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Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Centrality of the Family in Catholic Social Teaching

In his Apostolic Exhortation on the role of the Christian family in the modern world, Familiaris Consortio, St. Pope John Paul II proclaimed that: “Willed by God in the very act of creation,
marriage and the family are interiorly ordained to fulfillment in Christ”” (3). In a way, John Paul the Great, has summarized the reason for the centrality of the family in Catholic Social Teaching. The omnipresence of familial themes throughout Holy Scripture and Church Tradition are a testimony to the sacred nature of the family and the role that it plays in God’s divine plan. The Second Vatican Council produced one of the most profound documents concerning the modern Church, Gaudium et Spes. This dogmatic constitution assesses much, including the role of the family. “The Christian family loudly proclaims both the present virtues of the Kingdom of God and the hope of a blessed life to come. Thus by its example and its witness it accuses the world of sin and enlightens those who seek the truth” (Lumen Gentium 35). This truth is evident in every aspect of society, from the individual to the whole of civilization. Because of this, Catholic social teaching (CST) is informed greatly by the needs and duties of the family. Why and how does family play such crucial role in CST? To know this we must first understand what CST gleans from the Bible by way of the Old Testament and the Holy Family, how today’s families figure into God’s divine plan, and how the magisterium has illustrated these things to us through CST.

When speaking of the family, as it relates to CST, one would be remiss to forego the impact that the Holy Family has had on its development. That being said, the significance of the Holy Family is bolstered by the familial themes found in the Old Testament. In the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church there is a passage that beautifully references the depth of the Bible’s reverence for the family:
It is in the family that one learns the love and faithfulness of the Lord, and the need to respond to these (cf. Ex 12:25-27, 13:8, 14-15; Deut 6:20-25, 13:7-11; 1 Sam 3:13). It is in the family that children learn their first and most important lessons of practical wisdom, to which the virtues are connected (cf. Prov 1:8-9, 4:1-4, 6:20-21; Sir 3:1-16, 7:27-28). Because of all this, the Lord himself is the guarantor of the love and fidelity of married life (cf. Ma 2:14-15)” (209-210).
Here The Compendium illustrates the significance of the family utilizing only the Old Testament as reference, and these are far from the only Scriptures that pertain to the subject. The importance of this is that just as the Old Testament Messianic prophecies came to fruition in the person of Jesus, so did the Holy Family come to exemplify the tenets of what the Old Testament shows a family to be. CST’s concern for the plight of the impoverished and marginalized and the corollary experiences of the Holy Family are unmistakable. From Mary’s (perceived) pregnancy out of wedlock to Christ’s birth in a stable, the Holy Family had much to contend with in the way of social exclusion. Christ’s first miracle, at Cana, was at the ultimate celebration of family, a wedding! In addition to the humble circumstances of Christ’s socio-economic status are his very specific calls to help the underprivileged. In the Gospel of St. Matthew Jesus puts forth a soteriological call to the “human family”: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me… just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (NRSVC Matt 25:35-40). 1994 was declared the “Year of the Family” by Pope John Paul II. In his letter to families, Gratissimam Sane, he artfully illustrates how the Holy Family remains a beacon of hope for modern families. In concluding his letter he mentions the significance of each member of the family of Christ:
May the Holy Family, icon and model of every human family, help each individual to walk in the spirit of Nazareth. May it help each family unit to grow in understanding of its particular mission in society and the Church by hearing the Word of God, by prayer and by a fraternal sharing of life. May Mary, Mother of "Fairest Love", and Joseph, Guardian of the Redeemer, accompany us all with their constant protection (Gratissimam Sane 23).

The Holy Spirit leads God’s family ever further along the path of salvation. The 20th and 21st centuries have been integral in hastening us upon this course. CST has grown by leaps and bounds. Pope Francis’ recent Synod on the Family, and the one to come in 2015, are testimonies to the continued focus on this most basic social institution. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have had a hand in the development of social doctrine, especially as it pertains to the family: “Marriage and the family are the central social institutions that must be supported and strengthened, not undermined. We believe people have a right and a duty to participate in society, seeking together the common good and well-being of all, especially the poor and vulnerable” (Themes of Catholic Social Teaching). It is the pursuit of these rights that serve to illuminate the need for healthy and contributing family units, households, communities, and the Church alike. The precursor to next year’s fourteenth ordinary general assembly of the Synod of Bishops, and the follow up to this year’s third extraordinary general assembly of the Synod of Bishops, was 1980’s Synod on the Family. St. John Paul II’s postsynodal apostolic exhortation, Familiaris Consortio presents a brief list of what CST hopes to address with respect to the modern family; “Thus, with love as its point of departure and making constant reference to it, the recent Synod emphasized four general tasks for the family: 1) forming a community of persons; 2) serving life; 3) participating in the development of society; 4) sharing in the life and mission of the Church” (17).

