Monday, September 30, 2013

A Paradigm Shift In The Catholic Church

Source: http://reginamag.com/update-latin-mass-america-today/
Something very big is happening in the Catholic Church, and it's going on behind the scenes and underneath the radar. It's happening in America, France, Britain, and in other places around the globe. This trend seems to be most evident in industrialised Western nations, but we can see traces of it starting to develop in the rest of the world as well. What we are witnessing is nothing less than a massive paradigm shift. Traditional liturgy is coming back, and the Traditional Latin Mass (Vetus Ordo or "Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite") is leading the way.

The United States of America, like France and Britain, is a microcosm of this worldwide trend. Everywhere we look in the Catholic Church today, the news coming out about the Vernacular Mass (Novus Ordo or "Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite") is becoming downright depressing. Parish attendance is down. The number of people who believe what the Catholic Church teaches is at an all time low. Many Catholic laypeople (particularly politicians) are in open rebellion against Church teaching. The number of new priestly vocations remain at an all time low, and of those few young men who do want to be priests, fewer still want anything to do with the Vernacular Mass (Novus Ordo). Most of them openly prefer the Traditional Latin Mass (Vetus Ordo), and would prefer to celebrate mass that way. The trend holds true in religious orders as well. A few traditional orders are flourishing, while the greater number of modernised orders are fading away.

There is some good news though. Of those priests who prefer the Vetus Ordo, their number is growing at an exponential rate. Likewise, the number of Vetus Ordo masses has more than doubled over the last decade. Even more remarkable, is the disproportionate number of young people attending the Vetus Ordo mass over the Novus Ordo mass. Yes, something is definitely happening in the Catholic Church. It is a big movement, and it is undeniably led by youth! The trend is clear now. It is slow and gradual, but a definite trend nonetheless. Young people are abandoning the Novus Ordo mass, and turning in increasingly large numbers to the Vetus Ordo mass.

Along with this trend has come an increase in fidelity to Catholic teaching. Make no mistake about it, any survey of a Latin Mass parish, will reveal a much larger degree of fidelity to Church teaching than the typical Vernacular Mass parish. I challenge anyone to prove me wrong on this. Per capita, the Latin Mass people beat Vernacular Mass people in fidelity to Church teaching -- hands down!

Now that's not to say one can't find faithful Catholics in the Novus Ordo mass. One most certainly can! That's not what I'm saying. I'm saying that Vetus Ordo Catholics have a much higher degree of fidelity to Church teaching per capita. To illustrate, let's hypothetically line up 200 Catholics in two equal columns. The first column will be 100 Novus Ordo (Vernacular Mass) Catholics. The second column will be 100 Vetus Ordo (Traditional Latin Mass) Catholics. Now I have no idea what the percentages would be, but I am certain, that if you surveyed those people in both columns, you would find that the Vetus Ordo column would have a much higher number of people who are faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church. I am certain of it. I'm saying it here without reservation. That's my assertion. Now, I challenge anyone out there -- I dare you -- prove me wrong!

I doubt anyone will try, because deep down inside, almost everyone knows I'm right about this. Per capita, Traditional Latin Mass Catholics are more faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church than Regular Vernacular Mass Catholics. Most people know this is true, but very few could tell you why. I have a theory, but it is not original. In fact, it's been around for a very long time. My theory is not really my own. It was coined by somebody else long ago, and is shared by some of the highest ranking Vatican prelates -- including our Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. The theory can be summed up in four Latin words -- Lex orandi, lex credendi (Latin: "the law of prayer is the law of belief"). That basically means how you pray effects how you believe. Again, you need not take my word for it, read it for yourself from these two top Vatican prelates...
(CNS) -- A weakening of faith in God, a rise in selfishness and a drop in the number of people going to Mass in many parts of the world can be traced to Masses that are not reverent and don't follow church rules, said two Vatican officials and a consultant. -- source
There is a reason why younger people are turning to the Traditional Latin Mass (Vetus Ordo) and abandoning the Regular Vernacular Mass (Novus Ordo). It is because seemingly everywhere, the Novus Ordo mass has become a magnet for trendy and irreverent celebrations that violate the rules for mass, either directly or indirectly. The Novus Ordo mass, has in many places become a place of entertainment and experimentation. It has lost a sense of awe, reverence and solemnity. There are many poisons killing the Catholic Church in today's world, but I assert with absolute certainty, that this is the biggest culprit. I say this because from this corruption, all other corruptions take root. A sloppy liturgy produces sloppy catechises, and that in turn produces sloppy disciples who keep the faith very -- well -- sloppily. Lex orandi, lex credendi.

Now anyone who has any knowledge of the liturgy knows it shouldn't be this way. There is no reason for the Novus Ordo mass to be this way. In fact, there is no reason why the Novus Ordo mass cannot be celebrated in a way that is virtually identical to the Vetus Ordo mass. Some parishes are doing this, and they are experiencing growth and renewal because of it. One example of this can be found by clicking here.

As a Protestant convert to Catholicism, I have a particular sensitivity to this issue. My liturgical formation happened in the Anglican Church, and there I was familiarised with both traditional and contemporary liturgical celebrations. Like the Catholic Church, Anglicans celebrate two forms of the liturgy, one old and the other new. Naturally, the older form (Rite One) is more traditional, and celebrated in a traditional way, using older hymns, regular chant, incense, bells, reverence and solemnity. The newer form (Rite Two) is more contemporary, often dispensing of bells, chant and incense, in favour of contemporary praise music, innovation and a generally more "modern feel" to it. As a former Evangelical I immediately found myself drawn to Rite One, the older form, over the more modern and contemporary Rite Two. Why is this? Because having been an Evangelical, I had already experienced the most modern and contemporary form of worship Christianity has to offer. There was literally nothing the Anglicans could do to impress me in this area. In fact, their attempt to be "hip" and "cool" with their contemporary celebrations of Rite Two seemed so dated to me. It was almost like a throwback to the 1970s and so completely "uncool" to my Evangelical sensibilities. I didn't go to the Anglican Church for a modern worship jam. If I wanted that, I would have gone to a nearby Evangelical church which are plentiful in my area. Rather, when given a choice, I was immediately and instinctively drawn to the more ancient form of worship. I think the reason for this is simple. I am a Gen X'er -- a member of that lost and forgotten generation between the Baby Boomers and the Millennials. Like the Millenniels, mine was a generation raised without rules or discipline. The modern world has given the youth everything -- except stability. We have no stability in beliefs, morals or standards. Everything is in fluctuation. Nothing is solid. So when some of us look to religion, because let's face it, most of us don't, we look for something that gives us the one thing we are missing in our lives -- stability.

This is where modern Christianity has really missed the boat. When the world began to radically change in the 1960s and 70s, the churches frantically tried to change with it, mistakenly believing that this was what was needed to stay relevant. In reality however, that was exactly the wrong thing to do, because given just a little time (a few decades is all it took) the youth raised in this brave new world discovered something very important was missing -- stability. So when we looked back to the one place we thought we would find it -- Christian religion -- we were disappointed to discover that it was no longer there either. Many of us turned to Evangelicalism, because we thought there we might be able to find doctrinal stability at the very least, or we did for a while anyway. In the end, however, some of us discovered that the only place we could find the real stability we sought was in the ancient rites and teachings of Christianity. That is why so many of us are turning to Traditional Anglicanism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Latin Mass Catholicism.

The message I am conveying here is going to be a lasting one. You see my generation -- Generation X -- is just the tip of the iceberg. We are only the beginning of a trend that is going to get bigger and broader than you can possibly imagine. The Millennials are only just now staring to surface, and their numbers surpass ours by tenfold. The generation that follows them is going to be much bigger, and this trend will only increase exponentially. Given enough time, the traditionalist youth will outnumber the modernist elderly. It is inevitable. It will happen. Nothing can stop it now.

The World War II generation had a saying, and we Gen X'ers are old enough to remember them. They always used to say, "If you can't beat em, join em!" Surely you Baby Boomers can remember that one, right? The truth is, I always identified more with my grandparents' generation than with my own parents' generation, and I think the reason came back to the stability issue. With them there seemed to be some constants, some universal norms and expectations, some stability. I think it's time for you Baby Boomers to take a cue from your parents, and if you won't listen to them, then at least listen to your children, or maybe your grandchildren. "If you can't beat em, join em!" Let me tell you, this traditionalist trend isn't going to stop. It's only going to get bigger, and my generation is just the tip of the iceberg. I'm not telling you to go to a Traditional Latin Mass (Vetus Ordo) if you don't want to.  No, what I'm telling you to do is get your priest to start celebrating the Regular Vernacular Mass (Novus Ordo) like a Traditional Latin Mass. Tell him to follow the rubrics of the Vetus Ordo as best as he can, and start using incense, bells and chant again. Tell him, to make the new mass look just as much like the old mass as possible, but keep it in our vernacular language. Ladies, start wearing veils to mass again. Gentlemen, dress up accordingly. If you do this, I have a prediction to make. Your parish will grow again. The percentage of young families will increase in the pews. Parish baptisms will increase, confirmations and first communions will increase. The number of Protestant converts to your parish will increase. (See why here and here.) Last but not least, the percentage of faithful Catholics in your parish will increase. How do I know this? I know this because it's already happening in a handful of parishes across the nation. It can happen in your parish too. It really is time to get with the times. Young people crave tradition and stability. For heaven's sake, if you're not giving that to them, what are you doing? Is it any wonder why your parish has stopped growing? Is it any wonder why your congregation is getting older? In any healthy parish, young people should outnumber the elderly by at least two to one. Next time you're at mass, start counting the grey heads in relation to young people and see for yourself. You'll find the writing is on the wall, as they say. The future of your parish can be determined by its lack of youth. Then you can follow up by asking: how much tradition and stability is my parish providing to young people?

