Apologize and Don't Be Sorry!

A site dedicated to thinking through the common objections to the Catholic Faith as well as questions of a general religious nature.

Location: Prague, Oklahoma, United States

Just your basic 21st century priest trying to bring the Gospel to everyone who will give it a fair hearing.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Women and Evangelization: I Timothy 2:12

Dear Father Tharp:
I read in 1 Tim 2:12 that women aren't supposed to teach, presumably the Gospel. Does that mean that women shouldn't evangelize?  What is the role of a Christian woman? Are we supposed to try to bring others to the knowledge of Jesus Christ?

Name and Hometown Withheld.

     Your question centers upon a common problem.  Proper reading of the Sacred Scripture depends upon three things: context, context, context.  While it can come across as an excuse not to read the Bible, the fear of misunderstanding a particular passage is a problem.  Reliable interpretation remains paramount.  Women’s roles in the Church seem like a modern issue.  As your question demonstrates, it was a question for the early Church as well.
Let’s begin with a proper context for reading this verse.  When interpreting a particular verse from the Bible, you have seven layers of context to consider.  The verse sits within a particular selection (first layer), the particular selection within a specific chapter (second layer).  The chapter rests within a particular book (third layer). That book belongs to a particular type of biblical literature (fourth layer).  Reading the book in question means understanding the historical background of the Testament in which it is found (fifth layer).  Understanding the relationship of the Testament – Old or New – to the whole of the Bible follows next (sixth layer).  Lastly, because the Bible didn’t fall bound from heaven, you must read the Bible in relationship to the Church’s tradition and teaching authority (seventh layer).
Returning then to the verse in question, what is St. Paul driving at when he says: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man. She must be quiet.” Reading in the immediate context, St. Paul has begun a discussion of his role as apostle and therefore, logically, moves to the subject of how men and women conduct themselves as Christians (Cf. I Tim. 2:7-3:16).  Essentially, the whole letter represents St. Paul helping St. Timothy serve faithfully as a bishop.  As St. Paul addresses the role of women in the immediate context, we catch a connection which directs us to a further interpretation point.  In verses 2:13-15, St. Paul mentions Adam and Eve and the relative roles of our first parents.  It would be logical to assume that this is the heart of the matter: verse 12 is less about teaching and more about proper authority in the Church.
Consulting a couple of commentaries shed some further light on this matter.  In one commentary, the author points out that when it comes to gathering for prayer in the public assembly, both men and women were to observe proper decorum.  However, when addressing the matter of leadership, the commentator notes that St. Paul’s reference to Adam and Eve is meant to affirm the leadership role of men in the public worship of the Church.  The passage might act, therefore, as a corrective against a push for women’s ordination that was coming from various Gnostic Christian groups.  Peter Kreeft, in his book You Can Understand the Bible, makes the valid point that rather than demeaning women, St. Paul emphasizes the unique role of women in both the life of the Church and the life of the world in general.
The role of women in the arena of evangelization and proclamation of the Gospel is identical to that of men.  The Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Apostolate of lay people puts it well: “On all Christians, accordingly, rests the noble obligation of working to bring all men throughout the whole world to hear and accept the diving message of salvation” (Apostolicam Actuositatem #3.3).  Every member of the faithful, with due respect to their state in life, are called to witness to the saving truth of Jesus Christ.  Just because that role for women doesn’t include ordained ministry, it doesn’t follow that women should not be involved.  Based on that logic, EWTN, founded by Mother Angelica, would have to go off the air.  Further, we would have to ignore the contribution of great saints and reformers such St. Monica, St. Catherine of Siena, and St. Teresa of Avila – to name three -- if the only contribution that counted was ordained ministry.  
     With this in mind, I want to throw my support behind the upcoming Catholic women’s conference.  The one-day conference takes place on January 27 at St. Monica’s parish in Edmond.  Programming meant to foster devotion in a way suited to the genius of women has been long overdue.  Our non-Catholic friends have done much work in this area; it is high time that Oklahoma Catholics got into the game as well.  As this is the first year for this program, high attendance helps insure future events.  More information is available at www.ocwconference.com or by contacting Sharmin Romero at 405-330-8733.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

For the last several weeks, I have been asked about Islam and if I knew of any good sources for the subject. Thankfully, Sandra Miesel did all the heavy lifting for me.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Catholic Podcasting: Catch the Evangelization Wave!

