By Nick Jones, The University of Rhode Island
Welp. In my neck of the woods, we’re going on two full months of quarantine. It’s been about as long since I’ve been able to assist at Holy Mass. What are we to do? How can we hope? We do well to look to Saint Paul’s words to the earliest Christians of Rome. “Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Romans 12:12) God wins in the end! “The strife is o’er, the battle done! Now is the Victor’s triumph won! O let the song of praise be sung! Alleluia!” That’s the radical claim of the Faith. While we yet suffer here below our dwelling place in the Father’s house stands ready to house us. (John 14:2) If we stay faithful, it’ll all end up better than we could ever imagine. (1 Cor. 2:9) So, in the meantime, let’s all keep our chins up and experience some Easter joy through memes!
These first five speak for themselves. Jesus Christ, both fully man and fully God as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, was truly killed. He really, truly rose on the third day. This is an indisputable historical fact. Resultantly, death no longer has the final word. How could we not want to spread this great news?!
“What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.” (James 2:14-18) For those keeping score at home, this is a quote from the Divinely-inspired Epistle of Saint James, which Martin Luther once famously called “an epistle of straw”. He even called for it to not be taught in schools. So, who are we to believe? Literally the God the Holy Spirit, or a fallible man looking to justify a novel, heretical idea?
No one disses Mom and gets away with it. From Genesis (3:15) to the Psalms (45) to the Gospels (Luke 1) to Revelation (12:1-6), Scripture is full of references to the peculiar grace and favor bestowed upon Our Lady. Some of our separated brethren might object and point to Luke 11:27-28 (As he said this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”). Does it make sense for Saint Luke, whom pious tradition tells us received an account from Mary herself, to contradict himself? Obviously, this isn’t the case. Our Lord isn’t saying that Our Lady isn’t special. What He is saying is that she more than a mere vessel. That alone would be a great honor; consider the stringent laws surrounding the original Ark of the Covenant. But the real glory of Our Lady is the total freedom with which she offered God her “Fiat”. She was not just His human mother, she was also, most importantly, His most perfect disciple.
In many ways the saints were just like us. They were fallen in nature, inclined to sin. What makes them different is their unique desire to rise above their own viciousness through a cooperation with God’s grace. We should see in the saints both our own weakness and our capacity to do better than that to which our woundedness seems to limit us. Satan, the father of lies, tells us that we could never do that. In a sense, he is right. We can’t do it, not without God’s grace. Fortunately, so long as we live, that grace is available to us. We do well to bear in mind the words of St. Augustine when we feel overwhelmed. “There is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future.”
This one refers to Father Georges Lemaître who first observed that the universe was constantly expanding. He also first introduced the concept of the Big Bang. The Church and her faithful were the driving force of scientific discovery in the western world for centuries following the fall of Rome. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of Catholic scientists and their contributions: Alois Alzheimer, who first discovered the disease named after him; St. Albert the Great, one of the first modern biologists and chemists; Gregor Mendel, from whom we derive genetics; Nicolaus Copernicus, who first proposed a heliocentric model for the Solar System; Galileo Galilei, whose beef with the Church stemmed from challenging her authentic civil authority. (Both Copernicus and Galileo were simply asked to not assert their views as fact until they could be corroborated). There is no conflict between Faith and reason. Faith describes the supernatural and preternatural. Reason tells us about the natural world. Science will never be able to describe the nature of God, that requires a free gift of Revelation. Likewise, we should not turn to the Deposit of Faith for an explanation of some biochemical process.
One of my good friends once told me about a conversation he had with his spiritual director. The friend asked the priest why, if sin is wrong, does it feel so unnatural to resist our sinful inclinations. The priest responded that the Fall has so deeply penetrated our beings that it seems, to those who don’t know better, that we are made to sin. This is the grave reality of the effect of Original Sin in our lives. To sin is not natural. In other words, sin is that which violates our nature. As creatures of God, made in His image and likeness, we are made to reflect His glory. We must fight daily so that the woundedness we experience might not cloud the intrinsic goodness of our beings.
