Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Question About Homosexual Marriage

I was doing some cleaning in one of my old (2009) attempts at blogging and I found an answer I gave to one of our very inquisitive cathecumens. I thought my answer was worth posting, so I added to my old blog. Since I feel it is still relevant, here it is. First is the e-mail I received followed by my answer:

2) My second question is about homosexuality and gay marriage. This is not just related to Catholics, but is an issue being dealt with in many Christian churches. Coming from the Episcopal Church I am very aware of how deeply divisive the issue is, but I can't help but see it as a human rights issue. I understand the biblical arguments, particularly those from the Old Testament, but following the argument of St. Paul when dealing with the Jerusalem Church, those laws, especially from Leviticus no longer apply. Christian men do not have to be circumcised; we are allowed to eat pork, lobster, shark, rabbit and ostrich; modern Christian's do not believe that it is OK to hold slaves.

I also understand that St. Paul himself addresses and condemns this issue in one of his letters. The problem is he was not talking about two consenting adults entering into a mutually supportive consenting relationship. Rather he was talking about the very unequal ancient Greek practice of older men having relationships with young boys, as well as the practice of cult prostitution.

... The point is more that I don't think this statement from Paul applies to the current situation and so we are left without much scriptural guidance on a very controversial issue.

There are a number of points in your question. I hope I can cover them all! First it seems to me that you have 3 ideas in your mind:
1) Scripture’s and Church stance on homosexuality
2) Scripture’s and Church stance on Gay marriage
3) The place of Scripture on solving moral questions

Let me see if I can address them all. The claim that Christians are against gay marriage because of what scripture says can be attributed to the many evangelicals which use the scriptural passages you mentioned to justify their stance against the relaxation of the definition of marriage from “one man and one woman” to just “two people”. Now here let me first make an observation. This might surprise you but: The Bible never speaks directly against gay marriage. It directly speaks against homosexual acts, but it never even mentions the case of a marriage between two people of the same sex. This is not to say that scripture condones gay marriage since every time it refers to marriage it assumes the reader knows that what is meant is the covenantal union of one man and one woman. The reason for this is because natural law is implicit in scripture. The order God placed in creation existed before scripture. Since this law is written in our hearts there is no need to be specific on matters of natural law, although sometimes scripture IS very specific in these matters.

Now for our Protestant brothers and sisters, (Especially those who believe in “Sola Scripturae”) this is problematic. Since their argument falls flat on the face when confronted with the reasons you presented. For the Catholic Church it is a different story all together. Like in scripture, the Church condemns the homosexual act, but it does not condemn homosexuals. The moniker “Hate the sin but love the sinner” applies in this case. People with homosexual tendencies are called to live a life of chastity (in the same way all heterosexuals are called to live this life.) The CCC teaches:

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

Having established this… What about homosexual marriage? If scripture is silent about this issue what to do? Why does the Church advocate a ban on the so called “Homosexual Marriage.” Like you said isn’t this a matter of just human rights? To answer this, the Catholic Church turns first to natural law. Starting from the simple question “What is the natural order of creation?” The CCC teaches that:

1603 "The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws. . . . God himself is the author of marriage."The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator. Marriage is not a purely human institution despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures, and spiritual attitudes. These differences should not cause us to forget its common and permanent characteristics. Although the dignity of this institution is not transparent everywhere with the same clarity, some sense of the greatness of the matrimonial union exists in all cultures. "The well-being of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of conjugal and family life."

This natural order is affirmed in scripture, to quote the CCC again:

1605 Holy Scripture affirms that man and woman were created for one another: "It is not good that the man should be alone." The woman, "flesh of his flesh," his equal, his nearest in all things, is given to him by God as a "helpmate"; she thus represents God from whom comes our help. "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh." The Lord himself shows that this signifies an unbreakable union of their two lives by recalling what the plan of the Creator had been "in the beginning": "So they are no longer two, but one flesh."

So as you can see if we look at the order of creation and what God has revealed we can conclude that the union between one man and one woman is ontological. It is part of who we are.

Once this is established we can make the argument that in fact gay marriage IS a human rights issue. Because any attempt to alter the order of creation will have a negative effect in the rights of the human person, and society (take for example paternity, children have the right to a one father and one mother. Anything else would be a violation of their rights as members of the human species). The common good demands that the marriage between one man and one woman be protected since it is a fundamental element of who we are as creatures and as a society.

