Why Theology Needs Philosophy

Introduction

One of my goals for last year was to meet new people. I achieved that goal by joining some meetups with random strangers. One of my favorites has been TAGS, Tidewater Area Gaming Society. They meet monthly and play strategy board games. Another favorite of mine has been the Philosophy club. I was a philosophy major as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia. When the leader of the philosophy club stepped down, I felt called to take over. Ancient Greek philosophers made me realize the commonality they have with Christian metaphysics. In fact, theology needs philosophy to defend and advance the theological positions. Until 1920’s logical positivism, philosophers created logical arguments for the existence of God.

Before I studied philosophy, I had never really grappled with the hard questions of life. I was generally agnostic regarding God’s existence. The class, History of Philosophy Modern, introduced me to ontological arguments. We as a class focused on Descartes’ ontological argument for God. This argument impacted me. It made me realize that belief in God can be logically justified. It opened me up to experience a real encounter with God. The latter made me the Christian I am today.

Descartes’ argument

Descartes’ main purpose was to establish how do our minds know. He sought this information by crafting a thought experiment. In this experiment, Descartes asks the reader to imagine that an evil demon is tricking them. Thus everything that they sense is an illusion. What information would a person be able to know beyond their senses? Descartes concludes that beyond a doubt we possess an intellectual perception. This results in the famous phrase, “ I think, therefore I am.” In order for an intellectual perception to be true, it must be clear and distinct.

Descartes argues that he clearly and distinctly perceives God as an infinite being. This idea of God must have a cause. The cause must exist in objective reality. Thus God exists in reality. If God is infinite then he is also supremely perfect. A supremely perfect being would not deceive. If that is the case then God would plant the same set of innate ideas in all finite minds.

Why Ontological Arguments Are Important

Atheists typically object that the above argument does not endorse religious sentiments. I would agree. The logical arguments only proves that a supremely perfect being exists. For me, the notion that God’s existence is self-evident made me question my own denial. Philosophers caring about God made me ask why I did not question God’s non-existence.

When I enter divinity school at Regent University, I took systematic theology. I loved the class because it attempted to systematize theology in a logical way. The professor and I debated about whether a belief in God can come independent of experience. I do concede that faith is a gift from God. Faith comes from a radical encounter with the divine creator. Yet religious faith does need rational justification. We are not called to blind faith. Philosophical arguments can help provide a rationalization for faith experienced.

Work Cited

  1. Meister, Chad. “Philosophy of Religion.” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ISSN 2161-0002, https://www.iep.utm.edu/, 1/23/19
  2. Nolan, Lawrence, "Descartes’ Ontological Argument", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2015/entries/descartes-ontological/.

March for Life Controversy: A Response to Covington

Last Friday, January 18th The March for Life took place in Washington D.C. People from all walks of life come to protest against the legality of abortion. For this reason, the event has become highly politicalized. I attended The March for Life myself three years ago. I went with the Young Adult group at Holy Spirit parish. We attended The Life Is Very Good Rally in Fairfax, Virginia. Then we traveled from Fairfax to Washington D.C for The March. It was very crowded and we had a hard time finding parking. Nevertheless, I marched with a thousand others all united behind one idea. This gave me an exhilarating feeling. The event empowered me to want to help defend the vulnerable and defenseless. For this reason, I am sad to hear about the controversy that surrounded this year’s March for Life.

The Controversy

During this year’s March For Life, an altercation occurred. The altercation was between Covington Catholic high school students and Native American protesters. There appears to be a standoff between one of the high school boys and Nathan Phillips. In this post, I will attempt to break down what happened. I will then state some problems that occurred. I will attempt to draw a non-partisan neutral conclusion.

For those interested, the above is a link to an hour-long unedited video of the event.

The Players

The first party on the scene is the Black Hebrew Israelites group. If you have ever been to Washington D.C you have seen this group. I had the unfortunate luck to run into them in Chinatown. They tend to preach a lot of racist and nasty things. The first hour of that video attests to this fact. It should be noted that they say some nasty things about the high school youth as well

The second party on the scene is the Covington Catholic boys. They start appearing around 58 minutes in the video along with other young people. They were done with the March and waiting for their bus. At 1:09 in the video they appear to get anxious and rowdy. They claim they were chanting their school song. In my opinion, it looks no different than the way we behave at a basketball game or football game. I cannot make out what they are saying. One young man does take his shirt off and dance. They continue chanting, clapping, and dancing even after approached by Nathan Phillips.

The third party is Nathan Phillips. He walked into the crowd of teenagers. He beat his drum and chanted. He claims he was trying to defuse a tense situation. He approaches a young man, who for whatever reason does not move. They start at each other until the young men leave the buses. He claims that he heard chants of build a wall. He claims the students were mocking him.

