Friday, December 22, 2017

The Commandments and Questions on Same-Sex Parenting

Fr. John Harvey, the founder of the admirable organization Courage, spoke at my seminary while I was doing graduate theology studies. He made a straightforward statement about the Bible and homosexuality that I noted well at the time. I have occasionally recalled his statement, and at times cross referenced it with other situations. I think it is even more profound in the current scene. He said that the only fundamentally sound way to argue biblical interpretations of sexual sins is to go back to the creation of Adam and Eve in Genesis. In contrast, he said all the other Biblical references to sexaul ethics, especially those lists of sins in which same-sex acts are condemned, will not be sufficient on their own. Of course, right here anyone who is familiar with St. John Paul the Great's monumental work Theology of the Body will point out that this is exactly what John Paul II did for the Church. Fr. Harvey was probably thinking of the Theology of the Body when he made this statement at my seminary. From the commencement of Theology of the Body, John Paul II did in fact have in mind real current sexual ethic situations of our day. He was thinking of Humanae Vitae, of the Church’s teaching on marital sexual ethics and the state of life of celibacy. He was thinking of adultery and other sexual sins that were condemned by the Bible (and still are condemned rather explicitly). But he did not start with these things. He started at the beginning. He started with Jesus Christ, who is the beginning and end of our faith. He started with Jesus Christ, who was the Word who made all things as described in Genesis. He started with the very words of Genesis that Jesus Christ quoted when he was asked questions about whether married persons could divorce. It was from this starting point that he retraced an entire outline of the a moral life which harmonized in positive fundamental ways the moral theology that the tradition of the Church had recently applied to sexual questions fo the 20th century, with a profound and coherent Biblical doctrine about creation, redemption, and eternal life.
This post is not a guide or a commentary on St. John Paul II’s work. It is rather a poor and miniscule imitation of what John Paul the Great accomplished. He wove together many threads of beautifully profound biblical teachings to make a picture, a tapestry almost, of how our world should approach questions of sexuality and fulfillment. I will simply trace one thread that seems to me to answer a few questions that are in need of answering right now. In short, I want to give a BIblical reflection which leads to a fundamental belief about our desire for fulfillment in our human spirit. I want to give a practical Catholic-Biblical answer to the question, “Isn’t it just as good for a child to have two parents of the same sex as to have a “mother-father” pair as traditionally envisioned by Judeo-Christian tradition?” My thesis up front is that every person experiences, and will continue to experience, a feeling that they want to know their mother and father (biologically speaking). I believe the Biblical truth, which corresponds to this answer, is that it is fundamental to our happiness and fulfillment as human beings to “honor one’s father and mother” (again, I mean biological father and mother), because it is is a commandment of a good and loving creator that continues to be spoken to us for our own benefit.
There is an almost insurmountable challenge to my aims here. Those who have embraced same sex marriage/parenting, if they claim to be Christian in any sense, are likely not to interpret the Bible like I do. And further, they will see my argument in natural terms, and simply say “nope. Our children, or those children with same-sex parents, don’t have any such innate need to know their biological origins so as to ‘honor’ their parents.” Even as I presume these possible responses, I nonetheless want to express clearly the Biblical thread that seems so powerfully significant in this question. I do it for Catholics who care about the commandments of God and who have an interest to read up just a little about related scripture passages. If anyone else happens to learn from this, I will be happy to offer the smallest opportunities for new thoughts and new ways of looking at a complex subject.
A little known fact, which happens to be very relevant in my thoughts on this matter, is that in the Genesis account of creation God speaks more than once on certain days of creation. In fact, in the seven days which pictorially lay out the spiritual and anthropological “schema” of creation, God speaks a total of TEN times. It would be mere Biblical trivia, except for the fact that great theologians have seen this as a Biblical prelude to the other significant passage in which God “speaks” ten times. Pope Benedict, writing before his election at the conclave, expressed a correlation between the words God spoke in Genesis, and the Words God spoke in Exodus. The Ten Commandments, as spoken by God in Exodus, and repeated in Deuteronomy, are historically referred to as “The Decalogue,” a shorthand name used by many saints and theologians. The word Decalogue is Greek, meaning... you guessed it, “Ten Words.” It means “the ten things God said.”
Let me put the correlation this way. God spoke ten times when he put together the “schema” of the universe. God spoke ten times again when he wanted to establish humanity’s good and necessary role in the schema of the universe. In the first “decalogue” of Genesis, God put in place a plan for all creation. In the second “Decalogue” of the Ten Commandments God tells men and women how they should act within creation. This means that the Ten Commandments are not moral imperatives dictated in the manner of arbitrary rules at the will of a finite human person. It is not merely that “daddy said so” that we should follow some “rules” about good and evil. The “rules” are rather a consequence of the fact that we can enjoy the very goodness of existence, because “God said…” in the first place. If God’s spoken words are the Biblical foundation of all goodness in creation, then there is no question as to whether his spokens words correspond to what is good for us as human beings, part of his creation.
This has great implications, as the above mentioned theologians point out. Now, I’m not going to spend much time harping on the theme, that the reason people don’t understand the commandments of God properly is because they are mistaken about the fundamental “schema” of God’s creation. That might be a fun argument to get into, but I want to be very practical here. Jesus was very practical at certain times, and one such time is when he wanted to give an example of something that the Pharisees of his time had gotten fundamentally wrong. I am thinking of the passage in which, appropriately, this very subject of “God’s commandments” has come up, and Jesus decides to give a practical example of how they have really blown one of the commandments. I read Mark 7:1-13,
Now when the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands. (For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the tradition of the elders. And on coming from the marketplace they do not eat without purifying themselves. And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed, the purification of cups and jugs and kettles [and beds].) So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him, “Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?” He responded, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.’ You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.” He went on to say, “How well you have set aside the commandment of God in order to uphold your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Whoever curses father or mother shall die.’ Yet you say, ‘If a person says to father or mother, “Any support you might have had from me is qorban” (meaning, dedicated to God), you allow him to do nothing more for his father or mother. You nullify the word of God in favor of your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many such things.”
