Saturday, January 31, 2015

Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival (1 Feb 2015)

     Happy Sunday, Brothers and Sisters, and welcome to another installment of Sunday Snippets – A Catholic Carnival.  This is a weekly gathering of Catholic bloggers who share their posts for the week past; we gather here at This That and the Other Thing, home of our Chief Snippeteer, RAnn.

     I’ll get to my snippets in a moment, but first . . . IMPORTANT NOTICE: The following narrative is not about football . . . well, at least not only about football.  But it does start there, so please stay with me.  Today, as Americans and others who follow American Football know, is “Super Bowl Sunday”, when the National Football League has its annual championship game.  Since this sporting event typically has a larger television audience than any other program, advertisers pay enormous amounts of money for advertising time during the game. Over the years they have concocted increasingly bizarre commercials in order to catch the attention of that massive audience, with the curious result that in years when the action on the field isn’t particularly arresting, most of the chatter the next day is about the ads and not the game itself.

Tim Tebow
     Interestingly, the most discussed commercial five years ago was not bizarre at all: it simply showed a mother talking about her son (o.k., he does appear to tackle her at the end, but that’s pretty tame for a Superbowl commercial).  The mother was Pam Tebow and her son, Tim, had just completed one of the most spectacular college football records in memory (which, unfortunately, would not translate into comparable success as a professional).  The reason why this ad was more controversial that all those others ones filled with innuendo and grotesquery is that it was a pro-life ad.  Mrs. Tebow was talking about why she did not follow doctors’ advice and abort the baby who later became one of the most celebrated college athletes ever.  That, apparently, was shocking.
     Now, five years later, comes the story of another child, Avita Grace Wood, whose life was saved by the same commercial.  Her mother, Susan Wood, had agreed to abort the unborn Avita, at the insistence of her boyfriend, the child’s father.  After seeing the Pam Tebow commercial, however, Susan changed her mind and chose life (full story here). As in the case of the numerous accounts of women who chose not to abort because of 40 Days for Life and other pro-life efforts, we are reminded that our faith, prayer, and witness can change hearts and save lives.  We just need to keep moving the ball down to the field.

Now, on to our post-game wrap-up of the past week at Principium et Finis:

Monday – “Alessandro Scarlatti – Exsultante Deo”  Another beautiful treasure from the Catholic storehouse of sacred music.

Tuesday – “Abortion Myth #1”  The first of the series, this one examines the foundational falsehood that women were dying by the thousands before Roe vs. Wade made it all better.

This is nothing but a twenty second clip of snow blowing in my yard during Tuesday’s blizzard.  That’s it.  There’s no commentary, nothing.  And it received more page views than anything else all week. What’s up with that?

A few years back, long before I had a blog, I got tired of people telling me that they could still be Catholics in good standing while supporting contraception, pro-abortion politicians, gay marriage, various varieties of fornication, etc., because St. Thomas Aquinas said that you had to follow your conscience, even if it contradicted Church Teaching! I wrote up a little response discussing what the Angelic Doctor actually had to say on the matter, which eventually became the first thing I ever blogged about; it seemed appropriate to revisit it on the goodDoctor’s feast day.

Thursday – “Don’tGive Up On Catholic Education!”  This was Catholic Education Week, so for Throwback Thursday I brought back this piece from last summer, first written in response to an invitation from our own RAnn to discuss the question of whether Catholic Education is worth our time and resources.

Friday – “A DarkMatter: ‘Proving’ God In A Materialistic World”  We Catholics know that Faith and Reason are not in conflict, but in fact are different aspects of the same truth.  The conventional wisdom out in The World says otherwise.  Here’s one approach I’ve used to try to get high school students to understand the relationship between faith and reason a little better: it involves using Dark Matter to shed a little Light.

It was a Snowy Week at Principium et Finis - with another storm coming tomorrow

Friday, January 30, 2015

A Dark Matter: "Proving" God In A Materialistic World

The Expanding Universe, from the NASA publication "Dark Energy, Dark Matter"
     How do you show young people that Christian belief is reasonable?  I’ve seen more and more over the years in which I have been teaching in Catholic High Schools that most of my students have been formed in a materialist worldview – even when they are professing Christians.  It’s an unspoken assumption in most of the classes they’ve taken, particularly the science classes.  They just assume that a transcendent God who cannot be measured or detected with scientific instruments cannot be shown to exist.  I have found that, with a little help from NASA and modern cosmology, many students can better understand that belief in God is at least as reasonable as many “scientific” concepts that are accepted almost without question.  
     Cosmological science offers a good illustration of some ways in which we apply reason to our world and experience.  You may occasionally hear in the news, for instance, reports of planets discovered in other solar systems.  We do not now have any instruments capable of “seeing” the planet itself; instead, we detect it by observing its effects on other things, such as the miniscule wobble its gravitational pull causes in the star it orbits, or the very slight changes in the light we observe from the star as the planet passes in front of it (read more here).  On an even grander scale, consider the question of “Dark Matter” and “Dark Energy.” Over the past century, scientists have formulated what is known as the Big Bang Theory to account for the fact that the entire universe appears to be expanding at a consistent rate.  At the same time, they have calculated that in order for the universe to do what it seems to be doing, there needs to be much more matter and energy than we can detect – many times more.  As the NASA publication “Dark Energy, Dark Matter” explains (my italics): 