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Highly recommended by priests and catechists, "Catholicism for Protestants" is a Biblical explanation of Roman Catholic Christianity as told by Shane Schaetzel -- an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism.  The book is concise and formatted in an easy-to-read Question & Answer catechism style.  It addresses many of the common questions Protestants have about Catholicism. It is ideal for Protestants seeking more knowledge about the Catholic Church, and for Catholics seeking a quick refresher course on fundamental Catholic teaching. It's an excellent book for Catholics and Protestants alike!
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Friday, September 27, 2013

State Secession -- A Possible Remedy


A political advertisement from the Scottish National Party now playing in the U.K.

I try not to venture into politics too much on this blog.  I've put up a few posts in the past, and eventually took them down.  When you write about religion though, it's hard not to talk about politics once in a while, because you see, politics is really just an extension of religion, believe it or not.  You can tell a lot about a person's religious beliefs by how they vote, and the political positions they hold to.  No, I'm not talking about the typical hot button issues like abortion, war and gay-marriage.  Though these are very important topics. Rather, I'm talking about a more general political philosophy.

Recent tensions in the U.S. Congress over federal funding of Obamacare has inspired this article. Some senator even said that the political climate in Washington D.C. has never been this bad since before America's Civil War. Honestly, I think he was being melodramatic with that comment, you know, for the cameras, but it did get me thinking a bit.  It reminded me of the a Catholic teaching on social justice called SUBSIDIARITY, and how that virtually no longer exists in American government.

What is Subsidiarity? Well, in a nutshell, it's about keeping things local. When it comes to government, that means keeping government local and letting the city, county and state governments handle the big business in life, such has social security, healthcare, welfare, education, etc.  Likewise, that means limiting the role of big federal government to an absolute minimum, so as to minimise its influence on average everyday life.  Yes, this is a Catholic principle in politics, but it's not just Catholic.  It's also common sense.  The principle applies to business as well, but that's another story, for another article.

Subsidiarity no longer exists in American government, at least, not in any real credible sense.  The main reason for this is because states have ceded so much power and control to the federal government, that they have basically become vassals to that same government.  This came as a result of America's Civil War.  The power once held by the states, their greatest power, the power of secession, has been intimidated into non-existence at the end of bayonets.

Wherever you come down on this topic, one thing cannot be denied. If states exercised the credible threat of secession, the federal government would behave. They don't have to actually do it, mind you, but just exercise a credible threat. Secession doesn't always equate to civil war. A civilised nation can approach this peacefully and democratically. Case in point, the U.K. is now in the process of preparing to vote on the secession of Scotland, allowing the Scottish to secede from the U.K. if they so choose -- peacefully and democratically. The vote is supposed to be held in September of 2014. As you can see, by the political advertisement video above, the issues the Scottish people are wrestling with in the U.K. are not too different from those we are wrestling with here in the U.S. Change the accent on the teenage girl from Scottish to a Southern belle, and you could almost say the advertisement was written for the American South (Dixie). What the U.K. is doing with Scotland here is a civilised solution, by a civilised people, and I've noticed that as the voting date gets closer, the British government is behaving in an extra nice way toward Scotland. You see it works!  The credible threat of secession, combined with a civilised government, has resulted in a national government that knows its place, and is more willing to step back allow more local control.  It doesn't matter if the people of Scotland actually secede or not.  So long as they can pull off a close vote, the British government will forever keep its place, giving Scotland as much autonomy as it needs, to make sure they never have to face such a vote again.

I think the greatest tragedy of America's Civil War, besides demonstrating that we are an uncivilised people with an uncivilised federal government, was a general loss of cultural identity. G.K. Chesterton put it best...
We know, in our own case, that it is sometimes possible to lose a war after we have won it. The American politicians lost something more valuable than a war; they lost a peace. They lost a possibility of reconciliation that would not only have doubled their strength, but would have given them a far better balance of ideas which would have vastly increased their ultimate influence on the world.  Lincoln may have been right in thinking that he was bound to preserve the Union. But it was not the Union that was preserved.  A union implies that two different things are united; and it should have been the Northern and Southern cultures that were united.  As a fact, it was the Southern culture that was destroyed.  And it was the Northern that ultimately imposed not a unity but merely a uniformity. But that was not Lincoln's fault.  He died before it happened; and it happened because he died....

...Every age has its special strength, and generally one in which some particular nation is specially strong. Every age has also its special weakness and deficiency, and a need which only another type could supply. This is rather specially the Age of America; but inevitably, and unfortunately, rather the America of the Northern merchants and industrialists. It is also the age of many genuine forms of philanthropy and humanitarian effort, such as modern America has very generously supported. But there is a virtue lacking in the age, for want of which it will certainly suffer and possibly fail. It might be expressed in many ways; but as short a way of stating it as any I know is to say that, at this moment, America and the whole world is crying out for the spirit of the Old South....

....In other words, what is most lacking in modern psychology is the sentiment of Honour; the sentiment to which personal independence is vital and to which wealth is entirely incommensurate. I know very well that Honour had all sorts of fantasies and follies in the days of its excess. But that does not affect the danger of its deficiency, or rather its disappearance. The world will need, and need desperately, the particular spirit of the landowner who will not sell his land, of the shopkeeper who will not sell his shop, of the private man who will not be bullied or bribed into being part of a public combination; of what our fathers meant by the free man. And we need the Southern gentleman more than the English or French or Spanish gentleman.  For the aristocrat of Old Dixie, with all his faults and inconsistencies, did understand what the gentle man of Old Europe generally did not.  He did understand the Republican ideal, the notion of the Citizen as it was understood among the noblest of the pagans.  That combination of ideal democracy with real chivalry was a particular blend for which the world was immeasurably the better; and for the loss of which it is immeasurably the worse.  It may never be recovered; but it will certainly be missed.

-- G.K. Chesterton
On America, from "Come to Think of It"
Before the Civil War, people identified themselves both regionally and by state. There was a greater sense of pride in one's home and neighbours. The threat of secession kept Washington D.C. in its place. After the Civil War, all of that was erased, except in a few places like: Texas, South Carolina, New York and California. I think it would be good to return to regional identity, and take pride in our states again.

Now please understand.  I am not advocating secession for the purpose of setting up some libertarian utopia. Far from it. If states are to be more independent, either within this Union of the United States, or outside of it, then they are going to have to demonstrate responsibility. For any state that secedes and shirks its responsibilities to the poor and disadvantaged within its borders, is going to quickly discover itself a third-world nation.  That means that state, counties and cities should take up the responsibility of social security, welfare, and assuring affordable medicine for everyone.  If these matters were taken care of at the local level, rather than in some ivory tower in Washington D.C., they may not be perfect, but they would be better.  This is Subsidiarity.

I believe, if we are ever going to regain control of our government, we should in every way try to convince our state governments to wrestle as much power away from the federal government as possible. We need to start running our own show now. The more power our states cede to Washington, the worse things get. We've only got 150 years of history to demonstrate that now, with the last 50 probably being the worst. Bring power and responsibility back to the states, and we will begin to see a government that is closer to the people, and much more responsive to their needs.

Now, all this talk of secession, often leads people to jump to conclusions. While I love Southern culture, I am by no means a Neoconfederate. I personally don't believe that reviving that institution will help anything, so I'm not advocating that. What I am advocating here is simply a return to locality. People need to start thinking close to home again. We need to get our government closer to the people, where we can keep a tighter grip on it. That is NEVER going to happen in Washington D.C. If we want to ever get control of things again, we need to wrestle control away from Washington and put it back into the hands of the states. And if you think that can happen without a credible threat of state secession, I would like to know what kind of plant you've been smoking lately.

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Highly recommended by priests and catechists, "Catholicism for Protestants" is a Biblical explanation of the Roman Catholic faith as told by Shane Schaetzel -- an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism.  The book is approximately 100 print pages, and formatted in an easy-to-read Question & Answer catechism style.  It addresses many of the common questions Evangelical Protestants have about Catholicism. It is ideal for Protestants seeking more knowledge about the Catholic Church, and for Catholics seeking a quick refresher course on fundamental Catholic teaching. It's an excellent book for Catholics and Protestants alike!  Order Your Copy Today

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Is Pope Francis The Antichrist?

"The Whore of Babylon" by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1534
from coloured woodcut of Martin Luther's Bible

As I browse through the tracking statistics of visitors to this blog, I've noticed a startling trend develop over the last several months, particularly over the last few weeks.  It appears that there is a growing interest on the web concerning a potential link between the current Pope Francis and the Biblical Antichrist.  The number of people, who have searched these keywords, "pope, francis, antichrist" as well as "peter the roman," has gone up exponentially over the last month. My blog is receiving hundreds of "hits" every day from people searching these keywords. What's going on out there?  Why all the sudden hysteria?  As a former Evangelical fundamentalist I do have some insight.

You see, the concept of connecting the pope with the Antichrist is nothing new. It began 500 years ago in 1520 Germany, when Martin Luther penned his treaties entitled "Prelude on the Babylonian Captivity of the Church." In it, Luther made his fierce opposition to the Roman Catholic sacramental system well known.  He attacked the doctrine of the transubstantiation, and legitimacy of other sacraments.  It was here that Martin Luther openly attacked the pope as the Antichrist, and set into motion a chain of events that lead to this day, and now this blog article. Luther's attack of the papacy as Antichrist was basically academic in nature, though his tone was nothing short of passionate.  One has to understand that Luther was primarily making a political statement here. Yes, it was based in religion, but remember, there was no separation of religion and politics back then. All political matters crossed over into religion, and likewise, all religious matters crossed over into politics. The two were so intertwined that it was nearly impossible to make a political statement without having religious repercussions. What Luther sought was political independence of the Church of Germany from Roman control.  This meant he had to paint the papacy in a way that would be unappealing to the Christian mind. So he equated the pope with the Antichrist, and the Roman Catholic Church with the "Whore of Babylon" depicted in Revelation chapters 17 and 18.  The artwork shown in the image above was a woodcut by Lucas Cranach the Elder, likely done in 1534. It depicts the scene from Revelation 17 and 18, in which a women dressed in scarlet rides a grotesque beast, but on her head she wears a particular crown.  It is the triple-crowned papal tiara worn only by the pope. The crown nowhere appears in the Book of Revelation. It is added to the picture to send a message, and the visual message is clear. The pope is the Antichrist, and the Roman Catholic Church is the "Whore of Babylon."