“Forming a community of persons” involves the responsibility of society to foster the well-being of the individual. What better expression of a communion of persons than that which is established in the Sacrament of Marriage. It is for this reason that the integrity of marriage, as the building block upon which families are established, is held in such high regard. “For the good of the spouses and their off-springs as well as of society, the existence of the sacred bond no longer depends on human decisions alone. For, God Himself is the author of matrimony, endowed as it is with various benefits and purposes” (Gaudium et Spes 48). It is a union by which God joins a man and wife and perpetuates that community of persons through procreation and the promotion of God’s divine plan. As Catholics it is our responsibility to cultivate a culture that preserves this most sacred of institutions. Through active participation in our communities and at the polls we can do our part in encouraging a society built upon the morals of the Church. “Marriage must be defined, recognized, and protected as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, and as the source of the next generation and the protective haven for children. Policies on taxes, work, divorce, immigration, and welfare should help families stay together and should reward responsibility and sacrifice for children” (Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship 70).

Once children enter the picture, the small “community of persons” that God has created is focused on providing for those who cannot provide for themselves, our children. This is where the “participation in the development of society” comes in. The First Epistle of John speaks to this directly. The language is familial in nature, and the priority placed on charity through action is explicit: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (NRSVCE, 1 John 3:17-18). Children are dependent upon their parents for food, shelter, clothing, education, moral support, and the tools by which to further the family/society as adults. Fostering a family environment that promotes empathy and love through affection, in God’s name, creates a small society that encourages the tenets of Christ’s Law (NRSVCE, Galatians 6:2):
The first and fundamental structure for "human ecology" is the family, in which man receives his first formative ideas about truth and goodness, and learns what it means to love and to be loved, and thus what it actually means to be a person. Here we mean the family founded on marriage, in which the mutual gift of self by husband and wife creates an environment in which children can be born and develop their potentialities, become aware of their dignity and prepare to face their unique and individual destiny. (Centesimus Annus 39).
To achieve this we must be socially aware and proactive. “Authority, stability, and a life of relationships within the family constitute the foundations for freedom, security, and fraternity within society. The family is the community in which, from childhood, one can learn moral values, begin to honor God, and make good use of freedom. Family life is an initiation into life in society” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2207). The lessons learned at the family level, and perpetuated through the generations inform who we are as a society. “A truly sovereign and spiritually vigorous nation is always made up of strong families who are aware of their vocation and mission in history. The family is at the heart of all these problems and tasks. To relegate it to a subordinate or secondary role… would be to inflict grave harm on the authentic growth of society as a whole” (Gratissimam Sane 17). To prevent this subordination of the family it is our duty as Catholics to take an active role in protecting our children. As much as we would like to be there for them every minute, it is impossible. Because of this we must ensure that the social institutions responsible for our children in our absence are correctly ordered. An example of one such institution would be our education system: “Government, through such means as tax credits and publicly funded scholarships, should help provide resources for parents, especially those of modest means, to exercise this basic right without discrimination. Students in all educational settings should have opportunities for moral and character formation (Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship 72). This is just one example of society’s responsibility for the care of our young. In addition to this we must have the moral fiber to ensure that laws, rules, and regulations are in place to protect our most valuable assets, our children, from exposure to pornography, gratuitous violence, and similar threats to their developing minds.

In step with this theme of providing for those who are unable to care for themselves is the Church’s stance against abortion, contraception, euthanasia, capital punishment, and similar threats to human life. In this way the family is central to “serving life.” Rather than a place where life is optional in the face of suffering, Pope John Paul II demands that that family be a “sanctuary of life.”
It is necessary to go back to seeing the family as the sanctuary of life. The family is indeed sacred: it is the place in which life — the gift of God — can be properly welcomed and protected against the many attacks to which it is exposed, and can develop in accordance with what constitutes authentic human growth. In the face of the so-called culture of death, the family is the heart of the culture of life (Centesimus Annus 39).
The dignity due to the individual is rooted in God’s creation of man, and similarly in man’s reproduction: “In procreation therefore, through the communication of life from parents to child, God's own image and likeness is transmitted, thanks to the creation of the immortal soul” (Evangelium Vitae 43). God’s imprint upon our beings informs all that we do in striving for the greater good, and similarly informs the dignity due to men as children of God.

