeling communicants would pose much less of a risk because they would be farther from the priest’s face.

If the wearing of a mask is supposed to prevent this contamination by droplets, it also is the cause of an extremely awkward situation in which communicants must say “Amen,” lift their mask up or down, place the Host in their mouth either below the mask or above it, and then replace their mask, all while walking away from the priest. And yet, the magisterium has legislated (Redemptionis Sacramentum 92) that communicants are to consume the Host in the presence of the priest, while standing immediately in front of him, and not while they are walking away. This is to eliminate the possibility of a person taking a Host out of the church for the purpose of desecration. It is yet another piece of prudent liturgical law that has been suddenly swept aside in the great anti-pandemic crusade.

The present pandemic practice of distributing Holy Communion only in the hand to those who are standing and wearing masks is the cause of multiple opportunities for dropping the Host. This is a horrific and an avoidable abuse of Our Lord, but one which is of little concern to contemporary Catholics, many of whom do not believe in Catholic Eucharistic teaching. Such carelessness only helps to further erode what little Eucharistic faith and reverence remains in the Church.

From all of this, one could offer a reasonable and happily reverent suggestion to the bishops for avoiding the spread of the coronavirus through Holy Communion: simply, return to the vernerable Catholic tradition of distributing Holy Communion only on the tongue to kneeling communicants. And after this long pandemic nightmare has ended, continue doing the same, for the love of our Eucharistic Lord and the edification of the faithful.

The Universal Priesthood

Holy Family

In the Gospel Reading for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Jesus declared to Thomas,

“I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6).

In this statement, Jesus asserted His absolute uniqueness as the one and only means of ‘coming to the Father.’  He is not a way, a truth, or a life.  He is not one means among many others, but the one and only means, the exclusive Redeemer of mankind and Savior of the world.

Christ is by definition a priest, an anointed man who stands between God and the human race interceding before the Father and offering perpetual adoration and sacrifice to Him.  The purpose of Christ’s priestly ministry is identical to the purpose of the Church’s ministry; it is both the glorification of God and the salvation of souls.

Remarkably, in the Second Reading from the Mass, Saint Peter wrote,

“You are a ‘chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own'” (1 Pet. 2:9).

The prince of the apostles stated that all the members of the faithful are, in some way, priests.  Note, then, that there are different levels of priesthood.  There is Christ’s supreme high priesthood, there is the ministerial priesthood of the sacramentally ordained, and there is the universal priesthood of the baptized.  Every baptized Catholic, then, is a priest.  The catechism states this teaching in the following way:

“Christ, high priest and unique mediator, has made of the Church ‘a kingdom, priests for his God and Father’.  The whole community of believers is, as such, priestly.  The faithful exercise their baptismal priesthood through their participation, each according to his own vocation, in Christ’s mission as priest, prophet, and king.  Through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation the faithful are ‘consecrated to be…a holy priesthood'” (CCC 1546).

By virtue of our Baptism, we are obligated to offer the sacrifice of adoration to God, and by virtue of our Confirmation, we are obligated to bear public witness to Christ and the Catholic faith.  Hence, properly understood, all lay Catholics are both priests and missionaries.

The differences in the two priesthoods concern degrees and types.  This should cause no jealousy or competition between the ordained and the non-ordained, for both are intended by God to serve in their own respective spheres and to collaborate in the fulfillment of the will of God in the world.  There is no place for pompous clericalism on one side, or for envious overreach on the other.  Ordained priests are meant to preach and teach the faith, administer the sacraments, and tend to the spiritual needs of the faithful.  By means of their sacramental ordination, they have received spiritual powers that lay people do not possess.  Most obviously, these powers include the ability to consecrate the Eucharistic elements, and the power to absolve sins.   Non-ordained priests – those who have the received Baptism as well as Confirmation – are meant to worship God in spirit and in truth and to sanctify the secular world with the principles of the Gospel, in accord with their ability and position in life.  These are extremely important responsibilities, and our failure to fulfill them has allowed the modern world to plunge into a horrid state of militant atheism, accompanied, as it must be, by industries and worldviews of death and perversity.

Every good thing can be abused.  So, the Church’s hierarchical design can be terribly abused, and in countless ways.  One such way concerns a laxity on the part of the lay faithful.  It is both tempting and convenient to conceive of the Church as a top-heavy institution in which certain officials are expected to provide services to the indolent, to those who are expected to know and do little.  In this arrangement, the priests provide sermons and sacraments, while the lay people attend the relevant occasions.  For the latter, then, Mass and the other sacraments can be viewed merely as pre-arranged rituals which they must attend, but for which their active participation is no vital matter.  They are expected to observe the ceremonies, utter a few responses, and then receive Holy Communion, whereas all the essential acts are all performed at the podium and altar by the priests.  From the position of the laity, then, Catholic devotion can be quite passive, whereas from the position of the clergy, it is quite active.  This is a serious problem in the daily life and workings of the Church.

Now we might feel that, in the ordinary form of the Mass – the English or vernacular Mass – the Church has fairly overcome this problem, and that it concerns only the extraordinary form – the Latin Mass.  In other words, the modern Church with its many changes and reforms, has allegedly resolved the problem with the Second Vatican Council’s liturgical principle of “active participation.”  But I would disagree with this view and would cite as proof our current situation.

Due to the corona virus pandemic, there has been a virtual sacramental black out.  People speak of a societal “lockdown.”  Well, in the Catholic Church – at least as far as lay people are concerned – there has been at this point a two-month sacramental lockdown.  Even as many businesses have remained open, the parishes and chapels have been forcibly closed.  Religion has been officially declared a non-essential service.  This has been an anti-religious scandal of an unimaginable kind, in that the secular state has declared itself the Church’s master, while the institutional Church has shamefully bowed to this servitude.  The bishops’ response has been one of replete submission to a power that holds no authority whatsoever over the Church.  Even worse, it has become the policy of the bishops that Catholics are not presently allowed to take part in the sacraments.  There have been a few stirrings among priests and laity, a few attempts to quietly violate this excessive policy, but they have been met with further force by both the state and the Church.  It presently seems that the single religious duty belonging to all Catholics is to refrain from publically practicing the Catholic religion!

Although we hope and expect that this draconian policy will soon be corrected, the Church has revealed a stubborn vice at its core that seems, not only to belong to previous generations, but even more, to be part and parcel of contemporary Catholicism.  It is the same old passive-active problem previously mentioned.

First and foremost, it is the duty of every Catholic to observe at all times the divine moral law.  The Commandments of God are never to be violated, and any Catholic who is told to do so by a priest or bishop has a sacred duty to disobey man and obey God.  No authority exists in the Catholic Church – not even in a pope or council – to mitigate one iota of the laws or truths revealed by the Almighty.

To be fair, though, the bishops have not forbidden the practice of the Catholic religion – God forbid! – but only the gathering of Catholics in churches.  It is the gathering aspect that is the issue, not the religion aspect.  But what has been the message from the Church regarding this extraordinary situation?  It has been one syllable: “Stop!”  We have heard little from the bishops other than that, for the time being, we must stop going to Church.  And the understanding that has followed from this curt directive has been that we are presently relieved of all religious duties, until further notice.

Every Catholic is obligated to worship God.  This duty especially pertains to the Lord’s Day, the Christian Sabbath that commemorates both the Resurrection of Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  This is true even for those who are in a state of mortal sin.  A Catholic in such a state, even though he or she cannot receive Holy Communion, is still obligated to worship God by attending Sunday Mass, receiving instruction through the homily, joining in the various liturgical prayers, and offering to God their desire to soon be fit to receive Holy Communion – the so-called “spiritual” communion.  Hence, in the midst of this sacramental black out, every Catholic still possesses the duty to offer God divine worship on the Lord’s Day.  Has this been made clear by the Church?  Regardless, a proper catechetical formation would have made this clear from the beginning, with or without a pandemic.  But catechetical formation is in ruins, in my personal opinion.  Thus, the common understanding of the Church’s present policy is that, until further notice, Catholics need not worship God on the Lord’s Day.  It is sufficient to watch a televised Mass.  This is an absurd impression that has been allowed to fester.  On the contrary, the duty to actually worship God on the Lord’s Day remains – with or without a parish or chapel community – and it will always remain, even in the most difficult of times.   Digital religion is no substitute.  This applies even on those occasions when we stay home from Mass due to an illness.  If we are able to worship God under such circumstances, then we should.

