Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Reader Asks: Are Christians Entitled?

Recently I shared an article commenting on the recent mini-controversy about a tweet from Sen. Ted Cruz's campaign and the response by one pundit that appeared to betray a serious lack of knowledge of the basics of Christianity. Sen. Cruz's campaign tweeted that "we have to awaken and energize the body of Christ," which Ms. Parker interpreted as a call for Jesus to rise from his grave and serve Ted Cruz--nevermind that Christ's tomb is empty, and that the central claim of Christianity is that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.

A reader raised a concern about jumping on this gaffe:
I am, however, a bit conflicted about the first link. It seems to take an unkind view of an admittedly ignorant pundit. It sounds rather like 'everybody point and laugh at the moron who doesn't know the first thing about a faith that she probably doesn't share'. The author goes on to a laundry list of Christian themed works of art and lumps the experience of those in with both particular knowledge of Christian faith, and by analogue, basic knowledge that everyone has. 
It might be my own anecdotal experience, but I feel like Christianity as a whole is being affected by a kind of "creeping entitlement"; a feeling that because we as a group believe in these things, we're entitled to have everyone else believe them too. Therein lies my frustration with the article. The author seems to think he's entitled to a better class of pundit, who knows about Christianity, or better yet, believes the exact same way as him. The stark reality is that there a lot of people out there, and not all of them believe in or even understand Christianity. I somehow doubt that merely expecting people to have the knowledge or experience of Christianity will win many converts. 
Would it not be better to take an attitude of love and kindness toward this person who showed ignorance of something we take for granted? Use this instance to call people to live their lives as Christ would have us live, and be luminous examples that the unknowing would wish to understand or emulate.

For me, the point of bringing attention to this story was not to mock a woman for a public slip-up. Rather, it was to express surprise that a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, a person whom we might expect to be familiar with basic facts about core constituencies in society, apparently thought that it was the belief of Christians that the corpse of Jesus Christ lies in its grave. One might argue, as you do, that we should not expect people who are not Christian to be versed in the basics of Christianity, and that such an expectation would entail a sense of entitlement that is unwarranted. If the point at issue were a minor one, an obscure notion, or if Christianity were a minority faith in this country, or if we were not part of a western culture that had been formed by Christianity, I could agree. 

But I think that in a nation that has a supermajority of Christians, with a culture rooted in and built up by the Christian faith, we could reasonably expect that an educated person whose profession it is to know about and comment upon national affairs would be familiar with the most basic tenets of Christianity, especially the most central one: that Jesus is risen from the dead. We can expect this not out of a sense of entitlement, that this is the way things ought to be, but rather in the sense that it is a fact relevant to a large percentage of the population. One need not be a Christian to know the basics of Christianity, any more then one need be a football player to know who's playing in the Super Bowl. 

This is a pervasive problem in journalism, as journalists are disproportionately non-religious and for some reason do not feel the need to brush up on the subject before reporting on it. Such practices lead to embarrassing errors sufficient in number to warrant an entire website to covering them. Shouldn't we expect better from our so-called intelligentsia? As David Mills has pointed out,
For some reason journalists can make almost any mistake about the church or religion in general and no one says “boo.” No editor would hire a guy who said the Steelers were going to draft a point guard to help improve their relief pitching, but religion? There it’s “OK, whatever, just say something.”
I do not know if Ms. Parker is a professing Christian of any kind, or what sort of personal familiarity she has with the faith. But regardless of whether she's a Benedictine Oblate or a lifelong atheist, I would expect that a person who is not only highly educated, supposedly in the world's diverse ideas, but also living in the milieu of a Christian culture, should be familiar with the basic shape of Christianity. I agree, there is no need to be nasty or personally insulting to her, but certainly, when journalists fail to do their homework, they should be called out on it.

Apostles on Third and Main

This morning I drove by a storefront that looks like it would have been a music store in the 1970s. When I read the marquee, though, I discovered that this was in fact a church. Instead of the names of singers or bands, the names of the church leadership were emblazoned on the sign. What really caught my eye, though, was the additional title that the pastor had for himself: apostle. (That is, I'm assuming it was the title, and that it wasn't his name, like Priest Holmes or Deacon Jones.) It was a tad surprising to see. When we hear the word apostle, we think of the 12 selected by Jesus to assist in and carry on his ministry, and of men like Mathias and Barnabas and Paul who joined this effort. We don't think of Todd Smith who runs his little place on Third and Main. How do we understand this? What exactly is an apostle anyway?