Another indispensable aspect of Catholic Social Teaching and the family is our call to “share in the life and mission of the Church.”  Families can do this in two ways. The first way is by creating what Pope John Paul II called “the little domestic church” within the walls of our own homes (Familiaris Consortio 51). The family unit should be a place of frequent prayer, constant learning, praise, and worship. Each member of the family should strive to emulate each of the members of the Holy Family, and in doing, catechize those around them:
As a sharer in the life and mission of the Church, which listens to the word of God with reverence and proclaims it confidently, the Christian family fulfills its prophetic role by welcoming and announcing the word of God: it thus becomes more and more each day a believing and evangelizing community… The discovery of and obedience to the plan of God on the part of the conjugal and family community must take place in "togetherness," through the human experience of love between husband and wife, between parents and children, lived in the Spirit of Christ. Thus the little domestic Church, like the greater Church, needs to be constantly and intensely evangelized: hence its duty regarding permanent education in the faith.” (Familiaris Consortio 51).

The second way the Church impacts the family is by being said family! In his papal encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI elaborates upon the role of the Church as family, provider, and caretaker: “The Church is God's family in the world. In this family no one ought to go without the necessities of life” (25b).
The Church offers an original and irreplaceable contribution with the concern that impels her to make the family of mankind and its history more human, prompting her to place herself as a bulwark against every totalitarian temptation, as she shows man his integral and definitive vocation. By preaching the Gospel, the grace of the sacraments and the presence of fraternal communion, the Church, “heals and elevates the dignity of the human person,… consolidates society and endows the daily activity of men with a deeper sense of meaning (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church 51).
God the Father Almighty has gathered us into His house, into His Church, and eternally stands as the model upon which our own families are built. “Just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ” (NRSVCE, Ephesians 1:4). Our responsibility to the Church is similar to our civic responsibility. We are called to be active, concerned, and helpful. We are charged with contributing in a positive way and abiding by the rules that have been set. More than anything we have been appointed to perpetuate the message of Christ on earth.

If society as a whole is able to recognize the proper and natural order of God’s plan we will be able to make the progress necessary for peace “on Earth as it is in Heaven” (NRSVCE, Matthew 6:10). It is only through caring for each and every person of the human family with the same amount of care that society places on the achievement of power and monetary gain that we can improve the conditions of those who cannot do for themselves:
Man's social nature makes it evident that the progress of the human person and the advance of society itself hinge on one another… Among those social ties which man needs for his development… like the family and political community, relate with greater immediacy to his innermost nature; others originate rather from his free decision. In our era, for various reasons, reciprocal ties and mutual dependencies increase day by day and give rise to a variety of associations and organizations, both public and private. This development, which is called socialization, while certainly not without its dangers, brings with it many advantages with respect to consolidating and increasing the qualities of the human person, and safeguarding his rights. (Gaudium et Spes 25).
Catholic Social Teaching in the 20th and 21st centuries has continued to be one of the only constant sparks of light in a gradually darkening room. The influence of the Catholic Church, and ultimately He who instituted her, cannot be understated. The family as an institution is challenged on a daily basis. Traditional moral values are being undermined by the unfortunate redefinition of marriage, and the conjugal act has been relegated to recreational act. The flagrant disregard for life at conception has led to a loss of respect for life at any age. Death has become a viable alternative to pain and unwanted pregnancy. Only through nurturing the family unit as the most basic building block of society can we hope to effect humanity at large. Pope Francis, in his Papal Encyclical, Lumen Fidei, commented on the dire consequences of a modern society preoccupied with brotherhood without the benefit of a guiding father: “Absorbed and deepened in the family, faith becomes a light capable of illumining all our relationships in society… Modernity sought to build a universal brotherhood based on equality, yet we gradually came to realize that this brotherhood, lacking a reference to a common Father as its ultimate foundation, cannot endure (54).




Sources:
Benestad, J. Brian. Church, State, and Society: An Introduction to Catholic Social Doctrine. Washington, D.C.: Catholic U of America, 2011. Print.
Benedict XVI. Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est: On Christian Love. The Holy See, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.
Catechism of the Catholic Church: With Modifications from the Editio Typica. 2nd ed. New York: Doubleday, 1997. Print.
Catholic Church. United Sates Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response A Pastoral Letter on War and Peace by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Washington: USCCB, 1983. Web. 4 Dec. 2014
Catholic Church. United Sates Conference of Catholic Bishops. Economic Justice for All: Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy. Washington: USCCB, 1997. Web. 4 Dec. 2014
Catholic Church. United Sates Conference of Catholic Bishops. Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States. Washington: USCCB, 2011. Web. 4 Dec. 2014
Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. 7th ed. Cittá Del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana ;, 2004. Print.
Francis. Encyclical Letter Lumen Fidei: On Faith. The Holy See, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.
John Paul II. Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus: on the Hundreth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum. The Holy See, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.
John Paul II. Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio: On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World. The Holy See, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.
John Paul II. Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae: on the Value and Inviolability of Human Life. The Holy See, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.
John Paul II. Letter to Families Gratissimam Sane. The Holy See, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.
McCarthy, David Matzko. The Heart of Catholic Social Teaching: Its Origins and Contemporary Significance. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos, 2009. Print.
Paul VI. Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes: On the Church in the Modern World. The Holy See, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.
Themes of Catholic Social Teaching. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. USCCB Publishing, 1 Jan. 2005. Web. 14 Dec. 2014.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Proportionalism, Veritatis Splendor, and the Integrity of the Human Person