I dare say that this occasion might have been utilized as a fine opportunity to practice a non-sacramental type of Catholic devotion.  And it could have been derived entirely from the prayers of the Holy Mass itself, and served as a sort of ongoing spiritual communion and a pious expression of longing for the sacraments.  A simple version of this Sunday morning devotion would require only a missal, a hymnal, and a catechism.  Every Catholic home should have these resources.  The service order based on the Mass would consist of the following:

– Eucharistic Hymn
– Act of Contrition
– Kyrie (Lord, Have Mercy)
– Gloria (Glory to God in the Highest)
– Readings of the Day
– Relevant Excerpts from the Catechism (or homily from the bishop)
– Credo (Nicene Creed)
– Intercessory Prayers (spontaneous)
– Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy)
– Agnus Dei (Lamb of God)
– Closing Prayer (Collect)

An individual or family could sing the various acclamations, and the readings and intercessions could be distributed between several people.  This simple Sunday service – the heartfelt devotion of the domestic Church – could be wonderfully enjoyable and edifying, and serve as a serene means of encouraging souls during the somber days of this pandemic.  I would suggest this service to anyone who has been religiously idle on these Sunday mornings and who has allowed the Lord’s Day to become just another profane day of chores and amusements.

During these miserable non-sacramental times, a service like the one above, together with a homily, could be made available weekly to all the members of the Church, either online or through a mass mailing.  It would be remarkably easy to achieve this, and it would help to sustain the faith and spiritual lives of the laity during this extraordinary period of religious darkness.  And it would assist the members of the Church in exercising under all circumstances their universal priesthood.

 

 

The Resurrection Appearances

Road to Emmaus

 

The New Testament records a circumstance that can seem like a fatal flaw in the Christian religion.  It is something that both anti-Christian critics and modernist biblical scholars capitalize on, in their perennial efforts to reduce the Gospel to a smoldering heap of ashes.  There was a hint of it in the Gospel reading for the Third Sunday of Easter.  In this pericope, two disciples on the road to the town of Emmaus encounter Christ along the way.  Later, He stops to join them for a meal, which the text describes as the “breaking of bread” – an expression used in the New Testament for the Holy Eucharist or Mass.  But at the moment that the disciples recognize the stranger, He vanishes.

This account describes an appearance of the resurrected Christ to those who had believed in Him, to His followers.  The circumstance of Christ repeatedly appearing only to those who already accepted Him occurs over and over again in the New Testament.  For example, in Acts 10:40-41, Saint Luke wrote,

“God raised [Jesus] on the third day and made him manifest, not to all the people, but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”

Even more emphatically, Saint Paul wrote,

“[Christ] was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures and…he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time….Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.  Last of all…he appeared also to me” (1 Cor. 15:4-8).

In addition, Christ appeared first of all to Mary Magdalene and several other women at the tomb.

The obvious point is that the resurrected Christ appeared exclusively to those who already believed in Him.  Critics object, therefore, that Christ, if He had wanted everyone to believe that He had risen from the dead, certainly would have appeared to both believers and non-believers.  He would have provided proof especially for the skeptics, as he did for the doubting apostle, Thomas.  But the fact that no such proof was provided outside of the nascent Church suggests that no such proof existed.  In other words, the whole story was concocted by the Church herself, who, having no actual proof for the resurrection, could only ask the world to trust her claim that Christ had indeed risen from the dead.

There are two important points in responding to this objection.  First, all the proofs in the world, including even the personal witnessing of miracles, will not infallibly make an unbeliever into a believer.  Miracles can provide help for uncertain souls; but in the end, faith is the result of divine grace that has been freely accepted by the individual.  On the human side of the equation, faith requires, not only the human intellect, but the human free will as well.  In order to believe by divine grace, one has to be willing to believe.  And even a hundred miracles cannot force a free will to submit to an idea or a belief.  If the risen Christ had appeared to every human being, countless human beings would still not believe.  And in this unbelief, they would be all the more guilty for resisting the extraordinary advances of God.

The raising of Lazarus from the dead is a perfect example of this truth.  Because the location of this miracle – the town of Bethany – was only two miles from Jerusalem, and because the Holy City was already filling up with pilgrims for the approaching feast of Passover, there was an unusually large number of people able to visit Lazarus’ mourning sisters – Mary and Martha – and ultimately to witness the miracle.  After the dead man had come forth from his tomb at Christ’s command, Holy Scripture records two predictable results: namely, some people believed but others did not believe.  Hence, a number of witnesses of the miracle went to Jesus’ most dangerous enemies and reported the event.  As John 11:45-47 records,

“Many of the Jews, therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what [Jesus] did, believed in him; but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.”

In other words, people who had witnessed the miraculous raising of Lazarus did not – or rather, would not – believe in Jesus.  They remained hardened unbelievers, in spite of an extraordinary miracle.

This visit to the Pharisees resulted in the convening of the Sanhedrin Council, which then decided to pursue Jesus’ execution.  These Jewish authorities were not concerned with the miracle itself or whether or not it actually occurred.  All that mattered to them was that Jesus was continuing to gain disciples.  Saint John then reports,

“So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus also to death, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus” (Jn. 12:10-11).

Miracles help those with good will to believe.  They also help sinners to repent.  But they can neither force an unbeliever to believe nor make a sinner repent.  So the claim that, if only the risen Lord would appear to every person, then every person would believe in Him – this is simply a false conclusion.  Even more, imagine the absurdity of this supposed necessity occurring throughout the ages, of a God who had to manifest himself through countless theophanies to every human being.  And what merit would exist in believing in what one had just witnessed, in trusting in one’s own senses?

Jesus gave a warning of His own on this topic.  In the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, the account concludes with the lesson:

“If [your unrepentant brothers] do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Lk. 16:31).

The second point in responding to the above objection concerns a more practical matter.  Common sense would allow every person to recognize this arrangement as necessary.  Simply, if the risen Christ had appeared to many non-believers and allowed them to be among the first evangelists, then the teachings and events of the Gospel would have been lost among a thousand variations on the truth.  The opponents of the Good News would have, from the beginning, deliberately invented their own distortions and reduced the Christian message to a mass of conflicting doctrines and morals.  But the plan of Divine Providence overcame this potential chaos by selecting, training, and fortifying with gifts of supernatural grace a body of believers – the Church – capable from the beginning of retaining Christ’s teachings…without error.  This was the necessary and successful means of ascertaining that Christian teaching would be available in all its purity from the first day of the great evangelistic mission of the Catholic Church.  Thus, both the ancient and contemporary seeker could always find the undiluted Gospel, as distinguished from the countless heretical variations of it that have emerged over the past twenty centuries.  And to be emphatic, those variations appeared immediately in the ancient world, and they continue to spring up today, like a noxious spring that poisons well-meaning souls with a sophisticated body of Gospel-tinged lies and errors.

A little reflection will reveal that the events of the Gospel had to take place as they did.  It had to be that the risen Christ would appear only to His trusted apostles and disciples, who would then, as a united Church with a united message, carry the Gospel to all the nations.

 

 

 

The Resurrection Myth Myth

Resurrection IICatholicism commemorates the life and teachings of Christ by means of the liturgical year.  Through specific days and seasons, the events of our Lord’s earthly ministry are prayerfully recalled, proclaimed, celebrated, and studied.  Unfortunately, the same is true for the opponents of the ancient faith.  They, too, follow the liturgical year, and through various media channels, present their best refutations of the mysteries of Christianity precisely as we’re commemorating them.  For example, during Advent, programs will appear on television or elsewhere explaining that many different religions contain prophecies about a future Messianic figure.  At Christmas, it will be asserted that the world abounds with ancient myths about demi-goods coming down from heaven through a miraculous virgin birth.  Lent will be paralleled with scientific claims that it is demonstrably impossible for a human being to fast for forty days and forty nights.  And Easter will resound with claims that paganism has always had its share of resurrecting deities, so that Christianity is only more of the same.

The intended effect of these impious efforts is to undermine the truths of the Christian religion by making them appear ordinary, even boring, as if they offered nothing new but were only reiterations of the same old redundant doctrines.  But is it logical to claim that an event or belief is necessarily false simply because a similar event or belief can be found at an earlier time?  Must there be a connection between two similar things, so that the only rational explanation is that the younger borrowed from the older?  No, this is not at all logical or necessary.  It would be like claiming that two people who looked alike must have the same parents, or that if two people shared the same name, then the younger person must have derived their name from the older.  Two things can be quite similar but unrelated.  In ordinary life, we all realize this.  But sadly, when claims are made against Christian belief in this “documentary” or by that “expert,” the faithful often quickly collapse in a state of embarrassment and doubt.

