Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Immaculate Conception

Christmas songs are abounding here in the second week of Advent. Omitting some background story, I committed myself to explaining, according to the Catholic faith, what is lacking in a particular popular Protestant Christmas song. I really don’t have to do much to analyze the lyrics of Mary Did You Know, because Fr. Geoff Horton has already done it (and given permission to share, as I do below). However, this all being on my mind, I happen to have noticed the same, soppy, low-Mariology Christmas sentiments almost word for word in another song which I had enjoyed many times. It was almost surprising. Listening to Brandon Heath’s Just a Girl, I was struck even more by the presumed (even if only poetic) assumption of the Biblical ignorance or Scriptural naivety of Jesus’ mother.

Just a girl
Does she even know that she just changed the world?
Does she even know that He will save the world?
Does Mary know that He will save the world?
She's just a girl
Just a girl

It is usually Catholics who are accused of not knowing their Bible. It seems now acceptable in contemporary Christmas songs to insinuate that Mary did not know her Bible. But I offer the simple thought, that if we read our Bibles, we will find that we should be a little more cautious to do so. Here is the caution. One might say Mary was “just a girl” who would not have known her Bible (all the Old Testament Scriptures for us), but reading all of Luke 1:26-56 seems to say otherwise. Gabriel spoke very directly to Mary. I guess you can say it was too direct and all too much over Mary’s head, except for the fact that Mary displays such a thoroughly biblical vocabulary and mindset in the immediately subsequent Gospel events. I need not repeat the entire account of the Visitation or the Magnificat (I’ll paste below). I only point out that if we take it as a literal historical account of the words of Mary with the Archangel Gabriel and with her cousin Elizabeth (something most every Protestant would do), then we get an entirely different idea: Mary could not only recall well known Old Testament prophecies, but she was such a biblically minded woman it was always in her heart to burst forth with praise in the very faith and words of the Old Testament. Mary speaks like she knows Miriam and Moses (Exodus15:1-21). She sings like she has been hanging out with Deborah (Judges ch. 5). She thinks and talks in a way that strangely self identifies with Judith (Judith16:1-17). It is not just the words and way of speaking of these great Old Testament women that Mary has picked up (by a kind of mysterious holy peer influence), it is the great language of salvation – we might almost call it high-falutin’ Bible lingo – that she seemed comfortable throwing around: hesed-mercy, Covenant, Servant of the Yahweh, anawim. To answer these questions that are being asked in our popular Christmas songs, the Biblical picture of Mary seems itself to say, “yes, Mary knew.” She knew her Scriptures. If she could quote such things, she could recognize them, and contemplate their meaning. If we are going to be soppy over Christmas (and I most certainly am myself here and there) I still recommend sentimentalism that doesn't revolve around Mary's supposed Scriptural ignorance
Here is where Catholics especially ought to know better. There have been Catholics who said, “Mary was just a girl. Clearly the words attributed to her are later additions to tradition because they are ‘too perfect’ to be the actual words of a Jewish teenage girl.” Such Catholics might be selling short the grace of the Immaculate Conception. Take St. Therese of Lisieux for comparison. She was “just a girl.” She wasn’t even immaculately conceived or free from the guilt of sin. And yet at the age of 13 she had The Imitation of Christ memorized, "chapter and verse." It’s a small book compared to the Bible, but the comparison shows a little of what would be possible for the Queen of all saints.

In the end, there is no crime in being a sop about poetic lyrics which some find to be rhetorical questions unfitting for more devout opinions of high-Mariology (and Christology at the same time). Some call the above Biblical literalism sentimental. Neither is heretical. But there is one question which cannot be left to theory or sentiment or preference in Christmas music. That is the question whether Christ actually made his mother in the pattern of the new creation. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation,” 2 Cor. 5:17 applies to the “Woman” of John’s Gospel (John 19:25-27), Mary. Mary was immaculately conceived. Mary’s baby boy did not come to make her new, because he had already made her new. Mary did not need to be delivered. She had already been delivered. She of course knew she was unworthy to be the mother of the savior; but only because she was aware that the grace she enjoyed was never owed her; not because she was a sinner who needed to be delivered and made new. It is not the least inconsistent to say, that along with all of the above, Mary had no knowledge of personally offending God, because she had no guilt of personal sin nor original sin.