The ethically ambiguous road paved by nominalism, relativism, and other modern "isms" are not the only paths of unrighteousness. In the wake of Vatican II, even those who counted themselves
among the opposition to modern and freewheeling trends in moral thought could find themselves in
error.  Ever since the institution of the Church there has been the need for clarification and unity in the face of divergent arguments about the nature of faith. The prototypical council of Jerusalem was called to deal with issues of this sort as was the Second Vatican Council. Vatican II called for a rejuvenated interest in moral theology, and one of the results to arise from this appeal was an ethical concept called “proportionalism.” While the moral theologians who developed and promoted proportionalism did so with good intentions, the theory was summarily dismissed by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor, The Splendor of Truth. Ultimately, proportionalism denies the integrity of the human person, the question that remains, however, is “what leads us to this conclusion?”

Catholic moral theology, and the Church as a whole for that matter, is teleological in nature. Together, we traverse through the ages in search of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is a spiritual journey. For this reason, she is known as the “Pilgrim Church.” With all of this in mind, in conjunction with the input of Church reformists, it’s not surprising that a theory of ethical behavior divergent from classic Thomistic moral theology has emerged as of late. The issue, however, is not that moral theology is not teleological; the issue is that modern schools of thought have influenced great thinkers within the Church in a way that removes the plausibility of absolute sin. This philosophy is called “proportionalism” and, surprisingly, it resembles a sort of moral relativism. The basic gist of proportionalism is that a sin may be judged according to the end result. The severity of the sin is measured upon the good or evil produced. What proportionalism does is put the burden of deciphering the “greater good” or “lesser evil” in the hands of an individual (Veritatis Splendor 57). Deep rumination on the nature of good and evil, and our role in God’s creation is essential; however, the faulty attitudes perpetuated by “proportionalists” were in direct opposition to those of the Church. Pope John Paul II addressed this in his Papal Encyclical Veritatis Splendor: “The weighing of the goods and evils foreseeable as the consequence of an action is not an adequate method for determining whether the choice of that concrete kind of behaviour is ‘according to its species’, or ‘in itself’, morally good or bad, licit or illicit… an exhaustive rational calculation is not possible” (Veritatis Splendor 77).  One thing that proportionalism does not account for is that the nature of our decisions serves to contribute to the moral makeup and integrity of our souls. When a sin, such as murder, is absolutely off the table as a viable solution in any situation, then concern over what such an act may have on our person is of no concern. However, if we leave that door open, the possibility of faulty reasoning can lead one to commit one the most grievous sins imaginable. Just as with any act, to continue down that road becomes easier. The ability to rationalize it comes quicker and quicker.
To separate the fundamental option from concrete kinds of behavior means to contradict the substantial integrity or personal unity of the moral agent in his body and in his soul. A fundamental option understood without explicit consideration of the potentialities which it puts into effect and the determinations which express it does not do justice to the rational finality immanent in man's acting and in each of his deliberate decisions (Veritatis Splendor 67).

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle: Good and Happiness

How does one define happiness? More importantly, how may it be attained? These are questions for the ages, with answers that run the gamut. Not unexpectedly, when entering into a dialog about the finer points of
happiness, clarifications are invariably made. Among those entering into this debate was Aristotle. His philosophical influence can be found throughout the writings of our own St. Thomas Aquinas. In Thomas’ Summa Thelogiae, a compendium of Catholic theological teachings, the subject of happiness is discussed at length; especially in the light of divine revelation, and our creation in the image of God. In order to gain a better understanding of Thomistic philosophy it helps to first have a firm grasp of the Aristotelian definition of happiness, what he believes the path of attainability to be, and how all of this informs our own lives.
Aristotle firmly believed that humans were inclined to do “good.” This natural and deep-rooted inclination informs our decision making process. Because of this, the end which we all seek to achieve is ultimately “good.” Occasionally, we are mistaken in our approximation of what that “good” might be, however that does not change the fact that our pursuit of said “good” is genuine. With “good” being our destination, it would then stand to reason that the road to this “good” is “good” in and of itself. According to Aristotle: “Human good turns out to be an activity of soul in accordance with virtue, and, if there is more than one virtue, in accordance with the best and most complete” (Nicomachean Ethics 7). It is the pursuit of good, the virtue that we foster in doing so, and the end result, that leads to happiness. “The happy man lives well and does well; for we have practically defined happiness as a sort of good life and good action. The characteristics that are looked for in happiness seem also, all of them, to belong to what we have defined happiness as being…  Happiness then is the best, noblest, and most pleasant thing in the world (Nicomachean Ethics 8).

