Friday, July 31, 2015

What does it mean to be "pro-life"?

I supposed Planned Parenthood has pulled out all the big guns in doing damage control after the recent undercover videos leaked their practice of selling fetal body parts.

In a recently resurfaced interview with Bill Moyers in 2004, "catholic" Sister Joan Chittister said: "I do not believe that just because you're opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don't? Because you don't want any tax money to go there. That's not pro-life. That's pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is." 

First, she advocates for the pro-choice position without having to label herself as such. This is disingenuous.

Second, there is NO ONE out there who does not want children to be fed, educated, and housed. This is a "straw man" argument and she seemed either totally unaware or dismissive of Christian ministries in these areas.

Third, in effect she equates being "really" pro-life with wanting every child to be a ward of the state. That's not pro-life, that's fascist.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Summer sermon notes: Cardinal Virtues

DISCLAIMER: I want to make one thing clear so there’s no confusion, and that is that we’re not talking about salvation here or “how to be saved.” We’re talking about sanctification, growth in holiness, Christian maturity, but not how to be redeemed, and it’s important to note the distinction because we do not and cannot redeem ourselves. We are redeemed by Jesus Christ. Salvation comes as an act of God—a free gift of God’s grace, received by faith in the sacrament of Holy Baptism and nourished by the Holy Eucharist. It is Christ’s work, not ours. We do not earn it; he merited it for us. We do not impress God by our virtue. Indeed, he loved us in spite of our lack of virtue.

St John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople said, “Even if we have thousands of acts of great virtue to our credit, our confidence in being heard must be based on God’s mercy and his love for men. Even if we stand at the very summit of virtue, it is by mercy that we shall be saved.”

We’ll be talking about what we are redeemed for—the end purpose of humanity, and that is to live a life of virtue—to become more and more Christlike, growing toward a life of eternal heavenly beatitude (happiness) lived in communion with God and in fellowship with his saints.

According to tradition, Adam and Eve were endowed by God with “preternatural gifts.” These were abilities beyond normal human nature—gifts we lost in the Fall. There were four gifts they had automatically:
1) Infused Knowledge (they didn’t have to learn, but just knew what they had to),
2) Immortality (before sin there was no death),
3) Integrity (that is, their appetites were subordinate to their intellect)
4) Original Righteousness (justitia) on account of the supernatural gift of sanctifying grace in their souls.

These four gifts correspond to the four Cardinal Virtues:
1) Prudence (relating to former knowledge and how to make use of it)
2) Fortitude (relating to our former immortality)
3) Temperance (relating to former integrity)
4) Justice (relating to original righteousness)

By our sinful rebellion in the garden, humanity lost those three preternatural gifts as well as the one supernatural gift and “fell” to a natural state. Man’s intellect thus became darkened, he became subject to disease and death, concupiscence or the “lust of the flesh” arose in man, and he exchanged original righteousness for sin.

While virtue alone cannot save us from sin, virtue is an essential part of our life in Christ. What exactly is a virtue? It’s a habit (in this case, a good habit, as opposed to a bad habit or vice). Most virtues are acquired by constant practice and exercise; the theological virtues are infused at baptism.

It is more than just a talent or a natural disposition (though we may have those). It is something we have worked at by exercising our will. And the more we employ a habit, the easier it becomes in the future.

ANALOGY: Think of the virtues as being like muscles in your body. The old adage about muscles in your body applies to the virtues: use it or lose it. The more you nourish it, the better use can be derived from it. The more you work it, the stronger it becomes. The less it is used, the more it atrophies and the harder it is to use it when it is needed. That’s why when you ask God for patience (for example), he sends frustrating things your way. You need to employ the virtues in your daily life or they will never become truly strong.

DEFINITION: Cardinal is from the Latin word for “hinge” and it is used here because the medieval theologians saw how most of the other virtues flowed out of these four. So whether or not you were a virtuous person, “hinged” on how well you lived out these four virtues.

Ancient philosophers like Plato and later Cicero popularized these virtues. The Bible enumerates them in Wisdom 8:7 where Solomon says, “If any one loves righteousness, her labors are virtues; for she teaches temperance and prudence, justice and courage; nothing in life is more profitable for men than these.” And the Bible teaches us about each virtue. St. Ambrose was the first to use the “hinge” expression when he noted: “And we know that there are four cardinal virtues temperance, justice, prudence, fortitude.”