Note first the contrast between ever present “human traditions,” and the real affirmation of Divine Commandments which we have a moral obligation to fulfill. Men can come up with their own schema of how to live a happy and fulfilled life, but when that schema goes against God’s commandments it will certain be objectively flawed. This is a way of restating the above point, that of putting God’s purposes first in a way that acknowledges the value of the commandments. In this practical example, nowhere did God command the washing of hands. It is not evil to wash one’s hands. We know now that it is rather a healthy habit, and human tradition worth passing on. But Jesus tells the Pharasees that they are promoting a human rule with more concern and zeal that some of the actual commandments that were spoken by God. If God created all that exists, his commandments should come first before we start filling in the details of what we shall, or shalt not, do in life.
Here an example would be helpful, and so Jesus picked an example. He referenced a commandment that they should be obeying within God’s schema of the universe. We know from the Gospels that there were several commandments Jesus could have chosen for this example, but here he chose the commandment “honor your father and your mother” (Fourth Commandment in the Decalogue for Catholics and Lutherans, Fifth in the numbering that other Christians use). It is rather apparent that the people Jesus was criticizing here were still enjoying the possession of these good which were supposedly “dedicated to God.” They were simply being bad sons and daughters to their parents, by coming up with an excuse not to provide for their material needs in later life. Imagine saying to you parents, “sorry, I would help you out here, but I put the Church in my will so I don’t want to use that much money on you!” As a pastor, I would first be skeptical that anyone would do and say this. But in the case that I found out it was true, I would match Jesus’ tone and answer. “God will provide for the Church through others. Now stop being a bloody hypocrite and help your parents!”
Jesus quoted various commandments of the Decalogue, as recorded in various parts of the Gospels. I want to emphasize here that Jesus did quote and affirm the commandment “honor your father and your mother” quite explicitly, and he even did it with the purpose of directly and sharply criticizing those who were not obeying it. Think about that. How are you honoring your father and mother? If you think that it is such a simple commandment and that you have done a very good job keeping it, even in your adult life, I propose that all we have reflected on here should cause us to think more carefully. Jesus did not insist on the commandment so forcefully, and criticise those who broke it so harshly, because it was something easy and run of the mill. The commandment has roots that touch the very meaning of our existence. To fulfil the commandment completely is something nearly as costly as becoming a saint.
Let me say very clearly, that in Biblical terms, we have here a very profound affirmation of God’s plan for family. Just as the commandment to honor both father and mother as our procreators cannot be discarded, so the masculinity and femininity of husband and wife must be upheld in God’s schema of creation. If we are to affirm God’s schema of creation as revealed to us in Scripture, “bride and groom” are in fact the moral roles corresponding to fatherhood and motherhood, both essentially defined by the begetting of a human soul. Great ideals like monogamy and indissolubility are implied in the commandment “honor your father and mother,” because God wished that father and mother should really be united in lives that are both honorable, even if their children rebel from that due honor (and rebel against God at the same time). Or, in another scenario, if a person’s father and mother have done nothing exceptionally to deserve that honor commanded by God, well the commandment still holds in force, because God’s blessings of creation have in fact been brought to each of us through father and mother. Think about it, even in the horrible case of a conception by rape, the Biblical logic of the Decalouge commands a child to forgive the sins of his father, in order not to lose the blessings of the Father in heaven. It is a better thing to exist as a part of God’s creation, than to lose one’s very life and existence in protest against any lack of exception to the commandment.
Turning to practical examples in our day and age, this reflection on the biblical thread has brought me back to the answer I proposed. What about children of same-sex couples, those with two fathers or mothers? Those who accept my Catholic Biblical interpretation above will support the answer as both reasonable and doctrinal. Those who do not accept it I hope will still think about the ways that it agrees with their own intuition or philosophy of life. It is not “just as good” for a child to have two parents of the same sex as to have a “mother-father” pair as traditionally envisioned by Judeo-Christian tradition. Every person experiences, and will continue to experience, a feeling that they want to know their mother and father. Every person wants to believe that their own existence is inherently good, and this means that they want to be wanted by their father and mother. If they cannot grow up under the loving care of their biological father and mother, then the next best thing will always be to have a loving father-figure and mother-figure to guide them in God's intended attitude towards family. If a person cannot live with a loving father and mother, if their family has been chosen for them via some contracted procreative technology, or straightforward adoption, it is still the duty of father-figures and mother-figures to teach a love and respect for parents and procreation.
This experience is even affirmed in the experience of trying to get away from it. It is those who bear a hatred for their earthly parents who can never escape the emotionally self-destructive trap of anger. It is those who forgive the sins of their parents who are more easily set free from all irrational compulsions to rebel. While this is a Biblical perspective, I think most people who don’t accept the Biblical narrative will still have an intuition that there is something true in it.
I think therefore that same sex couples who pretend that they are “equally” fathers, or “equally” mothers of their children, are doing a great disservice to the natural emotions and instincts that should be formed in children about loving family. There is need for guidance on these issues of life, especially around the time that children begin to learn the facts of human procreation, and same-sex parenting can greatly confuse the matter when God's designs for the goodness of family are not treated properly.
Nothing I say here means that the arrangement of a man and woman, together raising children, in itself automatically instills more goodness and virtue in their children than any other household arrangement. Yes there may be husbands and wives who are terrible parents and who, in their parenting, obscure God’s good plans for life and creation. Foster parents or adopted parents might be much better for the children, but never in a way that rebels against the commandment Jesus insisted on so powerfully. Nothing here rules out the possibility of adoption. By the grace of God adoption can fulfill God’s plans for families. It was by a heavenly adoption that God redeemed the world. In the case of human adoption, I am not even saying that a child adopted by a same-sex couple will never benefit from forms of fatherly care, or motherly care, that they may receive from the parental figures that their adoption has put in place. I am saying that every child who grows up in a healthy environment will come to entertain in some ways the very question of their meaningful existence - where did I come from? - and they will not be satisfied with any answers unless those answers brings them definitively to God’s plans for their life.
          To make sense of God's plan, a person needs to come to grips about whether it is a good thing or a bad thing - in the overall schema of creation - that their biological parents brought them into existence. This question is usually not entertained consciously. It is always entertained subconsciously in the question of whether a person holds a love and goodwill towards their father and mother, or whether they hold a hatred for their father and mother. In human terms, there is one biological father and one biological mother.  Towards those two people, one of these sentiments will ultimately win out: either love, or hate. Getting the answer right is absolutely crucial for coming to love the true Father, and his plan for all His creatures.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