Summary of the event

For those, who do not want to watch the video or do not have time, here is a neutral description of the events.

  1. Catholic students attended the March for Life.
  2. After March was over, students were instructed to wait by Lincoln memorial
  3. Black Hebrew Israelites were preaching

  4. Called students racial slurs

  5. Students start chanting and getting rowdy

  6. Native Americans begin their protest

  7. Nathan Phillips approaches the group of students

  8. Student’s continue to chant and be rowdy

  9. Nathan Phillips stops in front of one of the young men and there is a standoff

Problems and unresolved issues

Obviously, clips of this video have gone viral. These viral clips have caused a divide among Americans. Catholics are especially divided. After all one of the parties in question is a Catholic high school. I personally feel that all parties handled the situation in a negative way.

1. The Media

The media initially put a spin on the story. They made the high schoolers look bad by over exaggerating the facts. For example, they stated that the students swarmed around Nathan Phillip. When in reality he walked up to them. In the eagerness to report breaking news, the media failed to do its diligence. Meanwhile, the story goes viral. This leads to the high school becoming a hashtag and the young boys becoming vilified. Likewise, the media is quick to believe that those in the minority are the victim. Now I am not saying the young men were angels and Nathan Phillips was not victimized. Yet it is not so black and white or cut and dry as the media claims.

2. Nathan Phillips

Nathan Phillips testimony is unreliable. Why did he say that the young men surround him when he walked up to them? Why did he say they chanted build a wall, when it’s unclear what they chanted? We must remember that this man was part of a protest. Thus regardless of his intentions, he has an agenda. We must take his testimony seriously, but we must also take the young men’s testimony seriously. The truth is likely somewhere in between.

3. Adults

My question upon hearing about the event has always been, Where are the adults? Why did they not know a protest was happening at the Lincoln Memorial? Why not move the pickup location elsewhere? Why did they think encouraging school chants was appropriate? Why didn’t they stop once it escalated? The young men should have behaved better, but the adult chaperons and the school failed them. They failed to prepare the young men on how to act appropriately. They failed to provide enough volunteers to accompany a group that size. I work with youth. They can be very rowdy. Yet you should have their respect enough to calm them down.

4. MAGA hats

The high school should have discouraged wearing the MAGA hats in such a politically charged environment. A Catholic institution, it should not have political affiliation with a particular person. Jesus was not a republican or democrat. Rather Catholic social justice incorporates both party lines. It advocates for providing help for the poor and immigrants. These are traditionally democratic issues. Yet it also advocates for pro-life stances and traditional marriage. These are traditionally Republican issues. The church has said that Catholics cannot vote for any non-pro-life candidate. Beyond that, it has neglected to make any political statement. The young men represent a Catholic institution. Thus they should also be encouraged to endorse a similar nuance. The school unwillingly made the young men targets for a political agenda.

5. The Youth’s behavior

I believe that the youth behaved in an insensitive way. They were attempting to participate in a protest they did not understand. They were encouraged by adults to be loud and rowdy. This behavior can be misconstrued as hostile. Rather than trying to drown out the protesters, they should have turned the other cheek. Regarding the young man, who stared down Nathan Phillips, my question is why? Were you confused? Were you pressured? Did you think that was appropriate behavior? If the young man moves out of the way we would have no controversy. Yet I do believe a lot of adults would not have moved out of the way and would have behaved much worse. We must remember that these are teenagers and not adults.

Conclusion

As a Catholic, I am disappointed. Covington Catholic High school did not prepare the students to witness a protest. They did not have enough adult chaperons. They allowed the youth to make a political statement by wearing the MAGA hats. Yet the Native American protesters and the Black Hebrew Israelites escalated things. All parties failed. We can go around pointing fingers and calling people names. Yet at the end of the day, we can either continue to divide ourselves or acknowledge that all parties are wrong and life is not black and white.

 

 

My Experience with RCIA

Top Five Things To Help Get The Most Out Of RCIA

Introduction

As a young teenager, I wanted nothing to do with The Catholic Church or Confirmation. Mass was boring and irrelevant to my life. God was either distant and hands-off or a fiction. Thus, when it came time for Confirmation, I decided not to participate. I did not want to profess something I did not believe. Fast forward 7 years later and I found myself interested in The Catholic Church once again. In order for a person to become Catholic, they must go through the RCIA process. RCIA stands for Rite of Christian Initiation for adults. It prepares adults and children over the age of 5 to receive the sacraments of initiation. These sacraments include The Sacrament of Baptism, Confirmation, and First Eucharist. As a Catholic Revert, who went through the RCIA process, I’d like to share my experience. I’d also like to share my top five tips for how to get through RCIA.