     “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”  We usually associate those words with the Christmas season, but thanks to the industry of Staples, that phrase now evokes images of back-to-school.  In my family, everyone knew that back-to-school was my Christmas.  Walking down the aisles at TG&Y, admiring the rainbow kaleidoscope of unsharpened #2 pencils, coveting a new Trapper Keeper, looking forward to ripping into a new package of loose-leaf paper filled me with glee.  Face it: I loved school.  The totally amazing potentialities contained within the covers of my textbooks always left me giddy with anticipation.
     However, this is not a paean to my school days.  There is a connection to our lives as Catholics.  Unfortunately, many Catholics act as though that because they are adults they don’t have anything more to learn about the Catholic Faith.  Some will think this is an unfair characterization but my experience suggests something different.  Many Catholics will confide to me that they wish they were better informed, but when I suggest a book, a bible study, or a formation opportunity, they respond with “Oh, I couldn’t do that.”  The excuses vary but at the base, they are excuses.  With our kids going back to school and going back to religious education, I want to encourage all Catholics, especially parents, to do likewise.  We live in a time when it has never been easier to get your hands on the best Catholic information and formation.  This week, I want to talk about the high-tech solutions.
     You see them everywhere you go, a person bopping their head to inaudible music, pumped directly into their brain from their personal MP3 player.  These devices are made to play digital audio files which allow an enormous amount of data to be played back at your convenience.  For example, I own a 4 gigabyte capacity IPod.  That translates to 120 hours of music I can take with me.  This device doesn’t take up a great deal of space; my IPod is no bigger than the palm of my hand.  The versatility of this technology inspired various Catholics to try a new way to spread the Gospel.  They are podcasting, bringing the truth of Christ to everyone through the Internet.
     A podcast is an internet radio programming to which one subscribes.  A piece of software called an aggregator downloads new files to your computer as they are posted by the author of the podcast.  Then from your computer, you can play them either on your computer or download them to your MP3 player and take it with you.  Imagine how different your commute is when you would take Catholic programming with you.  Your car becomes a portable classroom or a chapel on wheels, rather than enduring the din of the morning radio shows.  Your time on the road becomes a prime opportunity to grow in your Faith.  Personally, these Catholic podcasts have made the five hour round trip from Oklahoma City to my parish in Alva much more bearable.  They allow me to make good use of time that might otherwise be wasted.
     There are podcasts for every taste and need.  Here are just a few examples.  Since this is an apologetics column, I have to give first mention to Catholic Answers Live.  Karl Keating started Catholic Answers to provide information on how to defend and explain the Catholic Faith.  I use Catholic Answers almost daily in my work, so being able to receive their radio program on my IPod is quite helpful.  You can subscribe at www.catholic.com.  For the Catholic families, I recommend you check out the Rosary Army podcast.  Greg and Jennifer Willits began this apostolate to promote the making and distribution of all-twine knotted rosaries.  Their podcast, however, deals with the struggles of a young couple as they strive to remain faithful to the Catholic Faith while working and raising their boys.  I am often inspired and amused by what they have to say.  You can subscribe at www.rosaryarmy.com.  For the young and the young-at-heart, you could look up the best in Catholic contemporary music at Catholic Rockers.  George Leite takes listeners on a tour of the contemporary music scene through interviews and featured performers.  You can subscribe at www.catholicjukebox.com.    You can also subscribe to these and other Catholic podcasts via the music store on ITunes.  Podcast Alley provides a comprehensive list as well.  The podcasts mentioned here are small sample of the excellent and enriching material that’s out there.
     As with any good thing, it takes time to grow in our understanding of the Faith.  St. Thomas Aquinas observed that for the vast majority of people, learning the Faith takes hard work and dedicated time.  However, spare time is something in short supply.  It’s funny.  Even as the number of time-saving devices increases, our time to enjoy leisure activities decreases.  Spending time pouring over many a quaint and curious volume of Catholic lore is not in the cards.  But everyone could listen to good programming while driving the car or working around the house.  By taking advantage of podcasts, you can fill out your knowledge and hopefully your love of our Lord and His Holy Church.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Dear Father Tharp:
My son who is a Catholic was married in his wife’s church (Methodist) last year. Does the Catholic Church recognize them as being married, and when they have children will they be able to have them baptized in the Catholic Church? His wife feels that if their marriage is not recognized that she does not feel like going to Mass any longer. Up until recently, they have been alternating attending services between each others’ churches.