My Take on Baptism in Acts of the Apostles

In my first post, Theophilus....

Ok, that was a bad idea. For the record, that was a joke based on the way St. Luke begins the Gospel of Luke, and then begins the Acts of the Apostles. St. Luke wrote both books, so when I say "Acts says," it means both "what St. Luke wrote here."  And of course also " what God said here." This is Scripture.

So, seriously, this is "part two of two" on my posts about baptism in the Acts of the Apostles. Click HERE to read my lengthy analysis of the question. Here I will re-post the question in its briefest form, and then start to give for an answer what I think are my very small insights into Scripture.

Question: Why does the Acts of Apostles only describe baptism as "in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ" when (in Matt 28:19) Christ commanded us to baptize "in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit"?

Some preface notes for my answer. 

First is to say openly that my ideas are somewhat of a response to the Protestant conceptions of salvation. Particularly I believe this very scriptural issue requires a response to the kind of systems that Protestantism has adopted for receiving the salvation of Christ. To say that this is an issue at all is a response to the Protestant systems, which are said explicitly to supersede and replace the Catholic sacramental system. To spill the beans, I believe the Acts of the Apostles presents baptism in a very particular, objective, and salvific sense, which is exactly what Catholic sacramental theology claims for baptism, and has always claimed for baptism.


Second preface is the obvious point for those who read (or may read for the first time) the Acts of the Apostles: Acts in no way denies the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are clearly all spoke of, and all affirmed as divine. Likewise, when Acts consistently says "baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ" instead of baptized "in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit" it is not claiming to give any credal formula, nor is it explicitly quoting any baptismal ritual script. Therefore I confess I do overstate the problem when I speak as if this question seems like a matter of utter contradiction existing in the Scriptures, or of mental instability on the part of its Apostolic authors. This analysis is not an immediate clarification of core Christian doctrine. But, along with my first proviso where I have already "spilled the beans," I will say that a good insight into this question may in fact clarify a Christian doctrine that has in fact been divided and contradictory the last 500 years.