My Experience

My Catholic journey began by meeting with Chris Gross. He was the youth minister at St. Gregory the Great Parish. I had contacted him because I read he was a convert from Buddhism. At the time, I had a lot of questions. My own youth and young adult pastor was unwilling to meet with me. I remember sending an email to Chris and not expecting a reply. To my surprise, he did reply back and offered to meet me for lunch. We discussed the Catholic faith and he got me connected to the Young Adult groups in the area. He encouraged me to attend Mass. Thus I began parish hopping. I stumbled on Church of Ascension by attending adoration. I felt at home at Ascension. The music and welcoming environment reminded me of the churches I had attended in the past. I spoke with the Director of Religious Education about becoming Catholic. She asked me a few questions. She was impressed with my knowledge of the faith and put me on the six-month fast track. She assigned a sponsor to me. I must admit that I am grateful for the experience. Yet there were times where I felt incredibly lonely. Overall the process challenged me to be confident in what I knew and believed. There are things I wish I knew then that I know now. Thus, I hope the following will help others in RCIA.

Top Five Things To Help You Get The Most Out Of The RCIA Process

1. Get a Good Sponsor

I think most of my loneliness comes from not having anybody to attend Mass with or discuss the readings. I remember attending Mass during the third Sunday in Advent. Traditionally The Church uses purple when celebrating Advent. On this Sunday The Church uses pink to signify joy. As a new Catholic, I did not know the significance and my sponsor was unavailable to explain. Even when my sponsor was available, she would sometimes give me bad answers. For example, I struggled to differentiate between a mortal and venial sin. She said that a Mortal sin was anything that led us to deny God. A mortal sin is the deliberate choice to participate knowing that it is grave sin. Thus one should choose a sponsor, who is a Catholic in good standing and knowledgable about the faith. I would encourage candidates to attend daily Mass. People who attend daily Mass tend to be more serious about their faith.

2. Buy a Catechism

One of the most memorable moments of the RCIA process happened during a discussion on Hell. I don’t know how the discussion started. I remember distinctly that an older lady suggested that Hell did not exist. I tried to defend the existence of hell but was quickly drowned out by others echoing her opinion. As the conversation continued, I remember getting more and more confused. I didn’t know what The Catholic Church actually taught. I asked for what the catechism said, but nobody could tell me. The older lady rudely asked, “why do you need hell to exist?” I left that session utterly defeated. I remember going home and looking online for a catechism. I knew that if the Catholic Church taught annihilationism then I didn’t want to be Catholic. Luckily the catechism clarified that Hell exists eternally. If only I had owned a catechism before RCIA, I would have saved myself a lot of heartaches. Unfortunately, I trusted the teachers and sponsors, who were not always correct.

3. Get Involved With a Group

When I was in RCIA, I was also in law school. These two activities made it hard to get involved. I do regret not putting myself out there more because it would have allowed me to meet others. Sometimes when you attend events, it can feel confusing or overwhelming. One time I attended Adoration. There was a social afterward. The greeter asked me if I attended a parish or if I was Catholic. When I told him neither, he was quite confused. Yet at that event, I met a lot of the friends I have now.

4. Know the Saints

During Confirmation, a candidate has the choice of taking on a saint’s name. I originally had no intention of taking a saints name. As a convert, I had not really had the time to develop a relationship with a particular saint. As luck would have it, I receive an email, with a saint of the day. Through these emails, I became closer to the saints. One saint, St. Elizabeth Bailey Seton, stood out to me. I admired her because she raised a family and was the first saint born in the United States. She supported education, liked to write and was a convert to Catholicism. Saint stories can help us in our Christian walk because they live similar to us. If they can make it to heaven so can I.

5. Enjoy the Process

I know that the six-month wait that I faced is not as long as the traditional one year wait. Yet, I feel that my RCIA process could have been longer for me. I feel like I did not have time to bond with my RCIA class. I was already baptized and had received the first communion. Thus, I was allowed to partake in the Eucharist prior to my confirmation. In my opinion, this was a mistake. It made confirmation feel like a formality. I think I should have been made to wait like everyone else. So if you are eager to receive, know that the waiting makes the sacraments have more meaning.

Conclusion

RCIA offers a powerful opportunity to grow a deeper relationship with the Lord. One enters into a relationship with Christ, and with the Body of Christ, The Church. Yet The RCIA process is not easy. I faced loneliness and discouragement. Because of the grace of God I made it through. I hope that the above tips help those, who are also considering joining The Church.

Sabbath vs Lords day: What is the Big Deal?

