Mother of God Solemnity, a Defence

Mary, Mother of God

Introduction

On January 1st, All United States’ Catholics are obligated to attend Mass for the feast of Mary, the Mother of God. In other countries, this feast is known as a solemnity. I used to joke about the United States Council of Bishops making it a holy day of obligation. I thought it was to prevent Catholics from partying and drinking too much. In reality, the choice of January 1st has historical precedent. In this post, I will define solemnity and Holy day of Obligation. Next, this post will describe the importance of Mary, Mother of God and why the Church chose January 1st.

Solemnity

The Catholic encyclopedia defines solemnity as a feast that deserves extra attention. Solemnities occur because either they are important for the entire faithful or they celebrate a local saint. A lot of parishes take their name from saints. Thus the feast day of that saint becomes a solemnity for them. The Church considers Mary, Mother of God to be so important to the faithful. Thus, The Church also celebrates it as a solemnity. In the United States, the solemnity of Mother of God is also a Holy Day of Obligation. In fact, all Holy Days of Obligation are solemnities, but not all solemnities are Holy Days of Obligations. There are ten Holy Days of Obligation.

Holy Days of Obligation

Canon 1246 states that Sunday is a Holy Day of Obligation. In addition to Sunday, The Church gives ten other days. These include: the day of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Epiphany, the Ascension, the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Holy Mary Mother of God, Her Immaculate Conception, Her Assumption, Saint Joseph, the Apostles Saints Peter and Paul, and finally, All Saints 1. Canon 1246 gives power to Bishops to abolish certain holy days of obligation with prior approval. This explains why Catholics celebrate Mother of God in the United States.

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Why January 1st?

The Catholic Church celebrates this solemnity on January 1st. In the Byzantine Church, the celebration of the second person always occurs after the primary person 2. For the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, the primary person would be Jesus. The Church celebrates Jesus on December 25th. Thus, any celebration of Mary’s motherhood would occur after December 25th2. Different locations celebrated the Solemnity of Mother of God on various different dates. The Coptic Catholic Church celebrated on January 16th 2. The Catholic Church in France celebrated on January 18th2. The Roman Church celebrated on January 1st2. The Roman church chose this date because they wanted to replace the pagan feast of the God Janus 2.

In the fifth century, disputes arose about the nature of Jesus’ divinity. The major question centered on whether Jesus inherited two natures. Mary contributed to his human nature and God contributed to his divine nature. The Council of Ephesus met to debate and decide this issue. They declared Jesus had one nature that was fully human and divine and thus Mary was the Mother of God. The Solemnity was extended to the entire Latin Church in 1931, the fifteenth century of the Council of Ephesus 1. When choosing a date, The Church went with the ancient practice of Rome. Pope Paul VI explains,

This celebration is assigned to January 1st in conformity with the ancient liturgy of the city of Rome2.

So we Catholics celebrate Mary, Mother of God on January 1st. We should understand The Church is not trying to prevent late night parties. Rather, The Church deems it important and desires to honor the Roman traditional date.

Celebrating the solemnity today

So what can we as Catholics today learn from celebrating Mary, Mother of God. First of all, we remember Mary’s yes to God. When we remember her yes, we are strengthened to make our own yes to God. We remember Mary’s humanity. We can acknowledge that Christ was fully divine and fully human. One must understand Christ’s nature to understand the incarnation and our own salvation.. Last, when attending Mass on the New Year, we make a conscious effort to put God first before starting a New Year. So this New Year, don’t sleep off a hangover, spend some time with your spiritual mother by attending the solemnity of Mary Mother of God.


  1. https://www.ewtn.com/expert/answers/holy_days_of_obligation.htm 
  2. https://www.ewtn.com/saintsHoly/saints/S/solemnityofmary.asp 

Putting Christ back in Chrismas

Top picture is a Christmas landscape with snow, trees, Christmas decorations. Bottom picture is a nativity scene with Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in a manger

Introduction

When we think of Christmas Eve, we typically think of family gatherings, gift giving, and a nice meal. If we have young children or are young children, we might prepare for St. Nick to visit. We rarely make time for or appreciate the real reason for the season, which is the birth of Jesus Christ. On Christmas Day, the son of God came down in the form of a baby. He was born in a dirty manger. Have we really stopped in the midst of the busy holiday season to ask why? What is the significance of the incarnation for Christian theology? Also, why does it continue to be important for us today?

