4

Nostra Hominum Vita

There has been and will likely continue to be a fair amount of “digital ink” spilled over the 50th anniversary of Humane Vitae and its impact on modern culture; or should I say the impact of its rejection.

Humanae Vitae means “Human Life” in Latin. Nostra Hominum Vita means “our human life”. I’m normally a Big Picture kind of guy, looking more at the metaphorical forest, but for the 50th anniversary I wanted to share something about a couple of “trees” …namely my wife and I

The following is (basically) an excerpt from my book, Faith with Good Reason; and was born of the marriage ministry at our local parish. One of the things my wife and I have done for engaged couples at our parish over the years is give a talk on sex and intimacy. We relate how human sexuality relates to Theology of the Body, which relates to how we are made in the image and likeness of God, which relates to the way God loves.

God is pure spirit and our souls are pure spirit. God has both a will and an intellect, as do we. The Holy Trinity is another way that is not so intuitive, but perhaps the most profound. One way to think of God or the Trinity is as an eternal exchange of love. From the perfect and eternal exchange of love between the Father and the Son proceeds a third person called the Holy Spirit. How can that possibly be like us? In the union of Holy Matrimony, the love between a man and a woman generates a third person called…a baby. The purpose of sexual desire is not only propagation, but also the very power to love as God loves. 1

The above Trinity connection tends to raise some eyebrows (in a good way). From there we ask the group to consider the Catholic wedding vows:

 

  • Have you come here freely? God loves freely, so we should love freely. Love is an act of the will that cannot be forced. “No one takes it from me (my life), but I lay it down on my own” (John 10:18).
  • Will you honor each other as man and wife for the rest of your lives? God holds nothing back in loving us totally and permanently. “…he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).
  • Will you accept children lovingly from God? God’s love is always fruitful and brings life. Marriage does the same. “…I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). “Be fertile and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen 9:1).

We explain that procreation is an indispensable part of marriage and the one flesh union should always be something totally self-giving that holds nothing back; it should be “God-like”. When procreation is mentioned as part of marriage, even on only a theological level, infertile couples are sometimes called out on the carpet. For example, why are infertile couples allowed to marry in the eyes of God and the Church and not gay couples? We explain that an infertile male and female union is still of the same procreative “type” just like any male and female union.

Ponder a baseball analogy for a moment. A baseball team is orientated to winning baseball games. Even if they never win a game, no matter how much they try, they are still a baseball team and are always allowed on the baseball diamond. A football team also never wins a baseball game, but a football team is not relevant to winning baseball games and is not allowed on the baseball field, neither is a soccer team, or any other kind of team other than a baseball team.

We then share about “nostra hominum vita” (our human life) ….

My wife and I explain NFP (Natural Family Planning) and how we have used it our entire marriage. We have three children and used NFP to help achieve our first pregnancy; and our son was born about eighteen months after our wedding. Not long after, we used NFP again to achieve our second pregnancy. Our first daughter was born twenty-five months after our son. Around this time a co-worker said something to me (in jest).

  • Co-worker: Nicely done; you have your boy and your girl. You’re getting “fixed” now, right?
  • Me: I’m not broken.
  • Co-worker: Sounds like something is working a little too well.
  • Me: I’ll see a doctor about a medical procedure when something is wrong with me, not when things are normal.

We both laughed, but it brings up the point that we treat fertility much like a disease; we get prescriptions, have surgery and buy “gadgets” to stop it. If fertility is a gift designed by God, it would be unreasonable to treat it this way. Going beyond unreasonable, we have reached the point where not using artificial contraception is viewed as ignorant and irresponsible. My wife and I take the precise opposite view. Many are ignorant about natural law and irresponsible about sex, so what is the result in terms of contraception? No birth and no control.

Once couples hear the logic, they may think it’s a nice theory that perhaps belongs in the heavens somewhere, but it’s not practical for real people living on Earth. We then get into the practical benefits of NFP, which have helped us.

