Infallibility, Seriously?

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One of the biggest stumbling blocks to non-Catholic Christians in our time, and throughout the centuries, is the Church’s claim of papal primacy and infallibility. For whatever reason, infallibility is a topic even many Catholics avoid. It is such a huge claim. Yet it is so vital to our faith. Today, I would like to demonstrate a way to answer questions about infallibility. To do this, we will look at three of the objections mounted by our non-Catholic brothers and sisters of other Christian communities.

 

Objection #1: The Church is made of humans and all humans are fallible, including the pope

This is a really good objection to papal infallibility. Because of how good it is, it has taken the #1 spot on my list! The counter argument to Christians who deny infallibility begins like this: The Bible is infallible, and it was written down by humans. If you believe that the men who wrote the Bible were not completely and utterly infallible in their lives, you believe that God can still work through them in an infallible manner at times. When it came to the passing on and expounding of the revelation of God, they were inspired and guarded by God to write down and pass on inerrant truths.

The Apostles and their followers who wrote the Bible, were humans that infallibly passed down truths. This is due to nothing less than the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It is not because of the learning, knowledge, or talent of a specific human person. It is because of God himself. So, if we believe the Bible is inerrant, we then believe that God can guide certain humans infallibly in matters that are important to the salvation of the human race.

Objection #2: The Bible is the only infallible guide that is necessary

This too is a very strong objection. The Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God, the revelation of God’s saving work to redeem humanity. The writing of the Scriptures and the teaching of the Apostles certainly needed to be guided by the Holy Spirit. But what about when my interpretation of a certain passage or theological concept found in the Bible differs from that of yours? In many ways, the problem of private interpretation is why we continue to see the splintering of Protestantism. In 2006 there were 217 Protestant groups willing to acknowledge themselves as denominations in America and Canada, and there were even more Protestant groups that do not acknowledge the term “denomination” (see for yourself here). Today, I bet there are even a few more. So, did God only grant us infallible instruction on how to be saved, but then leave us with no way to infallibly understand those instructions except private interpretation?

St. Paul writes to Timothy reminding him where truth is found. He says in 1 Tim. 3:15, “The church is the pillar and foundation of the truth.” The truth is found in the Church. St. Paul doesn’t say the Bible is the pillar and foundation of truth, though it is inerrant when properly understood. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Church actually compiled the Bible. Jesus didn’t leave us the Bible. He left us the Church and the Church put together and approved the books of the Bible. The first book of the New Testament was not written until the late 40s AD, while the Church existed starting at Pentecost in approximately 30 AD. By the Holy Spirit, the Church–in Her infallibility–produced the Bible. In this, the apostles did a much greater work than what we claim for the Church and the papacy today. Today we claim that, through infallibility, God protects and expounds the truths that were first put forth by the Apostles in both Scripture and the Tradition they passed down (2 Thess. 2:15). It is a kind of passive infallibility, whereas the Bible was written by an active infallibility. With that, we can see that it is most reasonable of God to put in place some way to infallibly understand the infallible teachings that were put forth by the Apostles.

Objection #3: The pope does not have primacy or infallibility on matters of faith and morals

It would probably take me a series of posts to adequately answer this question. On another level, the answer is simple: Catholics are united because we can have the guidance of the Holy Spirit in a concrete, visible person. Generally matters of the faith are discussed and decided upon by the college of bishops in union with the pope. When there is disagreement among the bishops, all good Catholics know where to look. When confusion arises, it is not the quarreling cacophony of opinions that has authority. It is the clear, direct, and visible voice of one. The pope can speak this way because of his special task to be shepherd of the whole Church. Jesus said to Peter, “Feed my lambs.” The lambs that Peter (and his successors) feeds are not his own, but they are Christ’s. Anyone belonging to Christ, then, is fed by Peter. The earliest Church saw Rome as the primary station of Peter and his successors. The likes of early writers, such as Irenaeus, kept close track of the men who followed Peter in his role as Bishop of Rome from the very beginning.


 

 


 

It should be noted, infallibility does not mean the pope is perfect in holiness, though hopefully he’s closer to it than I am! It does not mean the pope is all-knowing. Again, it is not because of his intelligence, learning, or skill that he is considered infallible. He is not infallible in private matters. He is not infallible in everything he says publicly. The claim is that he is infallible when declaring a matter of faith or morals that must be accepted by the whole Church. In other words, if necessary, the pope has the ability to speak infallibly to clarify a matter confusion to protect something that is necessary for salvation. This does not happen very often, but to say it cannot happen is to discredit God’s desire that we know the truth and the truth will make us free. God wants us to know the truth. There are many claims on truth out there. Only God knows them perfectly. God has given us the Church and, in particular, the papacy so that we may have a concrete and visible place to look with certainty. This is because of God, not because of man.

Conclusion

In the end, the reason for infallibility is nothing other than love. More than keeping us safe in the playground of ideas, infallibility secures the truth.  Once you have the truth, you then have a rich soil into which love may be planted. Truth precedes love; love perfects truth and makes it beautiful. It is only in truth that we can truly and authentically learn love. Falsehoods leave us standing on a vanishing foundation. God wants the whole Church to know his truth so that we can become more perfect in love. Infallibility is not about “the Church is right and everyone else is wrong.” Infallibility is about God giving us what is needed to secure a life of love in every age. To make it applicable to this entire project: Infallibility is about giving the insights to keep love in sight in every new generation of earthly existence. So, if you take nothing else away from this article, next time you hear the word infallibility do not think first of power or simply being right, think of love. Think first of the love God has for us–that he would not abandon us to our own devices.  Next, think of the ways God wants you to bring that love to those around you.

Free Yourself: 4 Areas of Growth While You’re Single

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Being single (and ready to mingle) in this day and age can sometimes seem overwhelming and hopeless. Society in general is growing evermore non-committal, while at the same time there is a lot of pressure to find the right one, the perfect one for you. That makes the situation altogether very narrow and constricted. In fact, if we follow the trends of the time, there are so many things we could possibly worry about: Am I attracted to this person or just desperate? Are they funny enough? Are they fun? How will I know when it’s the right one? How come I only know when it’s not the right one? What do I even mean when I say “right one”? Is there just one? Is it mainly based on how I feel? Does it matter that I have or don’t have that “special” feeling right away? Is it not based on feelings at all? Should it just simply be a decision based on pure logic? The divorce rate is so high, is trying to find a spouse seriously even worth it?

