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Not Peace but the Sword

In 04 Fr. John McCloskey on 2014/04/03 at 12:00 AM

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THE GREAT CHASM BETWEEN CHRISTIANITY AND ISLAM

Robert Spencer, perhaps the foremost Catholic expert on Islam in our country, has written a new book entitled Not Peace But a Sword: The Great Chasm Between Christianity and Islam (Catholic Answers, 2013). Spencer has advised the highest levels of the military on the Islamic threat to the United States, and has authored several books for the general public on the topic of Islam, including Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics and Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith.

This book is his most interesting yet, as it makes the case for the fundamental disagreement between Christianity and Islam. Spencer writes: “One of the oddities of contemporary ‘interfaith dialogue’ is that all too often, out of overzealous irenicism, it glosses over, or ignores altogether, the disagreements between religious traditions, as if pretending that they didn’t exist would make them go away.” He expands on the vast differences between Christianity and Islam on the character of God, Jesus and Divine Revelation; the nature of truth and the moral law; religious freedom and other basic rights; life issues, marriage and sexual morality, including the rights and dignity of women.

An example of this great divide: Converts from Islam to Christianity are often hunted in the Muslim world, where virtually all Islamic authorities agree that such individuals deserve death. In fact, Muhammad himself commanded this: “Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him” (Bukhari 84:57). In Egypt, at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, the most prestigious and influential educational institution in the Islamic world, an Islamic manual states that a person who has reached puberty is sane, and if he voluntarily apostatizes from Islam deserves to be killed.

The great Catholic author of the early 20th century Hilaire Belloc was prophetic in predicting: “We shall almost certainly have to reckon with Islam in the near future. Perhaps if we lose our faith it will rise.”

Continue reading…
http://www.catholicity.com/mccloskey/not-peace-but-a-sword.html

Fr. John McCloskey

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The Role of Church History in Conversion to Catholicism

In 04 Fr. John McCloskey on 2014/03/13 at 12:00 AM

by Father John McCloskey

I am often asked to speak about conversions since I have been instrumental in bringing some people to the Faith. I have been invited to speak chiefly on account of the notoriety of a handful. Some were Protestant ministers of various denominations, others well known men of business, others intellectuals, and some politicians and journalists. A good number have been Jews, one the head of a synagogue when I first met him on the Internet. They represent a few of the many with whom I have dealt. I have written a short piece, available on my website, entitled “Winning Converts” with a companion piece entitled “Recovering Stray Catholics.” I am working on a book on this topic in collaboration with Mr. Russell Shaw to be published by Sophia Institute Press.

Now, what do these “high” level converts have in common? Very little except several traits that are highly valued, at least by this priest. They are all men of high intelligence, with a voracious and insatiable appetite for books, and most importantly, an unending thirst for the truth in all matters religious. Many of them faced familial opposition, the possible loss of reputation, and in some cases possible high political office. But their increasing conviction that they had encountered “the pearl of great price,” the Historical Church that is co-terminus with the Lord and Savior, conquered all doubts. Their assent was not simply “notional” to use Newmanian terms, but truly “real.” In some cases, their conversion was a question of years, or more than a decade of patient dealing backed by true friendship, prayer, and sacrifice. The sweetest words that I have ever heard and, thanks be to God, I have heard them often, are “I want to become a Catholic.”

No doubt, the historical argument was powerful in these conversions. Some of the better known converts have already told their story in print or tape, others will, I trust, do the same in the future. I always required that they read several books on the history of the Church because I do believe the argument, at least rationally, is unassailable—the Catholic Church is true, and no other has ever made a credible claim to be the one that was founded by Him. Either the Lord of History established a church with a visible structure on this earth until He comes again or there is simply no authority that guides and must be obeyed. From the time of the great Schism and the Protestant revolution, the principle of private judgment has given rise to thousands of Christian sects and denominations. That is hardly what was intended when He asked His Father “that all may be one.”

Those men and women whom I have instructed in the Faith over the last 20 years have read Philip Hughes, Ronald Knox, G.K. Chesterton, Robert Hugh Benson, Louis Bouyer, Warren Carroll, Orestes Brownson, Russell Shaw, Ken Whitehead and many others. They have also read many anthologies of converts telling how they came to that “Ancient Beauty, ever new.” History is at the heart of all conversion: personal histories and history as it is written by the historian, Flavius Josephus or Pliny the Younger, or Bede the Venerable or even enemies like Gibbon or Macaulay, all give witness to the One Church.