More knowledge fosters better family planning:

It’s not only for avoiding pregnancy and spacing children, but also achieving pregnancy. When a couple has trouble conceiving, one of the first things a doctor may do is have them try some aspects of NFP. You’ll know if you’re pregnant before a doctor can know. Many women miscarry without even knowing they were pregnant. We knew we were pregnant with our third child not long after conception and noticed some unusual signs, so my wife consulted with a doctor. A prescription to boost a hormone may have prevented the miscarriage of our youngest daughter.

It’s “Green”:

It’s free and natural. In fact, there are those who use NFP simply because they prefer to do things naturally instead of artificially (no theological reason). It’s really just common sense. Ironically, as we become more health conscious, we’ll avoid natural things like fat, salt, sugar and pay extra for organic foods, but at the same time gladly encourage women to pump themselves with artificial hormones via pills and patches.

Better Communication:

It fosters better communication between couples. NFP couples have very low divorce rates. Think about it; whether avoiding or achieving pregnancy, if you’re going to be intimate with each other, you’ll need to stay in intimate communication on a regular basis.

Better with Time:

We experienced how a women’s cycle can become more regular after having children, which makes NFP easier to do. As you start having children, spacing them out can become more and more important, so the woman’s cycle becomes easier to read. God knows what he’s doing when He designs something. Also, if avoiding pregnancy, the cycles of abstaining and being together mirror a natural dating-honeymoon cycle that continually breathes new life into a marriage.

From here we get more into the two purposes of sex that should not be separated—babies and bonding. We use an analogy with food. Food has two purposes; nutrition and social bonding. Suppose you go to a party for pleasure and eat all the food you want, but you don’t want all those calories, so you head over to the restroom afterwards and make yourself throw up. That’s not the purpose of food! Now consider the other extreme; suppose a new one-a-day pill was invented which would provide all the nutrition you would ever need, and you decided never to eat again. No restaurants, no party food, no dining with family and friends, nothing at holidays, no food ever. This would disorder your social life. We also explain how NFP is not like artificial contraception when avoiding pregnancy because you are using the gift of fertility the way God designed it. It’s the difference between intentionally blocking something vs. just not participating in something.

Relating Back to The Big Picture:

If marriage is for the personal happiness and pleasure of two individuals, then having children is obviously an unnecessary by-product, and we are currently reaping the consequences of this lie. The Truth is that marriage is meant to be unitive, procreative, mutually-exclusive and permanent and none of these aspects can be intentionally separated. This is not true because the Catholic Church teaches it. The Catholic Church teaches it because it’s true!

When we look throughout salvation history we see a reoccurring theme that is really a reoccurring question. It started with Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden and continued with Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, all the Israelites, the kings of Israel, all the way up to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. The question was and still is: Will you trust God?

My wife and I were also in a “trusting” situation with “nostra hominum vita”. When we started NFP all we had was a Church teaching in one hand and an NFP class we took in the other. No one we knew was using NFP. No family; no friends. It was hard at times, so we had to face the question head on more than once; will you trust God? We did, and we are forever grateful!

 

  1. Christopher West, Theology of the Body for Beginners (West Chester: Ascension Press, 2004), pp. 27-29.

 

28

What Would Jesus Do…About Priestesses?

A former associate pastor at my parish once addressed a question about offering communion to anyone who would like to receive it by relating it to the question “What would Jesus do?” He said to consider a slightly different question; “What did Jesus do?” If the last The Last Supper was essentially the first Eucharist, it seems Jesus was very particular about who was in attendance and thus able to receive; much different than the Eucharistic foreshadowing that occurred at the multiplication of loaves in today’s Gospel reading, which was kind of a free for all (see John 6:1-15).

There were also no women at The Last Supper, which is a strange thing according to this article I happened upon about the Passover Seder meal. Apparently, Jesus broke with tradition and did not celebrate the Passover with family even though Jewish tradition holds that the mothers of the house and the children have an important role to play. Why would Jesus not invite his female relatives and followers? Not even his mother. No doubt he would have been with them at previous seder meals and knowing this would be his last, wouldn’t it have been even more appropriate to invite them all? It all points to the fact that his was no ordinary seder. This time he was conferring the Eucharist and the priesthood to his apostles and to no one else; this is the most reasonable explanation.