There are so many questions, and to be honest, if we go about dating directed by these questions, we may become so burdened with our lack of answers that we are bound up in our own heads and never free. Free yourself today. Learn not to overwhelm yourself with what might be or how to tell what is right. Find freedom in becoming what you’re supposed to be right now. We can’t live in the future. We have to live in the present. For you that might be in the state of worry-free single-hood. To free your mind, aim to grow in these following four areas:

 

1. Self-worth

Our worth is ultimately found in something beyond the sum of the things we’re capable of doing (or not doing). I am capable of doing a lot of things, but I’m not the best at anything. This can be a downer for me. Why would a woman like me when they could have that guy who is so much better at so many things?! The very concept of “self-worth,” however, means that other people’s opinions and abilities are taken out of the picture. Sometimes the most destructive thing is when we begin to put a lot of weight to what other people are saying about us (and this includes positive things too actually). Fundamentally, it’s not our talents and abilities that make us worth so much.

In the history of the universe, there has never been someone like you and there never will be again. You are the only person exactly like you that will ever exist. There’s no price to that, and you can’t measure it. More than that, you are made in the image and likeness of God. You continue to exist as the person you are because that is what God wants. He sustains our existence by his love for us. We don’t have to do anything to prove ourselves. All there is for us to do is to accept that we have immeasurable value or reject it. If you struggle with self-worth, know that God made to you to be the best you that you can be. Seek friends who confirm this in you and grow daily in knowing that you are in fact one of a kind, made in the extraordinary image of the Creator of the universe, and you continue to exist as you because he wants you to.

 

2. Use Being Single for Good

When we are single, we generally have some free time. When we are not dating anyone, our schedule isn’t packed with work, family, friends, and finding time to give to a significant other. A lot of times, when we’re single, we can get complacent and it just makes the worrying we do so much worse. Here’s a short, albeit corny, principle that can be a helpful guide in finding things to do with our free time: When we don’t have a significant other, do other things that are significant.

Here’s a list of helpful thoughts to get you started on good things to do: Get involved in your church. Help people with special needs, especially kids. Serve the poor. (Good Christians have been doing that for millennia.) Volunteer for something you’re passionate about that brings some good to the world. Become a missionary. Are you a writer? Start a blog or write a book (or write for this blog!). Commit to being a better a friend. Spend time with people that influence you. Spend time with people that you can influence. Spend time with people that make you happy. Spend time with people that challenge you. Learn a new hobby. Don’t worry about your life and do some good in the meantime!

In the end, it’s not primarily about taking our mind off the situation that makes us free. We are not free simply because we are available. We are most free when we exercise our ability to pursue something good in life. Be free and use your singleness to pursue something good and make an impact on the world.

 

3. Gain Virtues That Will Make Your Marriage Amazing

We do not simply find someone and magically turn into the person we have always envisioned ourselves being. As a teacher, when I have to reprimand a student, sometimes they tell me they are really a good person, but they act out sometimes. My response to this is that we don’t become good simply by saying we’re a good person. We become good by the choices we make on a daily basis.

For some reason we have been trained that it’s more attractive to be fun than virtuous. A lot of times people break up because the fun wears out and that’s all the relationship was ever built on. But let’s be honest, when temptation comes to your future spouse (and it likely will), do you really want them to be a person who is fun but not virtuous? What about you? Are you more fun than you are virtuous? What kind of spouse will you be when things get difficult and temptation rears its ugly head?

This is really an extension of the previous point about doing good things, but we can aim to do good such that we build habits for important areas in marriage. For example: Learning to speak in kindness, even if you might be irritated. Learning to be generous with your time, even when you are busy. Learning to listen when you’re preoccupied (that’s mainly for us guys!). Grow in the habit of practical responsibilities. Pay your bills on time. Do your dishes. Take out the trash. Clean your home. Manage your finances well. In the end, I do not a have a comprehensive list, but the goal for freedom is to become a man/woman for others. I can only imagine that in 5 years of marriage being fun, sexy, or rich is going to be merely sideline noise compared to the strength of being a real man or woman of integrity and habitual service to others. When we fix our gaze on becoming the man or woman that makes for an amazing marriage, our minds will be free from the restless worry our singleness.



4. Grow Closer to God

This is really the simplest yet hardest point. Make God everything. You’re heart was made for more than any one human can completely fill. Times of singleness can really open us to the reality that we will always long for God’s love. Being single is a great time to learn trust in him, something you will also need in marriage and family life. We are single because he wants what’s best for us and not for us to settle with something less just because we’re impatient or lonely. Again, God wants what’s best for us, but if we’re far from him, that’s hard to see. So, get close to God in your singleness. Will you say that his love is not enough? In the end, strive to learn that only his love is enough. You will bring that into your marriage and it will be beautiful.

Be free today. Become the most you can be for God and others while you’re single and leave the rest up to him.

Love: The True Purpose of Community

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Over four and a half years ago I moved to Kansas City  from St. Paul, MN. In St. Paul I had the best friends I could have ever imagined. It was really hard to move away knowing that I wasn’t going to be easily and instantly surrounded by “my people” – people who knew me and really “got” me. And, worst of all, if you’re like me and have a propensity to tell really lame jokes, a new environment comes with many uncertainties. In St. Paul I had relationships that mattered to me: relationships where I could simultaneously just be myself and work on the more selfish and stubborn parts of my life. When I got to Kansas City, I didn’t know exactly what to expect and I spent the first few months just going to work and not really getting to know anyone else. After that, my life changed again when I started meeting in a small group with some guys and started getting really close to some of them. Now, once again, there were people who knew me, accepted me, but also challenged me to improve and wanted me to be the person I was created to be.

I bonded with these guys and eventually some really great girl friends and I started to experience the kind of community I left in St. Paul. Both the St. Paul community and the community in KC changed me. I encountered people – when I was vulnerable enough to have real conversations – that gave me new experiences and insight that I had never had before. Now in KC a lot of the friends I made at first have gotten married or our lives have taken us in different directions. But they still impacted and changed me nonetheless because I was vulnerable and accountable to real friends that truly knew and cared for my growth as a person and disciple of Christ. Over the past year, I’ve been getting to know a new set of friends that have become a new community for me. Every year continues to be the best year of my life because every year there are people in my life who know me, accept me (and my lame jokes), and want me to be better than I am currently. All of this is because over and over God blesses us with the people we need to have authentic community by giving us relationships that truly matter.

With relationships that truly matter comes a series of experiences we thought we could never have. We enjoy a new type of happiness that is ultimately satisfying a natural inclination found deep in the way we are wired. I’m not talking about the short-term pleasure-kind of happiness, but a deep and lasting sense of “this is who I am and where I belong.” In these kinds of relationships there is a peace that says “all is right with the world when I’m with these people.” Now, it is absolutely certain that – in this life – no one will ever experience that type of contentment all of the time. But, if we don’t have it some of the time, we may need to reevaluate the depth and significance of our relationships.