More is unknown than is known. We know how much dark energy there is because we know how it affects the Universe's expansion. Other than that, it is a complete mystery. But it is an important mystery. It turns out that roughly 68% of the Universe is dark energy. Dark matter makes up about 27%. The rest - everything on Earth, everything ever observed with all of our instruments, all normal matter - adds up to less than 5% of the Universe. Come to think of it, maybe it shouldn't be called "normal" matter at all, since it is such a small fraction of the Universe. (full publication here

Notice that physicists say that more than 95% of the matter and energy in the universe is completely undetectable, and we may never be able to detect it.  There is no direct evidence of the existence of Dark Energy and Dark Matter, and yet they are sure it is there, only because of the effects we observe on other things.
     Much of the evidence for God’s involvement in our world is of a similar sort, at least for those who have not themselves had a direct experience of God.  Like Dark Energy, God cannot be measured with scientific instruments, but his effects are very clear.  Consider the case of Bernard Nathanson, an atheist doctor from a Jewish family who was one of the founders of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL).  Nathanson himself performed or presided over tens of thousands of abortions until he was convinced by ultrasound images of the humanity of the unborn.  Deeply disturbed by his involvement in the taking of so many innocent lives, Nathanson, still an atheist, became active in pro-life activities, where he encountered many committed Christians.  He noticed something different about his religious friends, which he eventually recognized as what St. Paul called “The Gifts of the Holy Spirit”: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23).  It was clear to him that the difference he saw was due to the religious dimension of their lives, the visible effects of their relationship with God.  He eventually converted from atheism to Catholicism.

Merging Galaxy Cluster Abell 520 from "Dark Energy, Dark Matter" 
     Literally millions of people have come to Faith in the same way over the last two thousand years.  Like Nathanson, they were first attracted by the effects they saw in others, and after embracing Christ, found the same changes in their own lives.  They very reasonably based their faith on the real results they saw in others, and in themselves. 
     That, by the way, is one way in which belief in God is different from a belief in Dark Energy or Dark Matter.  Nobody has ever had a personal encounter with Dark Energy, or seen a miracle performed by Dark Matter; countless people throughout the ages have had direct experiences of God, or witnessed His miracles, which continue up to the present day.  One might say that, when we examine the evidence of the world around us, belief in God is actually quite reasonable.

Related Posts: 

"What Would Darwin Do?"

"The Presentation of Our Lord, Atheism, and the Problem of Suffering"

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Don't Give Up On Catholic Education!

1953: the Good Old Days

Should We Have Catholic Schools?
 Fellow Catholic blogger RAnn at This That and the Other Thing recently published a post called “Catholic Schools – Should We Have Them?” [here].  She raises some interesting points, and asks a number of questions well worth asking, in particular “whether we as a church should be investing so many resources in our schools”.  Let me say at the outset that I have a lot of experience in this area: I have taught in Catholic High Schools for the past twenty-seven years; at the same time, I attended both Catholic and public schools (I graduated from a public high school), and my own children are home-schooled, so I’m drawing on a wide range of experience. While there are definitely things that Catholic schools can and should do better, I would argue that they are more important than ever.
     I’d like to start with a point on which I respectfully disagree with RAnn.  She had been reviewing a book on the integration of segregated schools in the 1950’s and 60’s, and points out that the first black students in the previously all-white schools had a very hard time of it: she ties that to the question of whether to send her children to public or to Catholic schools. “In both cases”, she says, “I think there is a choice that is right for society and a different choice that may be right for individual kids.”   I don’t think the analogy holds.  In the case of integration, black students had been unjustly deprived of choice of schools, and forced to attend inferior ones; integration really did put them into better schools, despite the hardships and indignities suffered by the first black students to integrate; superior schools at least potentially gave them more and better options later in life, and of course paved the way for a much better educational outcome for those who followed them.  The temporary disadvantages were for the sake of future benefit not just for society as a whole, but for those children themselves. 

Catholic Schools Are Good For Students

     The question of whether to choose a public or private school for your children today is very different.  As I argue below, putting them into a public rather than a Catholic school may in fact be to the detriment of society as a whole, and very often means putting them into a worse school, rather than a better. Catholic schools have always out-performed public schools in every measurable academic category, as long such categories have been measured (see here and here).  My own experience backs this up: I’ve taught Latin and English in three different high schools in three different states, all of which draw students from a wide area and from a wide number of grammar and middle schools, and I have consistently found the Catholic school students much more prepared for high school level language study than the students from the public schools.   
     Also, in light of the integration issue, it’s worth noting that minority students derive particular benefit from Catholic schools: they are much more likely to graduate from high school than their peers in public schools, and two and one half times more likely to attend college (here). Catholic schools, in fact, have long been recognized as an unparalleled path to success for minority students, and their closure has a more profound impact on these students than on other students (here).  So, if we’re talking about Catholic schools in the context of the civil rights era integration of the public schools, we might point out that Catholic schools, by effectively preparing African American and other minority students to participate successfully in society as adults, do an excellent job of accomplishing what was the primary purpose of school integration in the first place.  In this regard, supporting Catholic schools is good for both the individual students and society as a whole.

