Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Wake Up From This Nightmare, America!

Here is a piece that I wrote in the throes of my anguish as they put Terri Schiavo to death. I still can't believe that government assisted homicide actually took place in our nation. Pray for all those in Terri's position--that Americans may find it in their heart to treat them according to their God given dignity and not by their ability to contribute economically to our society.

We now live in a nation where the state ordered murder of its own innocents is not only legal but encouraged. The bumper sticker 'Dude, Where's My Country?' is very apropos today. The apathy that we Americans have shown at the ballot box, in our town halls, and in our state capitals has come for its reckoning. Our toleration of incremental steps toward this culture of death, and by allusion, the blood that comes with it, is on OUR hands. We all have it and it ain't gonna wash off. We've elected men and women on misguided and amoral/immoral principles and we have not held them accountable. We have trusted them with much more authority than they are capable of handling and, sadly, have not learned from our mistakes. We continue to dredge up candidates who are spineless, deceptive, and fundamentally lacking in what their job, their authority, and their obligation is. We bow to the political machines who submit these candidates rather than taking the machine apart and rebuilding it in God's image. The expression, 'I'll worry about it when it affects me.' is very common in our people.

It's as if we are holding up a single rock--the one that affects us if it falls--while every other rock around us is plummeting to the ground and smashing those who held them up. The bottom line is that we do not INSIST upon looking at things from an eternal perspective, but merely from a temporal one. Does it cause ME pain? Does it take more money out of MY pocket? If not, then I'll get back to my chores and my favorite reality show. A woman who was not dying was cruelly punished for no crime except being inconvenient. What part did WE play in it? The disabled, in our society, now are stigmatized and targeted for extermination upon judicial and legislative whim. How did WE contribute to their demise?

Every authority, from the President on down to Michael Schiavo have, via their action or inaction, turned America into a nation which is no better than Hitler's Germany or Stalin's Russia. Is this a strong statement? You bet. The nation has taken on, by its judicial decisions and legislative actions, a disregard for its citizens which I'm sure no member of the politburo or Nazi parliament could complain about. Sure, we can point to our free society as a clear distinction from these others but it's possible and, in this case, a reality that the same regard for life exists here. As the rock group The Who says, 'We won't get fooled again!'.

This is a call to every Christian. A call to every person who still has a conscience. A call to every person that has a heart that beats in their chest. The effect of our apathy in the public square has wrought horrible consequences in which you, your disabled children, your most vulnerable friends, are in danger. PLEASE stay connected and hold your elected officials to morality in all they do. PLEASE do not shirk your responsibility to demand justice in our society. PLEASE read and understand the Catechism and its explanation of our duties as citizens or as elected officials. We all have some responsibility for Terri's situation and the situations of many others. Let us ask ourselves during this Triduum if we are doing all we must in fulfilling Jesus' wish of feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, and honoring the lives of our people as God's masterpieces. If we are not, then let us find inspiration and determination in our sacraments and in the example of our Lord and follow through with unyielding action. If we are, let us pray for the grace to make even greater sacrifices for our nation.

An interesting thing that Pope John Paul II has said in his writings is that when Jesus comes again and the Kingdom is initiated on Earth, all evil will be wiped away but the good things we did in life will be integrated into the Kingdom. Let this Easter become the dawn of a new time for our people. It is a time in which Christ performed the ultimate sacrifice for His people and a time of calling to us to follow. He calls us to be partakers in His divine nature and to bring about the Kingdom of God. If we fail, then evil, as it has in Florida, will have its day. Luckily, we know how the story ends--with Jesus reigning in justice. Let’s make our nation a collection of god-fearing people who defend morality at EVERY turn. Give no quarter to sin and understand that our life here is not a game. As Father Corapi says, at the end, forever, you and I will be in Heaven or Hell, period. If we cannot even get to the battlefield, how are we going to fight?

Reconciliation--It Does A Body Good

This is a talk I prepared for the parents of those children in Religious Education who were about to receive the sacraments of Reconciliation and First Holy Communion for the first time. My objective was to let these parents know that this wasn't some hollow ritual that their children were about to undertake, but rather that it was part of the spiritual combat that we call life. I take the responsibility to be right with God seriously.