Without a deeper type of community, we are left to conversations with people who are simply a kind of fleeting pleasure in themselves. If you’re like me, it’s fun to enjoy a conversation that doesn’t really matter – that doesn’t actually influence my life or their life in any significant way. There are conversations to be had that are pleasant, but not important. Pleasant conversations are fine most of the time, and I am certainly not advocating for every conversation to be super deep. But if we only have pleasant conversations, soon enough we will realize that the true purpose of community is not being realized in our lives.


 

 


 

Like the two greatest commandments, there are two places this deep and satisfying community is found: God and others. Jesus says, “Come to me you who are burdened and I will give you rest.” What gives us rest? Going to Jesus and having communion with him. If we go to Jesus with our burdens, he wants to be our community. He wants to be the place we go to say that all is right with the world. At some of the hardest times in my life, I found this to be especially true about adoration. We were made for God’s love. Without Jesus as our first and most important relationship, we will always strive and struggle to find some finite thing to fill the void in us that longs for an infinite kind of community. In terms of others, we find that the deepest kind of community participates in and reflects our relationship with God. We get to know people that we share our lives with. People that, practically speaking, know everything about us because we become vulnerable with and accountable to them. People whose presence we enjoy and people who truly want what is best for us.

So what is the true goal of authentic community? In the course of our lives, community is important for many reasons. It’s a place where we find understanding, belonging, joy, kindness, compassion but also honesty, candor, and challenges from people that come from a genuine concern for our well-being. But ultimately, the most important reason for community is love. It is a place we receive love, where we give love, and the primary school of formation for a life of love lived for God and others. In the context of our relationships, love – the true purpose of community – has a chance to be cultivated.

Because love is choosing the good of others even at the risk of our own detriment, we cannot grow in love without others. And ultimately this is important for our salvation because true holiness and sainthood is found in the perfection of love, first for God then for others. So how does community teach us love? It’s easy to see in the day-to-day course of life that our friendships give a chance to enjoy others’ sense of humor, abilities, talents, different ways of thinking, different unique purposes, etc. But what they should really give us is that place of belonging. But not simply in helping us be comfortable though. (Insert dramatic music in your mind here.) The universe needs each and every one of us to become who we were created to be. You are the only you in the world. You are the only you that has ever existed and will ever exist. There’s is something you bring to the universe that no one else ever has, ever will, or ever can. We do this by learning how to love with every fiber of our being. When we know ourselves: our gifts, strengths, our deepest desires we begin to learn our personal mission in the world, but no matter who you are the goal is to be truly you while learning to love to the best of your ability.


 

 


 

Since we all have shortcomings and failures and we all need to strive to improve, community is so important because it is our school of formation for the most important adventure of our lives. What adventure am I talking about? The key adventure of life: Learning to love. We all struggle to love God as well as we should and we all struggle to love others as well as we should. In community we have role models of love, we are challenged and encouraged to love better, but also we have relationships with the very people we are called to love.

In the end, there’s a difference between knowing that the point of community is love and actually choosing to live it. For me, the gap is often wider than I recognize. And I have a lot of work to do. Nonetheless, nothing less than heaven is our goal and, when we have true love in our hearts, we will want to bring as many people with us as we can. With love, we strive to become what God has created us to be, first for him and then for others. We often struggle seeing ourselves without biased, but you can bet your friends – the ones that truly know you – know some of your shortcomings even better than you. In my life, from St. Paul to Kansas City, I’ve had friends who see parts of me clearer than I do. The ones that truly love me challenge me to become better, and one day maybe even a saint. Looking around me, however, I see people all over who are deprived of true community that teaches men and women how to truly love. When you find yourself in this situation, take aim to find friends with which you can be vulnerable and accountable, friends that truly challenge you to better yourself become who you were created to be: a man or woman who loves well in every circumstance.

**The first edition of this article was published by this author on the Catholic Beer Club Times found here.**

Pride Sucks! – Humility is Happiness

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Pride sucks. Get rid of it.

Luckily, if you’re anything like me, humiliation is almost certain to rear its beautiful head daily. We generally associate the word “humiliation” with something negative, but honestly, it can be a huge factor in our happiness. We, of course, do not want to think of humiliation simply as devaluing ourselves, but we want to see it as it relates to the virtue of humility. Humiliation is an opportunity to gain a virtue, which will ultimately make us happier. Humiliation and embarrassment come in various ways, but they are certain to come to us. As a notoriously prideful human, I have recently tried to make a bit of a transition in my thinking in this area (yes, people can change, and if will make us better, we should change). I want to change so that humiliation doesn’t leave me frozen, withdrawn, and afraid to give of myself. Becoming more like Christ is what it means to be a Christian, there’s always room for a little more growth, and “becoming” is a process.

Like Christ did, I want to learn to say “bring on humiliation and embarrassment” instead of avoiding it. Because it will ultimately make me happier. Here are four reasons why pursuing humility will actually make you happier:

 

#1 Having humility increases your freedom to simply be you

The army is right. Be all you can be. But don’t be someone else! Humility allows us not to be caught in a world of comparison with other people. Humility is knowing yourself, not compared to others but compared to God. If you can accept the relative nothingness of yourself to God, certainly you should not be so impressed by other people’s qualities. You are who you are. There has never been anyone exactly like you in the history of the world, and there never will be again. That’s pretty cool, but our pride says, “I am really great, even greater than most others.” Humility says, “I am who I am, and I’m happy to be so.” It is free from comparison. Learn who you are, don’t get down when someone else has something you do not. That is pride. Pride is childish. Children think they deserve everything. You don’t deserve everything. In fact, once we have humility we will often be mindful that anything we do have is a gift from God and is to be made into a gift for others.

In the end, be you and be free. Think of the blessings in your life that have nothing to do with your talents and abilities more often than you think of your achievements. When you truly know yourself, you’ll know that you are what God has made, not what you have made. Always feel free to just be yourself. How absolutely free we will feel when we completely stop comparing ourselves to others!

 

#2 Humility changes how you handle the way others think of you

A humble person is not swayed by other people’s opinions so easily. Being overly concerned about how awesome other people think we are will eventually lead to sadness, feeling lonely, and under-appreciated. If you often feel under-appreciated, it’s probably because you’re prideful. We feel offended because people don’t recognize our talents, abilities, and contributions. Pride, pride, pride! Again, pride sucks. Get rid of it. Someone who is truly humble will do a lot of good things, but not for recognition. Imagine your world if you do all the good things you do right now, but don’t feel under-appreciated when no one notices. Humility is happiness and freedom from other’s opinion about your life – or lack of opinion about your life.

More than that, sometimes pride has us delighting in praise too much. When people give me praise, I get much too excited about it. I forget that God is the source of all that is good anyway, not me. More than that, sometimes we can try to ride the feeling that we get from praise and eventually begin to feel down simply because we’re not being praised for something that we did well. How ridiculous is that? Why can’t we just do good things simply because it’s the right thing? Because we’re prideful. Humility says, “Everything I have right now is a gift, and I don’t need anything more.” Let’s stop needing recognition from others, but let’s keep doing good things.