I have responded to Luther's accusation here on this blog already, and I will include it again below, but before I do, let me say plainly that if Martin Luther could see the way his spiritual descendants are reacting today in the Evangelical world, he would likely back away from his papal-antichrist cabal. This is because I think he would see it's gone too far.  Even in Luther's mind, it is doubtful he really believed any particular pope was the actual Biblical Antichrist. His connection of the Antichrist to the office of the papacy, rather than the man himself, clearly demonstrates a political motivation in this attack.  Luther was making a philosophical point, he was not trying to play a literal game of "pin the mark on the beast."
QUESTION: Is the pope the Antichrist? 
ANSWER: While this question may seem ridiculous to many people, you might be surprised to discover just how many Protestants actually believe it, or are at least suspicious of it.  The notion comes from the first Protestant reformer himself – Martin Luther – in the sixteenth century, who asserted that the office of the papacy is the Antichrist.  That's not to say any particular pope, but the office of the papacy itself. So when German Protestants began to mix with English Protestants in the United States during the nineteenth century, you can imagine what an explosive combination this created.  As new American-style Protestant denominations were formed, the office of the papacy went from being the Antichrist on a purely philosophical level, to the actual incarnation of evil itself!

This notion has become very popular among some Baptist, Evangelical and Pentecostal groups in the United States, and is a bit humorous when you really stop and think about it.  Before we start levelling the accusation of "Antichrist" at anybody, or any office, it might help to actually understand what the Bible has to say about it.  After all, the whole idea of "Antichrist" is a Biblical concept.   
So what does the Bible say about the Antichrist?  Well, for starters, the Bible tells us that the "spirit of antichrist" was alive and well even during the Apostolic age (1st John 2:18).  It also tells us that in order to be antichrist in any way, one must deny that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Jewish Messiah (1st John 2:22).  One must also deny that God the Son came to earth in the form of flesh and blood (1st John 4:3; 2nd John 1:7).  These are the only four times the word "antichrist" appears in the Scriptures.  So based on the Biblical definition, to be an antichrist (or even THE Antichrist) one must deny that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah and one must deny that God the Son came to earth in the form of human flesh.  Sorry, that's just the Biblical definition, and since the term "Antichrist" is a Biblical term, just like the term "Christ" itself, it has no real meaning outside this Biblical definition. 
Now since every pope since the time of St. Peter has affirmed that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messianic Son of God, that sort of disqualifies every pope in history from being an antichrist.  Of course, the office of the papacy itself was literally founded on Saint Peter's affirmation that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messianic Son of God (Matthew 16:15-19), so that disqualifies the papal office from being antichrist.  Since the pope literally teaches, and his office is literally founded upon, the belief that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messianic Son of God, it is literally impossible (in every Biblical sense) for the pope, or his papal office, to be the Antichrist in any way.  Again, sorry, but the Bible speaks for itself here.  To assert that the pope or the papacy is somehow, in any way, the Antichrist, is to completely deny the plain and clear teaching of the Bible on this matter.  Now, if some people want to go ahead and call the pope the Antichrist anyway, then they can go ahead, but in doing so, the rest of us need to understand they are directly contradicting the Bible when they do this.

From CATHOLICISM FOR PROTESTANTS by Shane Schaetzel
So is Pope Francis the Antichrist?  No, of course not; by virtue of his office and personal testimony, he obviously can't be.

What has emerged today is something totally different from Luther's original intent.  Today, among various Evangelical Protestants, we see what has amounted to nothing short of a witch hunt, in which this pope (or some future pope) is literally connected to the real Biblical Antichrist in some way. Among the more virulent strains of this witch hunt, the pope is depicted as the Antichrist himself, or at the very least the False Prophet who works together with him.  As I stated above from my book, this is literally and Biblically impossible. You simply cannot have a man who says "follow Jesus" be the Antichrist. It defies both logic and Scripture.

What I think we are witnessing is the beginning of the end for the end-times hysteria cult launched by Hal Lindsey back in 1970 with his best-seller book "The Late Great Planet Earth."  I had the pleasure of meeting Hal Lindsey once, briefly, after watching him speak at a Calvary Chapel in West Covina California.  This was back in the early 1990s.  He is a gentleman, and I believe he is sincere. I also believe he is sincerely wrong. Lindsey's book set off a firestorm in the Evangelical world, taking what was initially a rather small and private school of thought, and turning it into the mainstream of Evangelical thinking. The premise of his work being that end-times Biblical prophecy is being fulfilled today, in a very literal sense, right in the headlines of the news.  He is able to make this assertion by interpreting apocalyptic images from the Book of Revelation as modern day machines of warfare (tanks, helicopters, jets, etc.). This of course led to a rash of similar end-time books and films, eventually reaching a climax at the turn of the century with the "Left Behind" fictional book series (and movies), leaving us where we are today with Pope Francis, and the hysteria over the last pope.  The connection of Pope Francis to the "last pope" and probable "Antichrist" is in my estimation, the dying last gasp of this movement. These peddlers of pope fiction are about to paint themselves into a corner, that is, if they haven't already done so.

I discussed this in my previous article entitled Pope Francis = Peter the Roman = Antichrist?  The connection here comes from an alleged prophecy, that actually has nothing to do with the Bible, and shouldn't have anything to do with Evangelicalism either. Nevertheless, a tiny group of Evangelicals latched on to it, including Hal Lindsey (at least in part), and the alleged prophecy makes it very clear that this pope -- Pope Francis -- is the final pope on that list. Lindsey certainly wasn't the only one to give this alleged prophecy at least some credence. The real heavy lifters on this are some relative newcomers to the Evangelical prophecy scene -- Thomas Horn and Cris Putnam.  These men wrote a book called "Petrus Romanus: The Final Pope Is Here," and their end times theories have been promoted on various Evangelical news broadcasts and websites, including the conservative Internet news outlet WorldNetDaily.

Now to be clear, the alleged prophecy itself nowhere identifies this pope, or any pope, as the Antichrist. That is an interpretation that these Evangelicals have made for themselves. Nothing in the alleged prophecy itself actually says that.  Here is the text of the alleged prophecy translated from Latin into English...
"In the extreme persecution of the Holy Roman Church, there will sit Peter the Roman, who will nourish the sheep in many tribulations; when they are finished, the city of seven hills will be destroyed, and the dreadful judge will judge his people. The end."  -- source
The alleged prophecy is credited to an Irish bishop named Saint Malachy who lived in 12th century. There is a quaint story that surrounds the prophecy, which follows with an ambiguous list of phrases that supposedly depict every pope elected from the 12th century, all the way down to this last one.  Some of the phrases have an uncanny connection to the pope they are supposed to represent.  Others are too vague to make any clear connection. Whether the prophecy is real or not is anyone's guess.  It didn't surface for centuries after it was allegedly given, which makes it very suspicious.  Some sources indicate the Vatican has dismissed the alleged prophecy as a forgery. That doesn't stop the Evangelical peddlers of pope fiction. Certainly not, because you see, if the Vatican dismisses something, that just lends more credibility to it as far as they are concerned.

I've pointed out in previous blog articles the problems associated with this alleged prophecy... Strike 1: it has never been approved by any jurisdiction within the Catholic Church.  Strike 2: it has a questionable history, in that it only surfaced some five-hundred years after it was allegedly written.  Strike 3: on the surface, it doesn't appear to agree with other prophecies uttered by canonised saints and approved mystics, but this is debatable.

In addition, I've given a fair and rational interpretation of the alleged prophecy...  (1) It specifically says this "Peter the Roman" will nourish his sheep during many tribulations.  That means he's a good guy.  He's helping the "sheep" (Christians). (2) After the tribulations are finished, the city on seven hills will be destroyed. Notice it doesn't say when the reign of "Peter the Roman" is finished.  It says when the tribulations are finished.  This could mean anything, because Christ specifically said the Church will suffer tribulations until the end of time.  The city on seven hills can only mean Rome or Jerusalem.  Rome has already been destroyed many times in history and so has Jerusalem. (3) The dreadful judge will judge his people.  This "dreadful judge" could mean anyone.  It could mean Jesus Christ.  Or it could mean a revived European monarchy.  Who knows?  This is assuming the alleged prophecy is even real, which evidence seems to indicate it is not, so interpretations may really be a moot point.

Now as I said above, the notion that the office of the papacy is the Antichrist is a very old one, going back to the dawn of the Protestant Reformation with Marin Luther himself.  The Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church (LCMS) still officially teaches this as doctrine. So does the Wisconsin Synod of the Lutheran Church (WELS). That kind of academic anti-papalism isn't going away any time soon.  What I'm specifically talking about here is the rabid anti-papalism that has re-emerged in recent decades with the end-times prophecy hysteria cult. Herein, Biblical prophecy was reinterpreted to fit the headlines in the news and the trends of the day.  So naturally, whenever the trends of the day move toward their logical conclusion, it would appear, to those who subscribe to this hysteria, that prophecy is being fulfilled. Much of this is connected to the nation-state of Israel and the rise of the European Union.  As Israel continues to have more problems in the Middle East (many of them her own making), the proponents of the end-times hysteria shout that prophecy is being fulfilled!  As the European Union continues to move toward political solidarity, again, the proponents of the end-times hysteria shout that prophecy is being fulfilled.  Now, thanks to the Evangelical attachment to the alleged prophecy of Saint Malachy, when the slightest turn of events unfolds in the papacy (such as the retirement of a pope and the election of another), the proponents of the end-times hysteria shout louder than ever that prophecy is being fulfilled.  This time they're telling us the Antichrist is here, he is the pope, and prepare for the Great Tribulation and the End of the World.