Sometimes It's Even Good For Their Souls

     What is true for minority students is true for all other students as well: the purpose of education is to prepare them for adulthood.  From society’s point of view, the end of education is that children are good and productive citizens.  We Catholics want the same, but we also have a higher aim: we want our children to be formed into moral and faith-filled adults.  This is even more important than intellectual excellence; it is better to be illiterate before the Throne of God than to be the smartest man in Hell. Happily, as we saw above, Catholic education in fact does a superior job of training the intellect, but its primary purpose is to point the students under its care in the direction of sainthood.

     If we remember that we’re talking about formation and not simply instruction, the case for specifically Catholic schools becomes even clearer.  We are corporeal beings, unlike the Angels (see here), and as students we are formed by the entire school environment as much as we are by the content of the curriculum.  When I last attended public schools three and a half decades ago they were already committed to a secularist worldview, and had already abandoned any effort to teach the natural virtues.  Today’s public schools have gone beyond that, and beyond where they were even twenty or fifteen years ago to the point where many of them have Planned Parenthood, the world’s largest abortion provider and a zealous fornication promoter (take a look here get a feel for their agenda) providing “health” instruction; an increasing number are instituting mandatory “diversity” classes. The courts in some states have ruled there is no right to exempt your children from objectionable classes.  Add on top of that an environment that crushes any dissent on various leftist enthusiasms from global warming (or is it now “climate change”?) to gay marriage.  That's before we even start to talk about the whole Common Core fiasco.  We’re kidding ourselves if we think that our children will absorb the good things and somehow be immune to the bad things. I’ve heard the argument that “we went to public schools and we came out all right.”  First of all, as I pointed out above, these are not your father’s public schools, or even your children’s father’s public schools; also, quite frankly, not all of us do come out all right: I know plenty of people who didn’t, and speaking for myself, there were experiences and hard-to-shed habits I picked up in my public high school that I could have done without.

Catholic Schools Aren't Perfect, But . . . 

     One might counter that Catholic schools have their imperfections as well: there may well be administrators and teachers who undermine the Faith; as a practical matter, a school of any significant  size will need to hire people who are not practicing Catholics to fill some positions.  Also, as is the case in any school, the peer group will exercise a powerful formative influence, and many, probably most, students will be there not from religious devotion, but in order to benefit from the safer environment and the superior academic rigor.  It was partly for these reasons (we wanted our children to model themselves on us rather than their peers), but also because we wanted to have more control over the process, that my lovely bride and I decided to home school our children.  Most people are not going to go that route, however, and for all their unavoidable imperfections, good Catholic schools provide an environment where Christ is at the center, the Catholic faith is both taught and lived out, and moral excellence is promoted. 
     I'm also not a big fan of the idea that our children can or should be sent into the maw of the government-run educational complex as Ambassadors for Christ.  I don’t think it’s fair, reasonable or, frankly, even safe to send our not-fully-formed children into the public school system and expect them to improve the environment there in the face of a peer culture that is hostile to religious faith and a system that ever more aggressively proselytizes for extreme secularism; all but the most heroic are more likely to be converted themselves.  They have a better chance to be successful evangelizers as well-formed adult Catholics.  Also, a good Catholic school will not only bring some, at least, of the Catholic students from lukewarm families into a closer relationship with Christ and his Church, but will also convert some of its non-Catholic students.  In the school where I currently teach we typically see several of these students receive the Sacraments of Initiation and enter the Church at the last school Mass of the year. Even those not converted will at least be "levened" by the experience, a levening they will bring with them throughout life.

     There’s a lot more that can be said on this topic, and this is already a long post, so here’s my final point: it might well be the case that the traditional model of the parish school is no longer viable, but that’s no reason to abandon Catholic Education itself in a culture that is rapidly shedding its Christian heritage.  We need to find structures that fit the times.  Already a growing number of homeschooling families are participating in a wide variety  of groups and organizations; some families in my area have actually created their own school, independent of any official Church body; and it may well be that the new ecclesial movements that are doing so much to energize other parts of the Body of Christ will have something to contribute here.  We need to be open to the Holy Spirit and, as Saint John Paul II often said (and as it says many times in scripture), "Be not afraid!".  Whaever form it takes, this is not the time to abandon Catholic education.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Does St. Thomas Aquinas Really Give Assent To Dissent?