 

#3 Gaining humility does not change your capabilities, but it changes how you deal with failure

Humility is for champs. Michael Jordan didn’t win the title every year he played. Not everything we endeavor to do is going to be successful. Some people shrug off the idea of humility because they think it means they have to take a backseat in pursuing excellence. This is false humility. It may mean, however, changing the way we express our strengths. For example, someone who is a good teacher may not have to teach in front of hundreds of people to be successful. Instead, with humility, a good teacher will be satisfied teaching a small number of people or one person or simply themselves. Regardless, apparent failures or shortfalls do not change what we are capable of, but they do allow us to become humble and remember that life is not all about us. If we are not humble, we will experience the stress and anxiety of not living up to our expectations or the expectations of others. If we pray for and practice the virtue of humility, instead of being weak, we will be a solid rock of self-acceptance and acceptance of others even when it seems we or they have failed. While not changing the impact we can have on others, humility accepts failure with much more peace, ease, and serenity than pride does. Failure is coming. Lose your pride and learn to accept failure stress free.

 

#4 St. Augustine said this about humility:

If you should ask me what are the ways of God, I would tell you that the first is humility, the second is humility, and the third is humility. Not that there are no other precepts to give, but if humility does not precede all that we do, our efforts our meaningless.

Humility brings us closer to God. Even when we are distracted in prayer, we have our humility to fall back on as the last line of defense. We can say, “Lord, I am not worthy to remain in your presence since I cannot give you even one-tenth of my attention in prayer; yet you love me nonetheless and I desire to grow and become better.” Sometimes it is a humbling thing just to ask for humility (and not receive it immediately). The truly humble person will realize that perseverance in asking is a sure way to grow in humility. Pride says, “I’ve got this.” Humility says, “Lord, I need you.” Humility is so necessary to a vibrant spiritual life. We cannot even have faith unless we humble ourselves to God, and faith is the first “theological virtue” that allows us to relate to God. As Augustine alludes to, there is a kind of humility accompanies faith. Seek humility and you will find the comfort of being close to God. As Jesus says, “Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart.”

 

Conclusion

Though it is a struggle at times, humility is a willing acceptance of the circumstances of our life and a firm confidence that God is still the Lord of all things. I am not the Lord of all things, but he saw it fit to lower himself for our sake. Knowing who I am in contrast to God humbles me. But humility, if we choose to pursue and attain it, has the fruit of inner peace and serenity in every circumstance. If I am prideful and stake everything on what I am capable of, I lose control quickly. If I stake everything on what God is capable of, nothing is out of control. With this I say: Bring on embarrassment! Bring on humiliation! Help me learn how to deal with it peacefully and confidently. Give me humility, Lord! Let me never forget who you are and my comparative nothingness. Nonetheless, I know you have called me to live in this world for a unique purpose. May I be your faithful servant and fulfill my purpose, not swayed by the glamour of the world or the opinions of others. May I learn humility, be who you made me to be, and not become shocked or saddened by anything in this life.

Demons in the Desert and the Man Who Fought Them

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There are stories of saints who lived ordinary lives, and there are stories of saints who had fantastic lives. Today, you will find the story of a saint whose life stands out, even among other saints who had incredible experiences in life.

His name was St. Anthony of the Desert.

So much could be said about this man, but I mostly want to tell you today about one dramatic story from his life, where he battled evil beings. First though, if you have not heard of him much before, he is such a very special Saint. He is considered to be the father of Christian monasticism, having lived before the time of St. Benedict, who is perhaps better known in the West for his influence on Christian monastic life. From the start of his adult life St. Anthony had already begun to live as an ascetic, purposefully setting himself in seclusion to focus on unceasing prayer and growth in virtue.

He was not the first Christian monk, but he was the first to go live out alone in the wilderness. Much of his life was spent in the solitude in the Eastern Desert of Egypt. He lived on little, and ate now and then when trusted friends would bring him bread every so many days, or by some accounts, weeks. To most of us this might sound unhealthy.

On the other hand, he is said to have lived to be around 100 years old (c. 251-356).

That’s why, even among other saints, he stands out.

But again, today I want to focus on just one fantastic story from his life, about a great battle with actual demons. He had to deal with demons many times in his life, and while he is not the only saint known to have entered into spiritual combat with demonic entities, his is the only story I have come across where a saint had to literally contend with hordes of demons.

Now, some will say that these old stories are just fairytales, or that the demons in these kinds of stories are not real, that they just represent fighting with one’s own psyche. Others may point out that in many old hagiographic accounts of saints from the first few centuries after Christ the story details were often intentionally exaggerated just to extol Christians. However, accounts of St. Anthony’s life have been deemed reliable.

Consider this. Scholars today almost unanimously consider the recorded biography of St. Anthony to be a substantial historical record. That is because his biography was written by another saint, St. Athanasius, who was the bishop of Alexandria in the time of St. Anthony.

You see, while St. Anthony spent much time in seclusion, many people were attracted to his lifestyle and sought him out to ask for his counsel, some even to emulate him by living in the caves around the same desert mountains as him. So, ironically, his life was both secluded and yet also well-known to local Egyptians at the time. His reputation even began to spread around the world.

And while this is not always a favorite topic of conversation among the faithful, the fact is that the Church fully acknowledges the real existence of demons and their potential to come into the world seeking the ruin of souls. We don’t pray to St. Michael the Archangel for nothing.

Yet even so, even for me this story is a strange one. There are many stories of saints who had to contend with demons. But again, this is the only story I have found where a saint had to do battle with hordes of demons surrounding him. Perhaps there is some exaggeration to this story. And perhaps there is not. You can decide for yourself, I suppose, but either way, the story stands as it is, and from this story we can learn much.


The Battle

A multitude of demons came and beat St. Anthony so badly that he could not move.

He was in a tomb at the time. Why in a tomb? At the time he was simply secluding himself in prayer. He was thirty-five by then. He had already been living ascetically, but was now beginning to challenge himself further. So he went out to the tombs and shut himself in a single tomb, alone.

According to St. Anthanasius’ account, St. Anthony’s presence in the desert bothered the evil one so much that he came with a multitude of his demons to cut St. Anthony with stripes. St. Anthony tells us that the blows were much more powerful than what any man was capable of delivering. He was in so much pain that he could only lay on the ground, speechless.

But the very next day St. Anthony’s acquaintance came to deliver his bread and found the poor saint looking practically dead on the ground. He carried St. Anthony’s body to the church in the nearby village. He laid the body on the ground there, where many villagers and family members of the saint sat surrounding what they may have thought was a corpse.