It is the most bizarre twist of developments that a growing number of Evangelicals would put so much stock into an alleged prophecy (probably a fake) that is not even Biblical, and allegedly came from a medieval Roman Catholic bishop! Aren't Evangelicals supposed to be sceptical of Roman Catholic bishops? Especially those from the Middle Ages!?!  I mean, don't Evangelicals consider this the "Dark Ages?"  This however, is the nature of the end-times hysteria that has permeated so much of modern Evangelicalism. They're literally grabbing on to anything they can find that might in some remote way back their preconceived notions that we are living in the end-times, the Antichrist is near, and yes, he is probably the pope. By "pinning the mark on the beast" with Pope Francis, they have just painted themselves into a corner.  What if he's not the Antichrist?  What if his pontificate comes and goes, and the world doesn't end?  Now what??? The credibility of these men is on the line, and with them, the credibility of the entire Evangelical end-times hysteria cult.

As I pointed out in a previous article, entitled Why I Don't Believe In The Rapture, the end-times hysteria cult of Hal Lindsey and gang is not necessary to Evangelicalism.  In fact, many Evangelicals have abandoned it, and are getting along just fine without it. For example, there is another Evangelical author, who is no friend of Catholicism.  He is a staunch Evangelical through and through.  He has no problem criticising the Catholic Church on various doctrines and practices, but when it comes to the study of Biblical prophecy, he has done a service to both Evangelicals and Catholics alike.  "The Apocalypse Code" written by Hank Hanegraaf, is an excellent Evangelical answer to the end-times hysteria cult.  I highly recommend it as good reading for both Catholics and Protestants, but most especially for Evangelical Protestants. End-times prophecy hysteria is not native to Evangelicalism.  It doesn't have to be part of it. For the time being, it is, but it doesn't have to be that way. I do hope that many Evangelicals reading this will take it upon themselves to research this matter and bring some common sense back into the topic.

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Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'CatholicInTheOzarks.com -- Apologetics and random musings from a Catholic in the Bible Belt.'

BOOKS BY THIS BLOGGER...
A Catholic Guide
to the Last Days
Catholicism for
Protestants


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Dial A Pope -- Get A New Doctrine?


A very good reflection by Michael Voris.

I witnessed this eight years ago, and of course we are all seeing it transpire again today. I remember toward the end of Blessed John Paul II's pontificate, some "Catholics" here in the America, particularly those of the more "cafeteria" persuasion, were lamenting it. I remember comments to the extend of: "the pope needs to retire!" And "how long can he last!?!" I remember thinking to myself: "why don't you just come out and say what you really feel?  When will the pope hurry up and die already?"  Some of them actually did say that in more or less words -- believe it or not.  When the broken body of Blessed John Paul II finally did expire, I remember a very odd kind of elation on the part of some of these people. They acted mournful on the surface, almost too mournful, but gave themselves away with subtle slips of the tongue: "Maybe we'll get somebody better now." It was an ugly side to Western Catholicism that I'll never forget.

These comments came mainly from cafeteria Catholics of all stripes. Some hadn't been to mass in years. Others attended faithfully, but openly challenged the Church on every social issue imaginable. I remember one, in particular, who boasted loudly, "I'm a Catholic" almost thumping his chest, "I was even an altar boy!" as if that made some kind of difference, "but I don't believe the pope is infallible!" bragging about his ignorance of Church teaching. Such people often throw around the typical banter "the Church needs to modernise and get with the times," each time they say it acting as though it's the first time it's ever been said. "A woman would make just as good of a priest as any man."  "The Church needs to get out of my bedroom!"  The list goes on and on.  Probably what I find the most remarkable is how almost every cafeteria Catholic seems to think he/she is so original, and spouts this stuff off as if nobody has ever heard it before. They seem to be blind to the fact that they are probably the most unoriginal people on the planet! The world is literally full of them! If I had a nickel for every time I heard one of them, well, I would have a lot of nickels. They're everywhere! Like lemmings on a rampage. The only question is, who is their leader? It's certainly not the pope! That much we can know for sure.

Hidden within the comments of these quasi-Catholics is an error that one might more typically find among Protestants. They seem to believe that the pope rules the Catholic Church like an absolute monarch. Whatever he says goes, and he is accountable to nobody. So, they surmise, if we could just get a new pope (the "right" pope in their minds), we can change the doctrine of the Catholic Church into whatever we want. Just get the right man into office, and presto! You now have a whole new religion. This is what I call the "Dial a pope, get a new doctrine" heresy. It never fails. Every time there is a papal conclave, these people come out of the woodwork like cockroaches. You see their talking heads on television news networks, blathering on and on and on.... Then you hear their voices on the radio, and read their comments in the newspapers or on the Internet.  If only the cardinals inside the Sistine Chapel knew what kind of circus was going on outside. I'm sure they have a clue, but I don't think they really know. If they did, they might be inclined to issue some kind of disclaimer before closing the doors of the Sistine Chapel. Perhaps it would read something like: "As we enter into our deliberations on electing the new pontiff, please be advised that we are all fully Catholic, and therefore, we are likely to elect the man we believe to be the strongest Catholic among us. All media statements to the contrary should be considered null and void." Yeah, I would like to see something like that. The priests and bishops outside could read it aloud, over and over again, every time some media know-it-all blathers on about how we need this or that kind of pope.

Obviously, anyone who knows anything about the Catholic Church should have enough good sense to tell you the "dial a pope, get a new doctrine" notion is nothing but nonsense. It just doesn't work that way. Popes, while they do have a lot of power, are accountable for their actions. Naturally, they are accountable to Jesus Christ, first and foremost, but he is not the only one. They are also accountable to their brother cardinals who elected them. If a pope started drifting off the rails, he could expect some private counsel from his closest advisers and high ranking cardinals. If he really drifted off the rails, he might even get some public criticism from them. You see, popes are bound by the traditions and teachings of the popes who preceded them, and they cannot (I repeat CANNOT) teach something that is direct opposition to what is already considered an infallible teaching of the Church. Case in point, let's take an indisputable doctrine for example. Let's take the dogma of the Trinity. The Trinity has been defined as infallible dogma since the earliest days of the Church. Now let's suppose we get a pope, who for some inexplicable reason, decides to teach against the Trinity. I don't know, maybe it's a subtle heresy like Modelism for example, which denies the doctrine of the Trinity (three Persons but one God) and instead teaches that God is one person who just reveals himself in three different ways throughout history. To a person who is not Catholic, or not well educated in Christian doctrine in general, this might not seem like such a big deal. However, to those acquainted with Church teaching, this would be a VERY BIG DEAL!  The pope would find himself no longer being the pope.  In fact, his entire papacy would immediately come into question.  The college of cardinals would turn against him.  A new conclave would be called, perhaps even an ecumenical Church council, with or without the "pope's" approval.  The man currently sitting on the Chair of Peter would be declared an Antipope, and a new pope would be elected to take his place.  That erupting chaos that would follow in the Catholic Church would be unparallelled in modern history, but it wouldn't be without total precedence.  Similar things have happened before during the Middle Ages.  The Catholic Church eventually recovered from them even stronger than before.

My point here is that popes are accountable men.  They're not even elected pope unless they've already proved their accountability in some way. To say that getting a new pope will result in new doctrines, or a radical change of teaching in the Church, is the epitome of ignorance. That's just not how things work. Let us not forget the Holy Spirit, who protects a validly elected pope from making such egregious errors.

The truth is, a good number of quasi-Catholics (cafeteria Catholics) want a lot of changes in the Church. They want the Church to loosen up on abortion, gay-marriage, homosexuality in general, artificial contraception, etc.  They also want the Church to start ordaining women to the priesthood, and openly permit gay priests to minister.  In effect, what they really want is a Catholic Church that matches virtually every other institution in the Western world. They want a Catholic Church that bows down to the culture, and all the while they think they are so "original" and "unique" for advocating such a thing.  Here is a news flash to those people...  That point of view is nothing new.  People have been advocating it for 2,000 years. You may now join the ranks of millions who have gone down in history as the heretics and apostates of their time.

I bring all this up today because of the latest news reports concerning the recently elected Pope Francis. I've watched with disgust as the Western news media has played favourites with the last two popes.  Pope Benedict XVI they hated, depicting him as a heartless old man, out of touch with reality and the modern world.  Conversely, they've depicted Pope Francis as a new, hip and more lovable character who is open to change and understands the people.  I find this narrative repulsive and categorically untrue.  Many of these things Pope Francis has said are virtually identical to things Pope Benedict XVI said. The only difference is, when Benedict said them, the news media ignored it. When Francis said them, the news media shouted it in headlines around the world.  Likewise, when Benedict excommunicated some priest for heresy, the media decried the "injustice" and "backwardness" of Rome.  But when Francis did the same thing, the media fell silent.  Am I the only one that sees this?  It's a game people!  The news media is playing us, manipulating us, and attempting to form our opinions for us.  When it comes to the difference between Benedict and Francis, almost all of it is style and personality.  Substantively, in practise and action, there is virtually no difference at all, or at least, there hasn't been so far. It makes one wonder what the media hopes to accomplish with this manipulation game. I'm not sure exactly, but I do know that many of these quasi-Catholics (cafeteria Catholics) do occupy rather high positions in the media. Could this be part of their attempt to "dial a pope, get a new doctrine?" I suspect it is.