I hope this helps

Saturday, July 20, 2013

16th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle C)

  I had a very nice homily prepared about Mary and Martha, and about how to be a real disciple and then I sat in front of my computer and saw this headline:

“Vatican offers 'time off purgatory' to followers of Pope Francis tweets”

  Since I figure, some of you might get asked about this, today I will give a quick refresher on Indulgences.

  First: What triggered such headlines?  On June 24 the Vatican issued a document stating that those who receive reconciliation, the Eucharist, pray for the intention of the Pope and follow the events of World Youth Day devoutly,  (happening in Brazil from July 22-29)  either in person or electronically (TV, Radio, Internet) will receive an indulgence.

  Now I want this to be very clear: It is not just following the Pope on tweeter which gains us this indulgence, we need to actively participate in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church to receive this spiritual gift.

  You might be thinking: Why does the Church insists in embarrassing us? Aren’t indulgences a medieval leftover from a period of our history we rather forget? To which I would answer: There is no doubt that there was a time when indulgences were abused by some in the Church. However, the fact is: a teaching does not become invalid because some people abuse it. Indulgences still play a very important role in the spiritual life of Catholics. This is why the Pope Francis, using his authority as the successor of Peter granted this special privilege during World Youth day.

  What is an indulgence?  Well, I could use a lot of “theology talk”, but, I rather explain them like this: indulgences free us from our attachments to sins in the same way exercising free us from our attachment to gravity.  What do I mean? Let me explain: every time we sin two things happen: We offend God and we hurt ourselves. When the priest absolves us from our sins he applies the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross as payment. If we are truly repentant, in the eyes of God we are guilty no more. In a more personal level however, every time we sin, especially if it is a sin we commit frequently, like gossiping or visiting some web sites, we gain what I will call “spiritual fat”, we develop an attachment to certain sins to the point that we become enslaved by them.  With time these become part of our personality in the same way, eating doughnuts becomes part of our waist line; we which we could be lighter, but our sins make us spiritually heavy and sluggish.

   An indulgence is like an exercise plan to get rid of all the extra spiritual weight we have accumulated, to help us loose our attachments to sin. Why is losing this is important? Because we know that nothing impure can enter the presence of God, and attachment to sins is the primary cause why we remain impure why we can not reach holiness. Either in this life or the next one we will have to lose all those spiritual pounds we put on in life before we can see God face to face.

   So what will happen if I have never received and indulgence? Nothing, we Catholics believe that before we enter into the glory of God we have to cleanse ourselves of all sinful attachments in purgatory anyway; however, indulgences are a way of starting this process while we are alive. But not only this, (and this is where indulgences were abused in the middle ages) we can apply these indulgences to our deceased loved ones, so they can become pure and enter in the presence of God, in the same way we pray for their eternal rest after their passing.

   Now, in case you are thinking the Church made all this stuff up, there is very strong scriptural basis for this teaching. You will not find the word indulgence in the bible, but that is not a problem since, we cannot encounter the terms Trinity, or Original sin either. What we find in scripture is this idea of purifying ourselves before entering in the presence of God and the idea that personal sacrifices help, not only us but the entire body of Christ.

  One of the places to see this second point happens to be in today’s 2nd reading. Paul says “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church” (Col 1:24). As a Christian Saint Paul, like us, believed that Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross was enough to pay the price of all the sins ever committed in the past, present and future. If this is the case, isn’t he contradicting this doctrine in this passage? Unless he believed that the afflictions he suffered completed not what was lacking in Christ sacrifice of the cross but was is lacking on us, what is preventing us from enjoying the rewards of this sacrifice. It is obvious that Paul believed sacrifices, and spiritual disciplines have an effect in our spiritual life and in the life of other members of the Church. The indulgence declared by Pope Francis is nothing more than a plan for us to follow and help us enjoy the rewards of Jesus sacrifice.

  The last thing I’ll like to say is this, Indulgences are not some medieval invention, or an easy way to skip purgatory. They require sacrifice, discipline and prayer, they are part of our faith, and they are there as a gift from  God who desires to meet each one us, face to face in heaven. So in this special time of grace, during the upcoming World Youth Day, I invite you to take advantage of these spiritual gifts and to continue moving forward our final goal which is, eternity in the presence of God.  AMEN!

EDIT: Folks, Jimmy Akin, Catholic Apologist extraordinaire just posted  a very informative article which complements very nicely with my homily. It even covers areas I had to leave out because of time constraints.

Monday, July 15, 2013

When Engineers Get Bored: Engineering Students are at it Again!