As was previously mentioned, Aristotle believed that many goods could build upon one another for a greater, more enveloping, end. Thomas believed that our works of good, and the virtue and happiness that resulted, were the fruits of toiling toward a single all-encompassing end unattainable on Earth; God.  The happiness that comes as a result of the virtue built in pursuit of good is the manifestation of our freely drawing nearer to God, and more closely realizing our nature as beings created in His divine image:
Man is said to be made to God's image, in so far as the image implies an intelligent being endowed with free-will and self-movement: now that we have treated of the exemplar, i.e., God, and of those things which came forth from the power of God in accordance with His will; it remains for us to treat of His image, i.e., man, inasmuch as he too is the principle of his actions, as having free-will and control of his actions (ST I-II, pr.).
With free will at our disposal we are blessed with the opportunity to reach eternal happiness in the hereafter. We do this through action, spiritually and physically. Our inability to achieve truly transcendent eudaimonia in the here and now is a testimony to the frivolity of trying to fill the empty spaces within ourselves with Earthly comforts when the yearning we feel can only be satisfied by the divine:
Since Happiness surpasses every created nature, no pure creature can becomingly gain Happiness, without the movement of operation, whereby it tends thereto… man obtains it by many movements of works which are called merits… Works are necessary to man in order to gain Happiness; not on account of the insufficiency of the Divine power which bestows Happiness, but that the order in things be observed (ST I-II, Q. 5, Art. 7, co.).
Actions that seem positive but lack virtue cannot lead to happiness or salvation. An example of this from my own life is the wrong-headed approach I used to take when it came to Church participation. While I was an active and involved member of my Church community, my intentions were not pure. At one point I had taken my focus off Christ and my participation in the Knights of Columbus and as a Catechist became an exercise in self-congratulatory aggrandizement. The appearance of piety did not contribute to my happiness or forge a life of virtue with the Kingdom of Heaven as an end. I was in pursuit of an apparent, faulty, good, as opposed to a real good. My moral compass was broken. Through Christ I was able to right my course and continue in these pursuits. In doing so, my faith deepened and my happiness has increased tenfold.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle: Morality and a Means to an End

Each and every moment of our waking lives involves a choice. That choice can be made for the glory of God or for our own personal gratification. It could be argued that in pursuing personal gratification we may also
work toward the glory of God, but this debate is self-defeating in that the action ceases to be selfish when it is done with Godly aspirations.  With these thoughts we enter a centuries long dialog about the teleological nature of man.  Like many of the great theologians of antiquity, Saint Thomas Aquinas was particularly taken with Greek philosopher and scientist, Aristotle. The Aristotelian tendencies found in the works of Aquinas are tempered by the influence of Saint Augustine and others, but there is no doubt to the great effect that Aristotle had on Thomistic moral philosophy. Both Thomas and Aristotle deliberated exhaustively on the nature of ends, means, and goods. In studying these teleological viewpoints we must understand the basic arguments that these philosophical luminaries were making and take into account how they are illustrated in our own lives.

Aristotle, and therefore Aquinas, both believe that human activity and aspirations are teleological. What this means is that our behavior is driven with a goal in mind.  Aristotle deemed this goal, or end view, as “good.” More importantly, he believed that there was a “chief good” which served to inform the whole of our decision making with that goal in mind:
If, then, there is some end of the things we do, which we desire for its own sake (everything else being desired for the sake of this), and if we do not choose everything for the sake of something else (for at that rate the process would go on to infinity, so that our desire would be empty and vain), clearly this must be the good and the chief good. Will not the knowledge of it, then, have a great influence on life? Shall we not, like archers who have a mark to aim at, be more likely to hit upon what is right? If so, we must try, in outline at least, to determine what it is, and of which of the sciences or capacities it is the object (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 2).
The ultimate objective which Aristotle was alluding to was none other than eudaimonia-happiness. He believed that happiness is achieved through the pursuit of good. The destination is reasoned to be good, because of the necessity for moral decision in pursuing this end point and what he believed to be our natural inclination toward moral behavior. Being that the errors of humanity are apparent and many, we run into the necessity for clarification between “apparent good” and “real good.” An apparent good is a goal that we undertake with the belief that it is going to help one achieve happiness only to find that it is, in fact, not. An example of this from my own life (that I have thankfully overcome) is gluttony. I understood that food tasted, and made me feel, good. Unfortunately, my pursuit of the next great meal resulted in poor health, damaged self-image, and ultimately, sadness. “Real good” is a goal that we set that, in the end, is virtuous. To better illustrate this I will once again borrow an example from my own life. As a young marine I sought to foster and create a healthy relationship with a young Catholic woman who shared the same religion, moral ideologies, and family plans. Today we have been married for eight years and have two happy healthy young boys. The end goal was, and is, good. Naturally, in following this path, several aims were met. Multiple different ends came together to inform the greater goal. While my end was virtuous, I could have easily been led down the path of unrighteousness had the means by which I attained my objective been morally circumspect. Had I chosen to lie my way into what has become a fruitful relationship, the fruits that I have come to enjoy would surely not have come to be. In order for a farmer to yield a bountiful crop he cannot forego irrigation, fertilization, and hard work. Thomistic teleological arguments follow Aristotle insofar as he believes that an ultimate good is our end point. His moment of divergence comes when he suggests that true good and happiness is unattainable in this life, and may only be found in God. It is only through the attainment of the universal good that we can achieve solace. God alone is universally good. Therefore, God is our one and only true path to happiness.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Evolution, Spirituality, and the Omega Point.

