Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Gallup: Americans Say There Are More Homosexuals in America Than Catholics

You read that headline correctly. Americans, it seems, have grossly exaggerated in their minds the number of homosexuals in America. They have also radically underestimated how many Catholics live here.
Let’s take a survey: Are Americans (a) really bad at estimating, (b) really gullible, (c) both really gullible and really bad at estimating? After seeing the results of this Gallup survey, I think the answer is obvious:
U.S. adults, on average, estimate that 25% of Americans are gay or lesbian. More specifically, over half of Americans (52%) estimate that at least one in five Americans are gay or lesbian, including 35% who estimate that more than one in four are. Thirty percent put the figure at less than 15%.
As the Gallup articles points out, demographer Gary Gates recently released a review of population-based surveys on the topic which found 1.7% of Americans identify as lesbian or gay and another 1.8% (mostly women) identify as bisexual. Yet, as economist Karl Smith notes, “most Americans believe that there are significantly more gays and lesbians than blacks (12.6%) or Hispanics (16.3%) and 35% of Americans believe there are as many or more gays than Catholics (~25%).”
Why do Americans think there are so many gays in the U.S.? Maybe they are basing their estimations on what they see on television.
Read the rest.

The author goes on to suggest that there's a reason people think Christians represent a small part of the population.
Even though 76% of Americans identify as Christians I doubt you could find 90 openly Christian characters on all of television, much less on these 138 shows.

But could there also be another good reason for these perceptions?

Why, for example, do people think so few Catholics live in America? Perhaps the prevailing opinion is not simply the result of Hollywood propaganda.

Perhaps poll numbers aren't all that surprising. Should you even be counted as "Catholic" if you fail to go to church, if you deny what Catholics believe and if you generally oppose what the Church stands for? Are you really still a "Catholic"?

If Catholics cease to practice their faith, should they still be counted as "Catholic"?

Just a thought.

Virtual Pilgrimage for the Feast of the Visitation

It's the Feast of the Visitation!  You want to make a pilgrimage to Hill Country of Judea, but can't afford the plan fare to Israel.

Ah, you are having Feast of Visitation day blues.  But fear not!  The miracle of modern technology makes it possible to take a virtual pilgrimage to the very spot of Mary and Elizabeth's embrace.

Seriously, in honor of the Feast Day, I thought I'd post some video of our trip to Ein Karem, the site of the Church of the Visitation, from Day 4 of our May pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Luke is vague about the location of the Visitation, only describing it as "the hill country of Judea."  Ein Karem (lit. "the spring of the vineyard") is the hilly area associated with the Visitation since ancient times.

The first video shows the walk up the mountainside from the modern town to the Church of the Visitation, which is mildly tiring.   The surrounding countryside is beautiful.

cont. -->

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Isn't Christ the 'One Mediator'?

Part 3 of "The Catholic Understanding of the Saints." See Part 1 and Part 2

The next few posts will examine one of the questions asked specifically by Jim. (I’m not answering his questions in the exact order he asked them, but I will get to all of them). Here's the question I want to start considering:
What biblical or theological justification is there for believing that the dead pray for us?
This is a hugely important question. But, actually, in a certain sense, this question really contains a number of other questions rolled up into one:
  1. Isn’t Christ the “one mediator between God and man” (1 Tim 2:5)? If so, isn’t affirming the ability of the dead to pray for us a violation of that biblical teaching? In light of that, it would seem that there can be no biblical justification for the Catholic belief that saints in heaven can pray for those on earth.
  2. Are the dead even conscious? Aren't the dead "asleep" until the resurrection?
  3. If the those who have died are conscious, how do we know they are aware of the needs of Christians on earth?
  4. Assuming one could answer the questions above, isn't it just speculation that the saints pray for those on earth? Is there any clear indication in Scripture that those in heaven actually pray for those on earth?
  5. Isn’t it a violation of the biblical prohibition against necromancy to ask the saints in heaven to pray for us?
These are all important questions. Let me try to take them one by one.