Well folks, the Engineering students at the University of Toronto have accomplished the seemingly impossible: A human powered helicopter. Of course this is a prototype, and the sheer size of this apparatus makes it unpractical,  but Orville and Wilbur would be proud of them (and I thing there are reports that Leonardo Da'Vinci just sat up in his grave).

 Here is the video:

Viva Cristo Rey!!


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Miracles, Science and Divine Intervention

Miracles have been in the news lately. The Vatican just announced the approval of a bonafide miracle (after a long investigation by doctors and theologians) of a woman in Costa Rica who was healed by the direct intercession of  Blessed John Paul II, as the second miracle needed for his canonization. The Catholic Herald website reports that:

   A Costa Rican woman has told how she recovered from a brain aneurysm after praying to Blessed Pope John Paul II – the second miracle attributed to the pontiff, who died in 2005.
   According to Floribeth Mora Diaz, she was told by doctors in May 2011 that her condition meant she only had days to live. After receiving the news she returned to her home in Costa Rica’s Cartago province and while praying to John Paul II in her small bedroom she heard him say: “Rise! Don’t be afraid.”
   Mora said that the incident occurred after she returned from the doctor’s and watched the beatification of the former pope on television. As she prayed, she heard his voice speak to her from his picture on the cover of a magazine.

  After the incident, Mora’s condition rapidly improved and doctors could not explain the reason for this. According to Reuters, her neurosurgeon, Alejandro Vargas, admits Mora’s condition was potentially fatal, but says he predicted only a two percent chance that it would kill her.

Not only JPII is getting a miracle attributed to his intercession but also the Venerable Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, the second leader of Opus Dei, has been credited with a miraculous healing.  It was reported that in 2003 a newborn who suffered a major cardiac arrest and was declared dead, came back to life after his parents prayed for Bishop del Portillo's help. This time it is EWTN News who gives more information.

The miracle involves the August 2003 healing of Chilean newborn Jose Ignacio Ureta Wilson. A few days after his birth, the boy suffered a 30-minute period of cardiac arrest and a major hemorrhage.
The medical team treating the baby thought he had already died, but his parents prayed for healing through the intercession of the bishop.
The baby’s heart started to beat again and he recovered to live a normal life.

Of course the media commentators did not miss the opportunity to give their "expert" opinion on these cases, which could be reduced to "What is all the fuss, this happens all the time". The LA Times published an article by Lawrence Krauss, which was linked to by no other than the Richard Dawkins web site (The internet hub for all things atheist). The article stated:

There are many medical results we do not understand. Spontaneous remission of cancer, for example, occurs in a reliable but small fraction of the population; no immediate explanation can be presented on a case-by-case basis.

The problem, however, is that when one examines the spontaneous remission rates in the general population from diseases such as cancer, the rate is actually higher than that reported among the Lourdes pilgrims. (*Sagan pointed this out, but others have also compared medical reports and Lourdes reports.) Thus, if you bathe in the Lourdes waters, you apparently have a smaller likelihood of being spontaneously cured than others who have not.

*NOTE : That would be Carl Sagan of NOVA and Cosmos fame)

Blessed JPII and Venerable Bishop del Portillo
The LA Times article makes some very good points... about the wrong things. If you go back and read closely Ms. Mora's and young Jose Ignatius' healings were not a random event, like the spontaneous cures used as counter arguments by the LA times. These miracles were the result of prayer triggered by the desperation of the faithful. Completely different events than say someone who wakes up one morning and finds themself free of cancer.

The point I'm trying to make is that the LA Times explicitly uses a rather limited definition of miracle, first proposed by medieval philosopher's Baruch Spinosa; for whom a miracle was "a violation of the order of nature" ("Tract. Theol. Polit.", vi). Catholics have a much broader view of what constitutes a miraculous event. To quote Aquinas: "Those effects are rightly to be termed miracles which are wrought by Divine power apart from the order usually observed in nature" (Contra Gent., III, cii). The LA Times focuses the attention of the reader on the seeming violation of natural order; the instantaneous healing of a sick (or dead) person, while for the Church this violation is not enough to be declared a miracle. The event needs to happen within a religious context.

As a man of science, I'll admit there is some probability that there is a natural mechanism we do not yet understand, perhaps a sort of biological trigger, which, under the correct set of conditions would actuate the spontaneous healing of  a brain aneurism or even jump-start a heart that was paralyzed for 30 minutes. Who knows if in the future doctors would be able to use this mechanism routinely.