History, in fact, provides an essential perspective for the mission of conversion, and we must understand the historical moment in which we live. It is a post-Christian era in some respects. This is particularly true in what some decades ago was known as the First World, i.e. Europe and North America. Even though it pains us, it should not surprise us. After all, Christianity has all but disappeared at other times in history, for instance in the Middle East and northern Africa after the invasion of Islam by conquering forces. Now an even more rapid and unsettling de-Christianization is occurring in Europe, through minimal practice of faith in any traditional sense, a collapse of morality based on natural law and the Commandments, and a continental suicide of the native peoples by contraception. Hilaire Belloc, one of the great popular Catholic historians, could not have imagined how wrong he was when he said that:” Europe is the Faith and the Faith is Europe.” I am sure all of us are aware of the masterful work of historian Philip Jenkins who points out convincingly that the greatest recent growth in Christianity, both in numbers and orthodoxy, has been and will continue to be in Africa and Asia.

As for us in the United State, liberal Protestantism is fading fast with large decreases in membership and almost no creedal belief that distinguishes one sect from another. Virtually all have caved in on the moral issues having to do with marriage, family, and sexuality. “Private judgment” basically assures that Protestant sects and denominations will not evidence any belief in an objective moral teaching through Revelation. The upcoming 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, 1517, will show I think, that mainstream Protestantism in any culture transforming sense is finished in America. And there is no possibility of a Third or Fourth Great Awakening because secularism and the new paganism in a society sated by undreamt of affluence is not going to lead anyone simply to read the Bible and be converted. America is not a Christian nation in any sense other than that probably a plurality of our fellow citizens have been baptized, although that may change in the decades to come.

As for the Evangelicals and fundamentalists, I have great respect and affection for our fellow Christians who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible as the sole source of revelation and salvation. I do not believe, however, that a Christian faith without the sacraments, without the liturgy, and without authority, can bring about a renewal of Christian life in our country. Indeed, without denigrating in any way the numerous dialogues that take place at the diocesan, national, and even international level between Catholics and Protestants, I simply do not believe there is any possibility of any one of the Protestant denominations as a group coming home given the decrepit state of their practice and belief. Ironically enough, it might have been possible 75 years ago when Catholic and Protestants generally shared a common moral belief with important doctrinal disagreements, but not now.

Truth be told, (and indeed are we not all truth-tellers?), there is also little possibility of any of the autonomous Orthodox Churches acknowledging the primacy of Peter and arriving at full allegiance to the dogmas and moral life of the Catholic Church. We know there has been virtually no development of common doctrine after the first seven ecumenical councils in the East. How could there be, given there is no universal shepherd of the Orthodox to call and ratify ecumenical Councils? Indeed, separated from the fullness of truth and the magisterium, the moral teachings in some areas have also deteriorated. The result has been a mystical spiritual theology, of great interest to monks, but not applicable to the Eastern Christian in the street. There is no evangelizing zeal, or lay spirituality. The Eastern Churches are largely sacramental and indeed, if a Patriarch were to return home to Rome, how many of his faithful would there be to follow? We must pray above all for a change in heart in our Eastern Orthodox brethren so we can welcome them home.

Having said all of this, I have to acknowledge openly that the Spirit blows where it will, and God’s grace poured into open hearts can indeed perform miracles of mass or denominational conversion to Catholicism. It can happen when and how the Lord wants, but, I think it safe to say that for the foreseeable future which is our lifespan, converts coming to the fullness of faith will come one by one, or family by family, and occasionally congregation by congregation. And that is the way it should be. Early Christianity grew over the course of some 275 years to its legalization. Starting with Pentecost, it spread from 12 to hundreds and eventually to millions until at the beginning of 4tth century, it composed 10 percent of the Roman Empire. The Church was legalized in 313 and less than a century later was the state religion. The remarkable growth was not the result of mass conversion, but rather of the personal witness in behavior of individual persons and families, including confessors and martyrs fortified by prayer and the sacraments.