Gozzoli's "The Glory of St. Thomas"
     St. Thomas Aquinas, greatest of Catholic theologians, has been the target of a sort of “hostile takeover.” Certain people are invoking his authority in order to justify ignoring Catholic moral doctrine, claiming that, according to St. Thomas, it’s wrong not to follow your conscience, even if it’s in error; therefore, if their conscience tells them to use contraceptives, or support pro- abortion politicians, or vote in favor of redefining marriage they would actually be sinning if they obeyed the Church!  Don’t blame them: Thomas Aquinas made them do it.  What else could they do?
     On the one hand, St. Thomas does actually say what the dissenters claim he says, but on the other, he actually means the opposite of what they say he means.  Here is the relevant passage from his Summa Theologiae  [ST hereafter: italics mine here and below]:

. . .  conscience is nothing else than the application of knowledge to some action. Now knowledge is in the reason. Therefore when the will is at variance with erring reason, it is against conscience. But every such will is evil; for it is written (Romans 14:23): "All that is not of faith"--i.e. all that is against conscience--"is sin." 
Therefore the will is evil when it is at variance with erring reason.  ST IiaIae  

Yes, it is “evil” to disobey even an erroneous conscience, but conscience does not mean “feelings” or “opinions” (the common misrepresentation); rather, it is “the application of knowledge to some action”.  To St. Thomas (and to the Church) it is the process of applying moral principles to one’s particular situation, or “knowledge applied to an individual case”, as he describes it in another section (ST I, 79, 13).  Since conscience is the reasoning process by which we determine whether a course of action is good or evil, going against conscience means deliberately choosing what we believe to be evil, even if we do not actually accomplish evil:  

But when erring reason proposes something as being commanded by God, then to scorn the dictate of reason is to scorn the commandment of God.  ST IiaIae   

When we violate our conscience, then, quite apart from the actual harm we might or might not be doing (objective sin), we are intentionally rejecting what we believe to be God’s will (subjective sin): that’s why it’s "evil" to violate our conscience. This act of defiance is a sin in itself, quite apart from the sinfulness (or not) of the particular act we are contemplating.      
The story doesn’t end there, of course; St. Thomas was well aware that someone might try to use his argument to justify sin. He goes on to explain that, even though we must obey an erroneous conscience, we may be morally culpable (i.e., guilty of sin) for having an erroneous conscience.  He says: 

If then reason or conscience err with an error that is voluntary, either directly, or through negligence, so that one errs about what one ought to know; then such an error of reason or conscience does not excuse the will, that abides by that erring reason or conscience, from being evil. But if the error arise from ignorance of some circumstance, and without any negligence, so that it cause the act to be involuntary, then that error of reason or conscience excuses the will, that abides by that erring reason, from being evil. ST IiaIae  

Recall that conscience is moral principles (what he calls “knowledge” or “Divine Law”) applied to particular circumstances.   For an adult Christian “what one ought to know” are the moral principles contained in Church teaching, although it is quite possible to be mistaken or misinformed, through no fault of one’s own (invincible ignorance), about the circumstances to which one is applying the principles. Therefore, invincible ignorance excuses us from subjective guilt, but failure to form our conscience properly does not.   Just to be sure his point is clear, St. Thomas illustrates with the following examples:    

For instance, if erring reason tell a man that he should go to another man's wife, the will that abides by that erring reason is evil; since this error arises from ignorance of the Divine Law, which he is bound to know. But if a man's reason, errs in mistaking another for his wife, and if he wish to give her her right [i.e., sexual intercourse] when she asks for it, his will is excused from being evil: because this error arises from ignorance of a circumstance , which ignorance excuses, and causes the act to be involuntary. ST IiaIae

Notice the phrase “bound to know”: whether or not adultery is wrong is not a matter of conscience, its wrongness is an unalterable reality that we are “bound” to acknowledge.
St. Thomas did NOT make her do it

       The champions of conscience (or perhaps more properly “conscience”) over and against Catholic moral doctrine almost without exception invoke St. Thomas (when they invoke him) to justify their rejection of the Church’s teaching on one of the currently fashionable sexual issues, such as contraception, gay marriage, extra-marital sex, etc., practices that have been explicitly and unambiguously condemned in scripture and in the teaching of the Church under the sixth commandment’s prohibition of adultery.  If we look at the whole passage, however, and not just the one sentence that seems to excuse dissent, we see that St. Thomas is saying explicitly that you cannot invoke conscience against these teachings. Using adultery as his example, he demonstrates that the role of conscience is not to determine basic rules of right and wrong, but to guide our own actions according to the rules we have received from God through his Church.
      It would be helpful at this point to recall that sin involves a lot more than just the will of the sinner. The Church teaches that there must be three conditions for a sin to be a mortal sin: grave matter, full knowledge, and full consent or, more prosaically, "it's bad, you know darn well it's bad, but you go ahead and do it anyway".  St. Thomas is here considering only the second part of the formulation, that is, whether or not you know darn well it's bad.   Even if, through no fault of your own (a significant "if", as we saw above) you don't know it's bad, and so are not guilty of choosing bad, it's still bad.  And it's bad because bad consequences, for you and/or society at large, are likely to follow.  That's why it's a sin, after all. Consider St. Thomas's example of the unwitting adulterer.  He is not guilty of subjective sin, because he is not aware of what he is doing.  The act is nevertheless an objective sin, which could lead to all manner of destructive consequences: fathering a child out of wedlock (with all the attendant problems), or receiving a disease which might in turn infect his innocent wife; the other woman might receive an infection from him, and, depending on her awareness of the situation, might feel exploited or betrayed by him.  If the adultery becomes known, as is likely, it will damage the man's relationship with his wife and children; if not, he may feel the need to cover up his deed and commit the further sin of lying in order protect his family . . .  And on and on.  
   In other words, a sin is a sin is a sin, and whatever we may think, it's still a sin.  As Catholics, we have ample means of knowing the Moral Law, and therefore have no excuse for disobeying it.  St. Thomas writes nothing that justifies committing acts which the Church teaches to be morally wrong.