Introduction

People always seem surprised when I tell them that I have seldom missed Mass. In fact, the only time I missed Mass in recent memory occurred during a snowstorm. Some people I have encountered view church as optional. They tend to believe that you can call upon the Lord anywhere. The New Testament has certain scriptures that seem to abolish the Sabbath requirement. Yet The Catholic Church makes observing The Lord’s Day a requirement. The Church makes it a mortal sin to miss church without a grave reason. Why does The Church care so much about our presence in a building? After all, Jesus spoke against the Sabbath in Luke 14:1-6. Like all biblical interpretations, context is important. The Catholic Church’s teachings reconcile the Old Testament scripture with the words in The New Testament.

Old Testament

Genesis 2:3

The first reference to a mandatory day of rest occurs in Genesis. Here, God is creating the universe. Then, we read Genesis 2:3

God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation. Genesis 2:3 (NABre).

We as the readers learn key things about the Sabbath. God made it a day of rest. We believe God is all powerful. He did not need the rest. Rather God is choosing to rest. This choice gives an example to humanity. God knows we need the rest. We learn that the 7th day is blessed. Thus when we set aside the 7th day, God blesses us. Last, this verse tells us that God made the 7th day holy. Thus, we should keep our mind on holy things. Thus The Church has decided to make the 7th day a time of corporate worship. When we get to the New Testament this will be further expanded upon. From Genesis, we learn that the Sabbath is a concept that directly comes from God and not man-made laws.

Exodus

The next mention of the Sabbath occurs in the book of Exodus. In this book, God rescues the Israelites from spiritual and physical slavery in Egypt. Once the Israelites reached Mount Sinai, God gives them a code of laws. God designed these laws to help set the Israelites apart from other pagan nations. When dictating these laws, God said,

Remember the sabbath day—keep it holy. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God. You shall not do any work, either you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your work animal, or the resident alien within your gates. For in six days, the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day, he rested. Exodus 20:8-11(NABre).

So The Old Testament, The Book of Exodus marks the beginning of the Sabbath being encoded into the law. The Book of Leviticus, The Book of Numbers, and The Book of Deuteronomy all mention the Sabbath. In those books, the Sabbath is no longer a mere memorial for the creation of the world. Rather, The Sabbath commemorates God freeing the Israelites from Exodus. The Sabbath has become a form of corporate worship.

Call Upon the Lord

Yet some people point to verses like Psalm 145:18 as proof that one is not obligated to keep the Sabbath. Usually, people who make this argument focus on the first part of the verse, but ignore the second. Psalm 145: 18 says

the Lord is near to all who call upon him,
to all who call upon him in truth

The interpretation depends on how one defines calling upon the Lord in truth. In my Bible, there are two scriptures cited after this passage: Deu 4:4-10, and Isa 55:6. Deuteronomy says,

See, I am teaching you the statutes and ordinances as the Lord, my God, has commanded me, that you may observe them in the land you are entering to possess. Observe them carefully, for this is your wisdom and discernment in the sight of the peoples, who will hear of all these statutes and say, “This great nation is truly a wise and discerning people.” For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him?

Thus to have the privilege of calling upon the Lord, the Israelites must abide by the laws and statues. Calling upon the Lord is not merely making a request, it is submitting to the will of God. His will in the Old Covenant was to set aside a day to rest and honor Him.
So In the Old Testament, God instituted the Sabbath in order to provide us with a day of rest. He codified it as part of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:8-11. The Books of Deuteronomy, Numbers, and Leviticus provide information regarding the Sabbath practice. Obeying the Sabbath is necessary in order to call upon the Lord in truth.

New Testament

Yet we as Christians are not bound by only the Old Testament. We also follow the New Covenant established by Jesus Christ. A thorough examination of the scriptures shows that Christ honored the Sabbath. Yet he also challenged the authority at the time. He presented himself as a living sacrifice. He replaced the temple sacrificial system. Yet Jesus did not abolish the Old Testament law, but rather fulfilled it.

Jesus in the Gospel

We know that Jesus did not abolish the Old Testament law based on Matthew 19:16-17.

”If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”(NABre).

Jesus told the rich young man to keep the commandments. Hence, we as Christians are also obligated to keep the moral law. This moral law includes a prescription to keep the Sabbath holy and to rest. If that is the case, did Jesus do or say anything to undermine this commandment.

Luke 14:1-6

On a Sabbath he went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully. In front of him, there was a man suffering from dropsy. Jesus spoke to the scholars of the law and Pharisees in reply, asking, “Is it lawful to cure on the Sabbath or not?” But they kept silent; so he took the man and, after he had healed him, dismissed him. Then he said to them, “Who among you, if your son or ox falls into a cistern, would not immediately pull him out on the sabbath day?” But they were unable to answer his question Luke 14:1-6 (NABre).

Here Jesus deliberately heals on the Sabbath. This at first glance seems to undermine the authority of the Sabbath. The reality is that Jesus is not saying to not rest or worship God. Rather, the Israelites needed to be reminded about mercy. The Pharisees had interpreted a law to allow the untying of bound animals on the Sabbath. Jesus is extending that compassion towards humans, who are bound by affliction.