We must remind ourselves that each year there are hundreds of thousands of adults who are either baptized during the Easter vigil or received into full communion within the Church. This number is growing, and while always a small percentage of the whole, it does mean that an increasing number of “serious” Catholics are entering the Church, the great majority of them removed from the controversies of the post-conciliar Church in the United States. We may take heart in that younger priests ordained within the last 15 years (given the advanced age of current pastors, they will soon become pastors themselves) are more oriented towards evangelization of persons, families, and the society than those who were ordained prior to the pontificate of John Paul II. The Holy Father’s example of his living the “duc In altum” in order to fish souls without apologies will be the standard modus operandi of bishops and priests certainly well into this new century.

Two other factors are helping to break through the wall of mistrust in this post-Christian era. One is various new ecclesial institutions and movements whose impact is just now being felt in the US. They operate with full approval of the Church, are lay oriented, and by their very nature are apostolic and evangelizing. They provide yet another way for non-Catholics to witness a lived Christianity in the world that over time may bring millions to the Church in the years ahead. One of these movements is the Coming Home Network itself, which has contributed to the conversion of thousands of Protestant ministers into the Catholic Church and will be seen in the English speaking world, I believe, as the 21st century equivalent of the Oxford movement of the 19th century England of my hero, Venerable John Henry Newman to whom we should all pray for the unity of Christians in the Catholic Church. He, as many converts, knew the sleepless nights, the serious study, the long hours of prayer, the fears of loss of income, of friends and even the love of family that is involved in coming home to the Church. Such it will always be for acquiring the pearl of great price.

The second factor is tens of millions of Hispanic immigrants in our country with surely more to come regardless of changes in immigration laws. Sadly and ironically, without them the Unites States would be in negative population growth as we are now hovering at the lowest per capita birth rate in our history as a nation. Abortion and contraception continue to take their deadly toll. Without the Hispanics, virtually all of who are at least culturally Catholic, we as a nation would be doomed to the almost certain fate of continental Europe: demographic suicide within several decades. The catechesis and evangelization of Hispanic Catholics is therefore crucial for the health of the Church and country, an important means of breaking through the wall of mistrust to bring other Christians home.

But far beyond all these signs that, in time, the wall of mistrust will fall looms the magnificent figure of John Paul II. The greatest Pope of the last 500 years will leave much magisterial teaching behind for us to study and implement in the decades ahead. Although he has many important themes in his Pontificate, the one that is clearly closest to his heart and to that of Christ is that all may be one. His ecumenical outreach to his fellow Christians has been tireless and nothing less than extraordinary. He has not spared any effort to reach out to fellow Christians, urging them to recognize and embrace” the fullness of truth” in the Catholic Church, always with great respect and kindness in acknowledging all that is true in their traditions, whether Orthodox or Protestant. In virtually every one of the over 100 papal trips, he has always scheduled, when feasible, meetings with other Christian leaders to extend a hand of friendship and fellowship. At times, he has done so and exposed himself to coolness, indifference, and even insult. In doing so, he imitates the example of the Lord and his Apostle Paul, preaching “opportune et importune” (in season and out).

Pope John Paul’s extraordinary witness alone has been enough for millions to become Catholic and for many millions to return to the Faith. I share his vision of the springtime of the Church in this century and pray that the crowning achievement of this springtime will be the unity of all Christians. The favorite short prayer of Saint Jose Maria Escriva, a man whose example and writings have brought many home to the Church, was “Omnes cum Petro ad Jesus per Mariam (All with Peter, to Jesus through Mary!). May it be so.


Will Many Be Saved?

In 04 Fr. John McCloskey on 2014/01/10 at 12:00 AM

WHAT VATICAN II ACTUALLY TEACHES AND ITS IMPLICATIONS FOR THE NEW EVANGELIZATION
by Ralph Martin – published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012

“Will Many Be Saved? What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization,” published by Eerdmans, is an important and intriguing book by Ralph Martin, S.T.D., a lay theologian, professor at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, consultor to the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization and author of books on the spiritual life. Many readers will recognize him as an early leader of the Charismatic Renewal in the U.S. Today, he serves as president of Renewal Ministries.