(The above is a revised and condensed version of an earlier series of five posts titled "Thomas Aquinas Said What?")

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Principium et Finis World Headquarters, 27 January 2015

Abortion Myth #1

Here is the first of the Abortion Myths posts. The Big Lie of a Pre-Roe bloodbath in the back alleys is the keystone in the whole edifice of mendacious myth that the pro-abortion people use to keep folks who know better in their hearts quiet for fear that they might be exposed as "anti-woman".  But once that one falls, the other myths don't seem quite as compelling . . .  

     A few years ago (that is, at least twelve) my lovely bride and I put together a list of “Abortion Myths”, that is, arguments used by pro-abortion …er, I mean pro-choice . . . folks to justify their position, along with factual and logical refutations of those arguments.  Most of them were inspired by Randy Alcott’s Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments (link – the most indispensable pro-life book I’ve ever encountered: you need it!), supplemented  with material from the Elliot Institute (link), National Right to Life (link), and other pro-life sources. I made posters of the myths and put them up in my classroom; my wife sent them to the rector of the Cathedral in Portland who had them published, one myth at a time, in the parish bulletin.  A friend who worked in the parish office told us that they received significantly more feedback (overwhelmingly positive) about those than they had for anything else they had ever published.
     I think it’s time to bring back the Abortion Myths, appropriately updated and now with live links!  My plan is to post one every Week.  So, without further ado:


 MYTH: "Before Roe vs. Wade, 5,000­ - 10,000 women in the U.S. died every year from illegal abortions."

FACTS: Documented maternal deaths were, at the highest, less than a tenth of those figures, in most years far less.

1) Abortion promoters admit to fabricating the figures: "I confess that I knew the figures [5,000-10,000 maternal deaths] were totally false, and I suppose others did too if they stopped to think of it."
-Bernard Nathanson, co-founder of pro-abortion group NARAL, in Aborting America , p. 193 (1973)

2) Research shows that the most maternal deaths in a year was 388, in 1948.

 3)Antibiotics greatly reduced the death rate before the full legalization of abortion.  In 1972, the year before  Roe vs. Wade, there were 39 maternal deaths.

 4)There have been at least at least 400 maternal deaths in the U.S. from legal abortion since Roe vs. Wade.

 ­5) Every year, more than half a million unborn women die from legal abortions in the U.S.


Essential Pro-Life Resources:

Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments (link)  

The Elliot Institute (link)  

National Right To Life Committee (link)  

Care-Net (link)

The Nurturing Network (link)

To See The Entire Abortion Myths Series Click HERE 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Alessandro Scarlatti - Exsultate Deo

     It’s only natural that the children of a loving Father should try to please and honor him. And so for the past two thousand years, Christians have put untold effort, ingenuity and love into creating a magnificent store of inspiring art of all sorts to glorify God, including a treasury of sacred music unmatched for its depth, breadth, and sheer beauty.
     Sometimes it seems we’re throwing it all away.  All too often, it seems, we keep the best china and good silver locked away and receive the Lord of Creation with the equivalent of paper plates and plastic forks at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

     It doesn’t need to be that way.  We all can and should advocate for liturgical music worthy of Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  And if it’s any comfort, long after nobody remembers that there was any such thing as “Anthem” or “Lord of the Dance”, Alessandro Scarlatti’s “Exsultate Domine” will still be there, and still sound like music fit for The King.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival (25 January 2015)

     Happy Sunday! Welcome to Sunday Snippets, A Catholic Carnival.  Sunday Snippets® is a weekly convocation of Catholic bloggers sharing links to their posts from the past week.  The main gathering is here at This That and the Other Thing, home of out gracious hostess RAnn.

The Communion of Saints

Yesterday was the feast day of St. Francis De Sales, Bishop and Doctor of the Church.  St. Francis, who died almost four centuries ago, was ahead of his time in his concern for the devotional life of laypeople. I'll have more to say about this wonderful Saint in the future.
      Yesterday was also the feast day of number of less well-known saints , including Saints Thyrsus and Projectus.  Their biography at Catholic Online [here] is rather brief; it reads, in full:

Martyrs of an unknown year and location. Their Acts [i.e., histories] are no longer extant.

