Sports and Human Dignity

Basketball hoop in front of grey sky

Introduction

For as long as I can remember my family has always been into sports. Destiny deemed it so. My mom was a high school cheerleader and my dad was a high school football player. They took me to college basketball games in an infant carrier. My dad coached little league football and dragged me to those football games. As my brother grew up, My parents would drag me to his baseball games. I never played organized sports due to my disability. My parents still instilled in me a deep appreciation for sports. Some of my favorite moments in college basketball involve a good Cinderella story. I remember my dad and I watching the George Mason versus UConn game on March 26, 2006. We ripped up our very wrong brackets and rooted for George Mason all the way until their loss to Florida. The most memorable moment has got to be the VCU final four run in 2011. My parents are VCU alumni. They attend all the home games and took my brother and me with them. Thus my parents had traveled to Texas to watch VCU play. I remember the Florida State game, which set VCU up to face Kansas. At the time of the game, I was in the hospital alone. I had been suffering from back pain and numbness in my hands. Nobody could find out what was wrong with me. As I watch VCU play Florida state, It reminded me of humanity’s capacity to fight. I believe the appeal of sports touches our innermost belief that we can conquer all obstacles. We are obsessed with a good underdog story. This shows that we desire to see the little guy take on Goliath with nothing more than a slingshot and three stones. Sports remind us of human dignity.

What is Dignity

I have argued that the concept of dignity is multifaceted. Humans have inherent dignity by virtue of being members of Homo sapiens. Yet they also have a fuller dignity. This dignity comes from not who we are, but what we do. People refer to this definition when they say, “The person is behaving in a dignified way.” The Catholic Church agrees with me. The Catechism of The Catholic Church states,

The dignity of the human person is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God (article 1); it is fulfilled in his vocation to divine beatitude (article 2).

Humanity has dignity because humanity has God-likeness in them. Humanity receives their being directly from God,

then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7 NABre).

God gave humanity his breath of Life. This means that we receive our being directly from God. Yet dignity is not inherently a religious concept, but a philosophical one.

A person can derive at the concept of dignity by asking what is the measure of a human being? At first, we refer to Aristotle and say that humanity is different due to our rational soul. However, we still consider vegetative persons human. Most people would concede that even babies born without rational capacity deserve respect. This respect forms the basis for our inherent dignity. Yet people also recognize that we lose something when we lose our ability to reason. What a person loses is the ability to fulfill their potential as human beings. This is what I mean by the term fuller dignity.

Is Autonomy enough

Steven Pinker in the article The Stupidity of Dignity wants to eliminate dignity all together in favor of autonomy. He says, “ because it [dignity] amounts to treating people in the way that they wish to be treated, ultimately it’s just another application of the principle of autonomy.”[^1] Pinker sees no difference between autonomy and dignity. I purpose the following thought experiment.

Imagine a world where every athlete has the option to take a drug that will make them stronger and faster. There are no side effects. They get put in a special league for people on the drug. Thus the competition is fair. Would you watch these sporting events?

Most people would not watch the league of super people because when it comes to sports we want to see human achievement. We want to see raw talent unaided by chemical processes. We intuitively feel there is something wrong with the special league of super people. Yet autonomy is never violated in the above scenario. Thus we need something more than autonomy to protect against unnatural enhancements. The concept we need is dignity.

One potential objection is that the drug is no different then external equipment. Yet in certain sports like swimming, the equipment is already regulated. Elite swimmer, Michael Phelps has spoken against whole-body polyurethane swimsuits because these swimsuits are, “distorting the sport.”[^2] Sports become distorted when it becomes more about equipment and less about human achievement.

Conclusion

Sports teach important life lessons. It teaches teamwork, good sportsmanship, and how to face defeat. More importantly, it shows us what humans endowed by their creator can achieve. We watch sports to see the capacity of humans. Human capacity matters because there exists something special about human nature. Catholics know that this specialness comes directly from God. We look up to athletes. They remind us that humans are amazing creatures destined for something greater. They remind us that every so often David can defeat Goliath. The next time you watch sports, let it remind you of the capacity for greatness that we all share.

