Sep 17, 2017

Sunday Sermon, September 17 -- The Catholic Approach to St Paul (Sermons on Romans, Part 9)

We come to the conclusion of the Church's reading of the Letter of St Paul to the Romans which has continued for the past three months from the last Sunday of June to the second to the last Sunday of September. St Paul directs our focus entirely to Jesus Christ.

Looking back over the Letter, we revisit the question of faith and works, of grace and free will. Martin Luther's fundamental philosophical error of thinking that an action cannot be both fully of God and fully of man -- but, in truth, God is fully the primary cause of our good works and we are fully the secondary cause of our good works. When we cooperate with God's grace, we merit our salvation.

The protestant doctrine of "grace alone" leads quickly to the idea of "double predestination."  If a man is saved without any reference to his good works, but simply by God's choice; another is damned without any reference to his sins, but simply by God's choice. This is precisely what John Calvin taught, and this is where protestant theology ultimately leads.  However, as Catholics, we believe that human choice really makes a difference -- and we are saved by our good works, or damned by our sins.

Fundamentally, Martin Luther and the protestants approach Scripture in a way very different from how all Christians have always read the Bible. Luther starts with St Paul, and then forces all of the rest of the Bible to "fit" into his interpretation of Romans. However, Christians have always given priority to the Gospels, and then the rest of the Bible (including St Paul) is interpreted in light of Jesus' preaching and ministry.


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Sep 15, 2017

Truth and Tolerance: Catholicism in an age of relativism (Talk to GFCCHS Senior Class)

This is a talk given to the seniors at Great Falls Central Catholic High School, during their senior retreat this year (15 September 2017). It's a very casual setting and a very casual talk.

What is truth?
We can see truth either after the analogy of a river or a tree. The river: All the streams start in different places, but flow to the river which itself flows to the ocean. All belief systems and claims ultimately lead to the same truth.

The tree: The trunk starts as one, but the branches go off in every direction and end up in very different places. Man begins with the same search for truth, but the different belief systems and claims ultimately lead to very different places and do not converge into a single truth.

Christianity proposes that only the teachings of Jesus lead ultimately to the truth. Only through Christ is there salvation. Different religions and different beliefs really do lead to different places -- Christianity leads to heaven, every other belief system ultimately leads only to hell. However, non-Christians can be saved, not through their gods or their own merits but through the grace of Christ and the Catholic Church.

What is tolerance?
This claim seems arrogant to modern man -- even more, it seems intolerant to claim that Christ is right and everyone else is wrong. But what is tolerance?

Tolerance can only exist when we have different beliefs in contact (and conflict) with one another. If we all believe the same thing, that isn't tolerance it's agreement. If all beliefs ultimately lead to the same truth, there isn't room for true tolerance - because really we are all in agreement. Likewise, if we don't allow for real discussion and debate, we don't have tolerance we only have separation.

Christianity believes in true tolerance: Allowing different ideas and beliefs to be discussed and debated. And Christianity affirms that the truth is itself compelling to the human mind. We do not use power or external force to compel a man to accept the truth - we use discussion and debate, to allow the splendor of truth to shine forth.

The dictatorship of relativism
Joseph Ratzinger, just prior to be elected Pope Benedict XVI, stated that there is a growing "dictatorship of relativism" in which any claim to possessing absolute truth is cast aside or even persecuted. The relativistic age in which we live has no room for real discussion or debate, but rather forces all to accept the doctrine that truth is relative -- what is true for me, is only true for me and not for everyone else.

But we believe that there is absolute truth, and that this truth will appeal to all people, if only we present it in love. That's our job: To spread the truth, and trust that God will make the seed of truth grow.


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Sunday Sermon, September 10 -- On Excommunication

"If he refuses to listen even to the Church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector."

We consider the doctrine of excommunication. Jesus himself not only gives the Church the right to excommunicate, but even mandates excommunication in certain cases of obstinate grave sin. To treat a brother like "a Gentile," is nothing less than to excommunicate him.

What is excommunication? It's much more than simply not being allowed to receive communion. Many cannot receive communion, but they are not thereby excommunicated. Excommunication means cutting a person off from the whole Body of Christ - he is no longer in communion with the Church. When a man has been excommunicated, the Church no longer even prays for him - he is not even permitted to attend the Mass.

However, excommunication has never meant that a person is condemned to hell. Excommunication refers to the relation of a man to the Church on earth, it is not a claim about what might happen to a man's soul after death. Indeed, we do not judge the man's soul, and we trust that God is continually offering the grace necessary for his conversion and salvation.

Excommunication is a medicinal act - it's medicine. The Church (Pope Francis included) excommunicates people so as to call them to conversion. Ultimately, excommunication is all about salvation.


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Sep 3, 2017

Sunday Sermon, September 3 -- Christian Morality in Romans (Sermons on Romans, Part 8)

This Sunday, we begin reading from the second part of St Paul's Letter to the Romans which focuses on Christian Morality, living the life of grace.

This portion of the Letter is often quoted by Protestants in contradiction to Catholic practice. St Paul states that Christians need not keep specific days as holy or as days of penance, nor need we abstain from meat.  "For one believeth that he may eat all things." (Romans 14:2) or again "For one judgeth between day and day: and another judgeth every day." (Romans 14:5)

In fact, St Paul is speaking of the Jewish holy days and the Mosaic dietary laws -- Christians no longer must keep the ritual days of the Mosaic Law, neither do we follow the Old Testament rules about clean and unclean foods. St Paul is certainly not forbidding the Christian holy days or Christian fasting - he himself kept days holy and others as days of fasting, in honor of the Christian mysteries (Sunday for the Resurrection, Friday for the Passion).

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Outline of St Paul's Letter to the Romans

This Letter discusses the grace of Christ in itself.

I. The Doctrine of Grace
A. (Chapters 1-4) The Necessity of Grace. One is not saved by Greek philosophy or by the Jewish Law, but only by the grace of Christ.
B. (Chapters 5-8) The Effects of Grace. By grace, we are freed from the law of sin, the law of death, the law of the flesh, and the law of Moses.
C. (Chapters 9-11) The Origins of Grace. "Salvation is from the Jews." St Paul discusses the relation of the Jews and Gentiles in the one Church of Christ.

II. The Life of Grace
A. (Chapters 12 & 13) Christian Perfection in itself.
B. (Chapters 14 - 15:13) How those who are advanced in the faith should support those whose faith is weak.
C. (Chapters 15:14-16) Specific issues for the Roman church. And the conclusion of the Letter.








Aug 27, 2017

Sunday Sermon, August 27 -- What We Do And Don't Believe About the Pope

In his own life on earth, Jesus himself established the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church, with the Pope as Supreme Shepherd and Head of the Church on earth. The Pope is the visible source and sign of unity in the Church.

What do we really believe about the Pope and Papal Infallibility? We don't believe that Pope will teach clearly, or even teach everything that he should teach; we don't believe that he won't make a mess of things -- what we do believe, is that when he invokes his supreme authority and teaches infallibly, he will not state what is false (he may not speak the truth clearly, but he won't actually teach what is false).

We also don't believe that the Pope is chosen by the Holy Spirit, or that he is "the best man for the job". But, whoever the Cardinals choose, even if he isn't the best man for the job, even if he is very weak or sinful -- the Holy Spirit will preserve him from leading the Church into error. 

This is the gift of the Papacy: The gates of hell will never prevail even against the bad Popes. And that proves that God is the one who truly guides the Catholic Church.


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