The Church is clear about the ordination of only men to the priesthood (see CCC, par. 1577). Jesus and his followers chose men to be their successors. Some might say that is only because they were bound by the times; people in those days would never accept women as leaders. But if Jesus is Lord then he is not “bound” by anything unless he chooses to be, like choosing to feel hunger, thirst and pain just like we do; and I don’t think he cares so much what people think in terms of social norms. It seems to me that if Jesus really wanted women to be his successors it would have happened.

Men as priests also connects with the idea that being male or female is not only a physical reality, but also a spiritually reality. As a priest, the man acts in the person of Jesus offering the Eucharist to his Church, which is literally the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ under the appearance of bread and wine. If Jesus is “The Life”, then this giving and receiving of Jesus mirrors the giving and receiving that happens between a husband and his wife to bring about new life. No wonder the Catholic Church takes the definition of marriage so seriously!

If we view male and female as something only physical, we miss the greater reality. This not only leads to thinking a male-only priesthood is evidence of bigotry and a way to suppress woman, but also leads to confusion about marriage, gender and a whole host of other Church teachings on what it means to made in the image an likeness of God.

“For, once the idea is abroad that the changeless things can be subject to change, no peace is possible”

– David Warren

4

Fr. Rutler’s Analysis of the “Innovative Mathematics of Fr. Antonio Spadaro”

“The method employed I would gladly explain,
While I have it so clear in my head,
If I had but the time and you had but the brain–
But much yet remains to be said.

“In one moment I’ve seen what has hitherto been
Enveloped in absolute mystery,
And without extra charge I will give you at large
A Lesson in Natural History.”–
Lewis Carroll, “The Hunting of the Snark”

 

`And you do Addition?’ the White Queen asked. `What’s one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one?’
`I don’t know,’ said Alice. `I lost count.’
`She can’t do Addition,’ the Red Queen interrupted. `Can you do Subtraction? Take nine from eight.’
`Nine from eight I can’t, you know,’ Alice replied very readily: `but — ‘
`She can’t do Subtraction,’ said the White Queen. —Lewis Caroll, “Through the Looking Glass”

 

If we don’t get the numbers right, we won’t get much else right.  Fr. George Rutler, “The Mathematical Innovations of Father Antonio Spadaro”, Crisis Magazine, 22 February, 2018.

One reason I converted at a late age to the Catholic faith rather than some Protestant sect, was the rational component in Catholic teaching.  As Pope St. John Paul II aptly put it, “Man is carried to the truth on the two wings of faith and reason.”    I am distressed by recent efforts by some high in the Vatican hierarchy to replace reason with feeling.   One critical analysis of such attempts  is a fine article by Father George Rutler, “The Mathematical Innovations of Father Antonio Spadaro” (linked in the quote above).  In addition to his scathing analysis of Fr. Spadaro’s attempt to supervene logic, Fr. Rutler gives a very nice account of what mathematics is all about, one that even mathphobes like my wife can appreciate.  I’ll quote from that part of the article that deals with Fr. Spadaro’s pseudo-logic (note: “pseudo,” meaning “false”;  not “quasi,” meaning “almost”):

“Father Antonio Spadaro, a close associate of Pope Francis, raised eyebrows in July 2017 when he described religious life in the United States, with such confidence that can come only from a profound knowledge of a subject or a total lack of it. Father Spadaro advises the Holy Father, who had never visited the United States before becoming pope. In an essay in Civilta Cattolica called “Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism,” Father Spadaro spoke with disdain of a cabal formed by Evangelicals and Catholics motivated by a “triumphalist, arrogant, and vindictive ethnicism” which is creating an “apocalyptic geopolitics.” Religious fundamentalists behind this plot have included Nixon, Reagan, Bush, and Trump who is a Manichaean. The co-author of this imaginative literary exercise was a Protestant minister, Marcelo Figuero who is editor-in-chief of the new Argentinian edition of L’Osservatore Romano to which office he brings the rich systematic theology of Argentinian Presbyterianism. The two authors were rhetorically florid in denouncing Yankee racism, obscurantism, and fascism, so unlike the temperate history of Spadaro’s own peninsula and Figuero’s Argentinian utopia. If they want to condescend to the USA, they need a loftier platform.