That’s it.  We don’t know when they lived, where they lived, or what they did. All we know is that they are Saints . . . which is really all that matters in the end.  St. Paul says:

. . . Run so as to win.  Every athlete exercises discipline in every way.  They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. (1 Corinthians 9:24-25)

     That crown is the crown of sanctity, if we persevere to the end. We are all called to be Saints with God in Heaven, but we can’t all be a St. Francis De Sales.  Most of us, just like the vast majority of saintly Christians through the centuries, will be forgotten a few generations after our passing from this world.  All the things that seem so important to us today will likewise have disappeared.  And that’s fine, because there’s only one thing that ultimately matters, that eternally matters: that, by the Grace of God, we be Saints.
This week also saw the annual March for Life in Washington on the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s baleful Roe vs. Wade decision, so naturally there was emphasis on the law and human life in most of the week’s posts; below are the snippets from Principium et Finis:

Monday – A little-known composer, but a beautiful setting for a beloved traditional prayer: “Schola Regina Pacis – Stabat Mater (J. Rheinberger) [here]  

Tuesday – A few facts to consider the next time someone tells you that it’s a waste of time to vote pro-life: “Abortion Myth #17” [here

Thursday – A Throwback from last May in which I argue, contra some libertarians, that redefining marriage is an assault on liberty:  “If You Want To Defend Freedom, Protect Traditional Marriage” [here]

Friday – I know that the argumentum ad Satanam isn’t very fashionable these days, but Planned Parenthood’s new pro-abortion “prayers” are truly Diabolical: “‘Choice’And The Father Of Lies” [here

Friday, January 23, 2015

"Choice" And The Father Of Lies

He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44)    

Yesterday's March For Life in Washington (Washington Times photo)

     As we mark the ugly anniversary of Roe vs. Wade this week, it is only appropriate that we take a look at “Old Scratch” himself, the Devil.  In John’s Gospel our Lord tells us everything we need to know about the Devil: “He was a murderer from the beginning”, and “He is a liar, the father of lies”.  And what is his first lie, the Big Lie that is still his primary murder weapon? “You will not die . . . you will be like God, knowing good and evil”. (Genesis 3:4-5)  There will be no eternal consequences, Satan tells us, we can decide for ourselves what is good and evil, we are the gods.  For this reason he is called “the Devil”, from the Greek διάβολος (diabolos), which means “slanderer, perjurer, false accuser, and can also mean “deceiver, one who misleads”.  It derives from the verb διαβάλλω (diaballo), whose original meaning is “drive through”, or destroy.  Satan seeks to destroy us, eternally, by using falsehood and deception to separate us from God.

     I got to thinking about all this the other day due to a comment from my Lovely Bride.  She had just run across this article [here] from the National Right To Life News, detailing certain pro-abortion prayers that are being circulated by our old friends at Planned Parenthood, and she couldn’t help but think of the observation of C.S. Lewis (and many others) to the effect that Satan can’t create anything on his own, all he can do is mock and falsify God’s creation.  I think she has a point.  PP calls their campaign by the inelegant title “40 Days of Prayer For Women Everywhere”, an obvious mockery of 40 Days For Life.  Here is a sample of a few of the Planned Parenthood “prayers”, from the NRTL News article:

            “We give thanks for the doctors who provide quality abortion care.”
            “We pray for a cloud of gentleness to surround every abortion facility.”
“We pray for all the staff at abortion clinics around the nation.  May they be daily confirmed in the sacred care that they offer women.”
“We give thanks for abortion escorts who guide women safely through the hostile gauntlet of protesters.”
“We pray for women who have been made afraid of their own power [of choice, i.e. abortion] by their religion.  May they learn to reject fear and live bravely.”

National Right To Life News notes that these “prayers” were composed by a group calling itself “Faith Aloud”, and that “Infamous late term abortionist Dr. Leroy Carhart is a member of the board.”
     My first reaction on reading this was something akin to extreme nausea: do these people really believe that God will surround their butchery of unborn babies made in His image and likeness with “a cloud of gentleness”? That this butchery could be in any sense called “sacred care”? That the Lord would smile upon their request to separate women from their (most often Christian) religion?  Well, maybe not, because these petitions are not actually addressed to God, or to anyone else for that matter.  Is it due to a lack of faith, or perhaps a realization that a just and loving God would not be likely to answer prayers such as these? Whatever the case may be,  these are the same people who mocked the words of the Heavenly Host with “Choice on Earth” Christmas cards (in Planned Parenthood newspeak, “choice” always means “abortion”); these are the same people who thought it a generous gesture after the terrorist attack on 9/11 to offer free abortions to pregnant widows of men who died in the World Trade Towers.  This macabre mockery of religious faith has been a part of the pro-abortion industry/movement for a long time, and it isn’t limited to that movement’s flagship enterprise: immediately after the Roe decision in 1973 a group calling itself the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights (RCAR) was founded, which soon, recognizing that the truth in this case was a rather unlovely thing, changed their name to the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.  And that ugly truth is the reason for the euphemisms and the bizarre, phony prayers: if they’re honest, they lose, and so they must pretend to be something they’re not.