[^1]: Pinker, Steven, “The Stupidity of Dignity” The New Republic (May 28, 2008), https://newrepublic.com/article/64674/the-stupidity-dignity

[^2]: Barrow, John D, “Why Ban Full-Body Olympics Swimsuits? A Scientist Explains Polyurethane” Daily Beast (July 25th, 2012), https://www.thedailybeast.com/why-ban-full-body-olympics-swimsuits-a-scientist-explains-polyurethane?ref=scroll

The Retrieval of Ethics: a Review

Introduction

From 2008-2011, I studied at the University of Virginia. I majored in philosophy with a minor in bioethics. I fell in love with the discipline of philosophy. I loved asking deep questions. One summer, I drove my mom crazy. I had been reading these deep philosophical books. I desperately wanted someone to discuss these big ideas. For example, I read, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. This book tackles deep issues such as cloning, organ donation, and the meaning of life. I never considered myself a good philosopher. Thus, I was completely shocked when I was nominated Most Outstanding Philosophy student. The award comes with a prize. The prize was a book titled The Retrieval of Ethics, by Talbot Brewer. I had promised to read his book. Yet life got in the way. The summer of my graduation I had neck surgery. Reading in a neck brace is no easy task. After my surgery, I entered law school and divinity school at Regent University. Needless to say, the heavy course work left little time for leisure reading. In 2018, I dusted off the book from my bookshelf and began to read. Admittedly, I struggled to understand the deeper philosophical arguments. Often I would re-read pages over and over underlining what I thought were the key points. In the end, Talbot Brewer says something interesting about our desires.

Three Dogmas of Desire

Brewer argues that modern philosophy needs to reconsider the nature of human agency. Brewer shows that the below argument is insufficient to explain human behavior.

  1. Desires are attitudes towards propositions
  2. Desires are distinguished from other propositional attitudes by the proper direction of fit between the world and mind
  3. Can formulate a rational explanation of any action by tracing it to it a belief/desire pair consisting in a belief that action will bring the world into conformity with some proposition and a desire takes the same proposition as an object[^1].

Brewer calls these three statements The Dogmas of Desire. He denies that statement 3 is true. Belief/desire pairs are not necessary or sufficient to provide a rational explanation. Belief/desire pairs are insufficient. There may be some object in which it may be impossible to determine how it could be good or worthwhile[^2]. Likewise, desires are not necessary. It is possible for an object to be intrinsically good and not desired by the actor.

Dialectical activities

Propositionalism is the idea that all action is a species of production. Thus it cannot explain why an action might be chosen for its own stake[^3]. According to the third dogma of desire, all desire action is calculated. This calculation produces some state of affairs in accordance with the idea in the actor’s mind. For example, I desire a pumpkin pie. Thus my actions would be calculated to make pumpkin pie come into existence. Yet according to Brewer, there is a certain type of actives that do not fit this model.

Brewer coins the term dialectical activities. This term describes the type of activity propositionalism cannot easily explain. He defines dialectical activities as all those activities whose point lies in any intrinsic goodness that is opaque to those who lack experience[^4]. His first example is our desire for God or a divine entity

Desire for God

Brewer argues that desires are not merely a set of movements towards different goals. Rather there exists a unifying principle. Brewer states that “The most comprehensive dialectical activity is the activity of living a good life.”[ ^5]. He turns to Augustine’s Confessions. in order to support this statement. Brewer describes how Augustine’s earlier desires were not substituted by his longing for God. Rather all of his earlier desires were a futile attempt to fulfill the longing he already had. Thus Brewer concludes that dialectic desires exceed a desirer’s articulation of it[^6]. Yet a desirer may arrive at a fuller articulation after experience[^7]. Brewer coins this attribute as perfectibility.

Brewer furthers his argument with references to Gregory of Nyssa and Plotinus. The former described the desire for God as a memorizing attraction to a good wholly present[^8]. This cannot fit the propositional framework since the desire is directed at a person, not an object[^9]. Plotinus described the human encounter with the Good. It was not as an intellectual exercise, but rather the response to an attraction. Furthermore, Plotinus thought that goodness comes not from striving. Rather it comes from “a loving desire oriented towards a divine mind”[^10]. Brewer uses these examples to make a philosophical statement on human agency. Yet philosophy is not the only area which needs to reclaim dialectical activities. Religion also needs to emphasize the dialectical nature of a desire for God

Impact on Religion

If Brewer is correct, then our desire for God is best oriented towards encountering a person. We cannot desire God out of a desire to be good or a desire to be one with God. This has implications for religious formation. The church has emphasized programs and parish’s renewals. These help to stem the tide of those leaving the church. Yet these programs and renewals aim at education or community building. Very few programs offer opportunities to encounter God.