At midnight St. Anthony suddenly arose. He found all the family members and villagers there asleep, except for one friend who witnessed St. Anthony arise. Quietly, he requested that his friend carry him back to the tombs without awaking anyone. He was still too battered by the demons’ torture to stand up on his own, so his friend laid him back in the tomb, where St. Anthony simply returned to his prayer, alone.

Why would he return to the tomb? Reading about saints like St. Teresa of Ávila or St. Gemma Galgani, we see that when dealing with serious demonic attacks it is best to remain calm and keep humbly praying to God for deliverance from the situation and, if possible, maintain a faithful heart while throwing some holy water on the evil beings. In other words, it is not good to pridefully think that we, as physical beings, can fight evil spiritual beings. Here, though, St. Anthony was not trying to fight back against the demons out of pride. He was simply a man of great faith. To him, if the Lord would allow for such peculiar circumstances to happen like being attacked by a horde of evil beings – only to soon be saved by a friend, and then soon after be revived – there had to be a greater reason for all this.

So back again praying in the tomb, he shouted, “Here am I, Anthony! I flee not from your stripes, for even if you inflict more nothing shall separate me from the love of Christ!”

He did not pridefully proclaim his own strength. He only affirmed with complete honesty his love for Christ Jesus.

He even sang, “Though a camp be set against me, my heart shall not be afraid.”

Even though he was considered ignorant and uneducated, he was known to have a great memory for every bit of scripture he heard.

The enemy hated all this. Previously the enemy had even tried to tempt St. Anthony by lust, appearing to him as a temptress, but St. Anthony prevailed through faith, prayer, and fasting. Now even brute force did not seem to sway the saint.

“You see,” the evil one said, “that neither by the spirit of lust nor by blows did we stay the man, but that he braves us. Let us attack him in another fashion.”

The devil and his demons made an entrance which shook up the whole place like an earthquake, coming into the tomb as if breaking through the walls, appearing in the forms of all sorts of beasts. There were lions and bears, leopards and wolves, serpents and asps, scorpions and bulls. They all tried to threaten the saint, the bull brandishing its horns, the serpent writhing around, and the lion letting out a great roar. However, when the wolf tried to run up to the saint, it could not reach him, as if it were being restrained.

Still St. Anthony laid there in pain. His body hurt, but his mind was clear and his spirit was faithful. As much as the gang of demons tried to attack the saint, they could not succeed this time.

St. Anthony mockingly said, “If there had been any power in you, it would have sufficed had one of you come, but since the Lord has made you weak, you attempt to terrify me by numbers – and a proof of your weakness is that you take the shapes of brute beasts.”

The saint clearly understood the true nature of the situation.

He continued, “If you are able, and have received power against me, delay not to attack, but if you are unable, why trouble me in vain? For faith in our Lord is a seal and a wall of safety to us.”

The evil beings were angered at their inability to harm the saint. They were grinding their teeth in vexation at how their attempt to scare a single man only turned into their own self-mockery.

Then St. Anthony, looking up, saw that the roof of the tomb had suddenly disappeared. A ray of light shined down upon him. The demons vanished. St. Anthony’s pain suddenly stopped, and the roof returned.

St. Anthony caught his breath and asked, “Where were you? Why did you not appear at the beginning to make my pains cease?”

A voice said to him, “Anthony, I was here, but I waited to see your fight, wherefore you have endured, and hast not been worsted, I will ever be a succor to you (always be at your aid) and will make your name known everywhere.”

As St. Anthony got up he felt different. His body felt stronger than it was before.

And then – after all that – being the kind of man that he was…St. Anthony simply prayed.


What Does This All Mean?

At first this story of battling demons may sound epic, like the stories of heroes, but in the end this is just the story of a single night in the life of a man who lived into his hundreds. St. Anthony’s life may sound extreme to us, but to him it was normal. He was only living in the way he felt compelled to live, and he was able to do what he did by the grace of God.

Today we complain about the distractions in our society that make it hard for us to pray, but here was a man who prayed even amidst demonic wild beasts. Such was the resolve of his faith in God.

Today we complain about the prevalence of sexual imagery in society, but St. Anthony battled with the spirit of lust itself and conquered through prayer, fasting, and faith.

Today when we are threatened with violence we often try to flee or fight, but St. Anthony, when being tortured and then threatened again by demons, only remained as he was and prayed.

But like us, St. Anthony wanted an answer from the Lord, to know what was the reason for his suffering that night. Could we respond to the Lord like St. Anthony, though? He received a direct answer from the Lord, but afterwards made no extra commentary. He only returned to prayer. Knowing St. Anthony, though, even if he had not received a direct answer…

He would have only returned to prayer.

The Lord has made St. Anthony’s story so widespread so that we could all learn from his example. Most of us may never be called to live quite like St. Anthony, but all of us are called to grow to possess the same saintly heart of faith that he had. So if this story today has touched you, I hope you will consider learning more about St. Anthony and his spiritual life in the desert. You can find so many stories about his life here at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2811.htm.


The Next Generation

But even after his death and over a millennium later, there is more to his story. Today there is a modern monk who became inspired to live just as St. Anthony, literally living in the same mountains, in the same desert. His name is Fr. Lazarus Al-Anthony, an Australian man who was once a Marxist philosophy professor. After a long and inspiring conversion process, he has become a modern desert hermit whom we can learn from today. According to Fr. Lazarus, St. Anthony has even blessed his endeavors by appearing to him in the desert.

Even before Fr. Lazarus began living in the desert alone, when he was once inside the historic cave of St. Anthony in Egypt – praying and asking St. Anthony if he too could live as the saint once did – Fr. Lazarus suddenly heard a voice from behind him, though there was no one there. The voice spoke to him in Arabic, but Fr. Lazarus did not know the language, so he asked a local monk about the phrase he had heard. The monk told him it meant, “I love all my children.”

Just as St. Anthony became known throughout the world so as to extol the faithful and inspire the faithless, today Fr. Lazarus has gained attention in various documentaries and has even been featured on the Christian Youth Channel on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E4TDuIOmYcg.

Listening to his testimonies makes for a very powerful experience, just like hearing the stories of St. Anthony, so powerful that the BBC channel did a special called “Extreme Pilgrim” featuring Peter Owen, a vicar in the Church of England.

Peter Owen went to spend three and a half weeks in self-retreat in Fr. Lazarus’ cave: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDJx2qNDPCk.

Later, after his time there, he gave a presentation on his experience. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oNucGMrtBvc&t=28s.