So if we are going to be sops who love to sing Mary Did You Know, let us at least correct the one part that would deny the witness of the Scripture, as understood by the Fathers of the Church, as interpreted by the successors for the Apostles and Saint Peter, as has been clearly written in the Catechism, and has been devoutly believed by all the saints. Let us sing the mystery of the Immaculate Conception as a true indispensable Christian doctrine which displays the power of the Cross of Christ; “Mary did you know, that your baby boy is making all things new? This child that you've delivered IS WHO DELIVERED YOU!”

The Follow was written by Fr. Geoff Horton of the Diocese of Peoria Dec. 12, 2010

Did Mary know that her baby would save our sons and daughters?
Yes; Gabriel told Mary more than enough to identify her son as the promised Messiah who would bring salvation.

Did she know that her baby came to make her new?
No, because she didn't need to be made new, having been preserved from all stain of sin from the moment of her Immaculate Conception. Since she was preserved in view of the merits Christ won at His Passion, one might say that He would soon deliver her in a certain sense, though that delivery had already had its effect on her. (I realize that a Protestant songwriter wouldn't think this way.)
And even in that certain sense, yes, Mary knew what HIs mission was. She knew what the prophets had foretold. (See the story of the encounter with the Risen Christ on the road to Emmaus if you don't think Jesus's redemptive death was in the Old Testament.)

Did Mary know that her baby would give sight to a blind man?
Yes; Isaiah said so.

Did she know that her baby had walked where angels trod? And that His face is the face of God?
Yes; Gabriel told her that her son would be Son of the Most High. For good measure, Gabriel told St. Joseph that the child's name would be "Immanuel", which means "God [is] with us."

The blind seeing, the deaf hearing, etc.? All in Isaiah.
Lord of Creation? Gabriel told her.

Ruler of the nations? Gabriel told her that her son would inherit the throne of David, and the prophets said that David's heir would rule the nations.
Heaven's perfect lamb? Read the Servant Songs of Isaiah. It's in there. (Remember the road to Emmaus.)
So we're left with walking on water and calming the storm as the only two things Mary did not know in advance, and she certainly knew that He could do those things if he wanted.

Yes, Mary knew.

The Account of the Annunciation and Visitation in the Holy Gospel according to Luke
Biblical Cross References from the NAB

1:26 In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.l 28And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.”m 29But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31n Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. 32o He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,* and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, 33and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”p 34But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”* 35And the angel said to her in reply, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.q 36And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived* a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; 37for nothing will be impossible for God.”r 38Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Mary Visits Elizabeth. 39During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit,s 42cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.t 43And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord* should come to me? 44For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. 45Blessed are you who believed* that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”u
The Canticle of Mary. 46v And Mary said:*
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;w
47my spirit rejoices in God my savior.x
48For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;
behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.y
49The Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.z
50His mercy is from age to age
to those who fear him.a
51He has shown might with his arm,
dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.b
52He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
but lifted up the lowly.c
53The hungry he has filled with good things;
the rich he has sent away empty.d
54He has helped Israel his servant,
remembering his mercy,e
55according to his promise to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”f
56Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

l. [1:27] 2:5; Mt 1:16, 18.
q. [1:35] Mt 1:20.
s. [1:41] 1:15; Gn 25:22 LXX.
u. [1:45] 1:20.
v. [1:4655] 1 Sm 2:110.
e. [1:54] Ps 98:3; Is 41:89.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Abortion, Prayer, and Social Action

“Faith without works is dead” (James 2:17). While Scripture permanently reminds us, with these words of St. James, that it is not enough just to believe that something is true without actualizing that faith concretely, we can in fact focus centrally on what it is we believe. Indeed we need, every now and then, to examine our beliefs regarding certain spheres of action. If our actions are producing ill effects, it may in fact be the case that our beliefs have gone astray, and we have substituted presumption in place of Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium.

This reflection is inspired by a strange article of a secular former evangelical author (, Valerie Tarico. Seemingly without realizing the dynamic, Tarico has started to dance around the ancient rule of faith which the Catholic Church has always and still holds true: Lex Orandi Lex Credendi. Literally, the “Law of Prayer is the Law of Belief.” In other words, our faith is informed by how we pray, and if you really want to know what we believe, look at what we pray, how we pray. A prayer shows a world view. And as world views differ greatly, so prayers differ greatly.