Such claims are hypocritical and would never be made about other politically and culturally protected groups.  By contrast, Catholics are assaulted for their beliefs on all sides.  They are condemned as being founded on ignorance and even hatred.  Ironically, the world that denies the existence of truth and moral absolutes proclaims that the Church’s doctrines are certainly false and her moral teachings absolutely wrong.  The world that demands tolerance, open-mindedness, diversity, and non-judgmentalism from everyone then denies them to the faithful, so that Catholicism can be openly and publically derided.

There are several standard arguments presented by critics that attempt to undermine the historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  One or another is popularly presented to us during the Resurrection season, in an attempt to shame the faithful and mock the faith; but of equal gravity is the desire to prevent non-believers from ever embracing the faith.  For now, however, I would like to focus on an argument that attempts to go above and beyond these petty arguments by questioning the very historicity of the Resurrected One.  It seeks, not merely to disprove the Resurrection, but to eliminate from existence the One who Resurrected.  It may be occasionally used by the professional intellectual classes, but it is more often heard from the ordinary folk, from our own relatives, friends, or acquaintances who generally put little effort into such religious argumentation.  The objection is this:

“Christianity is founded on a myth.  The hero of the religion – Jesus Christ – never even existed.  He was probably invented by an individual or group of overly fervid apocalyptic-minded Jews who wanted to make a name for themselves.  Borrowing ideas from other ancient religions, they merely gave a new twist to old themes and characters.  Thus, the Gospel is pure legend, and the world fell for the lie.”

The power behind this claim is found in its vagueness.  There is hardly a single detail a Catholic could identify, isolate, and discuss.  It sounds historical, and yet there is nothing historically concrete about it.  Rather than an actual argument, it is more of a broad swipe that wipes away the whole subject, leaving nothing to debate.  And because it poses as a historical claim, it deserves a historical response.

As stated above, the “borrowing” claim is pure presumption.  It is entirely possible that two or more religions could contain similar ideas, while only one of those religions was free from error.  There is nothing illogical about this possibility.  A variation on this notion of odds is the claim that, in light of the many thousands of “gods” proposed by the world’s religions, it is impossible that one religion could proclaim the one true God, while all the others proclaimed only false gods.  This view is also illogical.  It is entirely possible that there could be only one true God among a myriad of false gods, just as it is true that, among the billions of parents that exist, only one pair is truly mine.  The mere fact of the vast number of parents throughout the world does not make it one iota more likely that I may have several or more mothers and fathers.  Odds have nothing to do with some equations, and nothing at all to say about mysteries and the supernatural order.  For the deeper truths of religion are not contrary to reason, but above it, and are therefore accessible only through divine revelation.  This is one of the reasons religion is so despised: it strikes at the root of human pride.  It does not and will not submit to man’s limited lights, nor to his egotistical desire to believe he intellectually grasps all things.  For according to the rationalist, any concept that man does not understand should be rejected.  But even science disproves the sensibility of this precept on a daily basis.

If the above objection that Christ is only a myth is correct, then it should be the case that there were no mentions of Jesus during the first or second centuries, outside of the New Testament.  This is the only period of time that matters, because no other era would have had certain firsthand or at least reliable secondhand knowledge of the question.  But such is not the case.  There are both Jewish and non-Jewish references to Christ during this time period.

But first, it should be appreciated that the sacred writers of the New Testament understood their faith to be grounded on real objective factual events and facts, and their writings reflect this.  Saint Luke began his Gospel in this way:

“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed.”

In the third chapter, the same evangelist wrote,

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, in the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness; and he went into all the region about the Jordan , preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

If one is about to invent a myth out of the blue, one does not begin by citing an assortment of verifiable characters and circumstances.  One wouldn’t dare.

Saint Peter presented his teaching in a similar way, Recalling Christ’s Transfiguration on the Mount, he wrote,

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.  For when he received honor and glory from God the Father and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain’ (2 Pet. 1:16-18).

Saint John witnessed to the tangibility of Gospel events in a similar way.  Beginning his First Letter, he declared,

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us – that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you….”

These four passages contain, not the language of fantasy, but that of reality and history.  And moving on from the initial Christian witness, we can find many non-Christian testimonies as well.

 

Jewish References to Jesus

The Talmud is a Jewish collection of rabbinical writings composed between the years 70 and 500 AD.  It contains many insulting remarks about Jesus and even claims that, after the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt, Jesus remained there and studied magic; later, He practiced the black arts in Palestine and, as a result, made a name for Himself and gained a number of dedicated followers.

The specific insulting claims found in the Talmud are irrelevant.  All that matters is that the references are to Jesus Christ.  The Jews did not claim He never existed; rather, they sought to distort and discredit His character and work.  So, one passage says,

“On the eve of the Passover, Yeshu was hanged.  For forty days before the execution took place, a herald…cried, “He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy.”

“Yeshu” is Jesus’ name in Hebrew.  He was executed on the “Eve of the Passover.”  And Holy Scripture indeed refers to crucifixion as a sort of hanging.  Saint Paul wrote,

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us – for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree” (Gal. 3:13; Dt. 21:23; Lk. 23:39).

The charge of sorcery most likely came from the Pharisees’ inability to deny Christ’s miracles, including His exorcisms.  After all, they authorities publically witnessed them.  The worst they could do was to denounce them as being evil in origin.  Hence, after Jesus had liberated a mute demoniac, the Pharisees objected,

“He casts out demons by the prince of demons” (Mt. 9:34).

On another occasion, after our Lord had liberated a blind and mute demoniac, the Pharisees said,

“It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons” (Mt. 12:24).

Josephus was born in 37 or 38 AD.  He was a Pharisee as well as a military leader in the Jewish uprising against Rome in 70 AD that eventually led to the destruction of the city and the temple.  For a while, he was imprisoned by the Roman emperor Vespasian, but was later freed.  He died 100 A. D.

Josephus is famous for a work entitled Jewish Antiquities, written in 93-94, that recounted the entire history of the Jewish people.

“Now, there was about this time, Jesus, a wise man.  He drew over to Him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles.  And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned Him to the Cross, those that loved Him at the first did not forsake Him.  And the tribe of Christians, so named from Him, is not extinct at this day.”

We can forgive Josephus his derogatory reference to the Church as a “tribe,” for the simple reason that, as with so many of the Church’s other enemies, in writing against her, they left us a precious ancient historical record of the existence of Christ and His disciples.  In the end, they have actually helped us!

Josephus also wrote,

“[Ananus] assembled the Sanhedrin of the judges and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.”

Incidentally, the description of James (the “lesser” or “younger”) as the “brother of Jesus” is in accord with the Jewish custom of referring to cousins as brothers.  He is described in the New Testament as the son of Alpheus (Mt. 10:3; Mk. 3:18; Lk. 6:15) and a Mary other than the Mother of Jesus.  The Gospel of Saint Mark records that, at the scene of Christ’s crucifixion,

“There were also women looking on from afar, among them whom were…Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses…” (Mk. 15:40).

This James the younger, then, was the son of Alpheus and Mary, the brother of Joses, and the cousin of Jesus.

 

Pagan References to Jesus

In addition to these ancient Jewish references to Christ, there are several pagan accounts as well.

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus was a Roman historian who served as director of the imperial library under Emperor Trajan and as private secretary under Emperor Hadrian.  He lived from 69-140 AD.  Suetonius composed The Twelve Caesars – a history of the Roman emperors from Augustus to Domition.  In this work, he wrote

“Because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [Claudius] expelled them from the city.”

“Chrestus” is the name by which the ancient Romans wrongly but repeatedly referred to Jesus Christ, while they sometimes called the followers of Our Lord “Chrestians.”  The Jewish disturbances and expulsion Suetonius mentioned are referred to in the Acts of the Apostles:

“And he [Paul] found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, lately come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome” (Acts 18:2).

Suetonius also recorded that, under the emperor Nero,

“Punishments were also inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief.”