I volunteer with the youth. I can get bogged down with teaching the information. I forget that encounters with God are really important. Youth encounter God through the Bible, sacraments, and adult leaders. Faith formation programs need to show how God satisfies our the longing. They need to show why other desires will be futile attempts. Philosophically speaking, humans need an overarching desire to unify their life. If they cannot find it in the sacred, they will turn to the secular.

[^1]: Brewer, Talbot. The Retrieval of Ethics. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009) 16.

[^2]: Brewer, 35.

[^3]: Brewer, 37.

[^4]: Brewer, 39.

[^5]:Brewer, 49.

[^6]: Brewer, 51.

[^7]: Brewer, 51.

[^8]:Brewer, 57.

[^9]: Brewer, 58.

[^10]: Brewer 59.

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.

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

Alt text

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/ 

Singleness: Is It a Vocation

Lay-led Ecclesial communities: a solution to the singleness vocation

Introduction

The term vocation calls to mind either sacramental marriage or religious life. As I get older, I find myself wondering, is God calling me to marriage or religious life. I’ve briefly considered consecrated virginity. However, more often I wonder if there room in Catholic theology for singleness as a vocation. In order to address this question, I first have to explore the Catholic notion of vocation. Second, I will explore a common argument against singleness as a vocation. Third, I will explore how lay-led ecclesial communities to help address singleness.

What is Vocation

Catholicculture.org defines vocation as a call from God to a distinctive state of life, in which the person can reach holiness. Note that the definition never defines a particular state in life. Hence, one can be single and still reach holiness. A quote from Lumen Gentium supports this viewpoint.

Thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity;(4*) by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society.

Regardless of our station in life, we are all striving for holiness. Thus, holiness is my ultimate vocation. The church services everyone, but has a special compassion for those with no family. In Famillaris Consortio, Pope John Paul II writes,

No one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone, especially those who “labor and are heavy laden.”

Yet, there seem to be distinct differences between the sacramental vocations and singleness. These differences have led many to believe that singleness cannot be a vocation.

Differences Between Singleness and The Sacramental Vocations

Msgr. Charles Pope in his article, “Is There a Vocation to the Single Life? I Think Not and Here’s Why,” describes his objections to singleness as a vocation. He begins by highlighting the basic differences between tradition vocations and singleness.

Basic Differences

1. Make Vows and Promises

Msgr. Charles Pope states that in marriage and in religious life, the party or parties make promises to themselves and the church. He argues that the state of being single does not require the person to make any vows or promises. They can choose to make vows and promises. Yet the vocation is found in the vows and promises they make, not in their singleness.

2. Commit to the Life They Enter Stably

Singleness is open to change. A person remains single until something better comes along. Thus they find the right person and become married or they make a commitment to the church.

3. Exclusivity

Traditional vocations offer exclusivity. When you are married, you promise to be with your partner forever. If you take religious vows, you promise not to date anybody. Yet when you are single, you are not required to be exclusive. You can form relationships with multiple people.

4. Communal Relationship

When one enters into religious life, one makes a lasting bond. Similarly, in marriage, a couple pledges to be in communion with each other until death. Singles are not bound to form lifelong communal relationships with others.

5. Live Under Rules

Priest and those in religious life have a structure to their day. They cannot merely do what they please. For example, a priest must pray the liturgy of the hours. Similarly, married couples have rules that govern their family. For example, they cannot wake up and decide to go on vacation. They need to consult the needs and desires of their spouse and children. A single person does have rules they live by. Yet these rules were arbitrarily picked by themselves or given to them.

6. Under Authority

When a priest enters into religious life, he subjects himself to the authority of the bishop. Similarly, a married person subjects themselves to the authority of their spouse. A person, who is single, does not subject himself to anyone’s authority. A person, who is single, does not need to report to anybody.