Rarely have I seen a book endorsed by so many cardinals, bishops, Vatican officials and outstanding theologians. And for good reason, as the book considers questions that interest all Christians, given our common mortality: Who will be saved, how many and how? And is there any hope for those who die unbaptized Christians or not in a state of grace?

The following extended quote is drawn from the end of Chapter 16 of the dogmatic constitution of the Church, which came out of the Second Vatican Council. This short passage lies at the heart of Martin’s book; however, I encourage the reader to consult the whole document.

Continue reading…
http://www.catholicity.com/mccloskey/will-many-be-saved.html

Tea Party Catholic

In 04 Fr. John McCloskey on 2013/12/16 at 12:00 AM

Book review of Tea Party Catholic: The Catholic Case for Limited Government by Samuel Gregg

by Father C. John McCloskey

 

The highly acclaimed author of Becoming Europe, Samuel Gregg has recently penned Tea Party Catholic: The Catholic Case for Limited Government. In his newest entry, Gregg builds an argument for free economy and human flourishing that is a must-read, regardless of your political affiliation or whether you are Catholic or a serious Christian concerned about the rapidly diminishing religious liberty in the United States.

It should be pointed out that the author has no affiliation with the tea-party movement itself, although he clearly admires its aim of reducing the role of government and expanding the sphere of true religious and economic freedom.

Gregg, who is originally from Australia, has a doctorate from Oxford, where he studied under the well-known natural-law philosopher John Finnis. Gregg is a full-time fellow of the Acton Institute in Michigan. I will save you all the endorsements this book has received from prominent people, other than to say you would undoubtedly recognize all the endorsers: Gregg is a big hitter.

He clearly knows (and loves up to a point) the history of the United States inside out.

Although he quotes Alexis de Tocqueville frequently — Tocqueville being the greatest analyst of the singularity of our country from its beginnings — Gregg prefers to concentrate on the Catholic Founding Father Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Pardon my own shared interest with Gregg: I grew up in Maryland (originally founded as a Catholic colony) not too far from Carroll’s ancestral home and grave (see related story on page B1).

Read what Carroll wrote to the Secretary of War James McHenry, in a letter from Nov. 4, 1800: “Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time.”

In short, Carroll is telling McHenry (and us), that, for a free country to flourish or even survive over the centuries, its populace has to live a Christian life and strive to follow the commandments and the beatitudes as they come down to us from Scripture, based on the authority of the Catholic Church (even though Carroll does not mention Catholicism by name in the letter to McHenry).

Gregg argues for a return to the concept of subsidiarity for human flourishing.

He writes, “Though an important form of social organization, government is only one of a number of communities and should not displace or absorb the responsibilities properly assumed by individuals, businesses, clubs and other forms of non-state association. Subsidiarity tells us we should not automatically look to government. … When no other group can render assistance in the appropriate form of help, the state may need to become involved.”

Gregg makes his case well that only religiously derived morals, faith and economic liberty can bring the United States out of the death spiral in which it is caught.

Spread the word.

Father C. John McCloskey is a Church historian and research fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington.

National Catholic Register 11/16/2013        Copyright © 2013 EWTN News, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Catholic Guide to Depression

In 04 Fr. John McCloskey on 2013/10/31 at 12:00 AM

THE CATHOLIC GUIDE TO DEPRESSION:
HOW THE SAINTS, THE SACRAMENTS AND PSYCHIATRY CAN
HELP YOU BREAK ITS GRIP AND FIND HAPPINESS AGAIN

It is highly unlikely that anyone reading this review has been untouched by clinical depression, either as one who has suffered from it or as one who knows others who have.

Dr. Aaron Kheriaty (with Father John Cihak) has written a book to address clinical depression from a perspective that fully acknowledges both its biological and spiritual dimensions.

The Catholic Guide to Depression: How the Saints, the Sacraments and Psychiatry Can Help You Break Its Grip and Find Happiness Again, published by Sophia Institute Press, is, as far as I know, the only book of its kind from a Catholic point of view.

This book provides a full explanation of the illness and current treatments, along with sound advice on how spiritual methods of prayer and the sacraments can assist the standard pharmacological and cognitive treatments.