Nero was a notorious persecutor of the early Church, and reigned from 54-68 AD.  This evidence for the existence of Christians obviously implies the previous existence of Christ.

Publius Cornelius Tacitus was a Roman historian and politician who lived from 55-117 AD.  He wrote two famous works, the Annals and the Histories.  In the former book, Tacitus recorded the plight of the Christians under Nero.  In 64 A.D. a massive fire destroyed much of Rome.  The common belief was that it was set by Nero, but the emperor blamed it on the Christians.  Tacitus wrote,

“All human efforts…did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order.  Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace.  Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular….Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths.  Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt to serve a sa nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.”

This excerpt contains a remarkable amount of accurate information.  It states that the name “Christian” was given by the populace, these Christians already existed at the turn of the second century, and they were followers of a Christ who was executed by the procurator Pontius Pilate.  And in spite of the execution of their Founder and the persecution of His followers, the religion continued to spread throughout Judea and to Rome.

Gaius Plinius Caecilius served as imperial legate of Bithynia (modern northern Turkey) under Emperor Trajan.  He lived from 61-114 AD.  The Christian religion had been accepted by many Bithynians, and as a result, pagan worship was rapidly falling away.  Because this concerned Pliny, he wrote to Trajan for advice in governing the people as a whole and dealing with the Christians.  He explained,

“For the moment, this is the line I have taken with all persons brought before on the charge of being Christians.  I have asked them in person if they are Christians, and if they admit it, I repeat the question a second and a third time, with a warning of the punishment awaiting them.  If they persist, I order them to be led away for execution.  For, whatever the nature of their admission, I am convinced that their stubbornness and unshakeable obstinacy ought not to go unpunished.”

Pliny continued,

“Others…said that they had ceased to be Christians….They also declared that the sum total of their guilt was this: they had met regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately amongst themselves in honor of Christ as if to a god, and also to bind themselves by oath, not for any criminal purpose, but to abstain from theft, robbery, and adultery, to commit no break of trust and not to deny a deposit when called upon to restore it.  After this ceremony, it had been their custom to disperse and reassemble later to take food of an ordinary harmless kind….”

This letter reveals that Christians at the turn of the first century worshipped Christ on a particular day of the week through the chanting of verses, observed a strict a moral law higher than that of paganism, and, as a religious act, shared in some sort of a meal.

 

The Vagueness of the Objection

In light of the above evidence, it is clear the claim that Jesus Christ never existed is simply absurd.  The historical evidence for His existence is found in Christian, Jewish, and pagan sources.  But a proper and full response must address another aspect of the objection – its convenient vagueness.  It lacks specifics of any kind, so that a series of questions should be asked in response.  They are the following:

Who invented the so-called Christian myth?  Is it known with certainty?  Have many scholars found and named the person?  And are they all in substantial agreement about the details of his or her identity?

When did this person invent the Christian myth?  Was it at the time of John the Baptist, or is he, too, a part of the myth?  This is important, because the early first century was a time of fervid Messianic expectation.  The Jews were expecting the Messiah to appear precisely when Christ the “myth” did.

Where was the Christian myth invented?  Was it in Palestine or Egypt?  Was it in Rome?  Perhaps it was in Atlantis?

Why was the Christian myth invented?  What was the motive?  Considering that it is known the early Christians were horrifically persecuted, tortured, and executed on a mass scale until the beginning of the fourth century, why on earth would anyone bring such misery upon themselves and their family and friends?

Considering the superb organization of the Roman Empire and its military forces, how did a miniscule band of pacifistic religious commoners effectively convert the empire to a lie, and without a shred of political influence or military might of their own?

If Christianity had been concocted out of thin air, the ancient world of the time – both Jews and gentiles, religious and irreligious – would have risen up in one consistent voice against the early Church and insisted, “Jesus Christ never even existed, and you know it!”  It would have been the only refutation needed against the new religion.  But this was not the cry of the first-century non-Christian world, for the obvious reason that many of those who had personally witnessed the teachings and miracles of Christ were still alive, and those He had healed or liberated from demonic possession were still walking about.  And the next generation received the same accounts from those whom they knew and trusted.  Only after a substantial amount of time had passed could the claim be made that Jesus Christ never existed.

Until the persons who make the Christ-myth objection can answer all of the above questions, and until many scholars substantially agree on the details of their answers, the claim itself is only a wild wish.  More precisely, it is a myth – the myth myth.

The Empty Tomb

 Commentary on the Gosepl Reading

For Easter Sunday (Jn. 20:1-9)

 

Empty TombOn the very first Easter Sunday – or as the Jews would later call it, the “day of the Christians” – Mary from the town of Magdala arrived at the tomb of Our Lord.   Due to the terrible turn of events, she had been staying in Bethany, less than two miles from Jerusalem, where Jesus had just been crucified.  Rising before dawn and leaving while it was still dark, Mary arrived at the tomb at sunrise.  She had come to properly anoint the body of Jesus, since Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea had placed it in the tomb in haste, due to the approaching Sabbath.  But when Mary reached the burial place, she found the massive stone had been removed from the entrance.  Peering in, she realized the body was missing.  In a panic, she ran to Simon Peter and John and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him!”  Notice the plural pronoun – “we.”  Mary was accompanied by at least two other women – Mary, the mother of James and Joses, and Salome, the mother of James and John.  But the evangelist Saint John records the story from Mary Magdalene’s perspective, perhaps because she was considered the most important of the women.  The evangelist Saint Mark mentions the others.

After hearing the shocking report, Peter and John immediately ran to the tomb.  John, perhaps because he was younger, arrived first.  Stooping down at the entrance, he looked into the tomb and saw Jesus’ burial cloths lying on the ground.  When Peter finally arrived, he entered the tomb, while John remained outside.  Peter found the linen cloth or shroud in which Jesus had been wrapped lying precisely where his body had been placed.  It appeared undisturbed, not as if a thief had hastily torn it from the corpse, but as if it had gently fallen from it.  And equally mysterious, the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was neatly rolled up in a separate place.  The tomb in no way appeared like the scene of a crime.

The Gospel of Saint John records (Jn. 19:38-42) that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had given Jesus an abrupt burial.  Joseph had stealthily acquired the body from the Cross with Pilate’s permission.  Then he and Nicodemus had quickly anointed the body with myrrh and aloes, wrapped it in burial cloths, and left it Joseph’s own rock-hewn tomb.

The myrrh would have caused the cloths to adhere to the body, making it difficult to remove them.  Remember that, at the raising of Lazarus, Jesus had told the crowd, “Untie him and let him go.”  This is the reason that the presence and arrangement of Jesus’ burial cloths in the tomb – as trivial a detail as it may seem – posed a mystery for the two apostles.  What grave robber, nervously performing his dirty deed in the black of night, would have taken the time and care to neatly separate the burial cloths from the corpse?  Even more, while the crime was allegedly occurring, where were the guards who had been posted at the tomb specifically to prevent the body from being stolen?  And how did they fail to see or hear the massive stone being moved?  All the evidence suggested the unthinkable – not that someone had violently broken into the tomb, but that someone had peacefully departed from it.

As for that huge circular stone at the entrance of the tomb that would have required at least two men to move – the Gospel records that an angel had removed it, not so that Jesus could get out – for His glorified Body could now pass through matter – but so that the apostles could get in and see the state of the tomb, as Jesus had deliberately left it.

When John entered the tomb, he saw and believed that his Lord had risen from the dead.  And it was then, while standing mystified in that cool, dark, and damp tomb, that the grieving Church emerged the believing Church – not perfectly or all at once, but gradually.  Soon the apostles would understand the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Suffering Servant of the Lord, as well as Psalm 16, which declares,

“I set the Lord ever before me; with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.  Therefore my heart is glad and my soul rejoices; my body, too, abides in confidence; because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption.”

On this Easter morning, the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, having emerged from that empty tomb in the persons of Peter and John, joyfully intones the eternal acclamation:

Surrexit Dominus vere!  Alleluia! 
The Lord is truly risen!  Alleluia!