Then in October 2017 Father Spadaro said in Boston, “It is no longer possible to judge people on the basis of a norm that stands above all.” The suggestion is that a mathematical principle of uncertainty also applies to theology where all is in flux and subjective.

Later, in a well publicized comment on “Twitter” which operates according to stable and constant principles of applied engineering, Father Spadaro typed: “In theology 2 + 2 can equal 5. Because it has to do with God and the real life of people…” To put a charitable gloss on that, he may have simply meant theology applied to pastoral situations where routine answers of manualists may be inadequate. But he has made his arithmetic a guide to dogma, as when he said in his Boston speech that couples living in “irregular” family situations “can be living in God’s grace, can love and also grow in a life of grace.” Yet, despite his concern for freedom of thought and expression, Father Spadaro has recently expressed sympathy for calls to censor Catholic television commentators who insist that 2+2 = 4.

There are two things to consider here. First, some clergy of Father Spadaro’s vintage grew up in a theological atmosphere of “Transcendental Thomism.” Aquinas begins the Summa Theologica asserting in the very first Question, four times, that theology has a greater certitude than any other science. While it gives rise to rhymes and song, it is solid science, indeed the Queen of Sciences. Transcendental Thomism was Karl Rahner’s attempt to wed Thomistic realism with Kantian idealism. Father Stanley Jaki, theologian and physicist, called this stillborn hybrid “Aquikantianism.” But if stillborn, its ghosts roam corridors of ecclesiastical influence. This really is not theology but theosophy, as romantic as Teilhard de Chardin, as esoteric as a Rosicrucian, and as soporific as the séances of Madame Blavatsky. The second point is that not all cultures have an instinct for pellucid expression. The Italian language is so beguiling that it can create an illusion that its rotundity is profundity, and that its neologisms are significant. When it is used to calling you a “Cattolico Integralista” or a “Restauratore” the cadences almost sound like a compliment. Even our Holy Father, who often finds relief from his unenviable burdens by using startling expressions, said on June 19, 2016: “We have a very creative vocabulary for insulting others.”

In saying that 2+2=5, Father Spadaro preserves a familiar if deluded intuition, and trailing behind him is a long line of children who in countless schoolrooms have been made to stand in corners for having made that mistake. A famous use of it was in George Orwell’s Ninety Eighty-Four speaking of its dystopia: ‘In the end the Party would announce that two and two, made five and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later; the logic of their position demanded it … the very existence of external reality, was tacitly denied by their philosophy.’ “

See here for the rest of the article.

This escape from rationality is to me possibly as frightening as the retreat from established Catholic teaching on marriage, family and the sanctity of life.   If one cannot use rational argument, but only how one feels about something, as a basis for how one should act, then anything is justified.

22

Analyzing a Christian Tirade

When writing about Catholic Faith & Reason on the blogosphere, you might think the longest rants and tirades against such writings come from militant atheists. Many do, but from my experience, many also come from non-Catholic Christians.

I normally do not engage these challenges because I find them too time consuming and seemingly fruitless, but I thought I’d share just one small part of such a tirade in order to demonstrate how you don’t need a lot of theology or Scripture references to refute them.

WARNING: What you are about to read is a direct attack on the Eucharist, and you may find the commenter’s lack of faith & reason disturbing. ***********************************************************************************************************

“I challenge you to an on-line debate at your website on the Eucharist. The madness of this doctrine must be confronted head-on. The Roman Catholic Church claims that the Council of Trent was infallible. However, if it can be shown that they made even one factual error, the claim for infallibility falls to the ground and all Catholic doctrines fall right along with it. The Catechism says, ‘Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly His body He was offering under the species of bread’ (CCC 1376).

No, he did not say any such thing. Trent’s first error was the brazen lie of telling us Jesus said something, when he didn’t. What they did do is tell us what they THINK he meant and then quote him as if he had said so! This is dishonest. Such behavior would not be tolerated by any school of journalism, let alone are we to tolerate it coming from a self-proclaimed ‘infallible’ church council.”