Significance for Christianity

I touched on this in my last blog post, 6 Reasons to Believe in Christianity. I believe that the incarnation is one of the top reasons to believe in Christianity.

Redeemed Humanity

In the incarnation, God took on humanity’s nature. This action restored the grace that humanity had at the garden of Eden. When Christ destroyed death for one, he destroyed death for all. St. Paul puts it this way,

“For if, by the transgression of one person, death came to reign through that one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one person Jesus Christ” Romans 5:17

Jesus’ victory over death applies to all humanity as a gift. How one accepts this gift is a point of contention between Protestants and Catholics. This topic of soteriology is too broad for this post.

Reveals God the Father

Not only does the incarnation ensure our salvation, but it also reveals who God is to all. Jesus reveals that God is not some mystical guy in the sky. Rather, God is a real tangible person. St. Athanasius argues that neither creation nor the law is enough to remind us of God. Thus, God being a good king would not let us take other masters, but would come down himself.1 Jesus puts it this way,

Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. John 14:9b

Jesus confirms that through him God the father reveals his true nature.

Made Eye Witness Accounts Possible

Lastly, the incarnation made eyewitness accounts possible. Jesus was a real historical person. The twelve disciples claimed to have seen the resurrection. Yet they also knew Jesus Christ as a human being. All of the disciples died rather than recant that Jesus was the son of God. It is easy to die for believing something someone told you. Muslim martyrs do this all the time. It is harder to die for a claim known to be false. The disciples knew Jesus. Thus, if the disciples had any doubts about his claims, they would’ve had a harder time dying for the cause.

Significance Now

The above are great reasons to believe in Christianity, but what if you are already Christian? Why is it important to recognize the incarnation now? What does it have left to teach us?

First, it teaches that we can have a relationship with the divine. The Bible puts it this way,

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15

Jesus understands where we are coming from since he has also been tested in a similar way. I once presented the above reason to a Muslim. She was quick to object. She said if God created us wouldn’t he know us. I must admit she had stumped me. Yet I’ve come to realize that knowing and experiencing are two different things. I can know that fire causes pain when touched. Yet I cannot sympathize until I experience being burned myself. I want my God to not just know humanity, but to experience humanity.

Second, it shows that God is not afraid of our mess. Sometimes we can think that we are unlovable or unworthy. The incarnation teaches that if God can enter the mess of a stable, he can enter the mess of our hearts.

Third, it teaches the importance of all life. God entrance into humanity took the form of a vulnerable child, who society did not welcome. Thus, Christians should welcome the poor, the lonely, the immigrant, and the unwanted. The incarnation teaches us the importance of accepting and protecting all human life.

Conclusion

Christmas is the celebration of love, and joy that stems from the coming of Jesus Christ, our savior. Jesus didn’t come as a warrior king ready to do battle. Rather, he entered this world as a newborn baby. The incarnation is significant. It serves as the foundation for salvation theology. It reminds us to love and welcome the outsider. Lastly, it teaches us that God embraces our mess. Christmas is a time when you gather around your family for a nice meal and presents. Yet please also don’t forget to acknowledge Christ’s birth.

1. [st Athanasius On The Incarnation, http://www.copticchurch.net/topics/theology/incarnation_st_athanasius.pdf]

Faith In The Midst of Scandal

Faith In The Midst of Scandal

Introduction

If you followed me on social media, you would see that I have not posted anything regarding the sexual abuse scandal. I have not posted not because I am not confused, angry, frustrated, sad, and disappointed. Rather, I could find the words to express my thoughts. Others have posted on the issue and I felt that my voice would be a repetitive clanging cymbal echoing their sentiments. However St. Gregory the Great once said,

“It is better that scandals arise than the truth be suppressed.”