Matthew 12

Jesus also spoke about the Sabbath in Matthew 12:5-8

Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests serving in the temple violate the Sabbath and are innocent? I say to you, something greater than the temple is here. If you knew what this meant, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned these innocent men. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath

In Matthew 12, the Pharisees rebuke the disciples for picking the heads of grain on the Sabbath. In verse 5, Jesus mentions that the requirements of the temple outweighs the requirements of the Sabbath. If that is the case then Jesus’ presence outweighs the Sabbath as well since he is the son of God.

Jesus establishes a new covenant during the Last Supper. He gives us his flesh to eat in the form of bread and wine. This meal takes the place of the Passover meal. The Sabbath celebrated by the Jews commemorates God rescuing them from Egypt. The early Christian Church established The Lord’s day to celebrate The New Covenant.

Writings of the Early Church

St. Paul writes about the Sabbath in Colossians 2:16-17.

Let no one, then, pass judgment on you in matters of food and drink or with regard to a festival or new moon or sabbath. These are shadows of things to come; the reality belongs to Christ.

Here St. Paul says that the Jewish traditions were shadows of things to come. In other words, the Jewish traditions point to Christ. Christians do not need to celebrate the Sabbath but celebrate Christ. Yet the Sabbath rest is still a moral requirement. In Hebrews 4, the Bible says, “Therefore, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God. And whoever enters into God’s rest, rests from his own works as God did from his. Therefore, let us strive to enter into that rest, so that no one may fall after the same example of disobedience.”

The example of disobedience refers to the Israelites. They were given the promise land as a share of God’s rest but failed to honor the Sabbath.

In Hebrews 10:19-26, the Bible describes how Christ has replaced the Jewish temple worship.

Therefore, brothers, since through the blood of Jesus we have confidence of entrance into the sanctuary by the new and living way he opened for us through the veil, that is, his flesh, and since we have “a great priest over the house of God,” let us approach with a sincere heart and in absolute trust, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. Let us hold unwaveringly to our confession that gives us hope, for he who made the promise is trustworthy. We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near. Hebrews 10:19-26

This passage opens by explaining that we can enter the Holy of Holies. Jesus Christ made a way through his flesh. The term flesh represents His sacrificial death on the cross and His flesh given to us in the Eucharist. The terms sprinkled clean and bodies wash with pure water refers to Baptism. Finally, the author of Hebrews states that we should not stay away from our assembly. The assembly refers to Christian house churches. These assemblies are described in the Book of Acts.

Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart Acts 2:46 (NABre)

Since there were not physical buildings yet, the early Church met in houses. The term break bread refers to the Eucharist. The Bible even tells us what day of the week these celebrations took place

On the first day of the week when we gathered to break bread, Paul spoke to them because he was going to leave on the next day, and he kept on speaking until midnight Acts 20:7 (NABre)

The early Christians broke bread on the first day of the week, which would be Sunday. Hence Sunday is now the new day of rest.

Conclusion

The Sabbath foreshadowed the celebration of The Last Supper. The former was a memorial to the Passover meal. It helped the Israelites remember how God rescued them from Egypt. Similarly, The Lord’s day memorializes Christ’s death on the cross. We break bread with one another as Christ commanded us to do. We are still bound by the moral command of the Old Covenant. This entails, “taking up its rhythm and spirit in the weekly celebration of the Creator and Redeemer of his people.” (CCC 2176). Therefore I ask you, what is more, important than honoring God through the breaking of the bread? If nothing is then why are you not observing the Lord’s day?

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]

Six Reasons to Believe in Christianity

Why Christianity, My Journey From an Atheist to a Believer

Introduction

I remember when I first became a Christian. The topic of religion made me very excited. I wanted to talk about Jesus with everyone I met. One Christmas, I gave my family all Christian themed gifts. I listened to the pastor’s sermons online. Over the years I have mellowed out. My life is no longer a walking billboard for Christianity. As a Catholic, I still very much practice Christianity. So when wrestling with the fundamental questions about life, why did I chose Christianity?

Matthew 21:12-13

Before I began, I want to start with scripture, Matthew 21:12-13.

12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’[a] but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’[b]”

Jesus flipping over tables

Here Jesus displays genuine anger. Jesus is taking action. He is overturning tables and kicking out the money changers. We don’t normally think about this image of Jesus. Rather, we depict Jesus as a peaceful lamb. Sometimes we assume he is passive and meek. Yet, just like he did with the money changers, Jesus wants to disrupt our lives. He wants to set us apart.

This relates to my own journey. I had to address the question, “was I going to let Jesus disrupt my life.” I do not regret my decision. Below are 6 reasons I chose to become a Christian and follow Christ.