Walking Where There Is No Way

Dense Woods

Part I

On a recent hike in western Massachusetts, I found myself with a unique challenge.  An old cart path led into the woods on one end, and on the other end it led into the heart of a state forest.  A river ran the length of the entire route.  The difficulty was that the two ways did not join each other; there was a middle section of about a quarter mile in which, either the path had never been made, or else, the wild terrain and many decades of harsh weather had consumed it.  This section passed through a marsh, which was bordered by steep hill sides.  I entered from the northern portion and headed south, but soon arrived at the end of the path.  From that point on, my only means of finding the southern end was to hold close to the river.  It was the only guide that would certainly lead me to the rest of the cart path.  But after the winter’s snow and rain, the banks were soft and mucky.  At points it was so rugged that I was forced to go some distance into the woods.  But all the while, I kept that river in sight, even if it only faintly appeared as a distant opening of light seen through the hemlocks and mountain laurel.

Because the tree limbs were constantly brushing against my face and occasionally poking me in the side as I bushwhacked my way through the undergrowth, there was no possibility of avoiding wood ticks, of which I knew there were many in the area.  The forecast called for rain, and I could see the clouds growing darker overhead.  Even more, I knew there were bear, moose, and bobcats in those woods and have had encounters with each of them.

After more than an hour of difficult hiking and contemplating the various risks involved, I happily found the southern end of the cart path.  It was such a wonderful sight and was ample reward for my efforts.  Almost immediately, the trail widened into a broad and easy lane, and soon I found a rock ledge immediately beside the river, where I settled down for a cheerful lunch of tea and homemade corn bread.  And as is always the case when I discover something new and beautiful, I thought to myself, “I can’t wait to bring Catherine here.  She’ll love it.”

 

Part II

There is no escaping the misery of these times.  It seems as if fear and death are everywhere.  The media continue to fill our eyes and ears with ever-present bad news, with endless updates of death counts and new virus hot spots.  We learn that someone in town has got it, soon enough that many people in town have got it, and so we weigh the risks of going to the grocery store for necessities – especially that one necessity.  At a certain point, our vigilance begins to waver, simply because we are sick and tired of having to practically sponge ourselves down with wipies every time we return to our car from a store.

My weekly hike was a God-send, as it always is.  For a day, there was no corona virus.  But the facts came rushing back to me later that afternoon when, on the way home, I stopped at Family Dollar and was met by a young masked girl who seemed terror-stricken to meet me in an aisle.  “Ah yes,” I reminded myself, “That blasted pandemic again.  Cough into your elbows.  Masks,  Six feet back.  Social distancing.  So on and so forth.”

As I later recalled my hike, it struck me as a fine metaphor for the Christian life.  We are all on one end of a trail trying to reach the other end, heaven.  In between, the way is often unmarked and wild, and only God knows what we will encounter.  We are often forced to walk where there is no way and to make one by ourselves.  It is certain that the way will be difficult and dangerous.  Many will not make it; some will not even try.  And one thing is certain: without a guide, no one can make it – no one.  And that guide is Jesus Christ – the way through the marsh and the light through the woods.

 

Part III

Something extraordinary has happened at this point in our hike, something that none of us would have expected or could have foreseen.  It is the shocking absence of the Church in the midst of this crisis, the near total abandonment of the faithful by the men called by God to guide us through life, to strengthen our weary souls and enlighten our anxious minds with divine grace and truth.  We have been told for the first time in our Catholic lives that we must face a prolonged tragedy without the strength of the sacraments, for the Church we love and need will not provide them, seemingly not even to the dying.  I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that this is worse than the virus, because its effects are potentially eternal.

As with holy matrimony, the priestly vocation is not qualified with dainty protections for the effete.  One is ordained, not to pasture the flock only in pleasant times, but in all times.  Similarly, a husband is not called to protect his wife as long as there is no danger involved.  No, he must do so even at the risk of his own safety, even if this means dying for her.  So the Church teaches, and so it is with priests and bishops.

I have no desire in these painful times to tear into the clergy.  There is already enough misery for everyone.  But a lay Catholic cannot fail to admire the inventiveness and determination of local businesses to continue, somehow, to serve their customers.  Their method is purely commonsensical: adapt to the new circumstances.  As a result, I can buy a hundred pounds of cow manure at the garden center, I can buy a dozen bags of Doritos at the gas station, and I can get filthy lucre at the drive-up bank teller, but…I cannot find a Holy Mass.  I can grab a pick-up dinner at the local restaurants, I can buy toilet paper at the grocery stores, and I can get computer ink and paper at the Staples drive-up, but…I cannot find sacramental confession.  The supermarkets installed large plastic panes for its cashiers, but the Church couldn’t do the same in constructing outdoor confessionals.  Cash and coin transactions are fine all day long, but we cannot distribute palms once for the year.  The garbage contractors are still picking up our rubbish roadside, the lawn care services are out sprucing up our yards and pruning our flower beds, but the Church is in hiding.  A woman can have her baby aborted at Planned Parenthood, but can she find a priest to baptize him or her?  My wife’s school system is working night and day to create online classes for its students, while maintaining daily communication with both the kids and their parents.  As awkward as the results have been so far, it’s an impressive attempt to maintain the mission of educating the young.  One of my brothers is a physician and has a wife and children.  And yet, every day he goes to the hospital and faces the danger of the virus and risks his life to care for the physical lives of his patients.  On and on the list could go.

In stark contrast to these omnipresent efforts from the secular world to maintain its activity, the Church has seemingly shut down every form of direct spiritual ministry to the faithful – and of all times, during Lent, Holy Week, and Easter.  The universal pastoral plan appears to be “cut and run.”

Could anyone imagine Walmart closing its doors during the weeks before Christmas?  How is it that the spiritual needs of our souls are considered inferior to the physical needs of our bodies?  This stinks of a creeping atheism.  Apparently, the separation of Church and state allows for the elimination of religion by the state.  I don’t see the separation in this.  And while the state of Massachusetts is not in a lockdown, it appears we are regarding the Church; we are in a religious lockdown and a sacramental blackout – while frightening numbers of people are dying.  Why have the bishops so quickly submitted to this temporal tyanny, even for a month?  And what will they do if this pandemic lasts for six months or more, or if it returns this coming winter?  Is the City of God now subserviant to the secular city?

I think a very serious Christian persecution could break out right under the bishops’ noses, and as long as the state provided an alibi using saccharin language about good citizenship, the clergy would look the other way.  I believe we are witnessing the proof of this on a daily basis.

I’m in no way suggesting the reckless breaking of laws or the ignoring of legitimate authority, but only the same determination and imagination as local businesses have admirably demonstrated, so as to keep the Church active in the difficult daily lives of the faithful.  Could one bishop or priest not maintain the spirit of this sacred season by mailing to us in the old-fashioned way a commentary or meditation of their own composition on the Gospel Reading of the day?  After all, I noticed they were recently able to send out the bishop’s appeal letter.   Or if such a mailing requires too much labor, could not every pastor have a blog and publish a weekly homily on it?  The modern Church loves to carry on about how very “pastoral” she is.  Well, it would be a most pastoral service to continue teaching in this way.  I believe the business expression is “maintaining company morale.”   In the life of the Church, it is called the “zeal for souls” – a zealous solicitude for the spiritual welfare and salvation of the faithful that is founded directly on the love for God, and that produces Church unity.

I fear that the clergy are inadvertently teaching us a terrible lesson: namely, that in times of grave crisis, the Catholic Church will not be there for us, so that we had better look after ourselves.  As if priests are to be regarded as non-essential workers and the sacraments as non-essential services.  It is a lesson that many people might remember when all of this is past, to the extent that some might not bother to return again to so seeminly expendable an institution.

 

Conclusion

In life and religion, it is the same.  We learn who we can depend upon, and who we cannot, who are our true friends, and who are only acquaintances.  Anyone can be a pal in good times and any person can be a fair-weather friend of God.  But saints are not born; they are wrought.  Their faith and virtue are hammered out during the worst of times and proven in the ugliest of circumstances.  By the present times and circumstances, we will all be either proven or exposed.  Are we mere members of an institution or devoted disciples of a divine teacher?  Have we joined a mere social club or entered the very Kingdom of God?  Such are the two prevalent views of the nature of the Church, and they are diametrically opposed to each other.  In the midst of it all, we have one certainty – Jesus Christ, who does not and will not abandon the faithful, ever.  He is our only dependable Way through this wilderness.  And He does not run and hide, even from viruses.

 

Among All Religions, Why Christianity?

cropped-crucifixion-1Catholics are often approached by critics with a fundamental question that amounts to a charge of arrogrance.  The critics say, “There are hundreds and thousands of religions throughout the world.  You just happen to be a Christian, and so, you believe Christianity is the one true religion.  But this is pure vanity.  One religion is as good as another; one saves as well as another.”