Hence I will no longer keep silent on this issue; I will express my confusion, anger, sadness, and disappointment

Confusion leading up to the scandal

The application of Amoris Laetitia confused me. I struggled to understand the intercommunion statement given by the German bishops. When Pope Francis made the death penalty inadmissible, I began to question. Yet I continued to trust that the Holy Spirit would guide Church’s magisterium. I continued to believe that these events were an evolution of understanding.

Confusion turned to anger

My confusion turned to anger when I heard about Cardinal McCarrick’s sexual abuse. After I read the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, I became disappointed and sad. Then it went from bad to worse. The media released Viganò”s testimony.

Amidst the onslaught of emotions, I wanted to cry, I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, “Why has the Vatican been so silent”. My second instinct was to run, to leave and never look back.

But The Lord Spoke

As I went to my Friday’s adoration hour, partly out of habit, As I prayed for the Church, the Lord spoke:

People are running away because they can’t love my bride. She may be a prostitute, but I am redeeming her, just like I’m redeeming you.

For like-minded confused and angry Catholic like me, I offer the following advice

Pray and Know the Word of God

We are fighting against darkness and evil in the church and in our lives. Thus, we need to allow prayer and the Word of God to equip us to put on the armor of God.

If you are a victim or know a victim, then it will be hard to view God as a just and loving father. Here the beauty of the Church shines. You need not say something original, you can recite rote prayers such as the rosary. The key is constancy.

We also need to know the word of God. St. Paul in Ephesians describes it as a sword. It is our only weapon. We need to know what it says, not only to hold ourselves accountable but others as well.

Go to Adoration

Jesus is there waiting in the monstrance for you. When describing the Blessed Sacrament, St John Mary Vianney once said,

I just look at him and he looks at me

I always feel more at peace after my holy hour.

Channel Your Righteous Anger

You are angry. You have every right to be angry. Yet, what you do with that anger will define you as a person. Anger is an emotion. After all, Jesus had righteous anger at the money changers, who defiled his church, but it cannot rule over us or consume us.

”Correction given in anger, however, tempered by reason, never has so much effect as that which is given altogether without anger; for the reasonable soul being naturally subject to reason, it is a mere tyranny which subjects it to passion, and whereinsoever reason is led by passion it becomes odious, and its just rule obnoxious.” St. Francis de Sales

The laity needs to correct The Church. This correction is much more effective without anger.

Instead of demanding Pope Francis to resign, we should put our energy and effort into demanding a release of the documents and independent investigations. We need to demand a statement of contrition from all leader. Furthermore, continuously strive for the virtue of persistence.

Practically speaking, one can write to church leadership especially your bishop. They need to know how we feel and how the scandal effects us. The Sienna project offers letter templets as well as bishop addresses to make it easier to write your own letter.

Join a Lay Ecclesial Community

A lay ecclesial community consists of Catholic lay people, who come together to

“strive in a common endeavor to foster a more perfect life, to promote public worship or Christian doctrine, or to exercise other works of the apostolate such as initiatives of evangelization, works of piety or charity, and those which animate the temporal order with a Christian spirit.”1

These communities exist outside of the church’s hierarchy. Lay-led communities, are not a substitute for Mass but can help combat loneliness and despair.

Conclusion

It is hard to have faith as a Catholic, but it is even harder to have faith in the midst of a scandal. We must remember that the devil comes to seek, kill, and destroy, but Jesus comes to give life. We must place our faith, hope, and trust in Jesus. We must demand that The Church act justly so that Christ may transform his bride. We, the laity, must persevere in holiness, putting on the armor of God wielding faith and truth. Faith and truth come from prayer and knowing the word of God. We should strive to build lay driven faith communities. Theses communities function as places of renewal.


  1. Card. Stanisław Ryłko, “Preface,” in Directory of Associations, Published by the Pontifical Council for the Laity 

Abortion: in the court of public opinion

This week my twitter feed was full of optimism surrounding the prospect that the court would finally repeal Roe v. Wade. The news of Supreme Court  Justice Anthony Kennedy retiring brought on this optimism. Even though I welcome the illegality of abortion, my legal knowledge, and general cynicism keep me from sharing in the optimism of my fellow Catholic followers. Rather I believe my fellow Christians and I must do a better job of changing the court of public opinion rather than being content with changing the legal landscape. To understand why one must look at 1. the historical landscape before Roe v. Wade, 2. Legal precedent up to the present, and 3. the consequences of overturning Roe v. Wade.