I was confirmed on Easter Vigil of 2005. Prior to receiving God’s sacrament, it had been almost 25 years since my last confession. When I said, ‘Bless me Father for I have sinned, it’s been 25 years since my last confession’, I could hear the priest fall off his chair. I am God’s proof that no amount of time is too long and no sin is too heinous that He cannot forgive us if we repent as he taught us. I’ve attested to anyone who will listen that the feeling I had when the priest said just 5 simple words—I ABSOLVE YOU OF YOUR SINS—was the greatest feeling I have ever experienced as a Christian.

But first, I want to take you back to when I was 16. It’s around this age when I began to think I had life figured out. I’ve called it ‘being my own Pope’. At this age, I thought Confession was for suckers. I could go directly to God myself and didn’t need some ritual or a priest to tell me God forgave me. I viewed the priest as just another sinful human who had no right to hear what I’ve done to offend God if I didn’t get to hear his. I used to think that my objections were reasonable but, in reality, they were uninformed objections that came from pride, arrogance, and shame. Nevertheless, for the next 19 years, I convinced myself that it was about Me (with a capital ‘M’) and God. I conducted myself as I saw fit (being my own Pope and all) and He was my get out of jail free card. I created this weird world in which I would commit a sin and God would forgive it simultaneously since He knew that deep down, I was sorry. Over these 19 years, as all people do, I sinned early and often. I had my instant absolution that I had, in effect, granted myself and cut God, the middle man, out of the equation completely. It wasn’t until 2003 when a sin I committed left myself and those around me in shambles. God had pulled the rug from under me and taken all that I judged I myself had made.

And so, with my life, and the life of those I loved dearly, virtually destroyed, I instinctively reached out to our Blessed Mother. Anyone who tells me that Mary is not their mother just hasn’t sunk low enough to hear her calling them. I hadn’t prayed a Rosary in 20+ years and didn’t even remember how to. I simply prayed, ‘Mary, I don’t know if I’m even doing this right but I know you want me to understand. I don’t want to bargain with you, I just want you to take me and fix me. I’ve done nothing but destroy my soul without your son and am tired of following my passions and desires. I know that without God, I am utterly incapable of saving myself and so I ask you to talk to your Son for me. In return, I will pray this Rosary with you everyday.’ Within a day, God had sent me multiple signs that I could use to find Him and repair the damage I had done. In praying the Rosary, I could hear Mary telling me to repent, confess, and then let go of my sins. God had also put in me a hunger for all things Catholic. I devoured books about Church doctrine, apologetics, and anything else I could get ahold of. He was leading me to the answer for every question, doubt, and misunderstanding I had about Catholicism. And after 19 years, I didn’t feel fear or arrogance—I felt humility, sorrow, and hope. I saw a speaker on EWTN who, at that very time, said, ‘The only sin God will not forgive is the one we don’t repent of.’ Suddenly, the hope began to grow and I swore I would give the best confession I could give. I sat down and examined my conscience—I came up with a list that covered 2 pages fully, front and back. I entered the Confessional, got on my knees, fought through tears, and did exactly what God tells us all to do—repent, confess, and let go. The priest was gracious, kind, and did all that God had given him authority to do—forgive me in the person of Christ. He congratulated me on a good confession and said those 5 wonderful words. Making things right with God feels wonderful. The weight leaves you and you go to Holy Communion with a new soul—one worthy of receiving Jesus. This year, I have been to confession just about once per month. Even when I have no mortal sins to confess, I know that venial sins add up and they dispose me (and all of us) to bigger sins. Frequent confession keeps my sins right there for me to see and reminds me of the damage sin does to the soul.

I won’t tell you that Confession is fun, or happy, or easy. It’s none of those things. Neither was our Lord’s trip toward Redemption. But after toying with every Protestant Church I could find, twisting Scripture to fit my moral code, and taking this spiritual reality of God, the Devil, and my salvation for granted, I’m here to tell you that at the end, forever, you and I will be in Heaven or Hell…Period.

Pornography--Victimless Crime?

Below is a little talk I gave at the Religious Education class I help teach for teenagers. The topic is pornography and was inspired when one of my students claimed that nobody was hurt by viewing pornography in any medium.