The proper response to this charge at first seems surprising.  First and foremost, we must assert that no religion saves – not even the best of religions.  In accord with Catholic teaching, it is not Catholicism or the Catholic Church that saves, but only a Divine Act.  The sole source of salvation for any and every human being is the sacrificial atoning death of Jesus Christ upon the Cross of Calvary.  Period.

It was appropriate that Christ should offer this sacrifice because He was and is human, and it was humanity that offended God through sin.  The sacrifice itself was perfect, because it was offered by a perfectly sinless man, the spotless Lamb of God.  And most importantly, the sacrifice has the potential to save every human being because Christ, who is a Divine Person, has offered to the Father a sacrifice of eternal value.  Because of Christ’s divinity, His Act could save, not only every human being on the earth, but every human being on a million earths, or in a million universes, and more.

The Divine Act of Calvary is the single hope of the human race.  No other person could have offered such an all-sufficient sacrifice that achieved a universal redemption because no other person on earth has been perfectly sinless and absolutely divine.  Muhammad could not have redeemed us, because he was in need of redemption himself; and so, too, with Buddha, Zoroaster, Confucius, and every other founder of a world religion or philosophy.  These men offered no such atoning death for us, and if they had tried, it would have achieved nothing.  The founders of the world religions and philosophies have offered us merely their teachings, as well as, perhaps, their examples of practicing such teachings.  But it was something far greater than teachings that humanity needed.

If a person falls on pavement, they do not then need a dissertation on scraped knees; rather, they need someone with the ability to heal them.  If a person contracts cancer, they do not then need a course on the development of tumors; rather, they need someone with the ability to thoroughly extract tumors with a 100% success rate.  In the cases of such difficulties, words are not needed, but power.

Among the many moral lessons collected in Aesop’s Fables, there is one about a little boy and a river.  At first, he is enjoying a carefree swim by himself.  But then he wades in over his head and finds himself in danger of drowning.  As an old man passes by, the boy cries out to him for help.  The man responds, not with a helping hand, but only with a stern lecture about the boy’s foolishness in going into the deep part of the swiftly moving river.  And the moral of the fable is this: In the case of a crisis, it is not a lecture that is needed, but urgent help.

Christ is the urgent help in this preternatural crisis.  He offered to the Father on our behalf what no other person could offer.  Desperate humanity, drowning in the rushing torrents of sin and superstition, needed, not an intricate exposition on the human condition, but a Savior who could rescue it by reconciling a fallen race with an offended God.  That universal Savior is Jesus Christ, the God-Man, the Redeemer of the world, whose Passion and death reconciled us with God.

The religion that is most necessary – and alone needed – is none other than the one that most directly and throughly associates us with that Divine Act of redemption.  That religion is superior to all others that can most fully and faithfully reveal the truths about the Act and dispense upon individuals the supernatural benefits gained by the Act.  And the only religion that does this is the Christian religion.  But I would go one step further and say, the form of Christianity that offers the fullest understanding of the Act and the deepest amount of grace to be gained from it is Catholicism, through its infallible teaching, apostolic authority, and seven sacraments.

The centrality of the Divine Act is the reason the Catholic Church chooses the crucifix with its Corpus, rather than a bare cross, as the chief symbol of her faith.  A cross did not die for our sins; a Person did.  Hence, the Church portrays that Person on her crosses in the very act that redeemed humanity.  But if it’s argued that the bare cross symbolizes the Resurrection of Christ, while the Church in her crucifixes retains Him in the state of death, it can also be argued that a bare cross actually symbolizes nothing at all.  It in no way depicts Christ’s Resurrection, but only His absense.  Thus, it could be used just as appropriately by those who claim the Crucifixion never occurred, or even by those who say Christ never existed.  What better symbol could be found to represent the denial of Christ’s existence than the cross that Christians claim once held Him, but actually shows no trace of Him?  Yes, the bare cross would be a suitable symbol of atheism.

In spite of the magnificence of the Christian religion, it itself is not the actual source of salvation, but only its channel.  The tallest steeples and pillars, the most dignified ceremonies, the sweetest incense, the most reverent sacred music, and the profoundest theological, moral, devotional, and biblical writings – these, though good in themselves because they elevate the human mind to the things of God, nevertheless do not and cannot save us.  For it is not knowledge that bears salvation, nor the solemn and sublime elements of religion, but only the Divine Act of Calvary.  And that religion is superior to all others that places us in direct association with that Act, so that we may receive the fullness of its truth and grace.

The Magi and Astrology

Bethlehem

 

Astrology is the occult science of predicting free future events and human personality traits by means of the stars.  It was believed, for example, that gods inhabited the planets, and that a person who was born when a particular planet was dominant would inherit the characteristics of that planet’s god.

Judaism and Christianity have always rejected such theories and its practices as being overtly pagan, in that they supplant the supreme will of the one true God with that of the influences of multiple gods and goddesses; in a word, astrology is inherently polytheistic.  The future belongs to the true God, who does not direct His universe in accord with other gods, or man-made charts, or numerological systems.  Rather, it is determined by His unforeseeable holy will, which is always purposeful, rather than arbitrary or fatalistic.

Astrology belongs to the general practice of divination, which includes the many occult methods of attempting to predict the future.  These would include the reading of palms, crystal balls, and tarot cards, as well as the interpretation of signs, omens, numbers, dreams, and the behavior of fire, water, and animals.  And to state a most important and unpopular truth – to consult a psychic is to practice that form of divination called psychomancy.  Tragically, many Christians now turn to psychics for their mental and spiritual needs as they once would have turned to a priest or minister.

Because in biblical times the Jews were surrounded by pagan peoples, the Old Testament makes many references to divination and related occult practices.  And since the modern world has largely renounced the one true God and resumed its pagan superstitions, Christians should recognize in these passages a most prudent and wise legislation for the present age.  For example,

“When you come into the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you, you shall not learn to imitate the abominations of the nations there. Let there not be found among you anyone who causes their son or daughter to pass through the fire, or practices divination, or is a soothsayer, augur, or sorcerer, 11or who casts spells, consults ghosts and spirits, or seeks oracles from the dead.  Anyone who does such things is an abomination to the LORD, and because of such abominations the LORD, your God, is dispossessing them before you. You must be altogether sincere with the LORD, your God. Although these nations whom you are about to dispossess listen to their soothsayers and diviners, the LORD, your God, will not permit you to do so” (Dt. 18:9-14).

“Do not be deceived by the prophets and diviners who are among you; do not listen to those among you who dream dreams, for they prophecy lies to you in my name; I did not send them.” (Jer. 29:8-9).

In the New Testament, converts to the new faith who had formerly practiced divination – most probably astrology – renounced both the practices and the materials involved:

“Many of those who had become believers came forward and openly acknowledged their former practices. Moreover, a large number of those who had practiced magic collected their books and burned in public” (Acts 19:18-19).

Note that “magic” was often used as a general name for divinatory techniques.

Divination is a by-product of the mistrust of God.  The person who practices Christianity and occult techniques is actually trying to manipulate God in various ways, in the hope that one form of manipulation will work with Him.  But the true Christian entrusts all to God, most especially the future.  Their constant prayer is “Thy will be done, not mine.”  As a result of this trust, they do not live in constant fear of the future; nor do they feel the need to be warned about it beforehand by means of divinatory practices.

Finally, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches,

“All forms of divination are to be rejected…[including] consulting horoscopes, astrology” (CCC 2116).

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Catholic teaching on occult practices, divination, and astrology are clear.  Nevertheless, an argument to the contrary is often made regarding the Magi and astrology.  Such is the claim:

“Every year on the solemnity of the Epiphany, we read the account of three eastern  astrologers who, in seeing an extraordinary star, rightly interpret the phenomenon as indicating a great king had been born.  God used astrology to lead these Magi to Bethlehem, and the Holy Family graciously received their pious visit.  Therefore, God clearly approves of the practice astrology, and so, too, must the Church.”

Actually, astrology did not lead the Magi to the Christ Child in Bethlehem.  It led them only to the paranoid bloodthirsty dictator, King Herod the Great.  And yet, it did not lead them even to him.  Astrology had almost nothing to do with the visit of the Magi, and God certainly did not endorse it.