Today, let’s look at the first, namely, isn’t the practice of asking the saints to pray for us a rejection of the biblical teaching of Christ’s role as the “one mediator”?

"A Non-Catholic's Answer to Questions on the Saints": Nick Norelli's Great Post

Before I continue my response (see Part 1, Part 2) to my Baptist friend, Jim West, who asked for an explanation of the biblical and theological rationale for the Catholic view of the saints (tomorrow post #3 goes up), I wanted to offer some thanks to all those who have responded, either on their own blogs or in the comment box (and those who have done both!).

In particular, I want to thank non-Catholic bloggers who have written about my series, including, of course, Jim himself (herehere and here). It's great to dialogue with people who will actually listen--even if we don't ultimately agree, it's refreshing to know that we can truly have that dialogue.

I'd also like to extend particular thanks to other non-Catholics who have picked up this series: Stuart James, Louis at Baker Book House Connection and Brian Leport's mention of my previous post at Near Emmaus. If I've missed anyone, I apologize. (Let me know in the comment box.)

However, special thanks goes to Nick Norelli over at Rightly Dividing the Word of God. Not only did Nick alert his readers to my answers, but he offered sound biblical reasons why even a non-Catholic like himself can affirm beliefs such as the understanding that the saints can pray for those on earth, why it is a good idea to pray for the dead, etc. He writes:

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Structure and Spirit are Not Opposed: The Sixth Sunday of Easter

The Readings for this Sunday’s Mass are here.

Throughout this Easter Season, we follow the growth of the early Church through the Acts of the Apostles.

The key points of development of the life the early Church remain paradigmatic and instructive for the Church today, because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8).

So we see in this Sunday’s First Reading pivotal point in the Book of Acts and in the growth of the Church, as Philip, one of the first deacons, goes down to Samaria to preach the Gospel to them.

Friday, May 27, 2011

What is the Mount of Beatitudes Like?

Where did Jesus actually deliver the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7)?

On the third day of our pilgrimage, we visited the traditional Mount of the Beatitudes, a high hill on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee between Magdala (to the south) and Caphernaum (to the north).  Although 100% certainty is not possible, this mount is a likely candidate for the location of Jesus' sermon, and has been venerated as such since at least the fourth century.  Even if it is not the exact location, it has to be close.

Many outdoor sanctuaries are available at the site for Mass, as the peaceful and beautiful location is very conducive to prayer.  The Sea of Galilee is clearly visible to the west.  The area is well-watered and verdant, and swarming with birds, especially different varieties of swallows and sparrows.  On the accompanying video, the bird calls are clearly audible.  Being there certainly added a certain tangible impact to the following words from the Sermon:

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Zwingli's Successor on Mary

The man who is generally recognized as the successor to the Protestant Reformer Huldrych Zwingli in Zurich had some interesting things to say about Mary. I just ran across this passage.
"Elijah was transported body and soul in a chariot of fire; he was not buried in any Church bearing his name, but mounted up to heaven, so that . . . we might know what immortality and recompense God prepares for his faithful prophets and for his most outstanding and incomparable creatures . . . it is for this reason, we believe, that the pure and immaculate embodiment of the Mother of God, the Virgin Mary, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, that is to say her saintly body, was carried up to Heaven by the angels."
--Heinrich Bullinger, De origine erroris, 16.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Short-Circuiting Catholic-Protestant Dialogue: An Illustration

Why is it that 500 years after the Protestant Reformation Christians remain divided? Well, this might give you some insight. . . Pay close attention.

When I posted my first response to Jim's fair-minded questions about the Catholic understanding of saints a cynical Catholic friend of mine chided me: "It doesn't matter what you write. You will be misrepresented and it won't help at all. People really don't listen to one another."

I'm far less cynical. Having spent most of my life studying under and with non-Catholic Christian scholars I know that real dialogue is not only possible but fruitful. We may not fully agree with one another but at least we can better understand why we disagree. That's why I decided to try my best to answer Jim's questions.

