The necessity of missionary work

Those who think that because Catholics "now believe" that non-Catholics can be saved, there's no real need for missionary evangelization, don't understand the teaching of the Church regarding her role in salvation. Most who presume on this "new" way of understanding salvation tend to take their understanding from an out-of-context quote from Lumen Genitum, Vatican II"s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church:

Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.

What people don't often take the time to do is to read the entire context of this line. Only two sections earlier, the Church says:

Basing itself upon Sacred Scripture and Tradition, it teaches that the Church, now sojourning on earth as an exile, is necessary for salvation. Christ, present to us in His Body, which is the Church, is the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation. In explicit terms He Himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church.

Here we have, explicitly stated in the same document, Lumen Gentium, not only that the Church is necessary for salvation, but that baptism is necessary for salvation, as a means for entering the Church.

The problem is one of proper relation of truths. The Church has always acknowledged a hierarchy of truths, so that the various teachings are not simply unrealted statements, but rather form a cohesive whole. The teaching in Lumen Gentium that those who do not know the Gospel explicitly might still be saved needs to be understood within the larger context.

First, note what the document does not say: It does not say that salvation is available to anyone outside of the Church. The paragraph that addresses those who are ignorant of the Gospel is discussing the ways in which various people, within their own situations, might relate to the Church itself. Furthermore, the statement about people without knowledge of the Gospel is not expressing a formula by which anyone can be saved without baptism. Rather, it it acknowledging that God is not bound by baptism. It is simply a recognition that God, according as He would will it, is capable of bringing about an invisible membership in the Church for someone who, given the opportunity, would receive the Gospel eagerly and strive to live it. There is not even a teaching in Lumen Gentium that anyone who is not baptised visibly in the Church will be saved--only that, if God wills to allow it, they could be saved.

This is one of those marketing gaffs of Vatican II (many think there were more than a few) in which something was stated without making absolutely clear its relationship to the broader whole. In this case, the right way to understand salvation and the Church is this:

  1. Outside of the Church there is no salvation.
  2. Baptism is the only means that the Church knows of, by which anyone can enter into membership in the Church.
  3. We do not deny God the right and capability of bringing someone invisibly into the Church, according to means and conditions that are known only to Him.
  4. Anyone who is saved that is not visibly a member of the Church is saved because of their invisible membership in the Church and not because of any merit of actions on their part.
  5. There is not a good hope, in the general case, of #'s 3 and 4 applying; we know this both because of the importance that Christ Himself placed on baptism and on mission.

This is the right way to view the Church's teaching in Lumen Gentium, and this understanding of salvation cannot but lead to a sense of urgency regarding evangelization and mission.

Of course, for most of us, the first and most constant form of mission needs to be that of example--that we love one another as Jesus has loved us. It seems almost like a cop-out ("Hey, I don't need to actually do anything--I can just lead a life of good example.") But keep in mind how Jesus loved us: He gave his life for us.

Pray for the soul of the nation

Today marks the anniversary of our national decision to treat unborn humans as non-persons. Since then, over fifty million persons have been killed because of the inconvenience they posed to others. May God have mercy on us, and may God make fruitful the work of those who are striving to right this dreadful wrong.

Pope Francis faces significant challenge in meeting with President

In March, President Obama is scheduled to meet with Pope Francis in the Vatican. Obama's plan is clear, and has already been publicized by the press: Obama intends to leverage Pope Francis' shared concern for the poor and economically disenfranchised into a new Catholic rebound of approval for the Obama presidency. It will be interesting to see whether Pope Francis manages to prevent this from happening.

Basically, what Obama is going to try to pull off is to return to American Catholics with the message: "Look, you may disagree with me about abortion, homosexual marriage, stem-cell research, and even the rule of law; but even your pope agrees that all of these things take a back seat to economic justice." Of course, the translation of that into true Catholic language reveals this to be, at least on one level, a message that no reasonably educated Catholic could ever believe or accept. What Obama would really be saying is "Look, your pope believes that the protecting human life itself is less important than building systems of economic justice."

In spite of his emphasis on mission and dialog, I suspect the Pope is going to become a bit more circumspect in the future of his pontificate than he has been, regarding speaking informally. Who could blame him? Many Americans have interpreted some of the Pope's statements as an indication that he would like Catholics to back away from working for justice in controversial areas like saving the lives of the unborn and support for traditional marriage. Of course, Pope Francis has indicated no such thing, but the American press (and probably the world press) has a way of twisting his words and of interviewing only those who would give the Pope's words that kind of interpretation. Obama probably really believes that Pope Francis is "the President's pope," and we will all be watching to see if and how Pope Francis disabuses the President of that notion.