Christ, or is it the Anti-Christ? and the Father of Lies
     So, let’s see now, lies, mockery of God and sacred things, death, who does that sound like? Could it be…? Yes, you know where this is going.  Now, I’m not saying that the people at PP and their fellow travelers in the abortion industrial complex are Satans themselves: I’m willing to believe that most of them think they’re doing the right thing, and that they’re on the side of the angels.  The problem is, they are on the side of the fallen angels, led by the father of lies himself.  I find myself yet again quoting St. Paul: “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the  powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly place” (Ephesians 6:12). 
     So how do we go about combating the powers of darkness?  St. Paul tells us to take on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:13)  and pray at all times in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18) that utterance may be given me in boldly proclaiming the Gospel (Ephesians 6:19).  It is a two-pronged strategy: first prayer and reliance on God, next a bold proclamation of the truth.  Thats why, before the March for Life in Washington and our local marches, we attend Mass or a prayer service.  We need to remember that, and remember that this isnt simply a matter of politics, its a matter of Good and Evil, the God of Truth and the father of lies.  Lets make sure we stay on the right side.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

If You Want To Defend Liberty, Protect Traditional Marriage

Today is the 42nd anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade and Doe vs. Bolton decisions, which at a stroke nullified abortion laws in all fifty states. In his dissent from Roe, Justice Byron White said, “I find nothing in the language or history of the Constitution to support the court’s judgment,” and goes on to characterize the decision as nothing more than “an exercise of raw judicial power”.

     Sadly, federal courts have not given up on exercises of “raw judicial power” over the past four decades: in 22 states federal judges have voided state constitutional amendments or statutes put in place by voters that defined marriage as the union of a man and a women (a definition that, throughout all of human history up until twenty years ago, would have seemed remarkable only for the fact that something so obvious needed to be said at all).  To date the redefinition of marriage has been put to voters in the United States several dozen times, and has passed only once (here in my home state, I’m sorry to say, and that after losing in earlier bids). Clearly, the way this novel definition of the primary human institution is being imposed is undemocratic; in the post below, an earlier version of which I published in May of last year, I argue that beyond that, by its very nature it is opposed to human freedom, both political and religious.

A Hot Topic

The legal definition of marriage has been a hot topic in recent years. Faithful Catholics know that while traditional marriage was created by God and raised to a Sacrament by Jesus Christ, there are very good reasons in the natural order to preserve it as an institution, such as that it provides the best environment by far for raising and forming children, and it is an essential building block in any stable and prosperous society. Unfortunately, a “hot topic” is not the same thing as a reasoned debate, and advocates of marriage redefinition very often do not respond to arguments with counter-arguments, but rather with attempts to silence and even destroy those who disagree with them. Just one example among many: at Notre Dame (a Catholic University) campus police expelled a pro-marriage group at the prompting of violent gay marriage activists who disliked their message (here). 
     Such activists, however, are a minority, and there is still a mass of people in the middle whose minds are open if they can be given solid reasons for supporting traditional marriage, and given a sense that they are not facing the brown-shirt tactics of the left all alone if they profess the traditional view.  Given that many, perhaps most, of the people in the middle are more secular than religious (even if they identify as Christians) we need to be prepared with arguments rooted in the natural order.  Moreover, there are certain constituencies that at least ought to be natural allies for those of us fighting to preserve marriage.

Which Side Is Lady Liberty On?

     I am thinking in particular of libertarians and others for whom personal freedom is a primary concern.  Many such liberty-minded people have been drawn into the anti-marriage camp because those who would redefine marriage often rely on an appeal to freedom: one hears arguments such as "nobody has ever shown me how two men or two women marrying each other is going to harm their own marriage.”  Another argument we all have heard is something like:   “You anti-gay marriage people are anti-freedom: you want to keep gay people from marrying the partner of their choice”, or "you're trying to impose your religious beliefs on everyone else."   I’ve even seen protesters standing outside my church holding a sign that says “When did I get to vote on your marriage?”  So perhaps it’s no surprise that many people, particularly those of a libertarian bent, have been convinced that the pro-gay marriage advocates are on the side of liberty, and that supporters of traditional marriage are the would-be tyrants; how can they be wrong?
     To begin with, all the arguments above proceed from false premises.  Virtually nobody today is arguing for the return of anti-sodomy laws, or advocating the forcible separation of co-habiting same-sex couples.  Nor have I heard of anyone promoting laws that would somehow prevent homosexuals from calling their relationships “marriages”.  Traditional marriage supporters are simply working to preserve the long-standing legal definition of our most important social institution (older than any government and older even than institutional religion) against those who want to use the force of law to compel the rest of us to agree to a new definition, a definition that nobody anywhere has ever held (up until the last few years), and one which will change our understanding of that most important institution in fundamental ways.  By any objective measure, the gay marriage advocates are trying to deprive the rest of us of our liberty to hold and to express our beliefs.  The incident from Notre Dame (a supposedly Catholic institution) cited above is, again, just the most recent example. I don’t have the space here to run through the list of businesses and individuals attacked, smeared, harassed, sued, etc. by the redefinition advocates, but one only needs to pay attention to the news for a couple of days to know that such tactics are the rule, not the exception; and they all come from the side that accuses us of opposing freedom.