Now for my answer let us start to go through parts of Acts. I proceed first by interpreting some verses as they might seem to be interpreted in a Protestant system. [Proviso number three, there is of course no one singular Protestant system. Politely skipping any survey of the contradictions among Protestants, I say that I am responding to any of those systems whereby Protestants operate under some recognizable swap-out of traditions. Where the Catholic Church puts baptism, they put the intentional invocation of Jesus Christ as one's personal Lord and Savior, either vocally or silently but intentionally. Where the Catholic Church puts the sacrament of confirmation, they, practically speaking, put baptism. ]

Let us pretend you have been given a Bible by a Christian friend, who has already encouraged you to pray to Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. You have just read the whole Gospel of Luke, and it was pointed out that the story continues in "part two." You start to read Acts, inspired by the hope that you have found, that Jesus will give peace, and that there is such a thing as the forgiveness of sins. You read some strange business about finding a replacement for Judas, someone to have a "share," in some kind of ministry. But you don't really understand that, so you get passed the verse about having a replacement for "Apostle #12," and... BAM! you are at the exciting events of Pentecost. The presence and effects of the Holy Spirit are impressive. But there is not much there to inspire a personal hope for salvation, until you start reading a sermon by St. Peter that elaborates on the promises of some ancient prophet. Even if you can't match up the words of the Prophet Joel with the current events, the last line of Joel that St. Peter quotes in this sermon might catch your ear; "On that day whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!" (Acts 2:21, Joel 2:32).

Here you have the promise of promises, eternal life, that given to the repentant criminal on Calvary. St. Peter obviously would build upon this great promise. And he does. He proceeds to prove, via a quote of the 16th Psalm, that Jesus of Nazareth is in fact the long expected Christ, as proved by his resurrection. Lest they missed his greatest point, St. Peter quotes one more Messianic Psalm about the resurrection, and then states the grand conclusion, "know assuredly, that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified!" (2:36).

Now at this point the Catholic Church and many Protestant creeds are in agreement about how all the dots connect. Those who have listened to the Gospel should know that "they" crucified Jesus. But the crucifixion led to the forgiveness of sins. Therefore the great promise of salvation, mentioned by the prophet Joel, had been made available since the moment of the resurrection of Christ. We know... that... JESUS... IS... CHRIST AND LORD. The "name of the Lord" can be identified in none other than Jesus Christ. And St. Peter had just said, filling in the name for Joel's prophecy, "whoever calls on the name of the Lord [Jesus Christ] will be saved."

At this point it seems very clear that people should be led to pray to the Lord Jesus Christ. It seems clear that they should have some help using words to ask Jesus to forgive their sins. Peter should have reminded them of the words of the good thief on the cross, and told them to make some similar invocation. There should have been an altar call. This, after all, is how we "call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ," is it not? We must pray a "Jesus prayer" to have our sins forgiven.

But it is exactly here where you will find things not exactly as your Protestant friend had indicated. And here also is where St. Peter's next words give us the answer to that great Scriptural and historical puzzle about the way baptism is described in Acts. St. Peter does NOT say, "to receive the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of your sins, repent in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and be baptized." No. He says "repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the Holy Spirit." Focus in and let us make that even more explicit. He does NOT say, "repent in the name... and be baptized." He says "repent and be baptized in the name!" You see, St. Peter's imperative about repentance and baptism here are very much a summation of the prophecy of Joel. Read his sermon again and see that Jesus' name is the only name that has been "named" since St. Peter quoted that great promise, "on that day whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." He "named" Him when he proclaimed him both Lord and Christ. Now he "names" baptism as the key to calling upon the name. It is baptism that, to receive the promise of Joel, is done "in his name;" not the vocal prayer on behalf of the penitent.

In Acts, to be baptized is synonymous with "calling upon the name of the Lord," that is the salvation spoken of by Joel and quoted by St. Peter. The phrase is a shorthand. But it is shorthand for the great promise that one receives, and not for any ritual prayers for baptism. This way of describing baptism does contain a double entendre. It primarily means that the baptism itself is a salvific act of "calling upon the name" Jesus Christ, who died for the forgiveness of our sins and brings us the promised salvation of the day of the Lord. This description does also include this presupposition, that "calling upon the name of the Lord" we should insist on giving and receiving baptism with the very words that the Lord, Jesus Christ, instructed us to use for baptism. Every Christian reading Acts knew the latter part, and so Acts hammers home the former, many times. If baptism gives, in itself, the salvation promised by Joel on the day of the Lord, then the reason Acts of the Apostles never says explicitly how baptism is done, is because it is so focused on what baptism is: a sacrament for the forgiveness of sins and the reception of the Holy SpiritGo back to my questions and read the citations in Acts. It is clear in Acts that the forgiveness of sins was identified with the baptism, and not with any prayers that were expressed by the baptizee, although the two must be harmonious. 