Unfortunately, though, some people just refuse to open up the lines of communication.

Detracting from Christ?

Part 2 of "The Catholic Understanding of the Saints". See Part 1.

In this post I continue my response to the thoughtful concerns regarding the Catholic understanding of the communion of the saints offered by my Baptist friend and biblioblogger extraordinaire, Jim West.

I appreciate all the feedback I received on the last post and I hope to hear more of your thoughts in the comment box below.

A New Idolatrous Pantheon?

Given that, as I explained in my last post, many non-Catholic Christians think that Catholics actually believe salvation comes through works and not purely through God’s grace, you can understand just how “idolatrous” the practice of beatifying and canonizing “saints” may seem.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Priesthood of the New Covenant: Fifth Sunday of Easter

By a happy coincidence, we in the Diocese of Steubenville were blessed with a pair of ordinations (one to the diaconate and one to the priesthood) on this weekend in which the readings for Mass are filled with motifs of priesthood and temple.

The First Reading (Acts 6:1-7) records the appointing of seven men to assist the Apostles.  These men have always been understood by the Church as the first deacons.  One of the things that strikes me about this passage is the clear top-down authority structure of the Church.  Although the congregation is consulted in the selection of these men, they are ultimately “appointed” by the Apostles when they lay hands on them and pray for them, a rite later called “ordination.”  As a Protestant I was always wondering what the biblical form of Church government was.  In hindsight, it’s not hard to see.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Catholic Understanding of the Saints: A Response to Jim West (Part 1)

Earlier this month Jim challenged his Catholic friends to provide some biblical / theological support for the Catholic view of the communion of the saints. Specifically, here was what he had to say in his post:
1. What biblical or theological justification is there to pray for the dead?
2. What biblical or theological justification is there for believing that the dead pray for us?
3. How is ‘praying to a saint’ different from idolatry?
4. Isn’t it idolatrous to place your faith in any for salvation other than Christ?
5. Isn’t the entire notion of the invocation of the saints idolatrous and blasphemous?
I ask because with the beatification of John Paul II there is much discussion in the media about saints and their mystical magical powers to affect peoples lives and I find it all, quite frankly, more than a little disturbing and just downright pagan. It’s almost as though the Roman Church has simply replaced the Greek pantheon with saints and that the old paganism of Rome is still alive and well in the Vatican and its outlying stations.
[NB- please don't take this to mean I have problems with Catholics. My problem is with this aspect of Catholic theology / Mariolatry].
These are fair questions that deserve thoughtful answers. So. . . here goes.

Upfront though let me say: there is a lot here to address. Make no mistake about it, this is going to take some time, thoughtful interaction, and reflection. So I have put a couple other posts on hold (my series of posts on Luke-Acts and my series on Petrine primacy) to write up responses to these questions.

I’ve already written the majority of my responses, but I’ve decided against "dumping" it all out at once in a single post. I want to think through this slowly. I’m eager to get responses from Jim and anyone else and I want to be sure I carefully respond to such responses.

That said, today offers the first post. Next Monday will feature another and they will keep coming at a steady pace after that.

Preliminary Issues

Before I give detailed answers to these questions, I think I have to make some comments at the outset.

First, let me explain that I know the Protestant objections to the Catholic view of the saints very, very well. Although I am a cradle Catholic, I spent the majority of my academic career as a student at non-Catholic institutions. I earned a B.A. in theology and philosophy at Azusa Pacific University, where I also minored in New Testament Greek. I then earned my Ph.D. in Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary where I wrote a dissertation on the Historical Jesus under Colin Brown.

(By the way, I would especially love to hear from any Protestants who have received theology degrees--particularly advances degrees--from Catholic universities. It would be interesting to hear your thoughts in the com-box during this series of posts.)