Thus, if we look at what we pray and how we pray concerning abortion, it will show what one believes. Should the realm of action need to be addressed, the faith that informs such works is certainly informed by the prayers of such faith. There is plenty of action is the pro-life realm, some more meritorious, some less so. Prayer itself is one action. Witness can be separate. Counseling, condemnation, accompaniment, or annoyance would all be possible descriptions of other activities of pro-life initiatives. I only summarize a whole other set with the term of Political Action in this list. And in all of these, prayer can be very telling as to the goals that are at hand. Here are some thoughts about what and how to pray, which ought in fact to inform what beliefs accompany any kind of consequent action.

Pray that God take the souls of aborted babies to heaven. Of all those praying for an end to abortion, only Catholics will be open to this point, and only with great difficulty. Yet it is the crux of the matter, an aspect of the problem of evil in the world. The Church does not command us to pray specifically for the souls of aborted babies. Yet the Church approves of this prayer, because we always pray for the dead. It is one of many ways that the Church is one and the same “stumbling block” as Christ himself. It is scandalous enough that Jesus Christ claimed to be the Son of God. The scandal was first compounded when the Church claimed to be the Sacrament of Christ. It is compounded all the more when the same Church says it does not know if and how the grace of baptism can be applied to infants who die in the womb. In the face of an evil like abortion, when people look for some good which the Church can propose to make up for the blood being shed, the Church only offers the mystery of the cross, and bids us to pray for the dead. Having started with the hardest prayer to situate in the mysteries of divine providence, there are some easier ones to keep in our hearts.

Pray that pregnant mothers would find true hope. Hope is not what so many people think it to be. It is not really the virtue or the vision that secularists, humanist, or Christians or Catholics for that matter, often make it out to be. For a mother’s heart to have hope, some instrument, some word, some vision must put in it a glimpse of the infinite goodness of Jesus Christ. It is dependent on grace, and it is not dependent on proselytism or even honest evangelization. It is born in the heart from the mysterious ways of the Holy Spirit. As St. Augustine says, if we did not know this hope existed, we would not know that we long for something we cannot describe. But if we knew exactly what it was, we would then describe what it is that we longed. That hope belongs to God, because it is something in the mystery of who he is. It is shared by him in his ways. And because it does not belong to us, yet he has shared it with us, we must pray that others too can receive it. It is incumbent on the Christian to pray this hope come to every soul lost in the evil of abortion, or to the evil of abortion. This is the hope that transforms lives from despair to eternal joy. How can we model it for others if we do not want it for others? Can we want it for others if we do not pray it for others?

Pray for homes to be places of integrated virtues that support chastity. It is not enough merely to pray for chastity for teens and the unmarried adults. It is much more likely that young people will maintain a more chaste disposition in life, and enter better marriages, when it is formed in them by good parents. To become good examples of balanced life for many unprepared parents, this would go a long way in getting their children on a better track for healthy emotional relationships. In terms of social strategies, this would greatly reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, thus eliminating so much of the demand for abortion.

Pray for holy, godly, foster parents. Of course not every parent is going to raise their children in a healthy emotional way. There will unfortunately be those exceptions – may they become more rare – where others have to play the role of mother and father, assuming the roles spiritually as the “substitute” for them practically. The fact that there are so many emotional and sexual relationships currently proceeding in an unhealthy way, means that much work and sacrifice is going to be needed to guide people (here the impressionable kids and teens in foster care) in a life path of emotional re-integration.

Pray for many celibate vocations. It’s ok to be the camp of St. Paul who said “I wish all lived [the celibate life] as I did” (1 Cor. 7:7). It would indeed be great if, say, the Sisters of Life grew 100,000 strong and could be in every major city, to love and serve every place where abortion is a pressure on families and single parents. Pray that a dozen other consecrated orders or institutes are raised up with similar apostolates. Consecrated orders or institutes could assist those who choose not to abort after learning that they must deal with birth defects and medical difficulties. Such an answered prayer would not only shift the balance to give a whole and complete life to so many innocent families that deserve better than the world has offered them; it would strangely satisfy the laments of those who feel there are too many people on earth, at least temporarily. If a certain pattern holds, it would end up fostering fostering healthy marriages and family life, not deter from them. So it could of course lead to more Catholic families having 14 children in the future.