Here in Acts the forgiveness of sins is not left to a subjective internal intention. It is identified with an objective external sign, which must match the internal intention. Such is my answer to the question of the seeming inconsistency of the exact words to use when baptizing. And if it seems like I'm trying to cram too much meaning into small little phrases from Acts, I confess it is because this is Scripture, and I can only do a very inadequate job for explaining the great truths that are here. Again, I'm sure there are some great Catholic scriptural insights out there from the good scholars.

I will mention in closing  I believe there are other corollaries to this in Acts. The baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, and the significance of John the Baptist in Acts, are things that have come powerfully into this picture too. Of course the idea of identifying the forgiveness of sins with the receiving of baptism needs to be put into the whole scheme of Acts, whereby the Church is actually doing much more than just going around and giving one sacrament in isolation from all other activity. There is that great issue of the manifestations of the Holy Spirit, which even when given by God before baptism, seemed only to highlight the necessity of baptism all the more. For the sake of brevity I had to keep myself from even using the word "covenant" here, but the whole of Acts - and the Bible for that matter - cannot be understood with that word. And, of course, the entire Acts has been called The Gospel of the Holy Spirit, and it requires a great response to His gifts to start to understand the way He operates, and the totality of what He was accomplishing in the Acts. 

I close this post with two thoughts from my small thought on baptism in Acts. 
First, given all of St. Peter's speech on the day of Pentecost, we can say that performing, giving, and receiving baptism as Christ commanded us is essentially a proclamation of the Lordship of Christ. Second, Pentecost should be a daily occurrence for the baptized believer.

Monday, November 13, 2017

A QUESTION ABOUT BAPTISM

Let me preface this piece with a little insight into the life of a country priest. I just finished an unfortunate but necessary extra finance meeting for the parish. Church furnaces (in the plural!) are out of order, and at least one of them is going to be replaced as of tonight’s meeting. I further have a list of maintenance needs that I really need to get on top of, at least sending requests for assistance since I can’t get these jobs done any time soon. I need to send an important planning email to my school principal, and get ahead of ten other letters and communications/ pieces of paperwork that should have been done a week ago. 
And yet there is something else on my mind that is finally spilling forth, and I need to get it in writing. It is a theological, biblical, and historical question all rolled into one. It has been on my mind for months, in part for years, and only recently (as I have tried to make some connections with Protestant pastor acquaintances and friends regarding the Reformation anniversary) have my thoughts made any progression on the question. As of this day, I realized that there was a clearly important historical reference that I had never checked. I just checked it, and I finally need to put this into a piece of writing, and so I am starting right now, when it is late and I am hungry.
Let me give you the context of the question. It is the historical record of the Church’s baptismal practice. When preaching on the Creed I like to point out that our earliest versions of the Apostles’ Creed come to us in the form of liturgies, whereby the Church was performing baptisms, according to the Creed that Apostles instructed us to use, when performing baptisms. That is, people were baptized “in the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” as they professed their believe in the Trinity in the baptismal ritual of the second century (see the Apostolic Tradition of St. Hippolytus, ca. 215AD). I just today checked out The Didache of the Twelve Apostles, which is a document from around the year 100 AD, and it is absolutely clear that, as the name of the Didache suggests, baptism “in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” is an Apostolic Practice, which was happening while at least some of the Apostles were still alive. For, the Didache reads,
And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. But before the baptism let the baptizer fast, and the baptized, and whoever else can; but you shall order the baptized to fast one or two days before.
And here your Scripture student of any devotion and acumen whatsoever might point out that this is exactly what one would expect, since it is the verified historical record, of the Gospel writers of the inspired Scriptures, that our Lord himself instructed the Apostles to perform baptism in this manner. Let us read the whole of the Great Commission given at the time of the Ascension.
Matthew 28: 16-20. The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted. Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
Of course the Apostles baptized in this manner. And of course they instructed their followers, their successors, and the whole early church to baptize in this manner. All of Christianity, except for some modern off-kilter pastors who thought it nice to re-invent baptism, always performed baptisms in the way that Jesus himself instructed us, by invoke the whole Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
So here is my question, if Jesus was so clear in Matthew 28:19, and the inspired Gospels record his very words on how to baptize, and the historical records from around 100 AD, and 200 AD both confirm (as a historical record) that the early church did invoke the whole Trinity for every baptism, why is it that the one inspired Scriptural book of the Bible, whose sole purpose it is to give us a “history” of the Apostolic Church from the time of the Ascension of Jesus to the proclamation of the Gospel at “the ends of the earth,” does not seem to affirm this practice exactly as it was commanded in the Gospel and then performed in the early Church? The question is why the Acts of the Apostles, as a divinely inspired book of history, never speaks about baptism “in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Not. Once! 
Why is the description of baptism, which is categorically used in the Acts of the Apostles (save the direct quotation of the Gospel promise of being "baptized with the Holy Spirit,” Cf. 1:5, 11:16), only that of being baptized “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” I pulled all the references to baptism, so you can see for yourself.
NAB Acts 1:5 for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the holy Spirit."
 1:22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us, become with us a witness to his resurrection."
NAB Acts 2:38 Peter (said) to them, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the holy Spirit.
 2:41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day.
NAB Acts 8:12 but once they began to believe Philip as he preached the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, men and women alike were baptized.
 8:13 Even Simon himself believed and, after being baptized, became devoted to Philip; and when he saw the signs and mighty deeds that were occurring, he was astounded.
 8:16 for it had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
 8:36 As they traveled along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, "Look, there is water. What is to prevent my being baptized?"
 8:38 Then he ordered the chariot to stop, and Philip and the eunuch both went down into the water, and he baptized him.
NAB Acts 9:18 Immediately things like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. He got up and was baptized,
NAB Acts 10:37 what has happened all over Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached,
10: 47 "Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people, who have received the holy Spirit even as we have?"
 10:48 He ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
NAB Acts 11:16 and I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, 'John baptized with water but you will be baptized with the holy Spirit.'
NAB Acts 13:24 John heralded his coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel;
NAB Acts 16:15 After she and her household had been baptized, she offered us an invitation, "If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my home," and she prevailed on us.
16: 33 He took them in at that hour of the night and bathed their wounds; then he and all his family were baptized at once.
NAB Acts 18:8 Crispus, the synagogue official, came to believe in the Lord along with his entire household, and many of the Corinthians who heard believed and were baptized.
 18:25 He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord and, with ardent spirit, spoke and taught accurately about Jesus, although he knew only the baptism of John.
NAB Acts 19:3 He said, "How were you baptized?" They replied, "With the baptism of John."
 19:4 Paul then said, "John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus."
19: 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
NAB Acts 22:16 Now, why delay? Get up and have yourself baptized and your sins washed away, calling upon his name.'
See even more. Some of St. Paul’s letters seem to suggest that he was in on this let’s-correct-our-Lord’s-own-wording-for-baptism scheme. For example,
NAB Romans 6:3 Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
NAB Galatians 3:27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