The word virtue comes from the Latin virtus ("valor") and means a moral excellence. So to be virtuous (in the Latin expression) is to be manly, courageous, honorable in doing right, in not getting carried away by the passions and appetites, but making choices in accordance with reason and goodness.

Pope St. Gregory the Great said, “The only true riches are those that make us rich in virtue.”

Sunday, July 26, 2015

My comments on other people's comments

And I thought I'd post them here so I could remember what I said and find it again.

I posted this comment to one of George Takei's FaceBook post which is based on an opinion piece he wrote for MSNBC, because I believe this is an important and timely issue that has been overshadowed by name-calling. The issue is the origin of human rights and dignity--the state or God. Takei was upset about one item in Justice Thomas' dissent in Obergefell. Takei was criticized as making a racist comment. He's no racist. I can understand his complaint, especially given his history in the Japanese camps of WWII, but I think he is confused.

I wrote: "I can appreciate walking back from the blackface comment, but this is not the central issue. I think you misunderstand Justice Thomas. He was not arguing that the government is not accountable; far from it. He was pointing out that its role is not to give rights, but to recognize and protect unalienable rights, which are endowed by the Creator, not by the state. A person has dignity because he or she is a human being, not because the government gave that person dignity. So it should be held accountable for not respecting that dignity that God instilled. Persons would have no more or less dignity if they lived in Soviet Russia, or Canada, or Nazi Germany, or France, or China, etc. Their human dignity and rights would be recognized and protected to a greater or lesser degree, but they would always be there. As Whitney Houston sang in perhaps her most famous number, 'No matter what they take from me, they can’t take away my dignity.'"

I'm not the only one with the same reaction--that we are created with dignity, not given dignity by the state. Wesley Smith posted at National Review Online: "Slavery did not strip its victims of their inherent dignity. It was evil precisely because they had inherent dignity. So does each and every LGBT human being."

The other comment I made was on the website of Bud Deiner, who was my pastor at Evergreen Christian Fellowship back in High School. Deiner is a gifted teacher and expositor of the Word and I have great respect for him. He currently serves as a missionary in South Africa.

He recently did a series on Bible verses that relate to homosexuality as a response to the spin from people like Matthew Vines who are distorting the facts. Deiner's insightful analysis of the Sodom and Gomorrah passage from Genesis 19 prompted me to make this observation:

One thing I'd point out as well is the wider context. Looking at the previous chapter (Genesis 18), we see what happened right before the famous judgment against Sodom was carried out. The three angels visit Abraham and Sarah and tell them that Sarah will be fruitful and have a baby by their next visit (vv 10-15) which caused Sarah to laugh. Immediately they turn toward Sodom to go investigate the outcry against the city (vv 16, 20-21).

Given the Hebrew Bible's penchant for parallelism and irony (especially in the J source, if you're into that sort of thing), I think a contrast is being set up between the two--the ways of blessing or of curse. Sarah's laugh is an added touch of the contrast between those who laugh with joy at God's miracles and those who laugh in the face of God's authority. Abraham and Sarah are childless despite many attempts and many years of prayer and heartache. The men of Sodom have fallen for a counterfeit sex that forgoes procreation, which is the intended natural end of the marriage act. 

The contrast is underlined in verses 17-19 when the angel of the Lord (thinking out loud) says, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?" He explains that he is making Abraham the patriarch of many nations and they need to be instructed in the ways of righteousness. The context implies that the reference at least includes a holy sexual ethic--the value of real sex versus the counterfeit. God can open the womb for the former, but his design is frustrated in the latter. The former seeks God's blessing, but the latter seeks God's curse. 

The answer is given in the action. The angels inform Abraham that they are going to Sodom to check things out. No word is said by them about punishment, so obviously Abraham has heard the rumors and assumes the worst. He begs and barters for God's mercy for Sodom and figures they are safe since God promises to spare the city on account of ten righteous (so at least nephew Lot and his family should cover it). Of course, the angels simply remove them from the city and that is the end of that.