Name and Hometown Withheld

Sacraments are an essential element to the life of a Christian. They are conduits of grace and represent our participation in the Paschal Mystery of Christ. They are not just ceremonies for the benefit of the community; they are living encounters with the Risen Christ and a sharing in His Divine Glory. Hence, what makes up a sacrament is a critical consideration in addressing your question.

Let’s begin with a definition. Sacraments are visible signs instituted by Christ to confer grace. We can put this more formally by saying that sacraments have three components: form, matter, and intention. (We could also include the proper minister and what is required to fruitfully receive a sacrament as well.) Generally speaking, the form is the words that are spoken over the visible sign (the matter) with the intention of doing what the Church wants done in each sacrament. For example, at the Holy Mass, when the priest confects the Holy Eucharist, he takes bread and wine (matter) and speaks the words of institution over them (form). In this action, he intends what the Church intends, namely to make present the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ. These same three elements are present in the Sacrament of Marriage.

In marriage, the matter of the sacrament is the consent expressed by the exchange of vows. When a person enters into marriage, he or she is making a faithful, permanent gift of self for the good of the other and for the good of children the marriage ought to bring forth. If a person doesn’t intend to make a faithful, fruitful, permanent gift of self when giving the vows, this can prevent the marriage bond from coming into existence.

The form of the sacrament concerns how the consent is obtained. For the Church, the proper form for marriage entails the exchange of vows by one man and one woman, who are free to marry, in the presence of the Church’s properly delegated minister (usually a priest or deacon) or duly delegated representative, in the presence of two witnesses. The intention of course is to live as a Christian husband and wife until death. Based upon what you have said in your question, I would have to conclude that the marriage is invalid. In not fulfilling the form of marriage, there is some question about whether a valid sacramental bond came into effect.
Your son had the obligation to follow the Church’s law concerning marriage. By not doing so, he has failed in a basic duty as a Catholic. In essence, looking at it from the outside, I would have questions about his intention to live as a Catholic. Is being Catholic simply a tie to a cultural dimension of his family background or is it the living well-spring of his knowledge of Christ?

Further, based on your question, it sounds like he is not regularly going to Sunday Mass. If the couple wants to have the child baptized, there must be evidence that the couple practices the Catholic Faith. If they are going back and forth between the Methodist church and the Catholic parish, then reasonably, one could infer that this couple doesn’t know what faith they are going to profess. Therefore, the child ought not to be baptized until such a time as this marriage can be regularized as well as question surrounding the practice of the Faith.

The good news is this situation is easy to correct. Assuming that there are no other impediments and that both spouses are free to marry, the couple could receive a convalidation of their vows. The act of convalidation euphemistically is called “having the marriage blessed.” In a convalidation, the couple seeks to fix anything which might leave the status of the marriage in doubt. In your son’s case, the lack of proper canonical form needs to be corrected. As I would see it, it could be a very simple ceremony in which the couple could fulfill the canonical form and thus bring their marriage into line with what the Church intends for the Sacrament of Marriage. If they are interested in straightening out this situation, their parish priest can help iron out any specific questions they may have.