1. Higher purpose

I first began to open up to any religion when I needed to discover a higher purpose. I failed molecular genetics. Thus, I realized that I could no longer rely on success to dictate my purpose. I was a perfectionist. A book, Lethal Harvest, showed me the dangers of living for yourself. In the book, one character, an atheist, loses his life in pursuit of his work. I did not want my work to represent my value as a person. So I began to search for a purpose beyond myself. Philosophically speaking, the lowly cannot rise to a higher level. Instead, that which is higher must come down and raise the lowly. In other words, in order to have a purpose that transcends yourself, you need a divine being. I am not saying unbelievers have no purpose, but rather any purpose they have is self-made. This realization does not point me to Christianity, but it does point me to a belief system.

2. Familiarity

Upon realizing that I needed to adopt a belief system, I took to the internet and researched. I found the Unitarian Universalist church. In this church, all belief systems were correct. As a member, you could join different study groups. These groups covered various different belief systems. I chose to join the Christian study group due to my familiarity with Christianity. I grew up Catholic and grew up learning the basic stories in the Bible. The group got together to “study” the Bible. In reality, we really just questioned the Bible for an hour. One notable exchange occurred when discussing the nativity narratives. We debated about whether an angel visited Joseph. Some people purposed that Mary had drugged him and disguised herself as an angel. Despite the ridiculous theology, this group got me to open up the Bible for myself. They showed me, Christian love when I was in the hospital. Thus I felt comfortable with them. Yet as I continued to read the Bible for myself, I could no longer pretend that Jesus was just a good moral teacher.

4. Accepting the Incarnation

One of the key beliefs of orthodox Christianity is the incarnation. This belief implies that Jesus is fully human and fully God. I first came to this realization by reading John 14:6.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

In this passage, Jesus is not saying he is one way to the Father. Rather, Jesus is saying he is the only way. I asked my pastor to share his thoughts. He could only reply that the Bible misquoted Jesus in John 14:6. My logic would not allow for this response. Either the Bible contains the truth or it does not. My pastor implied that the gospel of John was untrue. Since I believe in the integrity of the whole bible; I left the Unitarian faith.

On The Incarnation

I continued to wrestle with the concept of the incarnation. In graduate school, I read St. Athanasius On The Incarnation. This work affected my view on the Incarnation. Athanasius says that God made us in his image and that we had the Word in us at the beginning of creation.1 However, we lost the Word when the fall occurred.1 The fall corrupted humanity. In order to restore our incorruptible nature, Christ needed to assume a human body.1 By redeeming one body, he elevates all bodies1. Athanasius also purposes that Christ, the word of God, came down so that we would know about God.1 He 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

Athanasius’ work helped me. I understood why the incarnation is important for our salvation. The concept of the Incarnation is a unique aspect of Christianity. The only other religion that believes in an incarnation is Hinduism. Yet in Hinduism the deity, Vishnu does not take on the physical nature of the people and animals.2 Thus, unlike Christ, Vishnu cannot restore our incorruptibility.2 Hence, Vishnu must incarnate himself multiple times to “save” humanity.2 In my opinion, I would rather God restore me completely than be trapped in an endless cycle.

5. Christian Rock Music

During my conversion period, I was exposed to Christian rock and Metal music. The songs had themes of never giving up and fighting a spiritual battle. While in the hospital, these songs gave me hope. Two songs, in particular, come to mind: Belief by The Letter Black and On The Front Lines by Light Up the Darkness.

Alt text

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Both songs paint pictures of overcoming pain through belief and faith. Sarah, from The Letter Black, sings, “I am not afraid anymore of what I don’t know.” Likewise, Light Up the Darkness sings,

“I’m not defeated

I will stand tall

My armor is fitted

I will not fear

You held my hand

You led me here

You can defeat the enemy”

These messages of hope would influence me to choose Christianity over other religions.

6. The Holy Spirit

I remember the first time I surrendered to Christ publicly. The pastor had asked if we were ready to stop striving. Something in me broke. I could not stop crying as I walked to the ground of this one thousand person church. After being prayed over I felt a lightness that I had never felt before. Over the course of the week, I noticed that I no longer doubted God’s existence. I now know that I had a radical encounter with the Holy Spirit. This encounter has led me to continue in my Christian Catholic faith

Conclusion

When confronted with an existential crisis, I began as a logical assessment. This led me to Christianity. Yet, I also needed to have a radical encounter with the divine. I believe there are logical reasons to believe in Christianity. Yet, one must also allow God to show himself. I hope that my own journey encourages you to explore religion itself and discover what is true.

