The Feast of St. Ambrose

It’s heavyweight season in the liturgical calendar. Yesterday, St. Nicholas. Today, my favorite saint. St. Ambrose (just happens to also be one of my middle names), Bishop of Milan, and Doctor of the Catholic Church (one of the original four). In 374 AD, this amazing man was already governor of Milan at age 33.

When the previous bishop died that year, Ambrose was spontaneously proclaimed bishop by the citizens of Milan even though he had not even been baptized into the church yet. He tried to decline the appointment by appealing to Emperor Gratian who refused his request. In the following week, Ambrose was baptized, ordained, then consecrated as Bishop of Milan.

He is credited with influencing the conversion of the future Saint (and also another Doctor of the Church) Augustine of Hippo.

St. Ambrose, Confessor and Doctor of the Church, pray for us.St.Ambrose

Where love lives

Earlier this week Pat Robertson told his viewers on the 700 Club that it was morally acceptable for a husband to divorce his wife who is suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s Disease because that person is “not there anymore” and that the disease “is a kind of death.”

Robert McQuilken found himself in the same situation. He was the President of Columbia Bible College and Seminary when his wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. People close to him advised him to arrange for institutionalization.

He chose to resign in 2004 so that he could care for her. In his words,

She had, after all, cared for me for almost four decades with marvelous devotion; now it was my turn. And such a partner she was! If I took care of her for 40 years, I would never be out of her debt.

Listen to his resignation speech and you can hear in his voice the love he has for his wife.

Pat Robertson is wrong. “A kind of death” is not death. Robert McQuilken’s choice is where true love lives.

From the mouths of babes

One night last week, Honeybun was watching a TV show about 9/11 while I got Bailey ready for bed. When Bailey went in to give her mommy a hug and kiss goodnight, Honeybun paused the show. We try to be careful about what we let Bailey see. This show was more than we want her to see right now, but it just so happened that she paused the show as there was a picture of the remains of FDNY Ladder 3 on screen. The firetruck had been crushed when the World Trade Center towers fell. All 12 firefighters who rode the truck that morning were in the North Tower and died when it collapsed.
Remains of Ladder 3
Bailey noticed the picture on the screen and asked why the firetruck was broken. Not really a conversation you want to get into at bed time, but these situations never occur when you are ready for the discussion, but talking about a damaged firetruck doesn’t seem like the stuff of nightmares. So, I explained that some bad men made a building fall down on the truck.
“Did people die?”
Great. I didn’t really want to go there, but I’m not going to lie about it either. Best to just say the truth and not go into detail.
“Yes, people did die that day.”

“Did a lot of people die?”

(Sigh) “Yes, a lot of people died.”

“And they broke the firetruck. Will it ever work again?”

“No. It will never work again.” At least we got off the idea of so many deaths.

After that, we said our good night prayers and said a special prayer for the people who died that day.

She didn’t really seem to be bothered about the conversation and didn’t bring it up again the following week. But that wasn’t the end of deep topics.

This past Sunday, I took Bailey to church. I decided to take my copy of Magnificat. She saw it and was mesmerized by the cover. This month’s cover is Marco d’Oggiono’s The Archangels Triumphing Over Lucifer.
The Archangels Triumphing Over Lucifer
She began by questioning about who the angels are. That led to the more menacing figure.
“Who is the man being put in the ground?”
“That is not a man. That is the Devil.”
“Why are they putting him in the ground?”
“He is bad.”
“Does he want to hurt and kill people? Is that is why they are putting him in the ground?”
“Yes. God told the angels to put him in the ground so that he can’t hurt anyone.”
After a bit more questioning, she was satisfied. (And yes, I realized the picture depicts an event that is generally considered to be a prophecy, but that whole conversation is a lot more than she is ready for at 4 1/2 years old).

That night I was putting her to bed and she brought it up again after her prayers.
“Daddy, why is the Devil bad?”
“He was an angel and he wanted take God’s place. But no one can take God’s place. Wanting to do that is disobeying God.”
“Is that why he is bad and wants to kill people?”
She was silent for about a minute.

“Daddy, Daddy! It was the devil who knocked down those buildings and killed all those people and broke the firetruck.”
I was stunned at that statement.
“Well actually it was some bad men who knocked down the buildings.”
“But the Devil told them to do it.”
I couldn’t find the hole in her conclusion that time. “I think you’re right.”
“We need God to protect us from the Devil.”

Right on Sunshine.

Archbishop Chaput

The news across the Catholic blogosphere today is Archbishop Chaput’s new assignment to Philadelphia to replace retiring Cardinal Rigali. Traditionally, the archbishop of Philadelphia has been a Cardinal, so this move is seen as an imminent elevation for the archbishop – one that is long overdue.