It’s like the Apostolic Church went schizophrenic for thirty years, and after the Ascension the Apostles immediately decided just to drop two persons of the Trinity out of baptism, and then the Church, in the year 100 AD, immediately set to work remedying this terrible omission of the Father and of the Holy Spirit.  Certainly this wasn’t the case.
Maybe there were shorthand expressions employed in Acts, whereby one just needed to write one of three names, and everyone knew that they were supposed to read all three names into the literal reference. It is after all much shorter and cheaper on the ancient ink budget to write “baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” than “baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” But surely the explanation of all of this is not that the Apostles were just trying to save some drops of ink by using some consensus recognized shorthand. I say surely this is not the explanation, and I say so because I believe I know part of the real explanation. I believe that there is a real gap in the Christian faith itself if this cannot be explained in a more meaningful way. And I believe that there is something very important deep down in this seeming inconsistency in the Scriptures and in Church History.

I confess that I will not do justice to an answer, but I think I have the start of one. There are some key scripture passages at stake, and I wish I had the time to research all of them just to get another insight or two into this question. It has probably been done by some real scholar somewhere already. Any of the good Catholic exegetes out there are surely way ahead of me of understanding baptism in the Acts of the Apostles. But I don’t have the time to look for such research, and so I will bang out in a short while what it has taken me a few months to come up with from my own musings. It will have to be another post, which I promise to write within a few weeks. Promise. I hope and pray the very work I just put into phrasing the question leads me to new insight into my partial answers.
And not just insight. But gratitude, and devotion, for such a great gift as I have received, through the gift of baptism.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Catholic Books!