Abortion before Roe v. Wade

The legality of Abortion ebbed and flowed. In the early period of American history, when legal jurisprudence was governed by common law, abortion procedures were legal up to the point of “quicking.1 In the mid-1800 Massachusetts became the first state to introduce legislation making it illegal to get an abortion. 1 By 1960s 44 states had followed suit although some would make an exception if the mother’s life was endangered. 1 In 1967 Colorado became the first state to amend their abortion laws to allow an exception in case of rape, incest, life endangerment, woman’s health or the baby had a severe defect. 1 In 1972, one year before Roe case, 17 states had introduced legislation making abortion legal in some capacity. 1

There are two different narratives that emerge out of this historical perusal into American abortion legislation. The first is from a pro-life perspective in which abortion had always been criminal prior to Roe v. Wade either outright illegal or after a certain point such as ‘quicking.’ The legality of abortion is a modern trend. The second narrative is from a pro-choice perspective in which the legality of abortion from 1967 onward reflects a change in public opinion. This point will play an important role when discussing Roe v. Wade.

Roe v. Wade

Abortion as a Fundamental Right

The issue addressed by the court is whether the right for women to terminate her pregnancy is protected as the right to privacy located in the fourteenth amendment’s due process clause. In order to address this issue, the court must first determine if the right is implicit to the concept of ordered liberty. This is usually determined by asking the question is the right deeply rooted in American history or traditions. As we discussed above, the answer is not so straightforward. At certain periods in American history, abortion had been legal and at other times illegal. How you view the history largely depends on whether you are pro-life or pro-choice. A majority of the court concluded that “restrictive criminal abortion laws in effect in a majority of States today are of relatively recent vintage.”2 Thus a fundamental right exists.

Possible state interest

Having established a fundamental right, the court goes on to determine possible state interests. A state may still restrict a fundamental right if it has a compelling interest to do so. The court address two possible interest: 1. protecting the women from a dangerous medical procedure, and 2. Protecting prenatal life.2 In regards to the former, the court said the current medical knowledge makes abortions performed in the early trimester safe for women.2 Addressing protecting prenatal life, the court stated that “protection of the interests involved, again, has generally been contingent upon live birth. In short, the unborn have never been recognized in the law as persons in the whole sense.”[2] Hence a state’s interest only becomes compelling at the point of viability.2 Abortion as a fundamental right will be defended in the case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

Planned Parenthood v. Casey

Justice Kennedy was one of the three justices to write the deciding opinion of Planned Parenthood v. Casey and it is his vote that led to the reaffirming of Roe v. Wade. The principle of stare decisis, or the idea that a court must follow the decisions that came before the case in question led the court to uphold the ruling. The court in Planned Parenthood v. Casey states, “Application of the doctrine of stare decisis confirms that Roe’s essential holding should be reaffirmed”.3

In reexamining that holding, the Court’s judgment is informed by a series of prudential and pragmatic considerations designed to test the consistency of overruling the holding with the idea of the rule of law, and to gauge the respective costs of reaffirming and overruling.”3 The important thing to note is that the court deliberately chose not to in this case.

Undue Burden Standard

The court goes on to say that changes in the understanding of when a fetus is viable do not change the fact that states interest only becomes compelling at viability.3 The court also states that weakened precedent has not been shown. However, in order to accommodate the state’s interest in potential life, the court will introduce the undue burden standard.3 “An undue burden exists, and therefore a provision of law is invalid if its purpose or effect is to place substantial obstacles in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.”3

Ways the Court Could Overturn Abortion Jurisprudence

There are two questions that govern the legal landscape of abortion: is the right to terminate your pregnancy a fundamental right, and is the legal restriction an undue burden on the women’s access to abortion? A conservative court could address both, most likely it will seek to limit abortion by upholding laws restricting abortion access.