This is probably one of the most popular arguments against the traditional conception of God. I’ll make a bold, but very defensible claim: The “Problem of Evil” is not a problem. I don’t mean to discredit the extreme, profound grief felt by countless people over the reality of evil. But, I will discredit an emotionally charged argument such as the supposed Problem of Evil, which not does not stand up to logical scrutiny. First, let’s establish that God did not create evil, which does not positively exist. Evil is simply the absence of good, which God merely permissively wills, as a consequence of free will. Second, let’s dissect the popular idea that evil somehow refutes God as Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnibenevolent. God is all-powerful, but is also perfectly rational. For example, He cannot microwave a burrito that is to hot for Him to eat because nothing is to hot for Him to eat. Applied to this scenario, we know that God has made us with free will. Since we are free, we cannot be forced to do that which we don’t actively choose. So, logically, it is not possible for God to work against our freedom. But why, if God is omniscient, would He make us free, knowing that evil would happen? Who are we to say that evils in this world won’t reveal some greater good eventually? Who are we to subordinate God’s perfect wisdom to our own limited intellects? This goes hand-in-hand with the quality, God’s perfect goodness. Our first point, that God merely allows evil, is relevant here. Additionally, let’s consider ourselves as the creatures and children we are. My dog hates getting his shots, but I still take him to the vet. As a child I hated brushing my teeth, but my parents forced me to do it. As great a gap exists between a dog and his owner or a child and parents, the gap between God and man is even greater. Again, it smacks of presumption to suggest that we know what is best for us more than the Author of our beings. Who are we to suggest that sufferings we experience will not make us more perfect?
Father Jacques Philippe in his Time for God reminds us that no one ever died because they didn’t have time to eat. We will always make time for what we care about. Especially as the summertime rolls around, let’s all dedicate ourselves to a steady increase in our prayer life. If you don’t pray, try 5 minutes. If you’re already doing a holy hour and then some, try to increase the quality. Progress is the name of the game. If we fail, let’s all resolve to just try harder. God desires faithfulness, not necessarily success.
In Acts 10:9-16, Saint Peter receives a vision of sheet filled with all types of animals, some of which could not be eaten under the ceremonial law. The Lord tells him to eat freely. When Peter rebuffs Him, the Lord tells Peter not to consider unclean that which God has made clean. This is just one of many episodes in the Acts of the Apostles showing the supersession of the Old Covenant with the New. An important implication of this was that the old Jewish Ceremonial Law, which prohibits things like mixed fabrics or shellfish and which details temple worship, was deemed to no longer bind. The Moral Law, the Natural Law written on the hearts of all men, defining natural sexuality and prohibiting things like murder, has never stopped binding.
The perennial teaching of the Church has always been that the Most Holy Eucharist is really, truly the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Some of Our Lord’s most emphatic preaching comes when He affirms this doctrine in the Bread of Life Discourse (cf. John 6:25-70). Less than 100 years after the Resurrection, in AD 110, Saint Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of Saint John the Apostle, said the following in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans: “Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. . . . They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes.” Either the message was distorted in two generations, or the Church has always believed the Eucharist is what we say It is. You decide what’s more reasonable.
God entrusted the Deposit of Faith first to the Old Testament Jewish assembly and then to its successor and fulfillment, the Catholic Church. By virtue of the ordinations, all priests and bishops share in the three munera of Christ, who was anointed as Priest Who sanctifies, Prophet Who preaches, and King Who governs. No one is more qualified to preach or clarify the Faith than them. Remember, Christ established one Church and entrusted the fullness of the Truth to it.
This isn’t the proper medium to discuss the merits of the receiving Holy Communion on the Tongue vs. in the Hand. Let’s be brief and concise. The ordinary mode of receiving Communion in the Western Church, consonant with pious tradition, is on the tongue. When this practice was first introduced, bishops had to appeal the Vatican for the permission to establish it within their jurisdictions. In the Ordinary Form of the Mass, Holy Communion may be received in the hand, where this is allowed (cf. GIRM 161, Redemptionis Sacramentum 92). In the Extraordinary Form, of course, this is never an option. At the height of the Swine Flu epidemic in 2009, the Congregation for Divine Worship issued a statement protecting the right of the faithful to receive on the tongue. The USCCB recently support guidelines formed by medical experts at the Thomistic Institute, which find that Communion on the tongue is no riskier than in the hand. I know my hands are usually much dirtier than my mouth. Anecdotal evidence from priests suggests that there is greater risk of contact with the communicant when Communion is received in the hand (cf. WDTPRS.com). The virtue of obedience never binds us to follow an unjust law. Know your rights and hold out if need be. This too shall pass.