The word apostle comes from the Greek word meaning "to be sent." Its Latin equivalent would be something like missionary. Now, the thing about the verb "to send" is that there's always an object--that is, there is always someone or something being sent, and there's always someone doing the sending. The identity of the sender is a crucial question. If someone approaches you and says "I have been sent to you," your immediate response will be to ask "By whom?" You are always less interested in the messenger than in the one who sent the message. So, we know right off the bat that if someone calls himself an apostle he must have been sent by someone, and it's essential that we know who that is.

To be an apostle is to be sent by Christ for the purpose of preaching the Good News and building up the Church. Christ is no longer personally present on earth to appoint more apostles, nor has he made extraordinary interventions as he did with St. Paul. So we know that, strictly speaking, there can be no one today who holds that rank, and certainly no one can seize it for themselves. Yet the gospel still needs preaching, and the church still needs building, so who is left to do it? The apostles were aware both of their own limited lifespans and of the Church's perpetual need for this ministry, and thus they provided for us in the form of those offices mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles and in the letters of St. Paul, most especially in the letters to Timothy and Titus. Those are the offices of bishop, priest, and deacon. It is to these offices that the apostles entrusted the sacred duties of teaching, governing, and sanctifying. The bishops especially are considered the successors of the apostles, not in the sense that they carry the full weight of apostleship, but in the sense that the office of bishop succeeds that of apostle and provides for the Church those essential things which the apostle provided and which need to be carried on through time.

The mandate to carry on this ministry of servant leadership comes directly from Christ himself. Christ commanded his apostles to preach, to baptize, to forgive sins, and to celebrate the Eucharist, among other things. And all of these duties are essential to the church. So, it is essential that there be an office to carry them out. Thus, bishops, priests, and deacons trace their mandate, their commissioning, their being sent, through a direct line of bishops all the way back to the apostles and to Christ himself. This is what we call apostolic succession.

To be an apostle is to have been sent directly by Christ. No one today can fit that bill. To be in apostolic succession is to be sent by those who were sent by Christ. Those unbroken lines are found in the hierarchies of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The bishops send men on behalf of Christ to carry out this work. If you are not sent by one who has the authority to send, you are not an apostle, nor are you apostolic. Pastors who take this title unto themselves should be very wary. Apostleship cannot be claimed or assumed; it must be given; you must be sent. Much as we might want to style ourselves after the Twelve, we can't summon apostleship by ourselves down to Third and Main.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Links and Things: January 17, 2016

Let's go around the horn and look at some interesting items from the last few days...

Sen. Ted Cruz's campaign tweeted that we need "the Body of Christ" to "rise up" in political action. Pundit Kathleen Parker thought Cruz was calling on Jesus to rise from the grave and serve his campaign. Wow. The ignorance there is staggering. Prof. Anthony Esolen breaks it down here.

Columnist Ross Douthat on the progressive mentality that the Church and its faith are always in flux with everything up for grabs--that it is always Year Zero:

George Weigel asks priests to stop treating Mass like an improv class:


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Miracle Man of Montreal

Tomorrow (or today, depending on when you read this) is the feast of St. Andre Bessette. This once well-known saint seems to have fallen out of the general Catholic consciousness, but his life of simple holiness deserves to be remembered.

Andre was born in Quebec in 1845. Though he was slight and sickly his entire life, he lived to be 91. Andre's poor health hindered his attempts at making a life, whether finding work or pursuing the call to religious life that he felt. He applied to join the brothers of the Congregation of Holy Cross several times but was turned down due to his poor health and limited education. Finally, his persistence paid off, as the archbishop intervened and famously concluded: "At least he can pray."

Andre was given the job of serving as porter of the community's college, opening the door and directing people to where they needed to go. And as he kindly spoke with the people he visited, he found that people shared their problems and sufferings with him. Andre's advice was always the same: "go to Joseph." Many came to him, and many were aided through his prayers--including even physical healings.

Word of Andre's actions quickly spread, and soon Andre was receiving tens of thousands of letters per year asking for his intercession. Andre would bring the oil that burned in the lamp by the statue of St. Joseph and anoint the sick with them, urging the sick to trust in St. Joseph's intercession. And people were healed: from blindness, burns, paralysis, and all kinds of disease. And their faith was enlivened and strengthened.