In both places I was blessed with the experience of studying under and with very bright men and women who sincerely love the Lord. These individuals taught me much about what it means to live the Christian life. I am forever grateful for their example and their mentoring.

Please let me underscore how much I treasure my relationships with my non-Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ. We share a love for Christ in common and, to my mind, that is more important than any theological differences between us. Life is a spiritual battle and I appreciate all the help I can get in the trenches.

The experience however of studying at non-Catholic Christian institutions as a Catholic taught me something else. I learned that very intelligent and very sincere Protestant academics often have a profoundly misinformed view of Catholic theology. Straw man arguments and misrepresentations are perpetuated—often innocently, that is, out of ignorance and not malice—but consistently.

Of course, Catholics also misrepresent Protestant theological opinions at times.

All of this has highlighted for me the fact that there is a real need for honest and open dialogue. That's what I am all about—not theological arm-wrestling. It's not simply a matter of misunderstanding—there are real differences. But I think we talk past each other far more often than we realize.

Catholic Doctrine Teaches Salvation by Works and not Grace?

For example, one line that you’ll hear over and over again is that Catholics hold to a “works-righteousness” view of justification that somehow nullifies God’s grace. The dichotomy between the Catholic and Protestant approach is cast in stark terms: Protestants preach a Gospel of grace, while Catholics believe they “earn” their way into heaven with good works.

This is incredibly frustrating for knowledgable Catholics . . . and we hear it over, and over, and over again. (Once I heard this from a mechanic who brought it up after finding some Catholic materials in my car!)

People who view the Catholic Church this way have either actually never read the official documents of the Catholic Church or they haven’t read them very closely.

To disabuse people of their ignorance I simply turn them to the official compendium of all that Catholics believe, the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God. Grace, by uniting us to Christ in active love, ensures the supernatural quality of our acts and consequently their merit before God and before men. The saints have always had a lively awareness that their merits were pure grace.
'After earth's exile, I hope to go and enjoy you in the fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for your love alone. . . . In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you with empty hands, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is blemished in your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in your own justice and to receive from your love the eternal possession of yourself' (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2011 citing Therese of Lisieux).
I never tire of watching non-Catholics try to process this passage.

Many people would never think this is Catholic teaching. It is particularly strange to see this in the Catechism to those who “studied” Catholicism at a seminary. How could such a line appear in official Catholic documents? It just doesn’t compute for them. I’d submit that’s because they didn’t really study Catholicism in school, they only learned a caricature of it.

Just a Hip, New Catholicism? 

“Well, then the Catholic Church has changed its view.” That’s the response I usually get next.

Um. . . no.

Here’s the Council of Trent: “. . . we are therefore said to be justified gratuitously, because none of those things that precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace of justification.” (Sess. VI, Chap. VIII).

So, to properly understand the Catholic view of the saints let me first insist: the grace of justification is not first “earned” by good works—it is purely gratuitous. It is due to God’s grace. As St. Therese of Liseieux is cited in the Catechism: The saints have always had a lively awareness that their merits were pure grace.

Notice again that I am not “recasting” Catholic teaching to somehow make it more palatable to non-Catholic Christians. I am citing from official Church documents. And I’m doing so in their own words.

Obviously, there is much more that could be said, but the heart of the matter should be clear: for Catholics, the saints are saved by God's grace—not because they have earned it due to their own ingenuity.

Hopefully, we can put that myth to bed.

Continue reading: See Part 2.

Touring Galilee: Taghba, Caesarea Philippi, Caphernaum

We got back safely from Israel on Wednesday morning. 

I had been "off the grid" for several days because, shortly after my last post, we moved to a hotel in Jerusalem where the WIFI rates were exhorbitant.  I'm going to pick up where I left off and just post about some of the places we visited on each day of the pilgrimage.

On Day 3 of the pilgrimage:

Today was a whirlwind tour of sites in Galilee: Tabgha, the location of the Feeding of the 5,000; Peter’s Primacy, the site associated with the events of John 21; Mass at the Mount of Beatitudes, a two-hour round trip to Caesarea Philippi  (site of Peter’s confession of faith, Matt 16:13-20), followed by a visit to Caphernaum.