Are wedding bells liberty bells?
Did The State Invent Marriage?    

 Beyond the tactics used by the opponents of traditional marriage, there is a much more profound issue, one concerning the proper role of government. Laws concerning marriage have always been descriptive, describing and recognizing an institution that was not created by the state, and in fact existed long before the state came into being. Even laws regulating certain aspects of marriage (the ban on polygamy, for instance) never seek to change it; they are intended to protect marriage, and preserve it more faithfully within its traditional contours.  A law that re-defines it to mean something completely different, something it has never been, is a prescriptive law, one that prescribes or creates a new reality.  This is a power that few governments, and certainly not our constitutional republic, have ever claimed in regard to marriage. It is the annexation of something that has never belonged to the state; it is to treat  something that the state has always recognized as pre-existent, above and beyond itself,  as if it were a creation of the state, to be manipulated,  redefined, and at some point (why not, after all?) even abolished at the whim of the ruling power. This is truly totalitarian.  I don’t believe that lovers of liberty really wish to give the state such powers.

You Can't Fight City Hall - At Least On Your Own

     Giving the state total control over the institution of marriage would have profound ramifications for freedom in general. Families are, along with organized religion, the most important “mediating institutions” between the individual and the state.  Mediating institutions are groups of people large and small that help serve as a check on government power and provide individuals with a way of influencing the state much more effectively than they could on their own.  These independent sources of authority are essential to the preservation of liberty:  without them the behemoth of the state would easily crush the lone citizen.  That’s why totalitarians of every stripe make the subjugation, or even destruction, of these institutions (especially the Family and the Church) a top priority.  Giving the state the power to manipulate, redefine and hence to unmake such essential protectors of freedom must necessarily lead to an ever more powerful state, and an ever smaller place for individual liberty.
     The desire of libertarians to work to preserve personal freedom is quite understandable, but the legal redefinition of marriage will do just the opposite: it will necessarily mean the loss of freedom to express and to act according to our most sacred beliefs, and it will grant to the state an enormous and unprecedented power for remaking society according to its own designs.  If you want to defend liberty, therefore, protect the traditional family.
(See also, "Marriage, Family, & Liberty" here)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Abortion Myth #17

 MYTH: "Voting pro-life doesn't do any good; once they're elected, pro-life candidates don't do anything about abortion."

TRUTH: Although the U.S. Supreme Court decisions Roe vs. Wade, Doe vs. Bolton, and Casey vs. Planned Parenthood prevent the passage of laws directly outlawing most abortions in the United States, pro-life legislators and governors have put in place numerous pro-life laws that, while not outlawing abortion, have significantly reduced its incidence (while simultaneously improving maternal health):

Pro-life laws lead to real reductions in abortion

-          Dr. Michael New reviewed 16 peer-reviewed studies, and reports that all of them show significant decreases in teen abortions after the enactment of parental involvement laws (reductions from 13-42%). [here]

-          Informed consent laws, Medicaid restrictions, and partial-birth abortion bans have all been shown to lead to significant measurable decreases in the abortion rate. [here]

Pro-life laws lead to real improvements in Women’s health

-          Informed consent laws, Medicaid restrictions, and partial-birth abortion bans have also been shown to lead to significant measurable decreases in various health problems such as gonorrhea (12%-20% reduction for women under 20 yrs old) and suicide (11%-21% reduction in women 15-17 yrs old)[here]

-          Maternal mortality is consistently, and significantly, lower in countries where abortion is illegal than it is in countires where it is legal. [here]

-          In Ireland and Northern Ireland, where abortion is heavily restricted, rates of low birth weight and still births are consistently and significantly lower than in England Scotland, and Wales, where abortion has been legal since 1968 (in 1971 the rates were much higher in Ireland and Northern Ireland). The Irish countries also have lower maternal mortality rates and lower breast cancer rates. [here

There are also ways that government officials can promote life other than by the passage of laws:

Federal judges are nominated by the President and approved by the Senate; pro-life Presidents and senators are more likely to put in place justices willing to reverse those decisions (pro-abortion politicians regularly go before groups such as Planned Parenthood and explicitly promise to nominate only judges who will uphold pro-abortion decisions).

There are other things Presidents, governors, and other officials do that encourage or discourage abortion. For instance, President Reagan and both Bushes had policies in place forbidding use of U.S. funds for abortion overseas (the “Mexico City Policy”); Presidents Clinton and Obama both reversed those policies on their first day in office. State governors also make decisions that either encourage or discourage abortion (see here, for instance).


Essential Pro-Life Resources:

Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments (link)  

The Elliot Institute (link)  

National Right To Life Committee (link)  

Care-Net (link)

The Nurturing Network (link)

To See The Entire Abortion Myths Series Click HERE