As a religious person I understand that God uses what we call "randomness" to interact with His creation, at His own will and pleasure. I also understand that God hears the prayers of all those who call for his help, even those without faith. Who knows, perhaps all those unexplained healings referred to by Krauss are just the result of this type of "unbeliever prayer".

As a Catholic I know that the intercessory prayers of many or even a few (In these cases the few included JPII and Bishop del Portillo) have a tremendous influence on the way God interacts with His creation.  I also understand that the miracles approved by the Vatican were not just spontaneous healings but the results of faithful prayer from those seeking God's help, and actuated by God's desire to bring glory to Himself through His creation.

For Catholics, it is not enough to have an unexplained event to be able to declare this event as a Miracle. Events which are seen to depart from the usual order observed in nature, although strange and even beneficial in some cases are not in themselves miracles. The Catholic Encyclopedia article on Miracles expresses this idea:

In referring the miracle to God as its efficient cause the answer is given to the objection that the miracle is unnatural, i.e., an un-caused event without meaning or place in nature. With God as the cause, the miracle has a place in the designs of God's Providence (Contra Gent. III, xcviii).

The difference between these two understandings of miracles (Spinosa vs Aquinas, LA Times vs Catholic Church) is very important.  Think about this for a second: what would happen if in 20 years or so medical science were to discover how to trigger a currently unknown biological mechanism which will cause the healing events Ms. Mora and young Jose Ignatius experienced? According to Spinosa's and Mr. Krauss's idea of a miracle, since now we understand and can repeat the natural conditions to trigger the healing for someone with the same type of condition, this event was just an act of incredible luck, which did not require divine intercession. This will put into question the infallible sainthood declaration (Canonizations are considered infallible declarations) of two servants of God, JPII and Bishop del Portico.

By using Aquinas idea of a miracle the Church avoids the dependency on an inexplicable event which could be explained later as our understanding of the natural world expands. Under this view the healings of  Ms. Mora and young Jose Ignatius were not triggered randomly, they were the result of a direct petition for intercessory help.

There is nothing miraculous about the result of some random event. But when a perfectly rational person receives a divine command to, "Rise! Don’t be afraid" after praying for healing, or parents ask in desperation for the life of a dead baby, and these prayers are clearly answered precisely in the way the petition was made, regardless what mechanisms God uses, the final result still remains a miracle, given to us by the mercy of God, who answered the prayer of His children in a moment of need.

Of course atheists would claim that prayers can not be taken seriously because it cannot be reliably shown that they are answered. The LA times implies this when they report that on the average there are more unexplained healings than the type of healing reported by the Vatican. But perhaps this is caused because the effort the Vatican places in finding a natural explanation is more stringent than those, like the LA Times, who attach the word miracle to every un-explainable healing they find.  

I hope this helps put in perspective the criticism of the secular media, which wastes no time to misinform and confuse all things Catholic-wise.

Viva Cristo Rey!!


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Land of the Free, Home of the Brave?

   Today is 4th of July, Independence Day. Lots of people will be celebrating the freedoms given to us by our founding fathers. In our history millions of men and women have given their lives so that, throughout generations, we can still enjoy the freedoms of this great nation. Parades, cookouts, flag waving and many renditions of the Star Spangling Banner, our national anthem will be the order of the day.

Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

   When Francis Scott Key wrote this song, using the tune of an old drinking song, he never thought of how much it would mean to our country.

 Of the 8 lines which compose our National anthem I'll say that the most well known and quoted is "Land of the free and the home of the brave". In fact this phrase has turned in to a kind of nickname for our country. The funny thing is... This is just not what Francis Scott Key intended. If you look at the lyrics again this statement was never intended it to be an affirmation of our country but a question: "Tell me, Does the flag still wave over the land of the free? Over the home of the brave?

   We like to think that our country IS these things but the reality is that this should never be an affirmation, but always a question. Every day, especially a day like today, we should recall the meaning of what Francis Scott Key intended and ask, are we still brave? Are we still free?  Is this the land which represent these things? If it is...What are we doing to conserve it like this? If it is not...What are we doing about it? What kind of sacrifice are we prepared to make in order to reach this ideal?

  Land of the free, home of the brave, should  always be a goal, an ideal, and not what it has turned into, an affirmation of  a reality far away of what our founding fathers intended as a legacy for generations to come.

Happy 4th of July!

"Viva Cristo Rey!!"