While the Catholic Church has remained largely the same for the last two thousand years, the world has moved on both technologically, and scientifically. For many fundamentalist protestant Christian
denominations this is a major problem. Advocates of sola scriptura find it difficult to reconcile the Bible, taken literally, with the very real actuality of scientific evidence to the contrary. Much of what has been discovered over the last one hundred years is not really up for debate, yet some find it absolutely beyond the realm of possibility. The age of the Earth, the reality of dinosaurs, global warming, and the theory of evolution all seem to be points of contention for certain particular sects. Fortunately, the Church is able to recognize the context in which the Bible was written. The Church's ability to understand the necessity of taking into consideration the culture, author, intended audience, oral tradition, and literary form when reading the Bible has been a blessing that has allowed us to understand that not everything in the Bible is literal. Much of it is allegorical, and more of it is mysterious. Be that as it may, we are still able to glean fountains of knowledge from the texts therein.
As the world has moved on, so has our journey for illumination. As new wonders of the natural world exhibit themselves to us we can use the Word of God to help strengthen our understanding of these new discoveries. Darwin's Theory of Evolution has been hotly debated since its discovery in the 1850's. Catholic scholar, priest, and paleontologist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, has been integral in marrying the new concepts associated with evolution, and other scientific concepts, with the teachings of the Church. De Chardin's belief was that our world, and the people in it, are in a state of flux. He believed that humanity is the story of evolution with a purpose. To propose that evolution is the refinement of our physical beings without the additional and simultaneous refinement of our spiritual beings would be fallacy. De Chardin recognized this and posited that our evolutionary end game has already been established. Everything is on a path toward an already initiated Omega Point. The trajectory that we are collectively hurtling  toward is evolutionary perfection. This perfection has been found in the person Jesus Christ. We both strive to become like Him, while already having witnessed His being. Humanity's progression to hire levels of consciousness is wholly dependent upon the gift of, and inner energy gained from, charity.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Role of the Lay Apostolate.

The laity are made to share in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly office of Christ; they have therefore, in the Church and in the world, their own assignment in the mission of the whole People of God."… who are consecrated to God in their own special manner and serve the salvific mission of the Church through the profession of the evangelical counsels" (CCC 873).
Catholics have always been called to lead a Christian State of Life, and the writings that came out of the Second Vatican Council only serve to underline this point. This is seen most famously in Pope
Paul VI’s decree on the apostolate of the laity, Apostolicam Actuositatem , and his dogmatic constitution of the Church, Lumen Gentium. In these papal decrees we are recognized as apostles of Christ, and vested with the same obligations. We are charged with the grave responsibility of ministering to our brothers and sisters in Christ in all that we do and say. Furthermore, as unified members of the Body of Christ we are called to participate in the salvific mission of the Church. All of this is made clear in several ways throughout the aforementioned writings.

In all respects, these two works serve to address the secular nature of the laity. Through the power of Christ, and His saving grace, we are able to minister to our brethren; not despite our secular nature, but rather by virtue of it. To paraphrase a quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, each of us must preach the gospel in every aspect of our lives; even when not speaking at all. Our actions must be a demonstration of our faith in Christ, our adoration of Him. The role of Christ in our apostleship is addressed in depth in the Apostolicum Actuositatem: Since Christ, sent by the Father, is the source and origin of the whole apostolate of the Church, the success of the lay apostolate depends upon the laity's living union with Christ, in keeping with the Lord's words, "He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit, for without me you can do nothing" (John 15:5)… Neither family concerns nor other secular affairs should be irrelevant to their spiritual life, in keeping with the words of the Apostle, "What-ever you do in word or work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through Him" (Apostolicam Actuositatem).