What did Jesus say about pornography? Who ever looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. It doesn’t say ‘pornography’ but what’s the sole purpose of looking at pornography? It’s to look at someone with lust. It’s not in a loving way, is it? It’s a detached and impersonal way to feel the tingles without actually having to know that person. See, Jesus says it’s not enough to avoid pregnancy or STD’s. It’s not enough to avoid impure sexual contact; we must also resist impure sexual thoughts and looks. Why do you think He says this? EVERYTHING, and I mean everything that Jesus taught humans springs from one thing—can you tell me what that is? The dignity of human life. Jesus always expects more from us because we’re created in God’s image. We have a certain something special in us that separates us from dogs, cats, and pigs—a rational soul and something in our heart that makes us search for God. Remember the commandments we discussed—the first 3 dealing with our relationship with God and the next 7 with our relationship with other people? This was always the test for Jesus with regard to sin—does it negatively affect the dignity of humans? Does pornography affect the dignity of a person? What does it do to guys? Ask yourself if Jesus or your dad saw you looking at pornography. How would you feel? Embarrassed. Shameful. That means your guilt-o-meter is working properly. See, Christ says that looking at a woman like we do in porn is beneath the dignity He himself gave us. Ask yourself how you’d feel if a man looked at a woman you loved—your mom or sister—the way he looks at porn. The second thing it does to us guys is that it teaches us to live in a world in which sexuality offers one thing—pleasure. When I hear people say that porn doesn’t hurt anyone because nobody gets pregnant, or sick, or anything else, I tell them that’s the whole problem. After a certain amount of time, guys begin to look at real women only for what they can give them. We badly twist or eliminate the possibility of love entirely because we now equate women with nothing more than our own pleasure.

In other words, selfishness. Porn is all about catering to ourselves and nobody else and selfishness is the opposite of love. Think about what you do when you look at porn. First, you affect yourself by looking at it—remember what Jesus said. You also create a market for porn, facilitating the greed of the industry who will look for men and women to exploit who will make them money. You contribute to an industry that will push the envelope to the point of kiddie porn. I don’t know if you’re aware of all the stuff available online but think of the worst thing you can think of and it’s available. Anyone know who Ted Bundy was? He was one of the most notorious mass murderers of our generation who was executed in 1989. He strangled and raped over 50 women in Utah, Colorado, and Florida. Mr. Bundy was interviewed before he went to the electric chair and do you know what he said? He began looking at soft-core porn when he was 12 or 13. He kept looking for something more graphic and fell into a hard core porn addiction. Soon, that addiction could only be addressed by acting out these scenes in real life which led to the rapes and killings. The numbers say that the states with the highest readership of porn have the highest rape and murder rates. Half of all rapists in one study used porn directly before they committed rapes. Do you know what the internet sites with the most hits on them are today? Porn sites. Do you know what the issue that is breaking the most marriages today is? Adultery. See, people are becoming slaves. Ted Bundy became a slave. Slavery doesn’t mean we murder 50 people. Slavery means that we align our actions, beliefs, and faith around something destructive and something imaginary. When this ‘something’ guides us and not vice versa, we hand over our dignity, our intelligence, and our relationship with God.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Birthdays And The Bible

Some of our separated brethren have historically (since their inception 1500-1800 years after the birth of Christ and His Church, at least) submitted that the celebration of birthdays, specifically the Birth of Christ, is unbiblical and contrary to God's will. This piece will examine those arguments and shed light on whether the celebration of ANY birthday, Christ's or anyone else's is sinful and unbiblical.

1. Whenever the Bible talks about someone celebrating a person's birthday, someone dies so it can't be good to celebrate them.

Let's look at these events in Scripture.

Genesis 40:20-22 'The third day after this was the birthday of Pharao: and he made a great feast for his servants, and at the banquet remembered the chief butler, and the chief baker. And he restored the one to his place, to present him the cup: The other he hanged on a gibbet, that the truth of the interpreter might be shewn.'