Peter commented that, “…I had completely underestimated how difficult it would be – I had this very … romanticized notion of, ‘Yes, of course, I can be like one of the Desert Fathers, living in the cave.’ But the reality is brutal and difficult and very, very testing indeed – and I recommend it to anyone over the age of 18. . . We should all do it once in our life. Take one month out. . . just to reflect on what on earth this experience is all about and where we are within that place, how we are feeling, what we have swallowed, the good stuff and the bad stuff.”

Amen.

Love – in a Look: Adam, Art, and the Act of Gazing

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“But you’re young and healthy. Why not?”

This was my mom’s shocked response the first time I told her I didn’t want to wear a bikini.

I, in turn, was shocked. I stared at her. “Mom.”

My mother—she who is conservative in dress and movie preferences, prudent with words and careful of her reading selections—was frowning at my choice to wear a modest swimsuit that summer. How could she not understand me? But then I had to consider she grew up in the 70’s, on the heels of the sexual revolution and women’s strikes for equality.

“Mom, I want to show I respect myself. And I don’t want to lead anyone into temptation. This is something I want to do.”

This is something I continue to want: to dress modestly out of love for my brothers and sisters. To preserve what is good and protect what is holy, because our bodies are temples. God asks us to honor them.

For women this is especially important.

For, women, we know.

We are being watched.

Nearly every moment, every day, we are being watched.

From the very beginning, it has been this way.


 

In the beginning, Adam looks at Eve. He exults in her. He sees her with the eyes of God, and knows at the same time he is seeing God in her. As a good friend of mine remarked when reading Fulton Sheen’s “World’s First Love”:

We are united in God, which is pure love because God is existence itself—He is the pure essence of being. God is constantly loving all things into reality. He is loving us and willing our good so perfectly, so powerfully that that’s not just something He does but that in a sense is what He is. Our love is not our own, it is God Himself. Your love for me is God’s love for me, through you. That’s why I say you are God’s love to me, a gift. When I see my own love for you I cry, because I see the face and beauty of God. And I can’t contain my joy.

Imagine that.

Imagine being in the place of Eve, receiving the love of a person who cannot contain their joy at you and their joy in God. Imagine this person facing you, their eyes convey sincerity, attention, and care. Without a word, they are saying: “You are good. I see the good in you. You are good, I want that potential of greater good for you.”

Imagine.

Then your soul cries out, much like Adam on first seeing Eve, ‘At last! Bone of my bones! Flesh of my flesh! I am seen! I am known! And I see you. I know you: the Spirit in me recognizes the Spirit in you.’

This is how we are called to look at one another.


 

We, as men and women, are made to see each other with pure intention and have the swelling desire to fulfill good for the other. We are created to behold one another with wonder as Adam and Eve first did. They were free of doubt in one another’s character, free of any stinging anger, free of frustration. They, our first parents, were swept up in an ‘original state of holiness and justice,’ sharing in divine life (CCC #375). Adam had inner harmony with himself, there was harmony between he and Eve, and together they were in harmony with all of creation (CCC#376).

Adam and Eve initially rejoice in one another—and in God—in the Garden. They gaze at one another in total self-giving. They walk shadow-speckled Eden beneath soft, brilliant blue skies and soaring trees. They feel the embrace of sun on their skin, and know it is a mere echo of the secure warmth of one another’s presence.

And then comes the Fall.

Then comes a flood of pride, jealousy, and greed into the world.

Then the human gaze changes. Man can no longer look at man as a co-partner in working the earth, as we see with Cain and Abel. Man can no longer trust God with all of himself, as we see when Adam and Eve hide in their nakedness. Man can no longer look at woman without also thinking of his own gain.


 

My mom grew up in a time when both men and women were thinking of their own gain, in terms of freedom with their bodies and within the law. She was going through school just as Cindy Sherman, Carolee Schneeman, and Martha Rosler were beginning to break female stereotypes in the art world. In the late 20th century these artists challenged the very thing my mom accepted: they recognized women were compelled to fashion themselves according to sexualized imagery in the media in order to garner attention, and they sought to change this pressure in society. These artists took action against the common portrayals of women as lazy, passive, or inert objects for pleasure. They challenged male artists by mimicking the imagery and art media men used, to critique men’s use of the female body. Instead of illustrating powerless women, Sherman and her contemporaries styled women as autonomous, feeling, and striving for their own aspirations.

In doing so, Sherman and others countered ‘the gaze.’

In the story of Genesis, we first read how Adam gazed at Eve in wonder. This gaze was pure, unwavering, filled with love. His view of Eve, and her view of him, then becomes distorted when sin enters the world.

The change wrought by the Fall is evident in human society, and it is evident in art.

‘The gaze,’ which Sherman, Schneeman, and Rosler counteract, refers to sexual objectification of women, in fine art and other forms of media throughout history. The term indicates the long tradition of paintings with female subjects, paintings commissioned by and executed by men for the pleasure of other men. In classical works women were often portrayed as property, inert (reclining), or models posing as subjects for the male viewers. Women were treated as objects of desire.

This treatment continued into the 1900s. Until that time, female artists had been discouraged from portraying themselves and the reality of being women. Virginia Woolf and her fellow writers commented on it in the earlier half of the 20th century. Woolf, in her ‘A Room of One’s Own’ acknowledged the oppression of women. She felt that women were pressed into being in the public eye, always—even in the home. The women’s role was to be in public: a woman was to be seen and not heard, to tend to children, to cook and clean. There was no time for women to visit one another, in private, and share the female experience—nor was there the time or privacy to write of their experiences. So Woolf stepped out and spoke of the need for women to express themselves. She gave women a voice in a new way. Sherman, Schneeman, and Rosler continued her kind of movement several decades later, crafting a new image of woman whom had power, ability to speak, and hopes—with the freedom to attain her dreams.


 

Why, though, would men continue to objectify women? We see it today in our ads and films. We see it in the fascinations society has with the female body.

‘Have you any notion how many books are written about women in the course of one year?’ Virginia Woolf writes in “A Room of One’s Own.” ‘Have you any notion how many are written by men? Are you aware that you are, perhaps, the most discussed animal in the universe?’

Yes, women. It is because we captivate the world. And we sense, from the earliest of our days, the world is watching us.

John Berger, in his 1972 “Ways of Seeing,” writes of this:

From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her… She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to others, and ultimately how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life. Her own sense of being herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another.

These writers reveal the truth of womanhood in the literary world. Woolf admits our value as beautiful creatures. Berger—an English art critic, novelist, painter, and poet—acknowledges the truth we women have known since the beginning of time. We are creatures, which inspire greatness or desire. Our identity is, ultimately, rooted in someone other than ourselves.

We see this with Adam and Eve in the garden. Eve appears, Adam beholds her beauty, and he cries out with joy! She has aroused in him his meaning, his purpose: she is made from him, for him, so the two of them may serve together. Her identity comes, in part, from him.

It is due to God and His goodness, though, that she is made.