The temporal natures of our lives on Earth are often derided as evil by some denominations. The Church firmly believes that the temporal make up of our world can be used to positively affect the spiritual affairs of those around us. The Lumen Gentium does a magnificent job of elucidating our vocation as lay apostles:
But the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity (Lumen Gentium). 
Correspondingly, the Apostolicam Actuositatem says the same: Since the laity, in accordance with their state of life, live in the midst of the world and its concerns, they are called by God to exercise their apostolate in the world like leaven, with the ardor of the spirit of Christ (Apostolicam Actuositatem). Through our actions we partake in the evangelizing mission of the Church. As advocates of the Church, we grow the Body of Christ. Each person that, through Christ, we call to the Church is one more soul who may be united with Christ in the heavenly liturgy through the celebration of the Eucharist.
The temporal order must be renewed in such a way that, without detriment to its own proper laws, it may be brought into conformity with the higher principles of the Christian life and adapted to the shifting circumstances of time, place, and peoples. Preeminent among the works of this type of apostolate is that of Christian social action which the sacred synod desires to see extended to the whole temporal sphere, including culture (Lumen Gentium).

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Spiritual Maturity as Children of God

Bible scripture is rife with analogical models that help us understand the magnitude of God. This is brings to mind the Analogy of Being. The actuality of God is so far beyond human comprehension, that we are inclined
to substitute language familiar to us as a way of illuminating His being. We use words like “Father” to
help elucidate an iota of insight of who He is, what He has created, and the love that He has for us.  Just as God is our “Father” so are we his “children.” In a very literal way, He is our Father, and we are His children. He created us. However, He is also speaking of the role He plays in our daily lives, and ultimately eternity. Often, when speaking of man as Children of God, Galatians 4:4-7 is referenced:
God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God (NRSV, Galatians  4:4-7).
The “adoption” mentioned here is a spiritual one. As children of God we are expected to have a dependence on God that is evident in our servitude, trust, and dependency. Just as a child depends on his father for leadership, guidance, and strength; so do we, as children of God. However, God expects maturity as well. Children who lack maturity may not realize that all they enjoy in the way of food, shelter, and personal belongings are dependent upon their guardian. They take these things for granted, and foolishly attribute these belongings to themselves. The reality of the situation is that all they have had, all they have, and all they may potentially have is fully dependent on he or she who looks after them. This includes guidance, life lessons, and moral fortitude. As children age, and mature, they not only learn to appreciate the gifts bestowed upon them, they come to exemplify the lessons learned in years past. All of this directly relates to God. As we advance in our faith and spirituality we are expected to act out of our maturity in Christ. There are several references to maturity in the Bible:
Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinking; rather, be infants in evil, but in thinking be adults (NRSV, 1 Corinthians 14:20).
The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love (NRSV, Ephesians 4:14-16).
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways (NRSV, 1 Corinthians 13:11).
 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food; for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness (NRSV, Hebrews 5:12-13).
It is evident from these passages that we are being called to maturity as Christians. In none of these scriptures is Paul suggesting that one should not enjoy themselves nor is he suggesting that we are no longer Children of God. He is calling for the maturity in Christ to follow Him. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

How The Presence Of Christ Is Revealed At Mass

At times it can be difficult to understand the reality of Christ's presence in our lives.  The difficulty does not stem from a lack of faith as much as from a lack of recognition. Needless to say, this includes Mass. Christ is
attendant at Mass in several different ways.  The Liturgy of the Word is all inclusive, in that each person within the Church participates. It begins with the first reading, and concludes with the Prayer of the Faithful. During the Liturgy of the Word, members of the Church both speak the Word of God, as it is written in the Scriptures, and receive it as we listen to the Lector. In proclaiming God's Word through the Scriptures we become the mouthpiece of God's divine Revelation. Christ's presence in the Scriptures is evident:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God... And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth (NRSV, John 1:1-15).
The homily serves to better illuminate the message of the readings of the Liturgy of the Word. The homily is generally given by the parish priest. Throughout mass, the priest speaks in persona Christi, or, in the person of Christ: “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me” (NRSV, Luke 10:16). The Liturgy of the Eucharist, and the revelation of Christ's presence in it, is the sacramental center of Catholic worship, spirituality, and true discipleship. During the Eucharist Christ's presence is evident in both the congregation, as the Mystical Body of Christ, and  physically, through the bread (later known as the host) and wine, which after the consecration are transubstantiated into the body and blood of Christ. Monsignor William Fay, General Secretary of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, describes both the establishment of the sacrament of the Eucharist as well as its necessity:
The Lord Jesus, on the night before he suffered on the cross, shared one last meal with his disciples. During this meal our Savior instituted the sacrament of his Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the ages and to entrust to the Church his Spouse a memorial of his death and resurrection (Fay,  The Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist).