What is equally frustrating is how easily conservative and traditional people fall into this medial trap. Relying almost solely on what the mainstream news media says, a source that has proved unreliable time and time again, they formulate their opinions based on this. I recently read a short opinion article by Jerome Corsi, a correspondent for what I can only describe as a popular Evangelical news source called WorldNetDaily. The news organisation itself may oppose my description of them as "Evangelical" here, but I call them as I see them.  In the article (see here) Corsi latches on to the infamous (and probably fraudulent) prophecy of Saint Malachy, and drawing his opinions about Francis straight from the secular Western news media, he muses on the possibility that this pope may be the last pope ever. On the same note, we have seen dozens of commentaries from traditional Catholics who lament the retirement of Benedict and eagerly await the retirement (or passing) of Francis as well. All of this based on how the Western news media portrays him, twists his words, interprets his actions, and omits those portions that don't fit their manipulative narrative.  If I've said it once, I've said it a thousands times, one simply does not believe what the Western news media reports about the pope -- any pope.  If you want to know what the pope really said, or did, go to a recognised Catholic news source, or to the Vatican news outlet itself.  These days, even the formerly communist newspapers of Russia do a better job reporting on the pope than the Western news outlets. That's saying a lot.

I'm going to go ahead and stick my neck out here and make a few predictions about Pope Francis.  If I'm wrong, you'll know soon enough, and I'll eat my words.  If I'm right, well, again you'll know soon enough. I'm going to predict that Pope Francis is neither conservative nor liberal.  He's a Catholic and he is orthodox. I'm also going to predict that while in style he is very different from Benedict, in substance he is not so different at all.  Seeing as how they are both still alive, it almost reminds me of a "good cop, bad cop" routine, wherein Benedict plays the role of the "bad cop" while Francis plays the roll of the "good cop," but both having the same mind and intention when dealing with things.  This analogy breaks down a bit, as the former pope now lives in seclusion, but it would seem the popular Western news media is unwittingly doing the work for him in his absence, depicting him as the "bad cop" based on his previous pontifical acts. Seeing as how he is not dead yet, there is no need to act mournful and respectful toward him, so they just speak their mind, portraying him as they want.  I'm going to predict that stylistically, Pope Francis will continue to play the role of what some would like to call "the hippy pope" (not my description), or the "good pope" as the media would have us believe. In pontifical acts however, he will be quite regimented and orthodox, excommunicating at least as many dissidents as Benedict XVI, if not more so. I predict he will make no major changes to the traditional liturgy liberalised by Pope Benedict XVI in Summorum Pontificum, and if anything he will assist the blossoming Anglican ordinariates created by his predecessor in Anglicanorum Coetibus. (He has done this once already.)  I predict his attempt to streamline the Curia of the Vatican will result in a much more "no-nonsense" hierarchy, and I suspect this will be followed by a crackdown on the administrative roles of bishops around the world.  Now here is my radical prediction.  I predict, that by the end of his pontificate (assuming it is not cut short prematurely) that Catholic politicians (in many countries) who support abortion, euthanasia, homosexual "marriage," and unjust wars, will be excommunicated, or at least openly threatened with it.  Yes, I'm really going out there with this one, but there it is.  All the while, we are going to see a Church that is more engaged in the inner cities and a hierarchy that is calling for more public assistance to the poor and disadvantaged.  The latter part is already widespread, and I predict no change in the opposite direction in this.  If anything, I suspect it will be more so. I also predict an attempt to rescue some points of "Liberation Theology" from the outright socialism that often accompanies it.  This process was begun by Pope Benedict XVI and will likely continue under Pope Francis.

So there you have it.  That's my thinking on the matter, and I believe I have more credible evidence to support my point of view than cafeteria Catholics who want a liberal pope, and both Protestant and Catholic conservatives who fear this pope might be too liberal.  To everyone reading this I say we should not read too much into what this pope says.  If you read anything he says, go to trusted Catholic media, not the secular Western media. Rather, pay more attention to what he does!  This pope is a man who defines himself by actions not words.  So in the weeks and months ahead -- watch that.

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Highly recommended by priests and catechists, "Catholicism for Protestants" is a Biblical explanation of the Roman Catholic faith as told by Shane Schaetzel -- an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism.  The book is approximately 100 print pages, and formatted in an easy-to-read Question & Answer catechism style.  It addresses many of the common questions Evangelical Protestants have about Catholicism. It is ideal for Protestants seeking more knowledge about the Catholic Church, and for Catholics seeking a quick refresher course on fundamental Catholic teaching. It's an excellent book for Catholics and Protestants alike!  Order Your Copy Today

Monday, September 23, 2013

Science And Religion

Galileo Galilei displaying his telescope to Leonardo Donato
by H. J. Detouche
Today I want to talk about something that is a big issue for a lot of people, but really shouldn't be.  In our modern age (within the last 100 years or so), there has been a deliberate push to pit science against religion and vice-versa.  This conflict primarily exists in the Protestant world, but bleeds over into Catholicism as well.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the ongoing conflict between evolution and creationism.  The players have changed over the decades, but the conflict has not.  I'll use the modern players for this purposes of this article.

On the one hand, we have the advocates of science, who assert that man is the product of evolutionary processes, and the universe itself is the product of similar processes, spanning billions of years.  On the other hand we have Evangelical Protestants, which consist (but are not limited to) Baptists, Pentecostals and "Born Again" Christians of all stripes.  Many of these (not all but many) are staunch advocates of a young-universe creationist theories, wherein evidence is cited to assert that the earth was created in six literal 24-hour days and the entire universe is less than 10,000 years old.  The primary drivers behind this movement today are Evangelical Protestants (not all but many), but I should point out that some (not all but some) traditional Catholics subscribe to this as well.  I've even met some people in this camp who still subscribe to the geocentric theory on the motion of planets.  I discourage my readers from laughing at these people.  They're not stupid.  Actually, many of them are highly educated with very brilliant minds.  If you laugh at them, you commit a sin of prejudice, and are no better than those who laughed at Nicholas Copernicus and Albert Einstein.  Leave them alone and show some maturity for heaven's sake. Everyone has a right to be heard. You don't have to believe everything some people say about a proposed theory, but to ridicule and mock them is a terrible thing.

What I'm going to relate to you now are my views on this matter, and I believe I am in good standing with the Catholic Church on this one. "Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth" -- (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 159).

For those who say the Catholic Church is against science, let me say the Catholic Church embraces scientific research. "The question about the origins of the world and of man has been the object of many scientific studies which have splendidly enriched our knowledge of the age and dimensions of the cosmos, the development of life-forms and the appearance of man. These discoveries invite us to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator, prompting us to give him thanks for all his works and for the understanding and wisdom he gives to scholars and researchers" -- (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 283).

My view on science in relation to my Catholic religion is very simple.  They are separate.  That's right, they are separate.  That's because I understand science for what it really is.  A scientific theory is merely the best explanation for acquired data that we currently have -- until a better one comes along.  You see, that's why scientific theories are constantly changing, evolving, updating, etc.  It's because they're not designed to be permanent.  They're designed simply to explains data, as best as possible for now, until more data can be acquired that alters the theory.  In the medical field (in which I work) we deal with this all the time.  We use one medication or therapy to treat a patient, until new evidence arises that tells us another medication or therapy is better.  So we just adapt to the new theory.  That's all there is to it.  One of the biggest problems we experience in the medical field is when we run across a doctor or nurse who refuses to accept the new standards of medical care, and insists on doing everything the older ways.  Can you imagine that!?!  It does happen though.  So tell me, hypothetically speaking, suppose you were sick or had an accident, and needed to visit an emergency room at a hospital.  On the west side of town is the County Hospital, where they do everything the old fashioned way, boasting in a practise of medicine that hasn't changed in over a hundred years!  Then on the east side of town there is the City General Hospital where they use the latest in diagnostic and treatment available.  Which one would you go to?

If it were me, I would definitely pick the City General Hospital rather than the County Hospital for that nasty gash on my leg.  At City General I suppose I could expect some cleaning, stitching and a hefty dose of antibiotics as treatment.  While at the County Hospital, they would be just as likely to cut the whole leg off to prevent possible infection.  After all, they've been practising medicine the same way for over a hundred years!

You see what I mean, science is an evolving discipline.  It's better than it used to be, but it's nowhere near finished.  Guess what, it never will be finished.  The nature of science, true science anyway, is to constantly question itself.  Theories must be challenged, and this in turn gives rise to newer and better theories.  We certainly wouldn't want to base our medical treatment on practises that are over a hundred years old.  Nor would we want to base our beliefs about the world around us on theories that are obsolete.  Yet this is exactly what many people in our modern society do.

Here I must draw a distinction between science and scientism.  We know what science is.  It is based on the scientific method.  It's theories are not intended to be dogma.  They are flexible and even changeable.  They are designed to be the best explanation we have for the data -- until a better one comes along.  In contrast, scientism is not very scientific at all.  Scientism is simply an attempt to make science into a religion.  The idea behind scientism is that science can explain everything, and should be relied on for everything, including our most fundamental religious and moral beliefs. Many atheists and agnostic subscribe to scientism, and not necessarily science itself.

As you can see, scientism has nothing to do with actual science.  It's just a man-made philosophical creed that tries to use science to back it up.  I believe in science and the scientific method, but I categorically reject scientism.

The funny thing about scientism is that all too often, many of the scientific theories it uses to promote itself are actually over a hundred years old!  For example; up until about fifty years ago, most proponents of scientism asserted that the universe was eternal.  For a while, it appeared that the Catholic Church was going to butt heads with science on this matter because Vatican I solemnly defined that everyone must: "confess the world and all things which are contained in it, both spiritual and material, as regards their whole substance, have been produced by God from nothing" -- (Canons on God the Creator of All Things, canon 5).  However, in 1931, a Catholic priest named Fr. Georges LemaĆ®tre, (backed by Dr. Albert Einstein) proved scientism wrong with the "Big Bang Theory" on the origin of the universe.  So much for the eternal universe notion.  It is now an established scientific theory that the universe did have a definite beginning and came into being from essentially nothing. Today, proponents of scientism push the idea that the evolution of species is a fact, and therefore the Bible, and consequently Christianity itself, must be a false.