My Thoughts: What is in CCC #1376 is not a direct quote from Scripture; it’s quoting the Council writings. The writers of the Catechism and the Council are teaching with authority about what “This is my body” means (Luke 22:19). Anyone is free to debate any authority and its source, but this is not about lying or a mistaken quote. After the Ascension of Christ, the Apostles and their descendants told others what Jesus said, agreed? They had no New Testament Scriptures to quote from for many, many years, agreed? So how did they teach others what Jesus said? They taught authoritatively by word of mouth (not by Scripture); what Catholics call Oral Tradition or Scared Tradition. This is really about what Jesus meant, as opposed to what was literally said. If your father was no longer around and left nothing in writing, and you then taught your younger brothers and sisters “what Dad said” without direct quotes, does this make you a brazen liar?

***********************************************************************************************************

 “The second offense was asserting that Jesus was offering himself in sacrifice right there at the table, when the Text indicates no such thing.   Trent teaches, ‘At the Last Supper, on the night He was betrayed [He] offered up to God the Father His own body and blood under the form of bread and wine…’

Reader, that is a bold-faced lie. Jesus offered up His body ‘on the tree’, per 1 Peter 2:24…i.e., at the cross, no sooner and no later; and certainly not at the Last Supper, and definitely not at any Mass going on today.  Awake!  Jesus said he desired to eat the Passover ‘before I suffer’ (Luke 22:15). That being so, he did not suffer and offer himself in sacrifice to God the Father at the dinner table before he went to the cross!”

My Thoughts: The Church teaches that Jesus offered himself on the cross AND at the last supper AND at every Mass. CCC #1367 “The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: ‘The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different.’ ‘And since in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner. . . this sacrifice is truly propitiatory.’”

Is the Church correct or incorrect? Who is to say and by what authority? It seems to always come back to this question.

***********************************************************************************************************

“Their third offense was stealing the word ‘truly’ from John 6:53 (‘Truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man…’) but irresponsibly transporting the word ‘truly’ over to the Last Supper account, where he did not ‘truly’ affirm that at all.”

My Thoughts: See above thoughts.

***********************************************************************************************************

“Instead of letting the Bible breathe on its own, Trent has quoted Jesus out of context. Even if Transubstantiation were true, we are quite sure the Lord would not take kindly to putting words in his mouth.   Need it be said that David required only one stone to kill Goliath?   In like manner, all it takes is just one stone of error to classify Catholicism as counterfeit Christianity.

Since the claim of infallibility is now exposed as false, so too must the doctrine of Transubstantiation be false. This means that Jesus was not speaking literally when he told us to ‘eat my flesh and drink my blood’, but rather, metaphorically. Essentially, ‘eating and drinking’ are synonymous with ‘believing in Christ’ because they both produce the same result: namely, eternal life!”

My Thoughts: Now we get into the crux of the matter. The Bible does not “breathe on its own”. It is people who “breath” and people who teach. The commenter declares that Jesus was speaking metaphorically, but Jesus says no such thing. Why doesn’t he let the Bible “breathe on its own” instead of telling us what he THINKS Jesus meant? The Bible is clear “This is my Body” (Luke 22:19). When God says something is…it is.

I’ll go out on a limb and say the commenter believes that all matters of Christian doctrine and practice should be based on the Bible alone (Sola Scriptura). Anyone who accepts the false teaching of Sola Scriptura first runs into a contradiction and most likely does not realize it. The problem is that this doctrine is not found in the Bible (it’s unbiblical), so you need some other non-biblical source of authority to declare it, which means it violates Sola Scriptura. If this wasn’t clear enough, the Bible itself points us to another authority. In 1Timothy 3:15 the pillar and foundation of Truth is said to be the Church, not Scripture.

Secondly, Scripture is subject to human interpretation. Bible Christians do not use the Bible alone; they use the Bible along with whatever interpretations and traditions their leaders give them. Jesus actually founded one, and only one, universal Church for everybody; a visible and authoritative Church that uses imperfect men, together with the Holy Spirit, to guide us in faith and morals. If there really is a God, He would provide a way for us to know what is true without deterioration from human interpretation. A good Father would not just leave a book behind for us to figure out; a good Father would not leave His children as orphans. He would give us a Catholic, or universal, Church.

So in the last analysis, Jesus founded a Church…not a book. The next time you hear someone say the Catholic Church is not infallible ask, “Are you infallible about that?”