The stars and planets belong to God, not to astrology.  God does not bow to the charts and maps of mere men; He does not conform His activities to man-made assessments of the zodiac intended to foresee His free actions from heaven or free human events on earth.  Hence, the appearance of the star of Bethlehem suggested to the Magi only that an important figure had been born.  That God used such an indication in no way suggests that the complex theories of astrology are correct or reliable, but only that God uses from time to time natural elements to announce supernatural events.  That one instance of this should coincide with the eyes and minds of three astrologers means nothing for astrology.  Hence, in spite of the star seen in the East, the Magi could not find their way to Christ, except by inquiring about Him in Jerusalem.  If astrological theory had been true and correct, then this visit to the center of Judaism would have been unnecessary, and the Magi would have left their Persian homes and headed directly for the stable or cave of Bethlehem.  But astrology could offer them no such guidance.  As it happened, it was Old Testament prophecy that correctly directed them to the Messiah’s manger.

But why, when the Magi saw the Star of Bethlehem from the East, did they think of Jerusalem?  What astrological notion brought them to the Holy City?

Once again, astrological theory had nothing to do with Jerusalem.  At the time of Our Lord’s birth, Israel was rife with Messianic expectation.  One can see this in the excitement generated by the ministry of John the Baptist.  The Jewish authorities were anxious to ask him whether or not he was the One to come.  The Jews were prepared to believe Jesus was the Messiah as well, until He showed Himself to be a type of Messiah quite different from the one they expected and wanted.

The Old Testament contains many Messianic prophecies, and the Jewish scholars would mentally pour over these passages night and day.  But the Jews did not live only in Israel; they were also dispersed throughout the Gentile world.  This dispersion is called the “diaspora.”  By means of this diaspora, the Jewish faith was spread throughout the world, and with it, knowledge among the Gentiles of the Old Testament Messianic prophecies.

If the Magi were truly “wise men,” then they would have been at least somewhat familiar with Judaism, its wisdom literature, and its prophetic books.  Seeing the star and believing it signaled the birth of a great figure, the Magi would have recalled the mysterious Old Testament references to a Jewish Messiah, such as this passage from the Book of Numbers:

“I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near:
a star shall come forth out of Jacob,
and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Num. 24:17).

Hence, the Magi decided to inquire at the center of Judaism – the city of Jerusalem – regarding the place of the Messiah’s birth.  And in this city, they found their answer as provided, not by divination or astrology, but by the Jewish prophet Micah:

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephratha, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days” (Mic. 5:2).

God searches for us wherever we are to be found.  He comes to us even in the depths of our sin and unbelief.  But if He speaks to us under such circumstances, He certainly is not endorsing such sin and unbelief, but calling us out of it.  Imagine the logical absurdity of suggesting that, because a person turned to God in the midst of an act of adultery or murder, God, therefore was endorsing adultery or murder.  And so it was with the Magi.  God found them in the midst of pagan superstition, and then called them from it to turn to the Jewish prophets in order to discover the Christ Child.  In doing so, God in no way endorsed the superstitions of divination and astrology.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Domestic Monastery

Saint Augustine Studying

 

The Second Vatican Council, in asserting the importance of the Christian family, referred to it as a sort of “domestic Church.”  The council fathers wrote,

“From the wedlock of Christians there comes the family, in which new citizens of human society are born, who, by the grace of the Holy Spirit received in baptism, are made children of God, thus perpetuating the People of God through the centuries.  The family is, so to speak, the domestic church.  In it, parents should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of the faith to their children; they should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each of them, fostering with special care the vocation to a sacred state” (Lumen Gentium #11).

According to this admirable view, the family is a Christian community, conceived by the love of husband and wife, that sustains the ancient faith through time.  It is the setting where children are first evangelized and catechized, and are simultaneously encouraged in the ways of Christian virtue through the examples of their parents.  And it is also that corner of the Church where religious and priestly vocations are first discerned and encouraged.

This is an admittedly ideal view of the home, but it must remain the standard for all Catholics, because it is essential to the survival of the Church in a profanely secular society.  The Catholic family is presently surrounded on all sides by a culture constructed by the lost that militantly propagates religious skepticism, dangerous superstition, and unspeakable perversity.  Amid such filth of mind and body, the family must provide young impressionable souls with a safe haven of goodness where the love of truth and purity are nurtured and an interior life is pursued.  And yet, as described by the council, this “domestic church” is actually only a beginning.  It is the place where young souls are introduced to the faith and life of the Church.  The catechism somewhat develops this notion:

“The Christian home is the place where children receive the first proclamation of the faith.  For this reason, the family home is rightly called ‘the domestic church,’ a community of grace and prayer, a school of human virtues and Christian charity” (CCC 1666).

Again, the emphasis is placed on the word “first.”

But what is to follow this “first” – this initial evangelization, this introduction to catechesis?  Does something described as “first” in order not imply something second in order?  If persons grow, mature, and increase in their capacity for religious knowledge and spiritual life, then should not the domestic church also experience an increase or deepening of some type?  Yes, it should; it must.  The mission of the domestic church must mature as its members mature, so that adult souls may continue to advance in the interior life.  I would suggest that the Catholic home in which one or more adults reside should be viewed as the “domestic monastery,” an essential component in the survival of Catholicism in the modern world.

But first – I realize that the domestic church is meant to lead to the Church proper, the institutional Church, the local parish and diocese.  This is the intended “second,” of which the domestic church is the “first.”  But I dare say, the current sequence is not working so well.  There is a clear breakdown in the scheme, and something needs to be urgently done about it.

The word “monastery” originally meant a solitary abode, a place where an individual prayed the complete Divine Office.  But the term now obviously refers to professed religious men or women who, as a community, pray the Divine Office and attend daily Mass, but also, study theology, scripture, and spirituality.  And this is precisely what the Church needs from her laity.

The contemporary Catholic Church suffers from many spiritual afflictions.  She is a sort of crumbling palace – magnificent, but on the verge of collapse.  At this point, some one will want to quote to me Christ’s promise to Simon Peter, that the gates of hell will never prevail against the true Church built on the rock of Saint Peter and his successors (Mt. 16:18).  Yes, it is Gospel truth: Satan will never destroy the Catholic Church.  But tragically, Catholics have often misused the foregoing passage and distorted it into a pleasant comforting promise from Our Lord that the Church will never experience theological, moral, and sacramental confusion, exasperated by a dearth of courageous religious leadership.  I would cite the last fifty years as proof that such an interpretation is false; I would cite all the more the last several years – and most recently, the appalling Pachamama fertility goddess fiasco in the Vatican.  As biblical proof, I would refer to Saint Paul’s public rebuke of Saint Peter (Gal. 2:11-14), as well as the New Testament prophecies of a Great Apostasy in the Church at the end times.  The catechism has some remarkable comments about this apostasy (CCC 675-677).

My point is, in spite of Christ’s promise to Simon Peter and his successors, the Church can descend into shocking degrees of religious confusion and moral scandal, while lacking at the same time the sort of leadership needed to resolve the crisis.  It is her official defined teaching that will never be corrupted by those powers of hell that revel in spreading doubt and confusion.  Yet, there is plenty of allowance, within the parameters of divine providence, for a widespread failure of both clergy and laity to manfully uphold authentic Catholic teaching.  To deny this is to deny the facts of Church history.

In light of this, what is the laity to do in such an era?  Must we be content with the paucity of truth and the banality of devotion found in our local parish or diocese?  Are the treasures of the Church’s theological, biblical, and moral writers the exclusive property of the ordained or professed?  Are we inescapably deficient in some sort of supernatural grace, so that it is impossible for us to grasp the wisdom penned by the ancient masters of the spiritual life?  A thousand times, “No!”  For the riches of the Gospel are meant to be distributed to all who would receive them.  It is only our own laxity and indifference that can keep them from us.

The home – that happy abode where we can slam the door on the insane world outside and live as Catholics should this is our solution to the troubled times in which God has purposefully placed us.  If truth is not to be found in abundance from our pulpits, I dare say, “So what!”  Platitudinous homilies provide no excuses for our own religious ignorance, nor does the absence of ongoing adult religious education.  If the sacramental life of our parish is poor – regardless, this provides no justification for our own impoverished spiritual life.   The truths of the Catholic faith and the practices of the Catholic life can now be learned by a myriad of means.  Catholic publishing, including the re-publication of reliably orthodox works, is now a thriving industry.  Hence, we must not use the state of the Church as a convenient rationalization for being and remaining ignorant.  Such ignorance can be blamed only on our own sloth.