 

St. John Paul II and Fulton Sheen, like these artists and authors, knew the worth of women. The two great promoters of human love show us how to counter society’s twisted images of love and the human body, more perfectly than Cindy Sherman or Virginia Woolf do. They give us guides on how to see one another with that pure and sacrificial gaze, the kind with which Adam and Eve once beheld one another.

‘Love cannot be built without sacrifices and self-denial,’ John Paul II tell us in “Love and Responsibility.” Love is never something ready made, but a journey along which man and woman are set: men and women are to be partners in learning generosity, patience, and good will. Thus we are to consciously seek the good with others, to subordinate ourselves to the good of others, and to strive for good because of others. This pursuit of goodness for others involves speaking and looking at each human person with respect.

Fulton Sheen, in “Life is Worth Living,” specifies that:

When a man loves a woman, he has to become worthy of her. The higher her virtue, the more noble her character, the more devoted she is to truth, justice, goodness, the more a man has to aspire to be worthy of her. The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women.

He says, too, “We become like that which we love. If we love what is base, we become base; but if we love what is noble, we become noble.”

We all want this kind of nobility, whether we are men or women. We all yearn for this kind of love.

I felt the call to urge others to such nobility that first spring I told my mother I would no longer wear a bikini. I was old enough to have an awareness of the gaze—the male gaze Cindy Sherman confronted—and I wanted women to be held in higher esteem than their surface value. Women deserve that, as daughters of God.


 

Men, we women desire to hear a man say, and to see in his gaze, “I want to love you as Christ loves the Church. I want to serve you. I want to serve with you. I want to cherish you all the days of my life, and be cherished by you. You are a gift. A treasure. God has preserved you—for me. Flesh of my flesh! Bone of my bone! At last.”

Women, men crave to be accepted. When they overflow with love and they express what is on their hearts, treasure what they have shared. Allow them an opportunity to open their hearts more to you, whether in friendship or discerning marriage. Call these men strong. Acknowledge their bravery. Serve them, and serve with them. Know men, too, are a great gift.

Women, we are made to inspire greatness and give life to the world. Men, you are made to help us in that mission and to draw up to the great warriors you were made to be.

We are made for this. We are made for the love of Christ. We are made to be held in His loving gaze.

In His gaze is our identity.

Finding Joy When You’re Feeling Down

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The original edition of this post was published on the Catholic Beer Club Times found here.


 

 


 

Have you ever felt so sad that you thought you may never recover from it? Though it may not always be present to us, sadness is an inevitable part of human life. The human heart is made for joy, but sadness often steals this joy from us. Joy comes from thriving in every area of our lives (or at least the genuine perception that we are). Joy arises as a natural fruit of harmony, in particular, having closeness in our relationships with God and with others. But, because we’re human, harmony and those relationships break down and joy escapes us. We lose joy because we sense that something is out of place; it is not as it should be or as we want it to be. So that begs the question: is joy caused by only external factors or do we have some control over the joy we experience in our lives?

External things can impact us greatly and, in some ways, it really begins there. Having good external forces like a relationship with God and the Church, a loving family, great friends, or even a nice car, or a big boat (and realizing that those things are far better than we deserve) will be the surest sources of joy for us in this life. It will not be the case, however, that joy will stay around forever simply as a reaction to external things. There will be times when we quite simply feel down. So we either have to find another way to be joyful or we will succumb to the forces outside of us that are bringing us down.


 

The first step to finding joy when you’re feeling down is to realize that our feelings follow our thoughts. So, if you are feeling sad, it is because you are thinking about sad things. Sadness can be the proper response to certain situations, like death, severe injury or illness, breakups, fights with friends, etc…Sometimes, however, we are thinking about things that make us sad and we don’t need to be. This is true even in the case of some of the things listed above. So when we are down and need to move on, we need to find a way to change what we’re thinking about.

The two main realities related to our way of thinking: (1) we can control the information we take in and (2) we have the amazing ability simply to change what we’re thinking about to something good. So, first of all, when we’re feeling down, it’s really important that we put ourselves in positive environments. Prayer, family, friends, fun, good food, good conversation, humor, or even things like going to a pet store to play with puppies can help bring some positive external factors into our lives. Putting ourselves in environments of love will transform our feelings to hope and eventually back to joy. More than simply good environments, however, sometimes we will have to consciously decide to push away thoughts that bring us down and replace them with good thoughts and actions. For example, you can think about what good you can accomplish today, make a list and do it, write a nice letter to someone you care about, get coffee with a friend you’ve been neglecting, make your favorite baked goods, choose to go on a run or workout, clean your house or your room. I know a lot of this sounds like doing something, but doing good stuff means that we’ve thought about it beforehand. Binge watching TV or movies will only give us space to let the negative thoughts linger. When you’re feeling down, change what you’re thinking about and do something good!


 

Doing good ultimately makes us happy. Selflessness is the straightest pathway to joy. Choosing not only to think about good things and do some good, but forgetting about ourselves for a while will free us from what brings us down. It is so easy to get into the habit of negativity. Some of us even find a twisted kind of pleasure from continuous self-pity. This will never lead us to the joy our hearts truly seek though. In these moments, we must dig deep, choose to think about and do some good. Ultimately, if we can forget ourselves for a while and focus on others (being a good parent, child, friend, student, employee, employer, human being), then our focus will be shifted completely away from our broken reality to bringing good into the world. We will then not only change our internal feelings, we will do some good for others.

Ultimately, our faith becomes so vital in these moments. As C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” We are reminded that this world is passing and the joy it brings are similarly transient. No matter if things are going well or things are difficult, we should always hold heaven in our hearts and minds. This is the truly beautiful part of our faith. Even though joy escapes us from time to time, hope will keep us positive. In fact, hope is a sort of “gateway drug” to joy. If we keep hope in God’s plan for us in this life and that it will ultimately lead us to perfect, unending happiness, we will always have a reason to rejoice.


 

St. Paul gives a really good reminder of everlasting things in Colossians 3: 1-2:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

We always need a friendly reminder that our ultimate home is not here. We should not be surprised that joy escapes us when we focus only on the things of this life. While we do our best to live in this world, we should always have an eye on heaven. We must fix our eternal gaze on Jesus. He pioneered the way of our redemption by his own suffering. Likewise, the loss of joy in our lives gives us the opportunity for a Christ-like selflessness that leads us and others to heavenly things.


 

In the end, when we’re feeling down, we should seek a way to become more fixated on the great good that is all around us. For most us, if you’re at all like me, we already have it better than we deserve. It can be so easy to forget that! Placing ourselves in environments of love will transform our minds and eventually our hearts and desires. Choosing to do good for others will transform our habits and allows us to forget ourselves and our problems for a while. Sadness helps us stay close to Jesus who became deeply acquainted with our pain, agony, loneliness, and suffering so that he could be intimately close to us in our brokenness.