The first part provides a detailed explanation of types and causes of depression and related disorders, their relation to the spiritual life and the tragedy of suicide. The second part moves on to modes of treatment, with chapters on medication and other biological treatments, psychotherapy, spiritual help for depression, and Divine filiation and hope.

Continue reading…
http://www.catholicity.com/mccloskey/depression.html

Winning the World, One Friend at a Time

In 04 Fr. John McCloskey on 2013/10/24 at 12:00 AM

As the Catechism reminds us, winning converts should be a constant concern for all Catholics: “The true apostle is on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers… or to the faithful.” (#905) How then should we go about it? God pours out his saving grace in many ways, but he normally requires, and we could even say desires, the willing collaboration of his sons and daughters in this joyful task. The famous Catholic philosopher (and convert) Dietrich von Hildebrand said that we should look upon all people we encounter as Catholics “in re” (in fact) or “in spe” (potentially). I agree.

Admit it: Don’t you from time to time think about sharing with your neighbor, your friend, your family member, your colleague, the joy that is in your heart, the fullness of our faith in the Catholic Church? Perhaps some of you have had the wonderful experience of being the godparent or sponsor of a friend whom, by God’s grace, you have guided into the Church. You know then the joy of being God’s instrument.

This delight is always a cause for holy celebration, but particularly in the present threatened circumstances of our culture. Has there ever in the Christian era been a more joyless, aimless, lonely society than our own, one which appears to have gained the whole world but has forgotten its own soul? On the other hand, have there ever been three consecutive Roman pontiffs who have so incessantly and hopefully proclaimed the Gospel in all its fullness, addressing the fallen yet redeemed world’s hopes and anxieties so completely?

Continue reading…
http://www.catholicity.com/mccloskey/winning-the-world.html

Navigating the Interior Life

In 04 Fr. John McCloskey on 2013/10/03 at 12:00 AM

How many times have you opened a book that promised to change your life, only to become disillusioned by the end of it (or long before!) upon finding that you did not understand it or agree with it or that you simply were not willing to exert the willpower necessary to follow the author’s advice on how to lose weight, improve your memory, speed read, or run for office and become the governor of your state?

The book you now hold in your hands is substantially different, but before I tell you why it might be helpful to share the vantage point from which I offer this observation. By God’s mercy and grace, I am a priest of 30 years and have had the great privilege of providing spiritual direction to souls ranging from a supreme court justice nominee, a United States senator, a prominent radio talk show host, priests and women religious of various orders, and good hardworking lay men and women. From where I stand there is nothing more important than the aggressive pursuit of progress in our relationship with God.

Why? Because death is inevitable. Billions of dollars are spent yearly and endlessly to cure diseases, push back the onset of mortal illness, and–in the case of diehard atheists–attempt to prolong life for thousands of years, anticipating a time when humankind will achieve immortality. Even a former President of the United States said, “I want unlimited scientific discovery and I want unlimited applications. We want to live forever and we are getting there” (William Jefferson Clinton).

But those of us who are sincere practicing Catholics know that our most important work in this life is to prepare ourselves for the next one, where we really will be immortal.

Continue reading…

http://www.catholicity.com/mccloskey/navigating-the-interior-life.html

God in Action

In 04 Fr. John McCloskey on 2013/09/26 at 12:00 AM

by Francis Cardinal George – published by Image, 2011 A Book Review by Father John McCloskey

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago has written an insightful new book entitled God in Action: How Faith in God Can Address the Challenges of the World.

Cardinal George has a degree in philosophy and a unique global perspective as a religious and former vicar general of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Rome.

He recently finished his term as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholics Bishops, succeeded by the archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan.

Cardinal George is now approaching his last years as the archbishop of Chicago, one of the largest and most challenging archdioceses in the country. He has made his imprint most clearly in his insistence on sound teaching (not without some well-known blowback), his gradual and continuous reformation of the very large diocesan seminary, and his mission, executed through the Lumen Christi Institute associated with the University of Chicago, of fostering Catholic intellectual life in Chicago.

With the death of his good friend Father Richard John Neuhaus, the famous convert and founder of the journal First Things, Cardinal George remains the leading ecclesiastical intellectual in the U.S.