The attention Andre attracted concerned some of his confreres. They worried Andre was developing a cult of personality around him. The archbishop came to the local superior and asked, "If you asked Andre to stop these healings, would he?" The superior responded, "Yes, Andre is an obedient religious, he would stop if I asked." The archbishop said, "Then don't. That tells me it's not about him." Andre never took any credit for himself for what occurred; he always pointed to St. Joseph.

Andre's ministry led to the construction of a beautiful Oratory of St. Joseph, which still attracts many pilgrims today. At his death, one million people viewed his coffin. He was dubbed "the miracle man of Montreal," yet his fame has diminished somewhat over time.

We would do well to remember the lessons of St. Andre's life: persistence, humility, devotion to the saints, and humble submission to the will of God. He is a reminder that God calls all of us to be saints: the strong and the sickly, the well and poorly educated alike. All that is required is love of God and love of neighbor.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Links and Things: Epiphany Edition

Bishop Robert Barron's Christmas Day op-ed in the LA Times on the "subversive nature" of the infancy narrative in Luke's Gospel. In his time, Caesar was called "son of the divine" and "savior of the world." To call Jesus such things, then, was not just a theological statement: it was treason.

Fascinating article at The Imaginative Conservative by Fr. Dwight Longenecker on a way of seeing the three Indiana Jones films as a spiritual journey. (You may think that there was a fourth film. This was a mass hallucination. Never happened.)

Mike Eisenbath on the challenge and importance of detachment in the spiritual life.

I highly recommend Big Pulpit for links to all kinds of Catholic-y things. (Full disclosure: its founder also founded Catholic Stand, for which I am an editor.)

Friday, January 1, 2016

A New Year and A New Title

Welcome, and a Happy New Year to you all!

The observant reader will notice that the title of this site has changed. The unobservant reader is probably trying to find the right sidebar item to update his fantasy football roster. I have contemplated changing the title of this site for some time. There are several reasons for this.

First, though the title DomiNickan is intended to refer to my association with the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, it often instead has led people to believe that I am a member of the Dominican Order. I wish neither to confuse people nor to bank off of the good name of those itinerant preachers. 

Second, since I have now completed my degrees, I feel it is time for me to shove off from the school's shores and give my blog an independent title, though I will always be the first evangelist and apologist for the school's mission. 

Third, I wanted a title that evoked a deeper idea than a pun that relies on a misspelling.

Thus, goodbye, DomiNickan, and thanks.

Why Two Old Books, then?

This phrase refers to a quote from C.S. Lewis, and speaks to my own beliefs and motivations for writing. Lewis wrote an introduction to a new edition of St. Athanasius' book On the Incarnation. (Keep in mind the historical context: this was the time at which the study of the Church Fathers was coming back into fashion, and new editions and compilations of their works were being published by men like Danielou, Von Balthasar, and DeLubac.) In it Lewis offers a reflection on students' relation to classic texts:

Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light. Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books. If you join at eleven o’clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said. Remarks which seem to you very ordinary will produce laughter or irritation and you will not see why—the reason, of course, being that the earlier stages of the conversation have given them a special point. In the same way sentences in a modern book which look quite ordinary may be directed atsome other book; in this way you may be led to accept what you would have indignantly rejected if you knew its real significance... It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.

You can find it in its entirety here, and I suggest you read it.

There is much wisdom in this invitation. Certain works have inspired generation after generation, remaining always fresh and relevant. They have served as fodder for reflection for centuries and millennia. Why should we not also draw from their wellsprings and gain the same inspiration? Why should we be content to read Sparknotes and not Shakespeare? To read Thomists and not read Thomas? To read biblical commentaries and not the Bible?

I will go beyond Lewis, though, and suggest that you read two old books for every new book you read. There's a simple reason for this: there's a lot more of the past than there is of the present. There are a lot more old books that have proven themselves than there are new books that appear promising. Our Catholic Faith is rich with millennia of history, philosophy, theology, poetry, and literature--great minds thinking deep thoughts on important questions. So much to read and experience!

Additionally, as Lewis mentions, becoming acquainted with old ideas inoculates us against the same ancient errors that rise zombie-like every generation to terrorize us anew, and revives for us valuable ideas and insights from the past that have since fallen out of fashion. 

I am not going to develop some trope where I always mention two old books in my posts. That would be tedious, obvious, and just plain uninteresting. But I do tend to cite classic works anyway, so it might work out that way unintentionally. 

Thank you for visiting. I hope you will be back often, and in this new year I hope to provide material for your enjoyment more regularly. I am always open to suggestions for topics. Let me know what you want to know about!