Pray that this cup may pass by. We know the significance of this phrase. We know when it was first prayed, and whose lips it came from. We too should pray this, as we also pray those words “deliver us from evil” in the Lord’s prayer. We must pray these things. We must long for the Second Coming of our Lord when he will right every wrong and correct every injustice. Yet in the mean time, we know that the cup may still be handed to us. This leads to one last, all important, consequent prayer.

Pray that the Father’s will be done. What looks like utter failure to us (e.g. the Cross) may in fact lead to the greatest good (viz. the Resurrection). Oh how great the wisdom of a life united to Christ, where the words he taught us in Matthew 6, the Lord's Prayer, informs every petition we make, every prayer we offer, every action that is a result of our beliefs.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Morality and the Mechanism of Voting

Evil is real. There is an objective moral order. This post cannot speak to moral relativists, or to people who define morality by what they personally like or dislike. For those who seek objective moral standards, the Catholic Church has provided the most philosophically sound ones available. Here are some standards of cooperation in good and evil and the mechanism of voting.

We are speaking here of moral evil, of a human being who chooses to reject some aspect of the goodness of God's creation, for corrupt, unnatural, reasons. People can choose to be terrorists. They can choose to be racists. They can choose to be abortionists. They can choose to be pornographers. In addition to these evils, people can perpetuate others evils by actions that cooperate in the evil.

If a cable company carries internet sex, they are cooperating in that evil activity, even though their goal is only to succeed in business. The same is true of the gun dealer who sells weapons to people of evil intent. The same is true of a medical company that makes equipment used for abortions. The company does not perform abortions, but their business cooperates with the business of abortion.

These examples are simple transactions. But broader examples get more complex so that it is not easy. The government promotes things that are evil. When a citizen pays taxes they support the government. Is this cooperation in evil? What about voting? If I cast my vote for a candidate, and they commit evil as an elected official, haven't I cooperated in that evil because I helped elect him or her? The Church makes a distinction here, and I will try to apply it. Many more complexities can crop up, but we will simplify the matter for the sake of this introduction.

No one choice, or dozen choices, can eliminate all evil. When we intend to do good, and even accomplish some good aim, sometimes we keep a chain of causality moving, which at the same time, allows evil. The Church calls cooperation in evil, which is not intended specifically to perpetuate that evil, Material Cooperation. If I am the UPS man, and I deliver loads of fertilizer, I may be cooperating in the evil act of making a bomb. If I pay my taxes, I may be cooperating in some government program which promotes sex ed materials in school contrary to God's natural moral order. And, for the voting example, if I vote for a candidate who seeks to institutionalize racism, I may be cooperating in the formation of unjust policies.

Here’s the distinction. The Church's morality allows that we may cooperate materially in evil, without the guilt of sin, if it is "Remote"; that might be explained, if the evil is so far removed from us that there is really nothing we can do to change it. When the evil is "Proximate," or, when it is within our reach to do something about it, then we must do something to try to eliminate this evil, or stop whatever activity we do which cooperates in that evil. I may not be able to stop paying taxes, claiming the unrealistic goal that it will stop immoral government programs. I may be able to cancel some service or business transaction, because I see that it will stop or slow the evil committed by a business provider. I may work in a hospital that performs abortions. But if the only thing about my job that endorses or facilitates those abortions is that it contributes to the overall operation of the hospital, then my cooperation in that evil is remote, and I have no moral obligation to quit my employment at that hospital.

In order to make the full comparison to voting, we need the term that contrasts with Material Cooperation, that is, Formal Cooperation. When a person cooperates formally in an evil act, they are not performing the evil act, but they are endorsing that evil act, because their action specifically facilitates that act. Politicians can vote to enter an unjust war. That is formal cooperation in evil. They may vote to eradicate the natural order of marriage by so called "marriage equality" policies. That is formal cooperation in evil. They may seek to promote abortion by executive acts. That is formal cooperation in evil. The appointed or elected officials here do not perform the actual acts of war, or unnatural marriages, or abortions, but they endorse them in a positive way. This is formal cooperation. Formal cooperation is evil upon evil. It is in fact a second evil added to the evil thing cooperated with.

Now, here is the fine point. It is not necessarily formal cooperation in evil to vote for a candidate who cooperates formally in evil. Under the circumstances of a formed conscience, the morality of the Church “allows” voters to cooperate materially in evil by voting for candidates who cooperate, formally, in evil. Yes. It is indeed "cooperation in evil." But - and this is key - if a voter does not intend to endorse those evils, but only intends to endorse the greater good that they think this candidate will promote, as opposed to any other "electable" candidate, then the Church considers this cooperation "remote" enough that it is allowable.