 

 

1. [st Athanasius On The Incarnation, http://www.copticchurch.net/topics/theology/incarnation_st_athanasius.pdf]
2. [https://www.comparativereligion.com/avatars.html]

In Defense of the Immaculate Conception

Statue of Mary, white stone looking upward with prayer hands, green trees in background

Introduction

On December 8th, Catholics celebrate The Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The church requires all Catholics to believe in the four Marian Doctrines. The four Marin doctrines are The Divine Motherhood, Perpetual Virginity, the Immaculate Conception, and The Assumption. People often misunderstand these four Marian doctrines of the Church. Protestants accuse the Catholic Church of elevating Mary beyond what scripture allows. In honor of Mary’s feast-day, I will attempt to defend her immaculate conception.

Immaculate Conception

We must first define the concept of the Immaculate Conception. This belief states that Mary was born without original sin. When Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge, they separated themselves from God. This fallen state is passed on to future generations and is known as original sin. Mary did not suffer from this separation and thus she was able to live a holy life.

Logic

The Bible does not explicitly mention the Immaculate Conception. It also does not say that Mary was free from sin. However. logic can help us arrive at this conclusion. We know that God’s grace destroys sin. That sin cannot exist in God’s presence. If that is true, then if Mary is carrying the son of God in her womb, the sin in her would need to be destroyed. We also know that Jesus’ death on the cross makes us holy and redeems us. We know that this saving act is not stuck in time. Rather, Jesus’ salvific act exists outside of time. If this were not true, then Jesus could not save future humanity. Similarly, Jesus’ saving act could be applied in anticipation of the cross. Mary receives the benefit of salvation before the Cross occurs. She receives it from Jesus, not by her effort, but by God choosing her. She, in essence, is the first disciple. Most Protestants argue that this logic while sound contradicts Roman 3:23. I will address the Bible next.

Biblical argument

Old Testament

First I want to look at a pattern established in The Old Testament. When a wife was barren, she would go to the temple and pray for a child. Often she would receive instructions from God that she would need to follow. She would normally dedicate her child to God. One such example occurs in Judges 13:2-5. In this passage, an angel of the Lord tells an unnamed woman that her child will be dedicated to God from the womb. He tells her that she must not drink wine nor eat anything unclean. This woman had to be ritualistically pure in order to dedicate her son to God. How pure must the Virgin Mary be in order to have the son of God? Well, if Luke 1:28 is an indication, then Mary was sinless.

Luke 1:28

The bible implies the Immaculate conception in Luke 1:28.

Hail full of Grace, the Lord is with you.

The Greek word for full of Grace is kecharitōmene. The thing one has to understand about biblical Greek is that every verb has a tense, an object, a voice, and a mood 1. When one looks up the meaning of the word in the Bible, it will not address the tense, object, voice, or mood. For example, in English, a dictionary will give you the tense, whether it be present, past or future. Biblical Greek does not work that way. When you look up a passage in a concordance, you get the definition of the root word. In Luke 1:28 the root word for “full of Grace” is charitoō. Strong’s Greek to English dictionary defines, charitoō as ‘to grace’. In Luke 1:28 the verb tense is written in the perfect past participle tense. Verb tenses in Greek work differently than the tenses in English. The past tense in English refers to an action that was done in the past. In biblical Greek, the tense refers to the type of action 1. The Greek perfect tense refers to a completed action with ongoing effects 1. Thus in Luke 1:28 the verses are actually saying something like, “greetings Mary, who was graced and is being filled with grace.” If God fills a person with grace continuously then sin cannot exist in that person (Ephesians 2:5,8)2.

Romans 3:23

Some people point to Romans 3:23 as the reason to not believe in the Immaculate Conception. St. Paul writes that “all have sinned…” People argue that by saying all have sinned, there is no room for Mary to be sin free. However, let’s compare this to Romans 5:12. Here Paul writes, “Death spread to all men because “all have sinned.” This ‘all’ that Paul is using cannot be taken literally. To do so would contradict the Bible. In Hebrews 11:5-6, the Bible states, “Enoch pleased God and was taken by God.” If he was taken by God then he did not die. Therefore death did not spread to all men. Thus, we must acknowledge that Paul uses ‘all’ as an exaggeration and not literal fact. If Paul is consistent then the same applies to the all used in Romans 3:23. Like Enoch is an exception for death to all, Mary is the exception for all have sinned.

Conclusion

The argument for the Immaculate Conception has a strong biblical base. Mary was the first disciple. She was the first person to be saved by Christ and the first person to say yes to him. For these reasons, she holds a high place of honor in Catholic Spirituality. I desire to go from grace to grace as she did. The sacraments enable me to be in a state of grace. Thus I can strive to say yes as she did.