I lived in Denver until the beginning of this year, still visit there frequently, and hope to move back soon. I can say this is sad news for the Denver church. Archbishop Chaput is an amazing man. He welcomed me into the church in 2005 during the Rite of Election. Last year, he granted me a private meeting, during which I received his blessing, and I have been able to exchange correspondence with him.

Whispers in the Loggia describes Archbishop Chaput as “brash, outspoken and fearless — energetic, colorful, cultured… indeed, even hard-core….” I agree with all of those except for the first, he is not brash. Yes, he is unapologetic in being an orthodox bishop. He stands for Catholic faith, but does so in a gentle way. His statements are always measured and thoughtful. He is not unnecessarily confrontational. Yes, he is “pastoral.” Then again, no one thinks a response is gentle when that response opposes one’s own beliefs. No matter how gentle he is, the pro-abortion, and gay lobby will call him “mean.” He has taken unpopular positions and is criticized by both conservatives and liberals.

Still, no other bishop has been more open in reforming the Church in the aftermath of the priest abuse scandal. It is no wonder the Pope is rumored to have picked Archbishop Chaput over the candidates he was offered. He is the right man for the situation in Philadelphia where his biggest challenge will be to heal that church in the wake of a renewed abuse scandal.

But there is more to Archbishop Chaput than that. The Catholic Church of Northern Colorado (the archdiocese of Denver) is growing. The growth of vocations continues as well. Last year, the archdiocese had to expand the St. John Vianney Seminary, which is located on the same campus as the archdiocese’s headquarters. Thanks to his leadership, the church in Denver is healthy.

Archbishop Chaput has the heart of a shepherd. Anyone who claims he is aloof has simply not met him. He is approachable by anyone. I’ve seen him greeting people for about an hour at the front doors of the basilica after mass to greet anyone who desires to meet him. He didn’t leave until everyone had the opportunity.

Philadelphia, Denver’s loss is your gain. You are about to be blessed more than you know.

How about a novena?

A novena is a prayer said over nine days. Catholic Dads is inviting people to pray a novena for the intercession of St. Michael the Archangel starting tomorrow. The ninth day of the novena will fall, not so coincidentally, on September 29th, the feast day of Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.

Check out Catholic Dads each day for the next nine days.

More on why I am Catholic

Jennifer Fulwiler posted the audio of her conversion story on her blog. Her story is about her journey from lifelong atheism to Catholicism.

A few of the things she said caught my attention because they were so close to my own conclusions. One in particular was about her struggles in discovering what to believe by reading the Bible. After she had concluded there is a God, she was looking how to find him. Her first attempt was not to go to a church. Instead, she bought a Bible and began to read it.

In my own journey, I came to a point where I had to analyze the basis of my beliefs. I had thought that my Evangelical beliefs were the obvious result of clear interpretation of scripture. But when I tried to put aside the biases I knew I held in interpreting the text of the Bible, I started to wonder if the Bible was that clear. I then looked around at all the Evangelical denominations, with their sometimes opposing views on scripture, and concluded that it was not.

Furthermore, as Jennifer put it, this is a system that requires literacy, the printing press, and high reading comprehension skills – a realization I also came to see. These things were just not available until the last few hundred years. What if I had been a person living in France in the year 800? Few people were literate, and even in the unlikely event that I would have been, easy access to a complete copy of the Bible was even less likely, and a personal copy would be unheard of. How would I have even had the chance to read scripture for myself and determine which beliefs were correct?

But what if I was able to have access to the Bible. Would I have come to believe in what many Evangelicals refer to as “Biblical Christianity?”

Throughout history, heretical teachings used scripture to support their positions. History also showed that those who supported heretical beliefs generally did so out of sincerity in the validity of their beliefs. If scripture was so clear and ovbious, why did so many people get it wrong when they interpreted scripture on their own? My own conclusion was that if I were able to eliminate my biases and came to theological conclusion based purely on the words of scripture, it was highly unlikely that I would arrive at all the same beliefs I held as an evangelical.

Jennifer’s experience turned out to be exactly the kind of experiment I had thought about. What happens when an educated person with no theological bias reads scripture? Will that person arrive at my, formerly held, Evangelical beliefs?
As a former atheist with no religious training, Jennifer was the perfect candidate for the theoretical model I had imagined. She had a college education and no biases of what the scriptures should mean.

Her conclusion? The system of reading the Bible and figuring out what to believe based on that alone is “unworkable.” Jennifer’s experience confirms what I concluded about the premise of my evangelical beliefs; the idea that my beliefs came from obvious interpretations of scripture was based more on presumption than reality.

The only resolution I could find was a church with real authority. A church that dated back to Christ and his apostles. It turns out that Jennifer came to the same conclusion. You should go listen to the rest of her story though.