Drastic effects of prayer in marriage

I was listening to one of my Catholic talk shows on the radio yesterday. The guest was talking about prayer in family life. He cited an eye-opener statistic: Even though the modern divorce rate is overtaking one in two overall, the divorce rate for couples that pray together, even only occasionally, is somewhat smaller than one in eleven hundred.

Wow! If even occasionally praying together can make that big a difference within a marriage, then just think of what it could mean for all those marriages, and all those children being raised in those marriages, if every couple that professes to be Christian would just dive in and make it a point to pray together regularly!

The pro-abortion movement in America: Animal Farm in real life

The popular justifications given for abortion in America all demonstrate either a basic lack of standard scientific knowledge or an intentional decision to ignore the true parameters of the question. They usually take some form of the following:

"A woman should be allowed to make decisions about her own body."

"It's not a person because it's dependent on the mother."

"We have to allow abortions because of things like rape and incest."

"You can't legislate morality."

"You shouldn't push your religion on other people."

Each one of these is readily shown to either rely on scientifically false assumptions, draw from an incorrect notion of how society and government works, or to be addressing questions not related to the question at hand. Furthermore, the falseness or inapplicability of these statements is so readily demonstrated that one must really wonder at the fact that they continue to be the popular form of argument in favor of the continued availability of abortion.

In truth, these arguments have become mantras within the pro-abortion segment of American society. They are repeated withoutany attempt at thought or analysis. They are the equivalent of the "Four legs good, two legs bad." line taught to the sheep for repetition in George Orwell's Animal Farm.

Unfortunately, because they keep getting repeated, we need to keep answering them. Even though we feel like we're repeating the same arguments timelessly, even though our own arguments almost threaten to become mantras, we need to be ready to engage these arguments on their own level. The people who repeat these lines have not given much thought to the issue or to what they're saying, so we need to invite them to think and not just repudiate their ignorance.

Most Christians know and undestand this. However, there are three arguments for abortion that could very easily grow out of the direction our culture is taking, that if proposed we would have a hard time combatting without reference to a particular religious outlook. In a pluralistic, secularized society that has turned to selfishness as the popular religion, it will be all but impossible to overcome the extensions of these three arguments into the popular culture. The implications of these arguments are such that even the most irreligious among us today would draw back in horror; however, our culture is moving in a direction where selfishness, if not reigned in, will eventually overcome that horror.

The first is that we should not be acknowledging such a thing as morality in the interactions of human beings; rather, we just need to construct and maintain a system of laws and regulations that benefits society as a whole. In this philosophy, the individual human being doesn't matter so much as the collective mass of humans. If a society as a whole sees fit to place one group of humans at the convenience of another, to the overal benefit of that society, then that is what the society should do. Ultimately, without a telelogy of the human being, this is the only philosophically sound conclusion about morality. For this reason, this is the only ultimately acceptable approach to morality for athiests. Many athiests will object, but that is only because they are unwilling to accept the necessary consequences of the religion they have chosen. You might call them "cafeteria athiests." However, selfishness will eventually win out, and as society sees opportunity in the exploitation of the few (especially the few who can't speak for themselves) for the comfort of the many, people will lose their moral squeemishness.

The second is that personhood is not a property of the human being, but rather is an emergent attribute of the human being. In this argument, human beings acquire personhood as part of the developmental process. This argument, if it succeeds, will require some non-arbitrary measure of personhood, and traveling through the birth canal will not serve as this measure. While it seems horrific to most people, this argument has already been proposed. If society adopts this philosophy of personhood, it will mean that parents will be free to "abort" their parenthood up to several years after the child's birth, to whenever some specific measure of personhood can be performed.

The third argument is simliar to the first, but without the need for an outright rejection of the teleology of the human being. The third argument would grant that personhood, and therefore moral value, is proper to the human being; however, it would propose that the moral value of the person is such that the convenience of some persons warrants sacrificing the lives of other persons. This is, perhaps, the most dangerous of the arguments, because it could easily be used to justify abortion without requiring the necessary extention in to post-birth infanticide. In the case of this argument, the birth of a baby is not arbitrary, because the visibility of the child, along with our emotional/psychological/anthropological drive to protect children shifts the balance so that post-birth abortion of parenthood is much less "convenient" than pre-birth abortions. However, such a philosophy, along with the amoralistic/atheistic philosophy mentioned above, would have a very difficult time bringing any serious condemnation against other social evils, such as labor slavery, sex slave marketing, etc.

In any case, these philosophies are waiting in the wings, ready to take their place on the stage of American culture. The more we are dulled to the horror of abortion itself, even though the current arguments for it are transparently shallow and false, the more readily these deeper, more insidious ideologies will infest our culture and usher in an era of horror that most of us have barely considered.