Theological Reason

According to Msgr. Charles Pope, all these basic differences point to a theological principle. This principle is called Nuptial Meaning of the Body. This states that God made the body for others. In marriage, this happens during the sexual union. In religious life, those individuals give their bodies to the church in a symbolic way.

So can one reconcile both viewpoints? Is it a matter of interrupting vocation to broadly or narrowly? What can singles do?

Vocations verses vocation: Where Does Singleness Fit in Catholic Teaching.

I think the confusion comes when we conflate vocations. In reality, every good Catholic has a vocation to holiness. However, we also have gifts and talents that can affect our vocations. Last we have a vocation as a committed life. Msgr. Charles Pope is right to suggest that singleness cannot be considered a committed way of life. Yet he is wrong to imply that singleness has no vocation. Although I believe people are reading that into the article. Singleness is a state of being, where a person is called to be holy. Religious life or marriage are options and are not guaranteed to the individual. Single life has a vocation but is not a vocation by itself.

Singleness and Lay Led Ecclesial Communities:

So how can a person, who is single, find a vocation in the Church. Lay lead ecclesial communities such as the ones founded in the renewal can help those, who are single. In my community, we have a commitment to one another. One cannot break this commitment without discernment from the whole community. Furthermore, we, as a community, have a pattern of life and community rhythm that governs our life. I am required to respect and obey the leadership in the community. Thus these communities offer commitment and stability. Singleness by itself fails to offer.

Catholicism: 5 things I love

Introduction

In this post, I will be writing about the five things I like about Catholicism. I was inspired to write this while watching LizzieAnswers youtube channel. For those who don’t know, Lizzieanswers was a popular youtube channel, who became Catholic famous when she announced her conversion. On September 1st, 2018, she posted a video titled What I still hate about Catholicism. As a convert, I find it easy to look at my past experiences through rose-colored glasses. Instead of critiquing the Church, I thought I would describe the five things that I appreciate about Catholicism and then next week talk about the things I miss about Protestantism.

1. Eucharistic adoration

I remember my first Eucharistic adoration. I was a non-catholic at the time. My Catholic friend had invited me. I had wanted to meet a blind priest, Fr. Mike Joly. Unfortunately, at the time we went the priest was unavailable to do adoration. Thus instead of the usual benediction, they offered an hour of silent prayer. In my protestant church, silent prayer was not a thing. I saw how everyone was kneeling and praying. It felt reverent and holy. I would grow to love adoration. I have my most spiritual encounters in the adoration chapel. It’s like a date with Jesus, who is the present body, blood, soul, and divinity.

2. Silence

Protestant. churches are very loud. Music is everywhere: before the service, during the service, and after the service. On top of the music, people are greeting each other and chatting. There’s not much room for silence. Catholic church’s prioritize silence. In the past, sanctuaries have been so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Over the years, churches have gotten laxer about noise, but you can always find a quiet place to pray.

3. Universal lectionary

A lectionary is a collection of readings for every Mass. I can go to any Catholic Church around the world and hear the same readings. This is not true of Baptist churches and most other Protestant churches. The Universal lectionary enables me to hear more of the Bible. I also can read ahead of time. I love reading the scripture and praying about it before Sunday mass. I like hearing different priest’s perspective on the same story.

4. The Rosary

I started praying the rosary even before I was Catholic. I challenged myself to memorize and recite 150 prayers of the rosary. I began meditating on the mysteries of the rosary. I fell in love with the sorrowful mysteries: Jesus’ agony, pain, suffering, and crucifixion. I found it easy to place myself in the events and to learn from them. This is extremely different then the prayer taught in Protestant circles. Rather, Protestant prayers are more vocalized.

5. The concept of Saints

Hebrews 12: 1 states

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,

The idea behind the communion of Saints is that those, who have died and are with God can intercede for us on earth. There is a beauty to the idea that death cannot separate the body of Christ from one another. We know that those, who went before us can make it through, and thus we can as well. My favorite saint is st. Monica. Through prayers and tears, she was able to convert her husband and son to Christianity. Her son would be no other than St. Augustine.

Conclusion

As converts, we have a unique ability to see the areas where Catholicism may be lacking relative to other thriving Christian denominations. However, we came into Catholicism to experience the true, beautiful, and the good. Let us not lose sight of how Catholicism offers the true, the beautiful, and the good through various devotions and practices and teachings.