There are two things here to note. Firstly, if a voter votes for a candidate because they think some of his actions are good, which the Church has called evil, then the Church judges this vote akin to more formal cooperation. The voter intends to promote the evil because they think it good. They are a heretic endorsing immorality. Maybe they do not know the objective morality involved because they are a lapsed Catholic or they are completely pagan. Ignorance of morality and ignorance of Christ are topics for another article. Here the topic is about those people who could and should know some objective standards for moral acts. For our purposes, if I vote for a pro-racism, pro-abortion, anti-family, anti-poor, or any otherwise evil intending candidate, because I intend to further his evil intentions in these areas, against the morality of the Church, I am doing evil myself. I am formally cooperating by endorsing his formal cooperation.

Secondly, it must be granted that a vote for any candidate will likely entail some sort of cooperation in evil. We must note that the Church has not imposed any exact scale by which voters must calculate which candidate has a higher good-verses-evil cooperation score. The first point above, as serious as it is, has not led the Church to make any pronouncement, "You may not ever vote for a candidate that supports X, or that is against Y." Many good Catholics will hold to principles such as these, with a validity of personal conscience, but no pope or bishop has made such definitive and binding pronouncements for all believers who enjoy suffrage in their country. Similarly the Church has avoided so far giving an exact "score" of what is the "best" candidate in any particular election based on the Catholic morality system.

This is the current state of things, but it also is as detailed as we can get with the moral principles of the cooperation in evil. It is very frustrating for everyone. I, as a priest in the United States, must almost say, "let us prepare for the persecutions." For, I can give the Church's morality and direction, but it is certain to satisfy no one. As a Catholic United States citizen I can say both "If pro-abortion, anti-family Hillary Clinton is the best choice we have for President, then we are in very dire and desperate times," and "if pro-greed, anti-solidarity, anti-subsidiarity Donald Trump is the best choice we have for president, then we are in very dire and desperate times." The political strategy, whereby Donald Trump might be more favorable to a Christian social strategy, certainly seems like a challenge and an opportunity for the Church. But some Catholic laity, who dare to take the role of a prophet, are already saying "persecutions and evils suffered under Clinton would be better than the material cooperation in the evil of Trump." This is the argument among many faithful Catholics. "If one will take us to hell in a hand basket, and the other will just take us there slower, do you really want the Church to endorse either one? Are we not in the exceptional circumstances where Catholics might abstain from voting for "electable" candidates in any particular race?" In the mean time, the Church still has not endorsed any candidates.

We may end with the nostalgic reminiscence, that when the Apostles first set forth to preach, they were in a world where no one was called upon to exercise "faithful citizenship" with the thought that they could influence the political sphere of the world's powers. It is both our problem and our opportunity that a citizen's vote in our country may in fact accomplish something, for good or for evil. But in both the ancient world and now, the Church's response to the cry "we are going to hell in a hand-basket" was never, and will never be, "go and vote in this way or that." The Church's response is "go show yourself to the priest," "repent and believe in the Gospel," "for God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified."