October 22, 2017
Letter about beginning St. Anthony's Library for Evangelization and Catechesis
Dear Friends in Christ, The numerous Catholic books that have been shelved in our various churches, rectories, and halls have started to be transported to St. John Vianney Church Irasburg. A couple book shelves have already been placed in the sacristy to start sorting and displaying Catholic books. I think every Catholic should have a good 15 or 20 favorite Catholic books in their home. A Bible and a Catechism are of course prerequisites before counting other books in one’s personal collection. But many priests, parishes, and laity end up with a pile of good Catholic books which are never used or referenced. It is worth an initiative to display them, and maybe circulate them a little more. Do you need to find some classic Catholic books for your spiritual reading every now and then? St. Anthony’s Library is a resource for you. Have you ever looked for a particular book or books on a particular topic? I hope St. Anthony’s Library is a resource for you. In a few months I hope to share an available book list with Seminarians, DREs, Church Ministers, and other priests. That you may know where the library name came from, it is a convergence of many factors. St. Anthony of Padua is a doctor of the Church, and he has been given the title of “the  Evangelical Doctor.” Whatever spreads the Gospel is evangelical. The goal of a Catholic library of course is the goal that St. Anthony had: to spread the Catholic faith. St. John Vianney was a tertiary Franciscan who adopted the Franciscan spirit in his life. So there is a connection between St. Anthony and St. John Vianney. In our parish, both St. John Vianney Church and St. Paul’s Church have statues of St. Anthony of Padua. Both St. John Vianney and St. Anthony were students of theology. It is a caricature of St. John Vianney that he was little educated because he was a poor student. While lagging behind in his seminary studies, and certainly not as studied as St. Anthony, he eventually came to own a personal library of 500 books: a notable book collection for a simple parish priest! And he studied them and referred to them to prepare his sermons. His interest was always to teach the Catholic and Apostolic faith, so that people could life a life worthy of the treasures of heaven. Therefore I think he would approve of a church having his name holding “St. Anthony's Library for Evangelization and Catechesis.” Thank you for donations of books by Catholic authors which are written according to the Catholic faith. God bless you, Fr. Naples


Friday, August 18, 2017

To My Parishioners In Regards to the Barton Fair

Last weekend I shared at the 10:00 Mass that a letter might be published in the Barton Chronicle, which, among other things, would say that I think the Demolition Derby ("the demo") is a big waste of time and money. This letter was in fact published, and of course several people have commented on it.
I write an explanation here because two separate parishioners, whom I hold in good regard and very much like and respect, ended up sharing the exact same concern with me.
If I capture the gist of their comments correctly, the concern goes as such. The demo-derby is not an intrinsically immoral activity. It is enjoyed by youth (area high school students), including youth in the parish. It is often supported by Catholic parents who deem it a fun, experience building, activity worth the time and money for their children. Why criticize the activity publicly? Won't this risk alienating the youth who have entered the demo, or who want to enter it, to know that their pastor says it is a waste of time and money? 
These concerns deserve a full response, so I intend this note for our parishioners.
In the first place I hope to make clear that this issue was written in with two other issues: the significant amount of time that I, and Catholic parishioners, and St. Paul's School have been putting into the fair these recent years, and the emergence of this burlesque show as a highlight of this year's fair. A third latent issue is our preoccupation with money, which is mixed throughout the consideration. 
Firstly I hope I made it clear, that I deem the burlesque show to be intrinsically immoral, and that it is a true concern, and that I hoped the show was a flop, and that our involvement in the fair as Catholics might keep it from coming back as a feature of the fair. I did go so far as to insinuate that I would rather lose the typical $4,000 donation to St. Paul's School from the Fair Association, than have the fair rely on such immoral shows to have a successful week.
That is fine, but why go from this point to start criticizing something that is not intrinsically immoral? The immediate answer is that I am being sincere. I believe much immorality happens because of the demo derby, not because it is a sin of commission to drive in the demo, but because the intent and circumstances of the demo are connected to many sins of omission. This is precisely why I called it a waste. Waste is usually a sin insofar as it is a sin of omission. Rarely is waste of time or money a sin because of hatred, or envy, or some other sin of commission. Waste is usually due to sloth, or ingratitude, or some other sin of omission. I had not thought about any distinction between our youth and the older demo-derby participants, but the place for this thought will be explained here too.
Let me first explain how my opinion is similar to the view of the editorial, which in 1968 described horse trotting as "cruel, false, exciting, brain crazying, business." I believe the cruelty is when people put in so much time and money for their own enjoyment, yet omit to have compassion on those who would benefit from some of that time and money in the community. People the northeast can be generous and helpful, but they can also be stingy. We have a ways to go to see that it is not weakness or a perversion of justice to do more to help our neighbor. We are a mixed bag when it comes to hospitality and true charity. It exists and is inspiring. But I wish to say that we, in our local society, can do more. Let me say further that I believe the falsity of the demo business is in those families (whom I know) who really can't afford it, but do it anyway, to the detriment of their personal life, and of family life. Maybe it is a small percentage, but I know it is a percentage.
Would that more of the demo-derbying adults would use more of their time and money to as God intended, "honor your father and mother" by putting God first in one's own family. Then a new generation of children and grandchildren might inherit the right perspective on family life, and on using the resources of this earth. Would that the same children and grandchildren might be in a better place to try out a demo-derby once or twice, in a culture with less waste and more balance in life. And, would that it were the norm that people driving in the demo were using it as a means to do fundraising for great causes in the community! You know, like getting lots of sponsors to donate to a church and school while their priest gets to enjoy the demo. If anyone in the community can pick up where Fr. Rupp left off on this, then by all means do try to use the demo to promote a community minded culture for good and Godly causes. I myself am a little busy right now, and in truth, I think it would be a poor use of the time and money that is available to me at the moment. I could make lots of suggestions to those who have the time and money, but I leave all other people free to conclude the consideration on their own. In particular I defer to our Catholic parents to be the good guides and models, and decide if and when and whether it is a good thing for their children to drive in a demo.
[As an aside I will also add that I am dissimilar to the commentator from 1968 in that it seems he was writing like a Puritan, while I am writing as a Catholic. It seems he criticized the horse races in the very fact that they were exciting and brain crazying. That the demo is exciting and brain crazying is clear enough, but I do not criticize it on those Puritan grounds. Hence, I threw in a reference to my little side hobby, the exciting and brain crazying juggling of dangerous instruments. This hobby, however, only receives a very small amount of my time and money.]
To conclude then, the pieces are here spelled out for my reason for bringing up the moral considerations of the fair's biggest single event. The demo is a case study for the whole fair. I must ask, what should we as Catholics be doing with our time and money, and how does the fair as a whole fit in? Is it worth keeping the institutional ties we have right now, through the School, yes, but also through the Knights of Columbus Bingo? I brought up the question, and made it clear that I still think it is worth it. Until someone gets so fed up with their local priest's moral preaching, and just bans him and his parish and school from the fair, I think we will stay involved. But let all know that our moral responsibilities as Catholics are not all fulfilled simply by getting the burlesque show off the brochures.
God bless you.
With Mary, In Christ, 
Fr. Tim Naples