In the preface to his new book, Cardinal George introduces the themes that it explores: “This book considers the sense in which God is the primary actor in American society because he is the Creator and Savior of the whole world. It then examines a number of issues that challenge our reading of God’s influence in public affairs and concludes with a perspective that escapes narrow nationalism by looking for God’s action in the movement towards unifying the human family in our day.”

Cardinal George believes that the authentic age of the laity foreseen by the Second Vatican Council is finally here – an age that understands that our “empowerment,” so to speak, both lay and clerical, does not come from the hierarchy, but rather from the sacraments of initiation that the Church provides. These sacraments, along with prayer and the Christ we encounter in sacred Scripture, enable us to grow in holiness. And it is this growth in holiness that then enables the laity to evangelize not only family, friends and colleagues, but in and through them (and this is the book’s point), the entire culture and polity. Over time, this evangelization can help trans-form both culture and polity to better reflect the natural law and acknowledge “God in action” in the world through the Church Christ founded.

In 10 crisp chapters, couched in clear and provocative prose, His Eminence examines issues as varied as religious liberty, the human body, warfare, business globalization, migrants and the “continent of hope.” In the best sense of the phrase, he shows us how to be “in the world,” fol-lowing the guidance of the Holy Spirit to work towards building a true “civilization of love and truth,” as Blessed John Paul II put it. In short, this is a book for our time.

Cardinal George is approaching retirement age, but no matter how long he remains as the Shepherd of Chicagoland, he will remain one of our nation’s top observers and responders to God’s action for years to come.

©CatholiCity Service http://www.catholicity.com  Re-published with permission.

The Magisterium and Catholic Social Teaching

In 04 Fr. John McCloskey on 2013/09/19 at 12:00 AM

by Rev. C. J. McCloskey III

What is the magisterial authority of Catholic Social Teaching (CST), and how is it applied to real world situations? Catholic Social Doctrine is simply the voice of the Church, starting with the Sacred Scripture and the Church Fathers, that lays out the principles of how justice and charity are to be lived out in the world.

The contemporary era of CST began with Pope Leo’s XII’ Rerum Novarum in 1891, and continues up to Pope Benedict XVI’s Caritas in Veritate. Through the social documents, one can see a gradual development that reflects the Church’s study of the times. That is to say, the Church is always looking to update and clarify the basic principles of Social teaching, given new economic situations and technologies, without ever contradicting authoritative past teaching.

Confusion enters in when Catholic lay faithful (and in some cases clergy) mistakenly claim for their opinions the absolute magisterial authority of the Church and correspondingly denounce as un-Catholic the conflicting positions of others, whether their political criticism comes from the left, right, or center. The basic error is the failure to see that the foundational teachings and principles of CST can be applied in practice in a wide variety of ways — and working out the application of such principles in any given case rightly falls mainly to the laity, not the hierarchy. The magisterial Church’s role, normally exercised through the local ordinary (the bishop), is to point out when these applications appear to diverge from the principles and teachings themselves.

Conflicting opinions on CST fall into three basic camps:

  1. Those (including both some on the Catholic Left and Traditionalists) who seem to believe that all CST is Catholic doctrine, from basic principles of social justice down to their specific applications in the documents. They would argue, for example, that Pope Paul VI’s 1967 encyclical Populorum Progressio requires Catholics to support government-to-government aid to developing nations (regardless of conflicting opinions about whether such aid actually harms the recipients). This group makes little distinction between the principles and their application.
  2. Those who hold that the principles of CST constitute definitive Church teaching and require assent, but that the applications found in Church documents are strictly prudential.
  3. Those who hold that CST constitutes the combined institutional wisdom of a Church that has existed since the Roman Empire. This group would argue that, while Catholics should follow CST, the principles are of relatively recent origin and therefore do not constitute definitive doctrine.

Before delving deeper into these questions, we should also consider another modern development: the post-Vatican II emergence of national conferences of bishops (known as episcopal conferences), and the extent to which, especially in the United States, such conferences speak and teach authoritatively on issues of Catholic social teaching. There has been much confusion in this area, going back to the American bishops’ conference’s endorsement of controversial documents largely written by bureaucrats. The most noteworthy of these statements, emerging during the Reagan years in the context of the Cold War, dealt with nuclear weapons and was titled “The Challenge of Peace.”