Our group along the shores of the Sea of Galilee

Close up of the famous mosaic in the Church of the Multiplication

The time at Caphernaum was one of the day’s highlights.  Although the synagogue where Jesus preached the Bread of Life Discourse is no longer standing, its foundations are still clearly visible.  A more recent, largely-intact 4-5th century synagogue is built over it.

Perhaps fifty feet away one finds the remains of Peter’s house in Caphernaum, the base for so much of Jesus’ Galilean ministry.

The Sea of Galilee itself is only a stone’s throw away.

The famous synagogue of Caphernaum
On the bus ride back to Nazareth, we re-read the Bread of Life discourse, in light of just having been at the location where it was first preached. 

Cartoon: A Surprise for Stephen Hawking

H/T Jesus Perez

Thursday, May 19, 2011

John Paul II and the Trinity: Webinar on June 2

For anyone who might be interested, on Thursday, June 2 @ 6pm I will be doing a special on-line event for JP Catholic. You will be able to hear a presentation of mine called, "John Paul II on the Trinity as the Model for the Family" and then there will be a Q & A.

Please consider joining us! Here are the details as they appear on our school's website:
In the 30-minute online webinar, Dr. Michael Barber will discuss Blessed John Paul the Great on the Trinity as the Model for the Family, and will focus on his understanding of God, family, and culture and how a true understanding of the family can Impact Culture for Christ. It is followed by a Q&A session with Dr. Barber. To register for the 6:00 pm lecture on Thursday, June 2nd, please click here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Basilica of the Annunciation

Today, among other things, we visited the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth.

It is built over a cave in Nazareth which, from the fourth century on, was a pilgrimage site associated with the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38).  The picture at right is a close up of grotto itself.  Our tour guide is a parishioner of the Basilica, and was able to get our little group of Domers and Steubies permission to celebrate mass just outside the grotto.  The experience was stunning, to say the least.

Not far away is the Church of St. Joseph, built 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Safe Arrival in Tel-Aviv, Now in Nazareth

We had a smooth flight from Atlanta to Tel-Aviv, got through security, and then took a 1.5 hour bus ride to Nazareth.  The accompanying photo is the Golden Crown Hotel viewed from my balcony window.

Amer, our guide, comes from a Roman Catholic family in Nazareth that has been Roman Catholic back at least to the era of the crusades (!).  Most of the Christians here are Greek Orthodox, or Melkite Catholics.  The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem has the pastoral care of 56,000 Roman Catholics in Israel, Jordan, and Cyprus.  It is a small minority.

We were fortunate to be able to procure the Church of the Grotto of the Annunciation for our Mass tomorrow.  I will be remembering the intentions of TSP readers and, of course, co-bloggers Michael and Brant and their families.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Leaving for Israel!

I leave for Israel tomorrow (Monday) afternoon.  If I have internet access in Israel, I'll post some updates from the pilgrimage.  God bless, one and all!  I'll pray for readers of The Sacred Page at the holy sites.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Baptism in the New Testament: Another Good One

I'd like to highlight another contribution from our Lutheran friends.  Judging by the high-church theology, I suspect our brothers are Missouri Synod Lutherans.  The Missouri Synod bishop in northern Indiana once told my much beloved Bishop D'Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend that his (the Missouri Synod) was the "real Catholic Church."  This incident occurred during an ecumenical prayer service.  I can't remember the exact circumstances, but it must have been unusual, because the MSL's often don't participate in ecumenical events. 

Be that as it may, the points made in this video pertain directly to biblical interpretation, and Catholics can directly appropriate the underlying apologetic.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Christianity, the Made-Up Fake Religion (Video)

This clip really made me laugh--even though it was produced by Lutherans ; )   It made me think: perhaps the force of some arguments are best expressed through humor. Enjoy!