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Catholic Social Doctrine: Love Thy Neighbor

In St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians he preaches to them the importance of charity:  “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the Law of Christ (NRVC, Galatians 6:2). 
Two thousand years later,Catholic social doctrine still uses the Law of Christ as the model upon which we build our teachings in regards to: the  indigent, economic need, social structure, and the role of government. Through our love for God we are able to conversely love those around us. In loving our neighbors,  we strive to provide for those in need, and create a social structure that supports both our love for God and the programs and endeavors that are enacted as a result of that love.
Several facets of Catholic social teaching are relative to Christ and His relationship to us and the sacrifice He made on behalf of His neighbors. As Christians, the very fact that we set Jesus as the cornerstone of our faith dictates the necessity for us to live by His example. As His disciples we must be willing to make the same sacrifices, and show the same mercies, that He did. Humanity as a whole was created in God's image. Jesus, being the penultimate exemplification of this, aids us in seeing that each person bears the imprint of God. Our recognition of God in others is the source of our desire to help them. “The fact that persons are essentially relational beings has its supreme exemplification in the fact that God is not a Monad but a Trinitarian communion of 'subsistent relations.' To the extant that a being is personal, it will be a being-in-relation-to-other-persons” (Dwyer & Elizabeth, 194). 
More than just neighbors, the people who live along side us are gifts from God. Our urge to facilitate their happiness is both a showing of gratitude for their existence and an even deeper appreciation for their redemption through Christ. In line with our twofold gratitude for our neighbor, is a double dose of hope. In serving the Church socially, we also strive to instill hope in those less fortunate. Through our actions, in the name of Christ, the beleaguered will be  given reason to hope for better living conditions, physically and spiritually, and hope for eternal salvation. 
What sets Catholic social doctrine apart from other humanitarian efforts is that Christian love is a radical and profound self-giving in a radical solidarity with the other. The belief is not simply that God comes first (He does). It is that we must put all of humanity before ourselves. Catholic social doctrine dictates that we must put ourselves in the role of Christ and embrace our own crosses. We must take up the ills of those around us, even those who “trespass against us.” The Gospel According to Matthew tells us explicitly that: “The last will be first, and the first will be last” (NRSV, Matthew 20:16). It is not a suggestion.

Sources:
Dwyer, Judith A., and Elizabeth L. Montgomery. "Socialization." The New Dictionary of Catholic Social Thought. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1994. 194. Print.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Praying Catholic

The study of prayer, praying, and the numerous ways to go about doing so can be extensive. Great tomes have been dedicated to the subject. Over the years, great theologians and secular minds alike have made
profound realizations concerning the necessity for prayer. The importance of prayer can be found numerous times through out the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments:
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land (NRSV, 2 Chronicles 7:14).Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God (NRSV, Luke 6:12).
It is because of the considerable role of prayer in the life of a Christian disciple that we must understand the various methods to do so.

Reading the Bible is not always recognized as the prayer that it is. However, approaching scripture in a spiritual manner is very much praying. Ninth century Carthusian monk, Guigo II, called it lectio divina, the
divine reading. According to Guigo's concept of lectio divina, reading the Bible “should trigger meditation (“thinking” about what the text means), which in turn should lead to the response of prayer (speaking in our own words in response to meditative reading), and finally prayer should lead us to a kind of contemplation in which we rest silently in the presence of God.

Another form of prayer is to let one's actions reflect a cognizance of God's omnipresence and omniscience. This consciousness of God's presence will lead to making ordinary life a prayer. Our unwavering knowledge and remembrance of God will lead us to both thank Him for His blessings, and beg forgiveness on the occasion of our sin. This mindfulness serves to inform every facet of our lives.

With the insurgence of New Age spirituality it is easy to forget that meditation has played a large role in Christian prayer. Prior to the inception of Christianity the ancient Hebrews meditated: “I commune with my heart in the night; I meditate and search my spirit (NRSV, Psalm 77:6), “I will meditate on all your work, and muse on your mighty deeds” (NRSV, Psalm 77:12). It must be noted that Christian meditation is not an occasion for deliberate thoughtlessness in search of one's self; it is, instead, an opportunity to reflect on some deep sense of self in relation to God. Through meditation we hope to be in the presence of God, and allow that closeness to then come to a greater appreciation for Him, His gifts, and the whole of His creation.
As a disciples of Christ it is important that our actions reflect our fidelity to Him and His teachings. What we do in our daily lives is seen by those around us, and is therefore a testimony to our faith. This too is a form of prayer. These actions are the direct result of God's presence in our lives, and corollary to other forms of prayer. Every time we offer prayers for others, express thanks and gratitude, or ask forgiveness of our trespasses, we are living prayer in action.