This is childish thinking to say the least, for many reasons, but I'll just go through a small handful here...
  1. The Bible nowhere says that the human body didn't evolve from some lower form.
  2. The Bible nowhere tells us the actual age of the earth, the sun or the universe.
  3. The Bible nowhere specifically says the sun revolves around the earth.  It does make mention of the sun stopping it's motion in the sky, but it doesn't explain exactly HOW that happened.
  4. The six-day literal creation theory has never been universally accepted by Christianity.  From the earliest writings of the Church Fathers, it would appear there was a sizeable number of Christians who interpreted the six-day creation story using what is called the "day-age" theory, wherein each "day" represents an "age" of world history, not necessarily a literal 24 hour "day."
  5. The Bible tells us that God created man out of the "dust" or "slime" of the earth.  This is scientifically provable, since human beings are made of composite matter that can easily be found in the soil of the earth.  However, what the Bible does not tell us is HOW God went about this creation process.  Did he use more primitive models of human bodies, before he gave us our human souls?  The Bible is silent about this.
  6. The only thing the Bible actually says, with any certainty of interpretation, is that God created all things.  It doesn't say how, it just says that he did.  It also says that God "breathed" into man and man became a living soul.  This is important, because the Hebrew word for "breath" is ra-uch, which also means "spirit."  This would seem to imply that what makes man different from the rest of the animals is that we have been given God's own Spirit -- a divine "spark" if you will -- that makes our relationship with God possible.
So that's it folks.  That's all the Bible really says about the origin of humanity and the universe.  So right from the start, the scientism assertion, that Christianity demands belief six literal 24-hour days, falls flat on it's face. Science is just as compatible with Christianity as medicine.  "Scripture presents the work of the Creator symbolically as a succession of six days of divine ‘work,’ concluded by the ‘rest’ of the seventh day" -- (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 337).  So you ask me, am I an evolutionist?  My answer is no.  You ask me, am I a creationist then? Again, my answer again is no.  I am neither, because I don't have to be one or the other.  Instead, I am open to theories from both sides of the debate, and weigh them in my own mind, based upon their merit as I understand them.  Guess what, the Catholic Church wouldn't care if I picked evolution or creationism.  Nor does she care that I choose neither. It's my mind, and I can exercise reason on this matter in any way I choose, so long as I comply with the moral standards of the Catholic Church. "Methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things the of the faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are" -- (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 159). There are many Catholics who are evolutionists, and the Church is fine with that, so long as they confess that God obviously guided the evolutionary process. Pope Pius XII, way back in 1950, declared that: "the teaching authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions . . . take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter—[but] the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God" -- (Humani Generis 36). Still, there are some Catholics who remain literal six 24-hour day creationists, and the Church is fine with that too, so long as they confess that God was the one who did the creating.  This should be no problem for either type of Catholic (creationist or evolutionist).  It is a wise and prudent position for the Catholic Church to take on this matter.

You see, the Catholic Church has held this position on science and religion for a very long time.  Let's take the Galileo incident as an example.  Typically, the popular media likes to portray it this way...
Galileo discovered that the planets orbit around the sun and that the earth is not the centre of the universe. Galileo went to Rome to try to tell the Catholic Church this.  In response the Catholic Church excommunicated Galileo for heresy, and then tortured and killed him.
I write this narrative above because this is actually how I've seen it portrayed on real news media outlets. The only problem is that it's so factually incorrect, it's hard to know where to begin. I suppose we could start with the first sentence and work our way through...
  1. Galileo discovered that the planets orbit around the sun and that the earth is not the centre of the universe.  Actually, that's factually inaccurate. Galileo did not discover this.  That was actually discovered by Nicholas Copernicus some 67 years prior.  In 1543, Copernicus published his work entitled "On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres" and dedicated it to Pope Paul III.  His work was well received in Rome as a valid scientific THEORY.  Since then, many professors (a good number of them Jesuit priests) in Catholic universities around Europe openly taught Copernicus' heliocentric theory on the motion of planets. Galileo came some time later, and using his invention of the telescope, was able to document the motion of planets more precisely, giving further validation of Copernicus' theory. Galileo likewise believed the sun (not the earth) was the centre of the universe. Both Galileo and Copernicus would later be proved wrong on that last point, because the universe is much bigger than either men could possibly imagine at that time, but that's a moot point here.
  2. Galileo went to Rome to try to tell the Catholic Church this. It is true that Galileo went to Rome to share his discovery. It is also true he was unsure as to what Rome's response would be. There were many country parishes in rural areas throughout Italy that were not fond of Galileo and suspected him of heresy. There were also the Protestants, who were certain Galileo was a heretic and wanted to burn him at the stake. However, when Galileo arrived in Rome, he was elated to discover what a warm welcome he received, and how many prelates were eager to view his telescopes. This experience was penned by Galileo's own hand in a letter he wrote back to his home town.  The fact was, Copernicus' theory on the motion of planets had been taught in many schools in Rome for some time, and a good number of Roman bishops and cardinals were already believers in this theory. Again, however, it was considered theory, and back then, there was a legal wall of separation between science and religion. As long as scientists stuck to science, everything was fine.
  3. In response the Catholic Church excommunicated Galileo for heresy.  This is where things get really problematic, because you see, the statement is categorically untrue in that context.  Galileo was eventually excommunicated, years after presenting his evidence to Rome, but not because he was able to prove a theory that many in Rome already believed. Rather, because Galileo could not keep the legal separation between science and religion. He was entrapped by some of his opponents, who asked him to reinterpret the Bible for them in light of the heliocentric theory. This was a "no-no," because Galileo did not have faculties to interpret Scripture. He was a scientist. In that time, scientists were supposed to stick to science, but that isn't what got him excommunicated. In an attempt to salvage Galileo's public image, Pope Urban VIII (a friend of Galileo) invited Galileo to present his findings in Rome and make the most convincing argument possible.  Now Pope Urban VIII was himself a geocentrist, but he was open to discussion and enjoyed a lively debate.  Besides Galileo was his friend, and he couldn't stand to see his reputation smeared by opponents who entrapped him.  This is where Galileo made his biggest mistake.  In his defence thesis entitled "Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems," Galileo did a masterful job defending the heliocentric position, but in doing so, he mocked and humiliated anyone who held to the geocentric position.  His friend, the pope, held to the geocentric position!  Oops!  It is unknown of Pope Urban VIII ever read the paper.  What is known is that once the prelates of the Vatican read it, they immediately sprung into action to defend the pope.  Galileo was found guilty of heresy for teaching science as religion. 
  4. and then tortured and killed him... This too is factually inaccurate.  Galileo was never tortured and he was never killed. Indeed, there were many who wanted to do this to him, and now with the sentence of heresy and excommunication over him, it would have been very easy for something like this to happen.  When Pope Urban VIII was informed of what had happened to his friend, he ordered that he be placed under house arrest, with Vatican guard, FOR HIS OWN PROTECTION.  Galileo refused to back down, and so he lived to a ripe old age in his own villa (a small mansion by the standards of that time) and died of old age.  
These are the facts of what actually happened in regards to the Galileo incident. The truth is, the Catholic Church never forbade the teaching of the heliocentric theory. Nicholas Copernicus was praised for it. Jesuit priests all over Europe taught it at universities. It continued to be taught at Catholic institutions even after the Galileo incident. Galileo was excommunicated and placed under house arrest (for his protection) for not distinguishing the separation between science and religion.  That is all.

I bring all this up to illustrate a point.  How many times have you heard the above narrative without the explanation that I followed with?  How many times have you been told, over and over again, that Galileo was excommunicated, tortured and killed, because the Catholic Church rejected the heliocentric theory on the motion of planets? How many people just blindly believe this?  The answer is millions! Yet none of it is true.

The Galileo incident is a perfect example of how bad it can get when people can't distinguish science from religion.  Thankfully, we don't have to worry about things going this far today.  One has to understand the political-religious hotbed that was Europe in the early 17th century. Such tensions no longer exist. To me however, this whole thing serves as an object lesson of why we should never base our religious beliefs on science, and likewise, never base our scientific theories on religion. The legal wall of separation between science and religion existed in the 17th century for a reason. The laws no longer exist, but common sense should dictate that we keep them in their proper perspective. There is no risk of anyone ending up like Galileo today. However, one can still end up looking rather foolish in the public eye.

Scientific theories are just that -- THEORIES.  They are more than just a guess.  They do have considerable evidence backing them up, but there is something we should all understand about them.  A theory is not a religious dogma. It was never meant to be that, and it can never serve that purpose. Using a scientific theory as a religious dogma is a lot like using a refrigerator to bake cookies. Such a machine was never designed to do that task. We should use science to understand the evidence of HOW the world works. Religion, on the other hand, tells us WHY the world is. That's why a Catholic priest can get a degree in science and come up with a theory regarding origins like the "Big Bang" for example. That's why nuns can become doctors. That's why monks can become professors and teach evolution in Catholic universities. Each thing must be put in it's proper place, and it must be used for the right purpose. Science can tell us much about HOW we got here, but it can't tell us anything about WHY we are here. That is the job of religion, and no religion does this better than Catholic Christianity. Science looks for facts. Religion looks for truth. Yes, there is a difference.

Since I began blogging in 2012, I have received many different emails, from many different people, asking me to subscribe to one or another theory regarding the origin of mankind and the universe.  These come from both creationists and evolutionists.  I refuse to commit to either one as dogmatic truth.  I think both present some valid arguments.  None of them, however, are watertight.  We can punch holes in the creationist argument just as easily as the evolutionist argument.  After all is said and done, I really don't care.