Reasons The Court Will Not Address The Fundamental Rights Question

I do not see the court re-addressing the fundamental right question for two reasons. The first reason has to do with the fact that the question regarding a fundamental right depends on whether it is rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people. The reality is that the general consciousness of the people is more accepting, not less. According to Pew Research Center, “Though abortion is a divisive issue, more than half of U.S. adults take a non-absolutist position, saying that in most — but not all — cases, abortion should be legal.”

Furthermore, the issue has already been decided. Stare decisis requires the court to uphold it’s prior ruling unless the ruling is unworkable or there exists significant societal changes.4 Kurt Lash’s insightful journal article chronologies the history of stare decisis as applied by the court from Casey and onward.  He describes how stare decisis is often applied due to pragmatic concerns. When ruling on constitution decisions there is no remedy for judicial error other than a constitutional amendment and therefore courts applying stare decisis will also discuss the cost of judicial error.5 This can be seen in Casey, where the courts interpreted Roe’s judicial error as minimal and the cost to equal rights for women as very high.5 My argument is that nothing in society has changed to make the cost of repealing Roe less high.

Attacking the Undue Burden Standard

Thus the courts will have more success in upholding legal restrictions on abortion. An example can already be seen when the court upheld the validity of the ban on partial-birth abortion despite the legislation providing no exemption for the health of the mother. The court rationalized that a ban on intact D&E’s (procedure where baby’s head is partially birthed and then crushed) did not threaten the health of the mother because standard D&E procedures are available.

Consequences of Roe v. Wade repeal

If the court does manage to repeal Roe v Wade, I don’t think it will drastically change the abortion industry sadly. A repeal of Roe would mean that the states would now be free to define the legality of abortion. The decision would make a difference in pro-life states like Texas; however, I imagine that most states would allow abortion to remain legal due to the perceived hopelessness regarding the women’s situation.

Failure to Support Women

The pro-life movement has done a good job of defending life at conception; it has not defended the women, who are stuck with the pregnancies. Most women instinctively know that a fetus is living. When I worked at a pro-life pregnancy center, I was taught that if a woman ever said that she could never give her baby up for adoption, we were to question her about why if she chooses to carries it to term that it becomes a baby. Similarly, I learned that most women turn to abortion due to hopelessness. They believe that they have nowhere else to turn. As Christians, we have an answer to hopelessness. Jesus through the power of the gospel gives us hope and we are supposed to share this hope and love with others, who are hopeless and marginalized. We need to implement policies helping pregnant women.

Practical Solutions to Help End Abortion

If we truly want to end abortion, we need to stop picketing planned parenthood and start volunteering at pregnancy centers. We need to write our state legislators to support easier adoption policies, better foster care, and free childcare for low-income families and students. Support unemployment benefits for pregnant women, who are let go, and incentives for employers to hire pregnant women and paid maternity leave. Churches and Christian families need to stop shunning women, who are pregnant out of wedlock (yes, it’s a sin, but abortion is so much worse). However, if we continue to do nothing and society still believes that pregnancy holds women back then it won’t matter what the judicial courts do because we have failed to support pregnant women and we have failed to change the court of public opinion.

Work cited


  1. Gold,, Rachel. “Lessons From Before Roe: Will Past Be Prologue?”. Guttmacher Institute, 2018, https://www.guttmacher.org/gpr/2003/03/lessons-roe-will-past-be-prologue. Accessed 2 July 2018. 
  2. ROE v. WADE 410 US 113. Supreme Court of the United States. 1971. ” Findlaw, 2018, https://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/410/113.html. 
  3. Planned Parenthood v. Casey 505 US 833. Supreme Court of the United States.1992  Findlaw, 2018, https://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/505/833.html 
  4. Oyen, Timothy. “Stare Decisis”. LII / Legal Information Institute, 2018, https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/stare_decisis. Accessed 2 July 2018. 
  5. Lash, Kurt. “The Cost Of Judicial Error: Stare Decisis And The Role Of Normative Theory”. Notre Dame Law Review, vol 89, no. 5, 2014, pp. 2189-2218., https://scholarship.law.nd.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=4561&context=ndlr. Accessed 2 July 2018.