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Priesthood and Fairness

One particular year I attended a preparation day and rehearsal for our deanery confirmation. Our time with the confirmandi and their sponsors began with informal small group discussions about living the faith, and the Catholic faith in general as seen from the viewpoint of the sacrament the youth were about to receive. People were encouraged to give questions to the priests, even questioning those things that they found difficult with the faith. You know the list: all the moral questions, “why all the rules?”, or “what are the rules for this or that in the first place?” The question of why only men can become priests is never a surprise. But this day it came from a slightly different perspective. It was one of the faithful and devout sponsors who asked to have it explained again - for the inquirer had asked priests before - why it is, that only men can be priests. I could tell that many of the pertinent facts of the priesthood had been covered in this case, and that only a deeper answer, such as would need spelling out with greater depth, would meet it. Unfortunately I had 5 young confirmandi before me, who were going to need something more fundamental, than nuanced and reflective. What I had in mind for this more mature devout Catholic, was not going to reach these high school students in an meaningful way. So I prayed I could at least point out the way. To start opening up the “why” of the male priesthood, in this situation I essentially re-examined the “how it is” that we have a male priesthood; it started with Jesus, then with the Apostles, then their successors, and so on with the history of male bishops ordaining men as priests. One needs to know the tradition historically before one can know if there is an intrinsic justification for it; and the details such as “who was at the Last Supper?” and “what was the commission of the first priests?” take at least a minute or two to cover. In the end I was able to squeeze in a brief reflection on the priest's role of service. Holy Orders is a sacrament of service, and thus is quite strictly to be “used” for others and not for oneself. Trying to touch on the essence of the priesthood, I thus implied that if there are problems in our Catholic male priesthood it is in the actual men who are priests, and not in the priesthood itself. If every priest were a saint, no one would question whether Christ had left us a broken, faulty, or prejudiced system of priesthood. All the while there was a phrase stuck in my mind which really addressed the sponsor's question. The deeper “why?” was one of trying to understand God's inner designs, and his working in the world. Why would a most-loving God restrict one his greatest gifts, the priesthood, to such a particular class of human beings? The phrase that came to mind and stuck there, but which I could not break out in this five minute scope, was “the Scandal of God's Particularity.” Maybe it is a phrase you have heard before. To satisfy the “why?” of the priesthood as it is in the Catholic Church, requires satisfying a deeper “why?” of any priesthood, or any human intermediary to God. Why would God limit himself with any intermediary? If there is scandal in Christ's particularity of forming a Church with only men as priests, there is much more scandal in his particularity of forming a Church in the first place. How dare a human institution take on God's very role! How dare any man or woman associate themselves with such a presumptuous scheme! How could God really choose this means? The scandal of the Incarnation is the worst of all. Why did God become a human being, a man, only in one tiny middle-eastern location, and only for a very brief period in ancient history, for a people who seemed not to deserve such a blessing? If all these things in Scripture are true, one might accuse God of being unfair to the vast and great majority of human beings who did not live in the same time and place as Jesus Christ himself. There is a great 'why?' here, like the 'why' of the Catholic priesthood. It is a deeper 'why.' It is the 'why' of grace. Someone who does not accept the need for a savior, will be aghast at the means that the savior has chosen to work through. This is why God's particularity, we might say his very specific and limited plan in the face of all the other plans that might be proposed, is scandalous. God uses limited finite, even sometimes sinful, human instruments to spread his grace. And yet that is a fundamental article of our faith. When we come back to God's particularity, the one who accepts the the means in which the savior comes to us (the seven sacraments) is going to implicitly understand that there will be “particularity” in the means that they reach us. God does not give the same vocation or the same grace to all. Again, if every priest were a saint, no one would question whether Christ had left us a broken, faulty, or prejudiced system of priesthood. Yet, despite the unsaintliness of the clergy, if one sees that system with the eyes of faith, it is still very good, as God designed it; good despite the faults of men contrary to that design. Let me conclude this episode with another observation about the priesthood, even my own priesthood. It can sadly be seen that there is almost too little scandal taken concerning the neglect of grace, and too much concerning abuse of authority. Holy Orders places a man within the ranks of a hierarchy. It makes one like the centurion who described himself as “subject to authority, with people subject to me.” But, we know the scripture vehemently insists that the greatest factor in salvation is not authority, but charity. Glory comes not from hierarchy, but from virtue. This should be evident within the ranks of holy orders. But this principle of grace is not confined to the clergy; it runs throughout the entire Body of Christ, to all the elect, and is even proved through the souls who have forever turned their back on God. Just like earthly pleasures and earthly possessions, all earthly authority is temporary; glory is eternal. For myself, I can say I know a good number of lay men and lay women, who, while I outrank them in “hierarchy” as a priest, will soon enough outrank me in glory, when we are with the Lord. God will not be mocked, and one can never accuse him of injustice from seeming to “play favorites.” He has revealed to all people (who have the faith to accept it) the scales on which he will judge the merits of souls, and those scales read “faith, hope, and charity.” The true scandal of men is seen to be the neglect of grace, and lack of faith, hope and love. The scandal of God’s particularity is removed only when one both accepts this revelation and lives according to it. Only when one lives with this goal of charity, and its merits, does the ‘why’ of God’s grace begin to make sense. Only with a life directed to sanctity do we begin to see why God gives certain gifts which cannot even be compared to each other, and why the most obvious gifts on the outside, are not as important as those that are hidden deeper.