My religious faith is not built on the first chapter of the Book of Genesis.  It is built rather on the four Gospels of the New Testament.  As far as I am concerned, the first chapter of Genesis is open for debate on interpretation -- both literary interpretation and contextual interpretation.  I do not interpret the Bible using science.  Nor do I interpret science using the Bible.  I use science to interpret science and the Bible (as well as Tradition) to interpret the Bible.  I think this is a balanced approach.  If you ask me what I think of the first chapter of Genesis, I believe it is a Hebrew poem and nothing more.  I believe it conveys certain moral and theological truths, but in poetic form.  I do not believe I'm supposed to interpret it as literal scientific evidence.  I know there are many who will call me a "heretic" for this, and most of them are Protestants, but it really doesn't matter to me.  The Catholic Church is fine with my interpretation and I would venture to say that many prelates within the Church probably agree with it. My faith is based on this historical truth of Jesus Christ, and to the best of my knowledge, Jesus never said I had to believe in scientific evolution or the six literal 24-hour days of the creation story. As best as I can tell, I think Jesus is more concerned with what I believe about him and how I act accordingly.

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Monday, September 16, 2013

Can Atheists Go To Heaven?

Jesus, The Light of the World
Geertgen tot Sint Jans (1490)
Well, he's done it yet again!  Pope Francis has managed to get the whole world abuzz with some new controversial statements about atheists going to heaven.  Actually, what the pope said was not all that new, nor was it even surprising to those who actually study and know the Catholic Christian faith. However, to the great majority of people in the world, including many Catholics, who are basically clueless as to what the Church teaches, the pope's written comments about atheists are the latest sensational "change" in the Catholic Church marking the new "liberal trends" of this current pope.  (Excuse me while I find a bucket to yak into.)  Sorry, but the pope said nothing new here. There has been no change in Church teaching, and there is nothing about this whole narrative that even remotely suggests the pope is taking the Church down new "liberal trends."

Before I go any further into this, let me tell you a story. Back in 2000, my wife and I were attending an RCIA class preparing to enter the Catholic Church as converts from Protestantism.  On one particular night something happened.  It only happened once, but it was significant enough to almost end our journey into the Catholic Church. Here is what happened....

A guest priest (who shall remain nameless) was asked to speak on a variety of topics related to Church teaching. During the course of his question and answer segment, somebody asked about the salvation of their Protestant relatives. He responded appropriately by saying they could be saved.  That wasn't a problem. The problem came with what he said after.  He went on to talk about how the Catholic Church teaches that anybody and everybody can be saved, so long as they follow their conscience.  He used the typical example, of the bushman way out in the wilderness, who has never heard about God. He too can be saved if he just follows his conscience, and that God can reveal himself to different people in different ways.  He mentioned Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and even atheism.  It clearly sounded as if he was saying that it didn't really matter what you believe, so long as you believe in something.

My wife and I were aghast!  What this priest was telling our RCIA class sounded more like Syncretism than Catholicism.  My wife, who had been a little sceptical of Catholicism to begin with, immediately whispered into my ear: "That's it!  This is not Christianity. I'm done with this place. I want to leave now!" Now maybe she was right. Maybe a clear way to send a message would have been to simply get up, walk out and drive away, leaving our RCIA directors stunned. After all, we could have gone to another RCIA class at another parish.  Or we could have simply gone back to Protestantism for a while.  The only problem was, I was convinced the Catholic Church is the one true Church established by Jesus Christ, and I was convinced this priest just didn't know how to present that plain and clear teaching of the Church.  So what to do?  In that moment, I decided the best thing to do would be to confront the problem, rather than walk away from it. I whispered back to my wife that she should calm down, because I thought the priest was wrong about something.  I told her I would talk to him after the class and that she and I would discuss this later.  She grudgingly agreed.  So after class I approached the priest, and I asked him to further clarify what he meant earlier.  He again explained his teaching, which was identical to what he said before.  I responded by asking him the following questions. "How is that any different than Syncretism or religious relativism?  So it really doesn't matter if I convert to Catholicism?  I can go to the Unitarian Church down the street and that would be okay, right?"  The priest was stunned.  He then began to back-peddle a bit, and no sooner another person in our class came over to speak with him.  She was a sponsor.  She thanked the priest for "clarifying" these matters to us.  You see, her aunt had left the Church for Buddhism.  She had been trying to get her to come back to the Church for years, but now that the priest had helped her understand that "it doesn't really matter," she would leave her Buddhist aunt alone.  In fact, she told him she would write her a letter that night and assure her that being a Buddhist is just fine with the Church, and encourage her to go on being a good Buddhist, and that she would get to heaven that way too. She thanked him profusely again, and then walked away.  As the stunned and speechless priest turned to look back at me, I said rather smugly: "See what I mean?"  His eyes must have been the size of quarters. He then went on to try to back-peddle a bit, and I told him I thought I understood what he was trying to say, but his delivery was a bit off, and that he should be more careful in the future.  I then excused myself, explaining that I have to go do some damage control with my wife now.

I admit, I was a bit short with him, and perhaps that was rude, but at the time I had a lot going on.  My concern?  I may soon be entering the Catholic Church through different parish RCIA program and this time without my wife at my side.  I had to do my homework and do it fast.  That night I went through the Catechism, and this is what I found...
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH...
846: How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body: 
Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.
This is cross referenced with CATECHISM 161 which says....
Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation. "Since "without faith it is impossible to please [God]" and to attain to the fellowship of his sons, therefore without faith no one has ever attained justification, nor will anyone obtain eternal life 'But he who endures to the end.'"
It is also cross referenced with CATECHISM 1257 which says...
The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation. He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptise them. Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptised are "reborn of water and the Spirit." God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH...
847-848: This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church
Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation.
"Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelise all men."
This is cross referenced with CATECHISM 1260 which says...
"Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery." Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.
In regards to the Catholic Church's relationship with other religions, the CATECHISM has this to say...
839: "Those who have not yet received the Gospel are related to the People of God in various ways." 
The relationship of the Church with the Jewish People. When she delves into her own mystery, the Church, the People of God in the New Covenant, discovers her link with the Jewish People, "the first to hear the Word of God." The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God's revelation in the Old Covenant. To the Jews "belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ", "for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable."
840: And when one considers the future, God's People of the Old Covenant and the new People of God tend towards similar goals: expectation of the coming (or the return) of the Messiah. But one awaits the return of the Messiah who died and rose from the dead and is recognised as Lord and Son of God; the other awaits the coming of a Messiah, whose features remain hidden till the end of time; and the latter waiting is accompanied by the drama of not knowing or of misunderstanding Christ Jesus
841: The Church's relationship with the Muslims. "The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day."
842: The Church's bond with non-Christian religions is in the first place the common origin and end of the human race: 
All nations form but one community. This is so because all stem from the one stock which God created to people the entire earth, and also because all share a common destiny, namely God. His providence, evident goodness, and saving designs extend to all against the day when the elect are gathered together in the holy city. . .
843: The Catholic Church recognises in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as "a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life."
844: In their religious behaviour, however, men also display the limits and errors that disfigure the image of God in them: 
Very often, deceived by the Evil One, men have become vain in their reasonings, and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and served the creature rather than the Creator. Or else, living and dying in this world without God, they are exposed to ultimate despair. 
845: To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son's Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is "the world reconciled." She is that bark which "in the full sail of the Lord's cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world." According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah's ark, which alone saves from the flood.
In regards to the Catholic Church's relationship to atheists and agnostics, the CATECHISM has this to say...
2123: "Many . . . of our contemporaries either do not at all perceive, or explicitly reject, this intimate and vital bond of man to God. Atheism must therefore be regarded as one of the most serious problems of our time."
2124: The name "atheism" covers many very different phenomena. One common form is the practical materialism which restricts its needs and aspirations to space and time. Atheistic humanism falsely considers man to be "an end to himself, and the sole maker, with supreme control, of his own history." Another form of contemporary atheism looks for the liberation of man through economic and social liberation. "It holds that religion, of its very nature, thwarts such emancipation by raising man's hopes in a future life, thus both deceiving him and discouraging him from working for a better form of life on earth." 
2125: Since it rejects or denies the existence of God, atheism is a sin against the virtue of religion. The imputability of this offence can be significantly diminished in virtue of the intentions and the circumstances. "Believers can have more than a little to do with the rise of atheism. To the extent that they are careless about their instruction in the faith, or present its teaching falsely, or even fail in their religious, moral, or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than to reveal the true nature of God and of religion."
2126: Atheism is often based on a false conception of human autonomy, exaggerated to the point of refusing any dependence on God. Yet, "to acknowledge God is in no way to oppose the dignity of man, since such dignity is grounded and brought to perfection in God. . . . " "For the Church knows full well that her message is in harmony with the most secret desires of the human heart."
2127: Agnosticism assumes a number of forms. In certain cases the agnostic refrains from denying God; instead he postulates the existence of a transcendent being which is incapable of revealing itself, and about which nothing can be said. In other cases, the agnostic makes no judgement about God's existence, declaring it impossible to prove, or even to affirm or deny. 
2128: Agnosticism can sometimes include a certain search for God, but it can equally express indifferentism, a flight from the ultimate question of existence, and a sluggish moral conscience. Agnosticism is all too often equivalent to practical atheism.
Whew!  That's a lot to digest.  As you can see, the Catechism is very careful to take in every imagined scenario, so as to address every topic humanly possible.  It's a pretty hefty document, which is why so many national dioceses have instead created a simplified version for regular catechises of faithful.  Still, when we get into sticky wickets like this, we have to pull out the big guns.  Nothing but the universal Catechism from Rome will do, and as you can see it says allot.  Some of it even sounds conflicting at times, and I can see why some Catholics (even clergy) would get a bit confused from time to time.  I would assert that Rome should probably make an effort toward further clarification at some future date, but at the same time take special care that such "clarification" doesn't further muddy the waters.  Salvation is by far the single most important teaching of the Church.  It must be crystal clear.