The reaction from the Catholic right was great. One of the founders of this magazine, Michael Novak, spearheaded a group of lay Catholic writers who issued a “pastoral” letter disagreeing with some of the conclusions of the conference’s document, as well as with the bishops’ authority on the subject and the extent to which their teaching was normative for their flock. The Novak piece, which took up an entire issue ofNational Review, was later published as Moral Clarity in the Nuclear Age (Nashville: Thomas Nelson).

Happily, the collapse of the Evil Empire and the end of the Cold War made “The Challenge of Peace” largely a dead letter. However, in 1997, the Committee on Marriage and Family of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued an even more controversial document titled “Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children.”

On the bright side, this document led the Vatican (or, more precisely, Pope John Paul II) to issue a clarifying motu proprio (a document issued by the pope on his own initiative and personally signed by him), Apostolos Suos, on May 21, 1998. Apostolos Suos confirmed the limited authority of national bishops’ conferences, along with their associated committees, commissions, advisors, and experts. Since Vatican II, these had tended to usurp the fundamental canonical responsibility of an individual bishop as chief teacher of the faith in his diocese.

In a statement apparently directed principally toward the USCCB, the Holy Father wrote, “Commissions and offices exist to be of help to bishops and not to substitute for them.”

Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger also commented on the purview of episcopal conferences: “Episcopal conferences do not constitute per se a doctrinal instance which is binding and superior to the authority of each bishop who comprises them.” However, “if the bishops approve doctrinal declarations emanating from a conference unanimously, they can be published in the name of the conference itself, and the faithful must adhere” to them.

In practice, this has never happened.

Apostolos Suos made clear that the magisterium of the Church comes from the Holy Father and the bishops in communion with him, and not from episcopal conferences. That question is therefore settled. Now let’s turn to what the Church teaches about the implementation of the social doctrine of the Church.

In 2004, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace issued a magnificent Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. This document, which should be on every Catholic’s bookshelf, draws from Scripture, papal teaching, curial documents, and the teaching of the saints, in 584 terse paragraphs.

However, I want to concentrate on paragraphs 565-574. Below I reproduce the especially relevant portions, with my brief comments following. I encourage readers to take a closer look at these paragraphs on their own and make their own judgment.

565. For the lay faithful, political involvement is a worthy and demanding expression of the Christian commitment of service to others.The pursuit of the common good in a spirit of service, the development of justice with particular attention to situations of poverty and suffering, respect for the autonomy of earthly realities, the principle of subsidiarity, the promotion of dialogue and peace in the context of solidarity: these are the criteria that must inspire the Christian laity in their political activity. All believers, insofar as they possess rights and duties as citizens, are obligated to respect these guiding principles. Special attention must be paid to their observance by those who occupy institutional positions dealing with the complex problems of the public domain, whether in local administrations or national and international institutions.

So we see the obligations of the laity to respect the principles mentioned above.

568. The lay faithful are called to identify steps that can be taken in concrete political situations in order to put into practice the principles and values proper to life in society. This calls for a method of discernment, at both the personal and community levels, structured around certain key elements: knowledge of the situations, analyzed with the help of the social sciences and other appropriate tools; systematic reflection on these realities in the light of the unchanging message of the Gospel and the Church’s social teaching; identification of choices aimed at assuring that the situation will evolve positively…. However, an absolute value must never be attributed to these choices because no problem can be solved once and for all.

From the above, we see that it’s the job of the laity to use their prudential judgment in applying these teachings to concrete situations, without making their decisions normative for others.

570. When — concerning areas or realities that involve fundamental ethical duties — legislative or political choices contrary to Christian principles and values are proposed or made, the Magisterium teaches that “a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political programme or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals.”

It is worth reiterating that final point: The well-formed Christian conscience cannot vote for a political program or any individual law that contradicts the “fundamental contents of faith and morals.”