With all that said, however, I would like to point out two things. On the one hand, from your question, I detect that this couple seeks to live in union with God and to know Him authentically. I think that needs to be praised and encouraged. On the other hand, I can’t help but notice a certain manipulative potential in your daughter-in-law’s statement. If she was really all that concerned with what the Church thought about her marriage, why were they married in the Methodist church in the first place? The statement about not feeling comfortable at Mass if the marriage isn’t recognized sounds vaguely like a threat. Implicitly, her attitude suggests that if you don’t like what I have done, then I am going elsewhere. As the Catholic who will, in all likelihood, serve as the bridge to bring her into the Church, you must avoid being sidelined by this sort of emotional argument. Regardless of how she feels about her relationship with the Church, there is an objective norm to these matters and she and her spouse didn’t follow it. If she is really interested in feeling comfortable at Mass, why not see into having the marriage blessed and take part in RCIA? In these two ways, she can truly taste and see the goodness of the Lord.

I appreciate how difficult this must be for you as a parent. It’s hard to see your kids turn away from the Faith that you worked so hard to encourage in them. Know that you and your family will be remembered in my prayers as your family works out this situation.

Dear Father Tharp,

A week ago Saturday, in the religious section of the Oklahoman newspaper, my husband read an article stating that there is to be more Latin in the Mass? Is this true and when does it start and how much more Latin?

Mary and Bill
St. James the Greater Parish, Oklahoma City

Ah, thanks for the question which allows me to vet my favorite subject: What did the Second Vatican Council actually teach? As you might gather from these columns, I am a pretty simple guy and when it comes to what the Council intended to teach, I tend to start from the documents the Council produced. Put another way, it is difference between the reforms the Holy Spirit wished to enact in our time versus a false reform coming from a so-called “Spirit of Vatican II.”

This might come as a surprise, but a priest needs no special permission to celebrate the Mass of Paul VI, also known as the Novus Ordo Mass, in Latin. In prudence, a priest should prepare a parish before diving into the Mass in Latin. I have wonderful memories of my time in seminary when, at least once a month, the Mass would be celebrated in this ancient and venerable language. I could faintly hear the echo of the ages reverberating through the chapel, hearing the voices of generations who uttered their praise of God in this way.

At no time did the teaching of the Second Vatican Council suggest that Latin should be completed expunged from the Mass. If anything, the opposite was true. As the Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy states: “The use of the Latin language, with due respect to particular law, is to be preserved in the Latin rites” (Sacrosanctum Concilium #36). However, the Council Fathers recognized that the faithful could benefit from the inclusion of the vernacular language; hence, greater use of it was encouraged. Specifically the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy lists three places where the faithful might realize this benefit: the readings from the Sacred Scriptures, directives, and in some prayers and chants (Sacrosanctum Concilium #36). Furthermore, even where the vernacular was permitted, the Council Fathers cautioned that the faithful should still “be able to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them” (Sacrosanctum Concilium #54). You can see, then, that the battle is between Latin versus vernacular language; true to Catholic sensibilities, the ideal was a “both-and” gesture, keep what is good from the past and include what might benefit for the future.

We can find this line of reasoning echoed in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal from 1975 and 2000. In the 1975 edition we find this “both-and” aspect echoed in paragraph 12: “Since no Catholic would now deny the lawfulness and efficacy of a sacred rite celebrated in Latin, the Council was able to acknowledge that ‘the use of the mother tongue frequently may be of great advantage’ and gave permission for its use.” People found the vernacular so beneficial that even broader use was permitted by the Holy See (GIRM 1975 #12; GIRM 2000 #12). Notice though that there is no conflict between the use of the vernacular and the use of Latin in the mind of the Church. The same document reaffirms the use of Latin especially in situations where people of different countries, hence of different languages, come together for the sacred Liturgy (GIRM 1975 #19; GIRM 2000 #41). Specifically, the Creed and the Our Father are cited as concrete places for this to happen.