I'm a visual person, so it helps for me to explain things in visual word-pictures.  If you'll indulge me for a moment, I'll explain this Church teaching on salvation in the best way I can, using a visual analogy...
Here in the Ozark Mountains we have a lot of caves. Many of these caves are tourist traps. Many more are unexplored. Some have recently been discovered bearing the remains of prehistoric animals, trapped thousands of years ago, with their bones undisturbed until now! I can think of no better analogy to use here than a cave. Suppose, for a moment, that a rather large group of people find themselves stranded at the bottom of a deep and dark cave.  It doesn't matter how they got there.  Let's just assume they've been down there for generations, living a life of total blindness, filth and poverty.  Now, suppose rumours of a world above have been spreading throughout this population, a world above that is filled with light, wherein people can perceive reality in a way previously unknown, where food is plentiful, life is dignified and people are relatively "happy."  So naturally, a good number of them set out to find their way out of the caverns and up to the surface opening of the cave.  The only problem is, nobody knows the way. Okay, that's the scenario, and it is meant to visually describe the situation of our fallen human race. The world of light above is heaven. The dark cavern below is this fallen world under the yoke of original sin.
So to each person who sets out on this journey of faith and hope toward the surface, a tool can be chosen... 
To some are given an enormous megawatt floodlight, powerful enough to illuminate not only the path in front of them, but also each and every cavern they set out to explore.  This is the light of Jesus Christ as given by his One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Those who use this light are Catholic Christians.
Others are disillusioned by that light, and find it a bit too revealing and hard on the eyes, which for generations have been more accustomed to darkness.  So they instead choose smaller flashlights.  These again represent the light of Jesus Christ, but this time diminished in power and made incomplete by the limited reasoning of man.  This is Protestantism. 
Still to others were given lanterns, which were good for illuminating some things, but not nearly as powerful as the floodlight or flashlights.  Here the light of Christ is hidden in a different form, but present nonetheless in some veiled fashion. This is Judaism.
To a large group of people were given candles, not nearly as strong as the lantern, flashlights or floodlight, but a light nonetheless, and capable of some illumination.  Christ is present in that light in some fashion, but like in Judaism, those who bear it have no idea of its full potential. This is Islam.  
Then there were those who were given canes, the type used by the blind.  These are people who do not have any light, but are given the tool to at least stand up dignified, and "feel" what is before them so as not to trip over it.  These are the pagan, spiritual and pantheist religions of the world, created solely by man's reasoning and imagination.
Then there are those who refuse all tools, and prefer to crawl on their journey, feeling their own way with their own bare hands.  These are the agnostics, who, while they do not necessarily deny the existence of a world above, they, at the same time, deny the usefulness of tools to help them find their way up.
Finally, there are those who refuse to believe there is a world above at all.  They dismiss, as foolish, anyone who tries to seek it.  Instead they choose to remain at the bottom of the cave, in darkness, drinking the slime of cave water, feeling their way through the feces of bats, and eating the blind fish and salamanders of the deep.  They are content with their life in darkness, and have no desire to leave it behind.  These are the atheists.
Now that I've created this analogy, this word-picture, let me ask you some questions.  Which group is more likely to find its way up and out of the cave?  Which tool is most effective for this task?  I think the answer should be obvious.  The megawatt floodlight of Jesus Christ and his Catholic Church is by far the most effective tool for this task.  Getting to the top of the cave is no guarantee.  Anyone can be distracted into the darkness of some fascinating cavern, but if one stays true and follows the light as it leads the way out, that one has the best chance of reaching the top of the cave by the grace of God.  Now, that being said, is it possible for somebody bearing the flashlight of Protestantism to reach the top of the cave?  Sure!  It may be just a little harder than for somebody with the megawatt floodight of the Catholic Church, but the Protestant still has a powerful tool nonetheless, because Christ himself is the light that shows him the way.  By God's grace, it is possible. What of the follower of Judaism? Can he reach the top of the cave? Yes, by the grace of God, but it's quite a bit more difficult. What of the Muslim? Again, it's possible, by the grace of God, but even more difficult. What of the pagan? Yes, in God's grace, but by this time, the numbers of those pagans who set out on the journey, verses the number of those who actually reach the top, are significantly diminished. Namely because without the truth of Christ to guide them, it is easy to be distracted and give up. By the time you get to the agnostics, the number who actually reach the top are very few indeed. As for atheists, well, they simply won't reach the top, unless they change their attitude, and at least set out as agnostics. Most people who claim to be atheists are really agnostics anyway, once you probe down into what they really think. Only a very small number of people are really and truly atheists.

By now it should be obvious what is happening in this word-picture analogy here.  Nearly all of us are on a journey of faith upward.  We believe there is something for us that is greater above.  We are all attempting to get to the same "place," even if our understanding of what that place is different.  We all know that everything will be revealed once we get to the light above.  What makes us different is the means which we choose to guide us.  Most of us walk upright and dignified.  Some of us have the full light of Christ (Catholicism). Others have a partial light of Christ (Protestantism). Some have a veiled light of Christ (Judaism), wile others have a diminished light of Christ (Islam). Some of us use canes (paganism, spiritism and pantheism) like a blind man, but still walk upright and dignified.  Others prefer to crawl on the ground using their hands to feel the way (agnostics). Only a very small number chose to stay at the bottom of the cave, living in darkness and filth, and deny the existence of the world above (atheists).

It should be obvious from this word-picture that the people most likely to reach the top of the cave (heaven) will be those with the megawatt floodlight (Catholics).  Again, that's not a guarantee.  Any person can be distracted by a beautiful rock formation, and the sound of a rushing stream somewhere in the cave.  Anyone can choose instead to stop the journey, and use the light to set up camp, and live a more dignified life within the cave, never reaching the top.  That happens too.  Not all Catholics go to heaven, because some, by their own choosing, decide to use the light to create a better home for them down below. What a horrible experience it will be for them when the light goes out eventually, meaning, they die within the cave, having never attained the fullness of light above.  The same goes for Protestants, Jews and Muslims.  The point I'm making here is that while none of us are guaranteed heaven, we do at least have the moral assurance of getting there so long as we seek with sincerity.  Those of us who have the best tool, obviously have the best chance of reaching the goal.  Catholic Christianity is clearly the best tool there is, because Jesus Christ is the megawatt light that guides our way.  The floodlight that contains it (the Catholic Church) simply allows that megawatt light of Christ to shine to its fullest measure possible.  If you leave aside the floodlight, and pick up a flashlight instead, you do so at your own peril.  You may still make it to the destination, but you'll be using a much less effective tool. If you refuse either one of these modern torches, and choose a lantern or a candle instead, you've just diminished your chances of reaching the top even further. Finally, if you refuse any light at all, choosing instead a cane or your hands, again, you might possibly reach the top, by the grace of God, but your chances are astronomically more difficult.  If you choose not to make the journey at all, and remain in the darkness and filth of the cave below, you probably won't ever make it to the top, unless of course, you change your attitude.  That can happen for atheists, and it's happened many times in the past. Such a change in heart usually involves following one's conscience.

Now with that in mind, let's get back to what that guest priest said to our RCIA class 13 years ago, as well as what Pope Francis said last week.  Yes, it is possible for people of other faiths, or no faith at all, to reach heaven.  However, without the full light of Christ, illuminating the way through the Catholic Church, the chances of actually reaching heaven are significantly reduced.  The more the light of Christ is rejected, the more the odds of reaching heaven are reduced.  Those who refuse to make the journey (atheists) are almost assured total darkness and depravity (hell) unless they change their attitude, and that can't happen unless they follow their conscience.  Why?  Because a conscience is God's way of communicating with each and every one of us.  When an atheist follows his conscience, he ceases to be a true atheist.  He is now an agnostic at the very least, and his journey to the top of the cave begins. Maybe along the way he'll find a cane and use it, or perhaps a candle, lantern or flashlight.  Maybe, just maybe, he might even find a megawatt floodlight, put aside his pride, and actually use it. Who knows? But the journey can't even begin until he starts following his conscience. On the other hand, maybe he won't use any of these things. Maybe instead he will simply crawl is way through the darkness, feeling every rock with his hands along the way. Could God still lead him out of that cave? Could God, in his infinite grace and mercy still save him? Of course! God can do anything, and none of us attain salvation without the grace and mercy of God. The one question here is: "How often does this happen?" Nobody but God can know that. What we do know is that we should do everything possible to increase everyone's odds of reaching the top, and that means preaching to gospel to every soul.

You see, this is what the pope is encouraging atheists to do, and in encouraging atheists to use their conscience, he is in no way contradicting the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Nor is there anything "new" or "liberal trendy" about this teaching.  It's the same teaching of the Catholic Church since Saint Paul made his sermon on the Areopagus in pagan Athens 2,000 years ago (Acts 17:16-34).  Every journey begins with a first step, even if it's just a shuffle or a crawl. The pope merely reached out to those living at the bottom of the cave, and encourage them to do the very thing that will lead to that first step. Follow your conscience!

As for the priest who spoke to our RCIA class more than a decade ago, I think this message serves as an object lesson of what not to say, and most especially, how not to say it. In all things the superiority of the Catholic Christian faith must be stressed. It must be emphasised that Catholicism is the best tool (indeed the only tool) that God has given us to reach heaven, because it is the full measure of the light of Christ. It is possible for people to reach heaven using a veiled (man-made) version of that light, or even no light at all, but there is no way anyone can reasonably say that one tool is just as good as another. Some tools are better than others, and one tool is best of all.

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