571. The political commitment of Catholics is often placed in the context of the “autonomy” of the State, that is, the distinction between the political and religious spheres. This distinction “is a value that has been attained and recognized by the Catholic Church and belongs to the inheritance of contemporary civilization.” Catholic moral doctrine, however, clearly rejects the prospects of an autonomy that is understood as independence from the moral law.… A sincere quest for the truth, using legitimate means to promote and defend the moral truths concerning social life — justice, freedom, respect for life and for other human rights — is a right and duty of all members of a social and political community.

When the Church’s Magisterium intervenes in issues concerning social and political life, it does not fail to observe the requirements of a correctly understood autonomy, for “the Church’s Magisterium does not wish to exercise political power or eliminate the freedom of opinion of Catholics regarding contingent questions. Instead, it intends — as is its proper function — to instruct and illuminate the consciences of the faithful, particularly those involved in political life, so that their actions may always serve the integral promotion of the human person and the common good. The social doctrine of the Church is not an intrusion into the government of individual countries. It is a question of the lay Catholic’s duty to be morally coherent, found within one’s conscience.”

The Church teaches; the laity acts, according to their consciences formed by the Church.

573. A particular area for discernment on the part of the lay faithful concerns the choice of political instruments, that is, membership in a party or in other types of political participation…. In every case, whatever choice is made must be rooted in charity and tend towards the attainment of the common good. It is difficult for the concerns of the Christian faith to be adequately met in one sole political entity…. Christians cannot find one party that fully corresponds to the ethical demands arising from faith and from membership in the Church. Their adherence to a political alliance will never be ideological but always critical.

Living and applying the social teaching of the Church supersedes and transcends party membership.

Catholic social teachings are nothing less than the Beatitudes of the gospel refined for action in the world. As such, the social doctrine is magisterial, and the laity have a serious obligation to put it into effect in their own lives, in society, their culture, and country, according to their conscience, which should be formed by the promulgated teaching of the Church and applied to the specific situations that they encounter. When in doubt, they should consult the bishop of their diocese, who is the best interpreter of the teaching of the Church.

At the same time, Catholics have to respect other opinions about the application of CST, as long as such opinions do not contradict the teachings and principles of the Church. We are bound to obey in those social issues that are strictly defined (abortion, marriage, pornography, contraception, etc.). However, in the great majority of social, political, and economic questions, the Church gives principles that allow the laity to apply them as best they can, according to their understanding of the problem.

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The views expressed by the authors and editorial staff are not necessarily the views of
Sophia Institute, Holy Spirit College, or the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts.

©CatholiCity Service http://www.catholicity.com  Re-published with permission.

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Why Faith Prevails Over Doubt

In 04 Fr. John McCloskey on 2013/09/04 at 12:00 AM

A FAITH BRIEF: A LAWYER’S ARGUMENT FOR WHY FAITH PREVAILS OVER DOUBT

It is clear that what was once known as the West–let’s say Western Europe and North America–has largely abandoned its Christian roots and fallen into apostasy. In fact, it has succumbed to neo-paganism–a practical atheism that, similar to 18th-century Deism, relegates God (if he exists) to a peripheral role in one’s life. Increasing numbers do not believe it is rational to believe. The gods of technology, medicine, material security, and entertainment have largely replaced American denominational Protestantism, which fell victim to the cultural explosion of the Sixties. Since then denominational membership has plummeted year after year. Evangelical Protestants cling with good will to their Bibles and born-again encounters but are not stable. They have revolving ministers, no sacraments except Baptism, and no solemnity of worship, often congregating in what appear to be jet aircraft hangers. Such churches give no sign of the potential to create a culture whose hallmark is Beauty, a sign of God’s presence.

Law professor and novelist Patrick M. Garry, however, has written a book explaining why. Entitled: A Faith Brief, A Lawyer’s Argument for Why Faith Prevails Over Doubt, it is published by Kirk House.

Garry writes, “This book is about faith. Actually it is a book about finding faith despite an immersion in a life and culture of doubt, and about by first finding a way to dispel the doubt.”

His book is nondenominational in its approach, relying predominantly on philosophical and reasoned arguments to plead his case. Even though the book-jacket blurbs all seem to be Catholic, Garry’s book does not work to convince the reader by authority or Revelation; rather his aim is to detach the reader from a state of skepticism.

Continue reading…
http://www.catholicity.com/mccloskey/a-faith-brief.html

Fr. John McCloskey