  1. http://www.ntgreek.org/learn_nt_greek/verbs1.htm 
  2. Nick Hardesty, “In Defense of The Immaculate Conception: Part 3,” Catholic Stand (December 15th, 2014): http://www.catholicstand.com/defense-immaculate-conception-part-3/ 

Three Ways to Restore Joy This Christmas

Introduction

I remember December as a kid. It felt like a time of peace, love, and joy. A time for watching holiday classics and eating cookies. The anticipation of gift giving filled me with joy. Now as an adult I know about all the work that made the magic happen. I know how hectic the holidays can be for people. I believe the west has lost sight of the true joy and wonder of the holidays. Let us restore joy by forgoing the commercialized Christmas.

3 ways to restore joy this Christmas

1. Embrace Advent

Advent is a time in which we prepare ourselves to remember the birth of Jesus Christ and in that remembering, we look forward to the second coming of Christ1. The proper attitude is anticipatory joy1. High liturgical churches emphasize advent. You don’t have to be a member to adopt this attitude. Traditionally a person will give up something. Instead, a person will do a spiritual reading and prayer. A lot of different Advent devotionals exist. I like and use Reedemed online.

Some people may object that waiting until December 25th takes away from the fun of the holiday. If we spend December fasting and doing good works while everyone else is partying then when we miss out. This leads me to my second point.

2. Embrace the 12 days of Christmas

We have all heard the silly song, The 12 Days of Christmas. What we think of as a silly song actually teaches truths about how we are to celebrate Christmas. Church tradition tells us that Christmas is not just one day, but a whole season. Over the years the numbering has gotten off, but the twelve days run from December 25th until January 6th. Some European children receive their gifts from the three wise men on Epiphany Sunday. Rather than enjoying all things Christmas for one day, you can enjoy it for twelve.

3. Nix Santa and embrace Saint Nick

I know this is controversial for some parents. They worry that their kid will be left out or spoil it for other kids. I grew up with Santa and don’t regret it. Santa is not bad. However, inventing a lie to capitalize on childlike wonder is not necessary when the original story is full of the miraculous. His first miracle was to heal a woman of a withered hand.

As Nicholas was growing up, he regularly went to study and learn with his teacher. One day as he was on his way he came upon a woman with a withered hand. Stopping, he approached her, laid his hand on her, prayed to God, and made the sign of the cross. The hand miraculously became whole. 2

St. Nicholas is known as the patron saint of children. He models the values of love and generosity. In some cultures, St. Nicholas brings candy and sweets on December 6th, his feast day 2. We can honor St. Nicholas by baking cookies and sweets on his feast day. We can also give to the poor.

Conclusion

The holidays don’t have to be hectic. We can have wonder, peace, and joy. However, we must be intentional in how we celebrate. We must set aside time to pray, and love others. The commercialized world will tell you that you most do and buy everything. However, the reality is that we are to love those closest to us. By loving others, we restore joy to the holiday season.


  1. Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the General Roman Calendar 
  2. From St. Nicholas Center, where there is more information about the saint, customs from around the world, stories and activities for children, recipes, crafts, and much more to help families, churches and schools learn about and celebrate St. Nicholas. Used by permission. 

3 ways to hear the voice of Jesus

Introduction

Last Sunday marked an end to the liturgical year for the church. This year was filled with sex scandals, confusion, and ambiguity. Yet the Church reminds us that Jesus Christ is king. He is the one in charge; not the corrupt bishops or priests. In our democratic republic, we tend to believe that we are free from tyranny. After all, the American people spoke out against taxation without representation. Thus, Americans tend to value individualism. This attitude conflicts with Jesus’ call to surrender and follow him.

Gospel of John

I want to turn our attention to last Sunday’s gospel reading. The Gospel was:

So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” John 18:33-37

Before Mass, I prayed over this gospel passage. “ Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” stuck out to me. I take this to mean that we cannot proclaim the truth of the kingdom until we’ve heard the voice of the King. So how do we hear Jesus’ voice? I suggest three ways.

  1. Pray in silence

Matthew Kelly calls silence God’s classroom. Only in silence can we prepare ourselves to hear the still small voice of God.

  1. Meditate on scripture

The Bible is considered to be the word of God. When we meditate and internalize it, we can then use passages to align our will with God’s will.

  1. Participate in the sacraments

Another way to hear Jesus’ voice is through the sacraments. Priests are in persona Christi or in the person of Christ. This means that when they are performing the sacraments they are representing Christ. Hence, an encounter in confession is not an encounter with the priest, but with Christ himself.

Conclusion

Jesus came to speak the truth in love. He calls us to do the same. Yet we cannot proclaim the truth until we hear the voice of Jesus. We cannot proclaim the truth unless we make Jesus king over everything. Americans may think that they escaped the tyranny of a constitutional monarchy. Yet we remain slaves to our individualistic pursuits of perfection. Only a divine king can help free us through mercy and love.