In the end, Latin is the patrimony of every Catholic. To be deprived of exposure to its riches is unfortunate, at best. It was only a hundred years ago when to be well-educated meant being well-versed in classical languages, Latin and Greek. The article you mention shows how people misunderstand the role of Latin in the Liturgy. In my own parish, I am working with my music director to broaden our parish’s use of Latin. This implementation will require cooperation but ultimately, putting my parishioners in contact with the fuller picture of the history and practice of the Faith can only benefit them and me. Even though it might take work, I would encourage any pastor to do the same.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Salvation by Faith Alone

Anyone who has lived in Oklahoma or the Southern United States for any appreciable period of time has run afoul a most basic difference between Catholics and Protestants: how is one saved?  Protestant theology enshrines the notion that salvation is by faith alone.  Martin Luther and the other reformers made this, along with Scripture alone and Grace alone, the banner under which the call to reform was made.  As this issue, salvation by faith alone, forms one of the three pillars of the Protestant Reformation, it is important for Catholics to know how to speak to this matter.
The origin for this doctrine comes from Romans 3:28: “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.”  First, we should note that the context of this verse is conversion from Judaism to the Christian Faith.  Hence, the works in question are the observances tied to the Mosaic Law, i.e. circumscion.  With the coming of Christ, that law lost its power to save; the Law of Grace in Christ has supplanted it.  Second, notice that the verse says nothing about Faith alone or that there are no works which are connected to Faith.  All St. Paul is claiming is faith is necessary for salvation.  I think we would all agree to that.  Could anyone reasonably think that they could “buy off” God with a myriad of good works?  But, what if Faith has a series of consequent actions which demonstrate the presence and authenticity of said Faith?  It is this second sense that the Bible and the Church who wrote it endorses.
In many places in the Sacred Scriptures, the various writers pair faith with loving action.  In John 14:21, our Lord directs us that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments.  Matthew parallels this in his account of the rich, young man who comes seeking salvation and is told to “keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:16-17).  This is significant as St. Paul brings out how salvation comes by “faith working though love” (Galatians 5:6, cf. I Corinthians 13:2).  St. Paul confirms this line of reasoning in his letter to the Ephesians when he writes: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God – not because of works, lest any man should boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10; emphasis added).  Even though Faith is a gift and cannot be earned, you will notice that Faith does have obligations, namely to perform good works because these evince the presence of the Christian Faith.
Elsewhere in the Sacred Scriptures, along with Faith, we also see other requirements for salvation.  Matthew’s Gospel records the Last Judgment in the form of a parable of Jesus (Matthew 25:41-46).  What does Jesus use as the standard for salvation and damnation?  Jesus uses a series of good works like feeding the hungry.  There is no explicit mention of Faith, but there is an understanding that Faith places demands upon Christians which must be realized if one would be saved.  This is the same reasoning present in the Book of Revelation when Christ addresses the various churches to whom this revelation is addressed warning them against works which will lead them away from Him (Revelation 2:5, 3:2-5).  When it comes to a life of Faith, St. Paul lists the various actions and behaviors which show that the Faith of the person is inauthentic (cf.  Galatians 5:1-5, 19-21, I Corinthians 6:9-10).  St. Paul sees clearly that the one who has given himself to Christ, then sin cannot remain (Romans 6:1-3).  Well, what else is the avoidance of sin but a work which one performs; the Christian seeks the good action in opposition to the sinful former way of life.  In Romans 8:24, St. Paul records that hope is needed for salvation, hope in the Resurrection.
If the following hasn’t been convincing, here’s the coffin nail on the theory that one is saved by faith alone.  The only place in the whole Bible where the phrase “faith alone” appears, it appears in the negative.  St. James tells us this: “Do you want to be shown, you foolish fellow, that faith apart from works is barren?....You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone…. For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:20,24,26).  Scholars speculate that St. James is acting as a corrective to a potential misunderstanding of St. Paul’s comments from the Letter to the Romans.  Taken together as a whole, you see the real interesting nature of Faith – Faith brings us to serve God, not because we have a specific legal code, but because we are grateful to God for saving us.  Hence, if I am going to claim that I have the Faith, I have to put my money where mouth is, so to speak.  Faith and works go hand in hand to make a true life of Faith.
Faith is bigger than we suspect.  Perhaps that is the origin of the disagreement in modern times about this issue.  Faith is bigger than simply saying “I believe in Jesus;” it requires dedication and a public witness to that Faith.  In the end, we have to ask not do I have the Faith, but rather how big is my Faith and how does this Faith change the way of living my life.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Dear Fr. Tharp:
In the Creed we pray at Mass, we say, “On the third day, he rose again from the dead.” I was wondering what the word “again” refers to? Thanks.