Revelation 21:4 says, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” Jesus is always with us in our hardest moments of this life. And he constantly points us to the joy of heaven. There all pain and suffering will be forgotten and all of our desires will be completely satisfied forever. That being said, he doesn’t want our lives on earth to be only suffering, unless we have been given a special grace. It would not hurt us, however, to remember and earnestly pray the last line of the Serenity Prayer often: “That I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with you forever in the next.” Despite how we are feeling, God has an amazing plan and adventure for our lives. If we stay close to God – even through the hard times – we will find a more supreme happiness than we could ever envision or imagine.

No…Your Bible is Wrong!

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“I did something this afternoon, something I haven’t done before,” my friend Josh said last Advent. He was driving back to my apartment after a silent day retreat.

He turned out of the neighborhood and onto the interstate. Speckled gray highway rolled beneath the headlights of his car.

“I opened the Bible on the coffee table and read one of the extra books. Maccabees.” He glanced at me. “Have you read it before? Do you know why only the Catholic Church kept it in the Bible?”

“I’ve read it, but — no. I don’t know.”

As a cradle Catholic, I was at a loss. Josh is part of a non-denominational church. In recent years, he’s started asking more about Catholicism. We’ve attended Mass together, served at retreat weekends, and even had Q&A meetings with priests. Josh was just dipping into Catholicism at that point, embarking on the Christmas season; I’d been part of the Church my whole life.

And I couldn’t answer his question.


 

Through talks with Josh and my Lutheran family members, I’ve realized there’s a lot of pointing fingers when it comes to who is following God’s will in our Christian church.

The Catholic Church tends to point to itself and say: “We have the seven sacraments, the true body of Christ, the communion of saints as examples of a holy life.”

“WE have the fullness of Christ,” some of its members will conclude. Some of these people will also point to Protestants: “YOU chose to break away from the church instituted by Christ. You have no hierarchy, no spiritually appointed head for insight into divine inspiration, no one leader to gather you into a universal body. You don’t understand what you lost.”

The Protestant church points to itself and says: “WE follow God’s word in the Bible. We can confess our sins, without the mediation of another person, to God. We can lay our intentions before God Himself: we don’t need saints’ intercessions. YOU worship Mary. You hold the Pope in too much esteem; he’s just a man — Jesus is God.”

Though we remain ‘one body’ under the belief in Christ, the branches of our Christian church have varying views on the church Christ instituted. We differ in opinion on how to live out Christ’s teachings, and we no longer share even the same source of His Word. We no longer draw on the same sources of life and love.


 

One of my most shocking moments with Josh was when I shared a Bible verse with him two years ago.

It was a verse from Wisdom, “Those who trust in him shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with him in love: Because grace and mercy are with his holy ones, and his care is with the elect.” (Wisdom 3:9)

He had no idea the words I shared were from Scripture. “What is this?” he asked.

I had no good answer for him then, either, just as I didn’t this past Advent.

I’d been told the Protestant and Catholic Bibles are different. Somewhere along my journey of faith, I’d learned there are various translations of texts and a different number of books—depending on the Christian branch. We share the same 27 books of the New Testament, but while the Protestant Bible is comprised of 39 Old Testament books the Catholic version has 46 books. The additional seven books are referred to as deuterocanonical (‘second canon’) texts or, as many Protestants know them, as the Apocrypha (meaning books not inspired by God). That was the extent of my knowledge.

Josh was the first person I encountered so closely who didn’t know the Catholic Bible and its 46 books. So, in light of his question, I dove deeper. I found that in addition to Wisdom the Catholic Bible includes Tobit, Judith, 1st and 2nd Maccabees, Sirach, and Baruch—none of which can be found in a Protestant version. The Church also kept portions of Daniel and Esther.

Why? In 70 AD, when the temple of Jerusalem was destroyed, the Church began an official list of books to form the Bible. At the supposed Council of Jamnia, a Jewish council circa 100 AD, the seven deuterocanonical books were rejected for the Jews because they were not written in a certain time period. At the time there was no agreed upon, ‘closed’ Jewish scripture in the first century. The Christian councils of Rome (382 AD), Hippo (393), Carthage (397), and Florence (1442) later accepted the deuterocanonical books, acknowledging a text need not be written in a restricted time period to have come from God.

Part of the Protestant argument, though, is that Catholics added to the Old Testament and didn’t accept the deuterocanonical texts until the Council of Trent in 1546—therefore, how could these seven books be rooted in Christ?

What our Protestant family may forget is Martin Luther denied these books of the Bible. Luther assumed that, since the Jews did not include these books at the time, the books were not used when the New Testament was formed. However, most Jews and Christians were using the Greek Septuagint (the oldest Greek version of the Old Testament)—which includes the deuterocanonical books—as their Bible: when the Old Testament is quoted in the New, the verses are almost word for word from the Septuagint. The Jews later stopped using the Septuagint to distance themselves from the early Christians.

Luther and other Reformists recognized the deuterocanonical texts contradicted sola fide (‘faith alone’) theology and had reservations about their divine inspiration. Still, Luther’s original Bible translation included the deuterocanonical books in the appendix between Old and New Testaments. These parts of scripture were kept in the appendix until the 19th century, when they were removed from the Bible for the first time.

In addition to the belief these books were not accepted by the Church at the creation of the Bible, Protestants offer other reasons for the deuterocanonical books’ illegitimacy. Some cite the historical or geographical errors in Judith, the seeming claims in Sirach and 2nd Maccabees that the books are not divinely inspired, and that verses from these books aren’t quoted by Christ or his Apostles (which, when comparing passages like Matthew 27:43 to Wisdom 2:18-20 or Matthew 13:44 to Sirach 20:30, proves differently). This comes as a challenge to us to read these seven books, research Church history, study paragraphs 101-141 in the Catechism, and understand for ourselves the value of these texts.


 

St. Augustine writes, “I would not have believed the Gospel had not the authority of the Church moved me.” Whatever we read in the Bible, we take on faith—faith that it is divinely inspired, faith in the Christians who formed the book, and faith in the very existence of God. There is not hands-on certainty in the Bible’s perfection: like Christ’s identity, we take this on faith.

And so my answer to Josh is we are a broken people. Our church is a divided family, pointing fingers and doubting truths Christ instituted for the Church. Like a family, we argue. We bicker over whose version of history is most accurate. We disagree about who acted rightly in various situations.

As Catholics, going along with St. Augustine, we trust the Holy Spirit’s guidance of the Church through the last 2,000 years. But we, as the entire Christian body, have different renditions of our family heritage—in the Old and New Testament—but let us remember we are rooted in the same family name. We are Christian. We are Christ’s.