Quote O’ the Day

Some are proud because they ride a horse, wear a feather in their hat, or dress in fine style; but what folly! Any glory for these things belongs surely to the horse, the bird, or the tailor.
– St. Francis de Sales

What it means to be Catholic

Rhode Island Representative Patrick Kennedy has taken his disagreement with Catholic moral teaching into the public arena. On October 21, Rep. Kennedy (son of the late Edward Kennedy) told, “I can’t understand for the life of me how the Catholic Church could be against the biggest social-justice issue of our time.” He said, “If the church is pro-life, then they ought to be for health-care reform because it’s going to provide health care that is going to keep people alive.”

Kennedy was criticizing the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) for opposing a national health care bill that would fund abortions. The Catholic Church teaches that abortion is a gravely evil act.

The Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island to Rep. Kennedy’s comments to clarify the church’s teaching. Bishop Tobin’s most recent statement came in an open letter. The bishop makes a clear case about Kennedy’s error:

“The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.” Well, in fact, Congressman, in a way it does. Although I wouldn’t choose those particular words, when someone rejects the teachings of the Church, especially on a grave matter, a life-and-death issue like abortion, it certainly does diminish their ecclesial communion, their unity with the Church. This principle is based on the Sacred Scripture and Tradition of the Church and is made more explicit in recent documents.

I hope we see more bishops stand up to correct the politicians who call themselves Catholic but put so much effort into undermining its beliefs.

Anti-freedom Democrats – Part IV

Yesterday, California U.S. House representative Lynn Woolsey (D) wrote an article for Politico in which she suggested that the Catholic Church’s tax exempt status should be revoked because the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) took the moral stance of objecting to a health care bill that would force tax payers to fund abortions.

She also made the false claim that the bishop’s position was funded by taxpayers because of the church’s tax exempt status. Wrong. Not forcibly confiscating money of religious organizations is not the same thing as the government giving money to those organizations.

The church has the right to speak out on moral issues even though Democrats increasingly don’t like it. Woolsey’s suggestion to punish the Catholic Church for exercising its rights is yet another warning sign that the left does not respect religious freedom.

Can you have too many children?

The Duggars are expecting their 19th child. I have seen a number of Catholics commending the Duggars for their openness to life (I know, the Duggars are not Catholics but there are many Catholics who celebrate their example). But as their family continues to grow, my unease about their decision to have as many children as possible grows as well.

Obligatory disclaimer: I reject the claims (mostly from environmentalists) that large families are irresponsible and that children harm the earth. I believe that low birth rates in Europe and North America are hurting those societies. I also believe that other reasons given for small families, like the ability to provide financially, are exaggerated and focus too much on material concerns.

I have been trying to figure out what about the Duggars bothers me. Don’t they exemplify what the Catholic Church teaches?

The world says that we should have sex purely for its pleasurable aspect. But the Catholic Church teaches that sex is properly understood as being both unitive and procreative. In addition, the Church teaches that we should not be controlled by our base urges. Just because we feel the urge to have sex does not mean that we must submit to that urge. Engaging in sex purely for the pleasure rejects God’s purpose of sex between a husband and wife.

Now the Duggars have come to understand the unitive and creative aspects of sex that the Catholic Church teaches. They are open to life, so much so that they are producing as many children as is humanly possible. I have tried arguing with myself that they should be celebrated for rejecting the contraceptive culture and for embracing life.

Still the nagging feeling I had about the Duggars remained. Yes, they are open to life but it is obvious that there are consequences to that openness. Their decision to continually increase their family does have serious economic concerns. Before their 16th child, they exceeded their financial capabilities (even with their frugal and debt-free lifestyle) to the point that the TLC network and other companies stepped in to complete a new house for them. Now they are able to support their family with the income from their TV show. So they are self-sufficient.

But is their example really in accordance with Catholic teaching? I went to the USCCB to get more information.

Let them [husband and wife] thoughtfully take into account both their own welfare and that of their children, those already born and those which the future may bring. For this accounting they need to reckon with both the material and the spiritual conditions of the times as well as of their state in life. Finally, they should consult the interests of the family group, of temporal society, and of the Church herself. (GS, #50)

With regard to man’s innate drives and emotions, responsible parenthood means that man’s reason and will must exert control over them. (HV, #10)

Quotes taken from USCCB Responsible Parenthood (PDF)

Catholics should be aware that there is no teaching that requires us to unthinkingly procreate. In fact, the Catholic Church teaches responsibility for making these decisions. A “let the chips fall where they may” attitude is not taking responsibility. Producing as many children as biologically possible is not a teaching of the Catholic Church. Our bishops teach us that we do have control over our sexuality and we must exert control over our innate drives and emotions.

The Duggars have not yet discovered this aspect of sexuality.