Mark 6:21-28 'And when a convenient day was come, Herod made a supper for his birthday, for the princes, and tribunes, and chief men of Galilee. And when the daughter of the same Herodias had come in, and had danced, and pleased Herod, and them that were at table with him, the king said to the damsel: Ask of me what thou wilt, and I will give it thee. And he swore to her: Whatsoever thou shalt ask I will give thee, though it be the half of my kingdom. Who when she was gone out, said to her mother, What shall I ask? But her mother said: The head of John the Baptist. And when she was come in immediately with haste to the king, she asked, saying: I will that forthwith thou give me in a dish, the head of John the Baptist. And the king was struck sad. Yet because of his oath, and because of them that were with him at table, he would not displease her: But sending an executioner, he commanded that his head should be brought in a dish. And he beheaded him in the prison, and brought his head in a dish: and gave to the damsel, and the damsel gave it her mother.'

JOB 1:4,18-19 'And [Job's] sons went, and made a feast by houses, every one in his day. And sending, they called their three sisters, to eat and drink with them. [...] [The messenger] was yet speaking, and behold another [messenger] came in, and said: Thy sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the house of their eldest brother, A violent wind came on a sudden from the side of the desert, and shook the four corners of the house, and it fell upon thy children, and they are dead: and I alone have escaped to tell thee.'

My first question to you would be where does Scripture actually say that these deaths occurred BECAUSE it was someone's birthday? The honest answer is 'nowhere'. To suppose or assume this connection is to approach Scripture insincerely and with a set of doctrines in mind already. There is just no rationale to assume that Job's kids were smote BECAUSE they were celebrating a birthday. In fact we already know why Job's kids died--because God allowed Satan to put Job to a test of faith--not because of any birthday celebration.

As for Herod's and Pharaoh's birthdays, would anyone expect them to be godly? Considering Herod wanted to murder God's Son and Pharaoh was obstinate against God's messenger, Moses, it's not hard to see that those birthday celebrations were probably not of God. Still, it would be wrong to assume that the deaths in those stories occurred BECAUSE they were birthday celebrations. Instead, the deaths occurred because Herod and Pharaoh were evil.

Secondly, wouldn't you expect an birthday to be a time of reflection on the good things God has done for us in our lives? It's a time to appreciate our family and friends and thank God for it all. Common sense tells us that a marker every year, in and of itself, cannot be evil. If we choose to celebrate it like Herod, then we MAKE it an evil work.

2. The Bible does not record the celebration of Christ's birthday or the anniversary of His birthday.

So what would you call 3 kings coming from the ends of the earth to give Jesus gifts? It's pretty clear that they were celebrating the birth of the Messiah and were under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and angels in doing so. I'd say that imitating persons under the Holy Spirit's guidance and inspiration is not ungodly at all.

I don't disagree that we do not see a celebration of the anniversary of Christ's birth in Scripture, nor do we see the word 'Christmas' therein. But using this standard, I see no prohibition of polygamy, wife swapping, or abortion either--are these OK? There's no prohibition against running over someone with a street sweeper since street sweepers weren't yet invented. There's no biblical basis for a marriage performed by a minister and there's no New Testament command to build a church building, yet we do. How far do you want to take this Bible alone thing?

Furthermore, John the Apostle writes that not everything that Christ did or taught is written down in the Bible! Does this mean that it's any less important to our salvation? I do not make that assumption and neither do the Apostles, who teach by word of mouth often. Look at the celebration of Channukah--Jesus observed it even though it was established by a human (Judas Maccabeus) and not by God. This is an example of a human tradition, established to commemorate yearly a wondrous event in which our own Savior celebrated! How much greater a celebration of the birth of the Son of God? If nobody established this celebration, someone would've had to! And lo and behold, it was the Church established by Christ that did this. The Church given authority to govern all followers of Christ by binding and loosing--the Catholic Church. That no celebration was present in Scripture is irrelevant.

3. The Church created Christmas as a traditition of men.

We've already seen that Christ himself celebrated certain customs and traditions so why do you hold me to a standard even Christ didn't have? Look at Judges 11:39-40:

"From thence came a fashion in Israel, and a custom has been kept: That, from year to year, the daughters of Israel assemble together, and lament the daughter of Jephte the Galaadite, for four days."