Name and Hometown Withheld.

Your question touches upon a couple of interesting subjects, that of translations and the role of Creed. With space permitting, I will try to cover both.

Let’s start with translations. Translations are equal parts linguistic science and artful literary sense. Anytime you move between one language and another, you will lose something in the transition. This is because language is tied to culture and worldview, and because of the unique conditions which go into forming culture and worldview, languages often express something which when literally translated don’t quite scan. For example, if your Lithuanian friend turns to you and says, “Don’t hang macaroni from my ears,” what is he trying to express? Is he concerned that you are about to accost him with your latest pasta creation? Well, no. This phrase, “Don’t hang macaroni from my ears,” is the Lithuanian way of saying, “Don’t pull my leg.” Therefore, the quality of the translation depends on being faithful both to the original language’s meaning and carrying that over to the receiving language.

The original language of the Creed was Greek which was then rendered into Latin. I don’t have access to the Greek edition so I can’t comment to that. Consulting the Latin text of the Creed (and we will focus upon the Nicene Creed which we use each Sunday), we find the article concerning the Resurrection stated thus, “et resurrexit tertia die, secundum Scripturas, et ascendit in caelum, sedet ad dexteram Patris.” Literally, we would render that in English as “And he resurrected on the third day, according to the Scriptures and ascended into Heaven, and is seated at the right of the Father.” You’ll notice that I didn’t mention “again.” That’s because it isn’t in the Latin. So, why is the word “again” included in the English?

I couldn’t find translator notes from the International Commission on the Use of English in the Liturgy, the body responsible for this translation of the Creed, so anything I say on this subject will be provisional. If I had to guess, I would suspect that the “again” is meant to suggest a real, bodily Resurrection, the idea that Christ really came back to life here on earth. In the history of the Church, some groups have proposed that the Resurrection is merely “spiritual,” meaning not bodily or not a real event. Hence, the English translation uses “again” to reinforce that the Resurrection happened as an actual, historical event.

You can see then how when translating that phrase from the Creed, I used both my knowledge of Latin, limited as it is, and my knowledge of the history of doctrine and heresy, again limited as it is. The translation depends on faithfulness to both. When it comes to the Creed and other theological matters, accurate translations are critically important.

On an average Sunday, we recite the Creed by rote, the words rolling off our lips with almost no engagement of the brain. This, however, was not the intention the Church had in formulating the Creed. The Creed serves as a seal of membership. By publicly professing the Creed, we are saying, “I am a Catholic Christian and I don’t care who knows it. I hold all these things in the same way that the Church who gave me the Creed I am professing them means them.” The Creed then represents the foundation for all the other matters of the Faith. That is why, I suspect, no mention is made of the Sacraments or Morality in the Creed. If we do not profess orthodox belief in the person of Christ, for instance, then the Sacraments which He instituted are going to be completely inscrutable. The same goes for morality. How can do what would be pleasing to Christ if I am confused about His person and Nature?

So, here’s the take away point. Your question is a question that I wish more Catholics would ask, not because I think everyone should be perplexed over the word “again” in the Creed. Your question suggests that you are paying attention and engaging the content of the Faith, even in its smallest details. Our life of Faith is the preamble to the Glory of Heaven we hope to share. I can’t understand why people take the Faith so for granted when at the heart of our Faith is a loving and informed engagement with the God who loved and made us.

Christ died and rose from the dead to conquer death and to give us life. In this Easter season, may we commit ourselves to “resurrecting” our engagement with the Faith, in heart, in mind and in strength of conviction.