As a solution to a grave problem, and as a worthy end in itself, we must elevate the Catholic home to a domestic monastery of study and prayer.  As the Church swirls in a state of religious confusion, let there be no such confusion at home, but only light and clarity.  Let our homes shine as beacons of Gospel fidelity and resound with the sacred chants of the ages, like the Benedictine monasteries that once salvaged Catholic civilization as the Roman Empire collapsed around them.

I realize that the activities and responsibilities of family life can leave many people with minimal time and opportunity for regular study and prayer.  For most working people, perhaps, the notion of a domestic monastery is quaint, but utterly unrealistic.  Then apply the notion to whatever degree is possible, even if only once a day or once a week.  Devise a routine, however slight, that suits the circumstances.

One would ideally begin with the praying of the Divine Office, the Liturgy of the Hours.  This official daily prayer of the Church will establish a routine of formal devotion and expose one to the Church’s sagacious patrimony of Church Fathers, biblical commentators, and spiritual masters.  Following the Office, one could add other devotions as well, or else, bible or catechism study.  The essential element in establishing a spiritual life is form, of not continuing in an amorphous state of intent, but giving shape to that intent; in other words, a spiritual routine.  This is absolutely essential.  And around this routine, other devout practices will naturally collect.  By means of saying, for example, Evening Prayer, followed by twenty or thirty minutes of catechetical or spiritual study, one could correct decades of accumulated error and reach a sound understanding of the faith.  It’s entirely possible, if one looks upon such a program as life-long, as having no actual point of completion except salvation.

An additional and essential element in the domestic monastery is silence.  Except for faith itself, there is nothing so necessary to prayer and study.  One needs to find a quiet room that is free of the countless distractions that fill our homes – phones, televisions, computers, and any objects that will especially distract our mind.  The ideal is to arrange a particular room for such devout purposes, and provide it with holy images and appropriate furniture, so that we can comfortably sing, pray, meditate, and study with minimal interference.

In summary, a partial solution to the current state of the Church is the domestic monastery.  The home is a place where the faithful – either alone or with other family members or friends – can substantially compensate for the inadequacies of the modern Church and advance in the interior life.  By this means, the perennial faith of the saints will survive the darkest of times, and the souls of the faithful will be set free from ignorance and sanctified in truth, as Christ intended for every member of His Church.

The Light of the World

christmas-treeOne evening last year, my wife and I decided to visit the local Barnes and Noble Bookstore, to browse the books and have a bite to eat.  After finishing our coffees and gathering our things together, a young woman approached us with a smart phone.  She was an evangelist from some rather bizarre Christian sect, and presented to us what clearly was a well-rehearsed carefully scripted introduction to her faith, complete with multiple arguments explaining why we needed to abandon our Catholic faith.  In spite of her determination, it didn’t go very well, since her arguments and methods were poor and she was entirely dependent on that moronic little phone, which she constantly consulted.  As soon as I told her to put the device away and speak directly to me from her own knowledge, her presentation and confidence crumbled.  The episode finally ended when she refused to allow me to speak at all, even as she insisted that we listen to her.  After being repeatedly interrupted, I ended her monologue and left that bookstore with feelings of deep sympathy for her husband.

Heretics inevitably share a number of arguments and methods.  They naturally draw from the same trough, in their common mission of defeating the greatest of all religious foes – the mighty Catholic Church.  One such common argument pertains to the liturgical seasons of Advent and Christmas.  It is used by both the neo-Puritan and the Grinch.  Our local bookstore evangelist expressed it this way:

“Advent wreathes and Christmas trees are pagan religious symbols.  As Catholics, you may think you’re honoring God by inventing some sort of Christian meaning for such symbols, but it’s all in vain.  For the religious use of evergreens has its origins in paganism, remains pagan, and can never be otherwise.  The only person your Advent and Christmas decorations honor is the devil, regardless of your intentions!”

One of the reasons this argument appears effective and even unassailable is because it makes an impressive appeal to history.  It appears to reach back into the ancient mists of a pre-Christian world, and leaves the accused party feeling unqualified to respond.   In fact, it does reach back into those ancient mists, but only to revive the same ancient errors.  The person who uses this argument has fallen into a polemical darkness, due to their excessive desire to “get” the Catholic.

Saint Paul confronted a similar error.  The Corinthian Christians were uncertain whether or not they should eat foods bought in the public markets that had been offered to pagan deities.  He answered,

“Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that ‘an idol has no real existence,’ and that ‘there is no God but one.’  For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth – as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’ – yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Cor. 8:4-6).

Saint Paul then explained that there is nothing wrong with eating such food…unless a brother, whose understanding of the faith is weak, is scandalized at the sight of other Christians eating such food.  In other words, the actual problem is not the idolatry or the food itself, but the immature faith of that Christian brother, which ultimately elevates the idol above the Christian God.

Directly parallel to this, Christians who argue that Advent wreathes and Christmas trees perpetually remain pagan symbols are elevating the pagan gods above the true God.   That such evergreens have been used in pagan worship in the past means nothing for those who use them amid Christian worship today.  Yes, the intention does matter, and the clear intention of the Christian is to give honor, not to Molech or Baal, but to Jesus Christ.  Nor is there anything objectively wrong with the use of wreathes, trees, or lights.

The one true living God made all the elements of the natural world.  The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit created the evergreens that are used as decorative wreathes and trees.  He made light as well.  Pagan gods made nothing, because they do not exist.  And even if a demonic spirit responds when some one calls on a particular false god – nevertheless, that demon is still only a creature and has created nothing.  Therefore, the elements of the natural world do not and cannot belong to pagan deities or demons.  They belong entirely to the true God.

This is not to overlook the fact that wreathes and trees are often parts of a merely secular celebration of the seasons.  That’s a concern for every devout Christian, but there is little we can do to stop it.  The fact is, atheists and Hindus sometimes indulge in such decorations, without having any feelings of piety or devotion.  But that is not the issue of the above objection.

To argue that evergreens have been used in the past for idolatrous worship is one thing.  But to then assert that, as a result, every future religious use of evergreens is inextricably bound to pagan superstition is to claim that pagan gods own evergreens and all that is done with them, and that the true God is powerless to reclaim them.  This only puts false gods above the true God, and false religions above the true religion.  One might as well argue that, two thousand years ago, those Jews who waved palm branches as Christ entered Jerusalem were guilty of pagan worship, because pagans had previously used palm branches in their temples.

Why are natural elements such as evergreens, which possess no inherent religious or moral qualities, considered to be perpetually owned by pagan gods?   How is it that beings that do not exist have wrested evergreens away from the God who created them, and now hold them forever as objects of idolatrous devotion?  Why is it that the God who redeemed the human race cannot redeem evergreens for true devotion?  The primary problem with this mentality is that it elevates the devil above God.

Non-Catholic Christians often assert that what matters most is that which is in a person’s heart.  Hence, they oppose memorized or repetitious prayer because, allegedly, it is not spontaneously flowing from the believer’s heart.  They oppose formal ritual and sacramentalism, as well as doctrinal and moral definitions, because these also, allegedly, do not comprise heartfelt piety or faith.   And yet, apparently, no matter what is in a Catholic’s heart as he decorates his home for Christmas, no matter how reverently he commemorates the Light of the World’s entrance into this dark and dismal world through the Incarnation – as represented by sparkling lights on a tree or flickering candles in a window – nevertheless, all such devotion is snatched away by some glowering demonic entity, of which the Catholic is completely unaware.

It is not the decorations that are pagan, but instead, the argument that claims such decorations are forever pagan and hence, cannot be claimed by the true God of the true religion.  Such a view gives all the glory to Satan, as if he were still the prince of this world.  But he is not.  For he has been dethroned by Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, whose blessed Incarnation is proclaimed in symbol with every Advent and Christmas light that pierces the frigid darkness.

If Bible Christians finally get their wish, and Catholics are forbidden to place Christmas decorations in public places – including house windows and front lawns – then the militant atheists will be the first ones to thank them for aiding the difficult enterprise of removing the last traces of Christianity from public life.  Perhaps, when all the beautiful symbols of Christmas joy and hope have been fully purged from society, then the neo-Puritans among us will realize that, all along, they were only useful idiots in the hands of our preternatural enemy.