The Bible gives no indication that this custom was ever abandoned or forbidden later. Nor is there any command by God to observe it--yet God's people did it anyway. Look at Esther 9:19:

"But those Jews that dwelt in towns not walled and in villages, appointed the fourteenth day of the month Adar for banquets and gladness, so as to rejoice on that day, and send one another portions of their banquets and meats."

Here, there is no sign that God mandated this observation, God's people just did it. Gifts were exchanged and there was lots of celebration, yet God did not forbid it. There are others.

4. But Christmas is pagan in origin, hardly of Christ!

This assumption is based on a faulty idea that commonality=direct descendancy. In other words, this idea that Christmas is pagan comes from seeing elements of Christmas that are similar to pagan customs. Unfortunately, the CONNECTION between the two just isn't there. For example, pagans bow to their knees to pray to their false gods. Are we to understand that getting on our knees to pray to the True God is pagan in origin? Hindus are often plunged into the Ganges River as a purification right, does this mean that baptism by water into Christ's reign is pagan? See, observing the similarities without taking into account the vast differences results in a faulty assumption about Christianity. Moses warned the Israelites in Deuteronomy not to copy the rites of the pagans--specifically things like tossing their offspring into the fire. In fact, Moses himself warned against setting up pillars to worship false gods, yet himself set up pillars to worship the one, true God. If African devil worshipers celebrate their rites on a full moon--the same time as the Jews celebrated their festivals--does this make them Jews? Of course not. Christmas is right because it rightly celebrates and glorifies God. If there were no Christ, there'd be no Christmas as evidenced by there existing NO holiday which celebrated the birth of Christ before he was born. Were it pagan, it would have no link to God in any way--very much like the secular world celebrates it today.

5. December 25 is the day the pagans celebrated the 'Day of The Sun'.

First, I wonder if you could please provide proof for what you imply--that Christmas was chosen to be celebrated BECAUSE it was the pagan god feast day and in order to mix that pagan celebration with Christianity.
Second, some of the possible reasons December 25 was chosen are:
  • Jesus was actually born on December 25
  • Jesus was conceived on December 25
  • to insititute the true God and His religion with intent to replace the pagan rites

Second, when you think about it, Christmas is OUR 'Day of the SON'. Jesus was Son of God and we thank God for his incarnation as we should. and Malachi 4 call Jesus 'the SUN of justice'. The Church attempting to replace the pagan feast day with Christ is merely its way of following Paul's advice: "Be not overcome by evil: but overcome evil by good" (Romans 12:21). What better way to tell the pagans about the one, true SON than by replacing their holiday with one about Him? There also exists evidence that the Christian Church was celebrating December 25 as Christmas by the 3rd century--before this pagan feast day (called Sol Invictus) was being celebrated in the Roman Empire. If this is the case, then the argument presented is preposterous.

6. Early Church Fathers like Tertullian and Origen say that birthdays were not celebrated and they were against celebrating them and Josephus also says Jews did not celebrate them.

Did Tertullian and Origen speak on behalf of the Christian Church? No, they did not. Their personal opinions about birthdays did not have any relevance on what the Church taught about them. In fact, NO Church teaching existed with regard to birthdays.

Tertullian and Origen also believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and in praying for/commemorating the anniversaries of the dead, do you?

One of the main reasons was that most Christians were poor and, therefore, could not afford birthday celebrations. Nobility were the only ones wealthy enough to have celebrations and, in many cultures, were the only ones considered important enough to observe these birthdays. If you compare this to Job's sons celebrating birthdays in Job 1:3, this would make sense considering Job's immense wealth at that time.

A few Early Church Fathers like Origen are on record as saying the first Christians did not celebrate birthdays but not a single one condemns the practice or suggests that it is contrary to Christian doctrine in the least. In fact, Tertullian talks about maintaining an anniversary yearly for the martyrs:

'As often as the anniversary comes round, we make offerings for the dead as birthday honours' (De Corona ch. 3)

Finally, Origen's contemporaries, namely Clement of Alexandria and Hippolytus disagreed and strove to assign a date for remembrance of Christ's birthday so it's clear that no defined date or teaching was in place but rather, cultural norms in different parts of the world.