Friday, May 26, 2017

VT Knights of Columbus, Again

The following note was prepared for the June Vermont State Knights of Columbus Newsletter. A resolution on which I comment is posted below, with some more resolutions from the Vermont State Knights of Columbus.

Dear Brothers in Christ,
I encourage counsels to use our 2017 Resolutions from the State Convention as an inspirational and programmatic resource. I have begun to post a few of resolutions on my own personal blog: http://trinityparishinbarton.blogspot.com.
A note to make about our state council Resolution #4, which is in Support for Culture of and Respect for Life. Discussion around this resolution brought forward the possibility that some Catholics are unaware of how the misleading term "Death with Dignity" has become a euphemism for Physician Assisted Suicide in our anti-Christian culture. Furthermore, those who are not well informed about this issue, or about Christian ethics, might wrongly argue from our resolution as it is currently worded, that when we condemn the use of this euphemism, we somehow wish that people would lose their dignity at their time of death. It is not so! Let good Catholics be well informed, and clearly show that there is no dignity in any kind of suicide, and it is shameful that "Death with Dignity" has been adopted as the misleading catchword for this lamentable movement in our state and country. 
Some of this information can be added to our culture of life resolution next year to strengthen its statements in support of human life, from conception ton natural death.
Let us continue on with every energetic effort to build a culture of life.
God bless, State Chaplain, Fr. Tim Naples


VT Resolution # 4
SUPPORT FOR CULTURE OF AND RESPECT FOR LIFE
WHEREAS, the Supreme Court of the United States did sanction abortion on demand throughout this nation; and 

WHEREAS, our Holy Mother Church throughout the world has unequivocally condemned this practice as sinful, and a most grievous affront to Almighty God,
                                                                 
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Vermont State Council, Knights of Columbus urge all Councils and members within the jurisdiction of Vermont to support financially and physically the Pro-Life Movement; and

BE IT RESOLVED, that all councils join as a group, to express their solidarity with our Bishop, Priests and members of our communities who are supporters of the respect for life, from the moment of conception until natural death; and

FURTHER RESOLVED, that all brother Knights and their families whenever possible, withdraw any support for any health care provider, whether an establishment, doctor, nurse or health care professional that has publicly endorsed any form of “Death with Dignity”; and

FURTHER RESOLVED, that this convention of the Knights of Columbus urges the legitimate authority in capital cases to explore all non-lethal means to defend and protect the people from the aggressor, before seeking recourse to execution; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that a copy of this resolution be sent to the President of the United States, our Governor, our two U.S. Senators, our Congressman, and the Vermont Right to Life Committee.

VT Resolution # 5
TRADITIONAL VALUES
WHEREAS, the Vermont State Council, Knights of Columbus shares the concern of sexual permissiveness in our society, as expressed by our Bishops; and

WHEREAS, traditional values of love, marriage, and family life are being attacked, deliberately, viciously, and unrelentingly in the name of sexual freedom, which ultimately enslaves its victims in a life that endangers the general population with violence towards women, physical disease, and mental illness; and

WHEREAS, the current emphasis of sex education in schools today promotes sexual freedom and experimentation if it is deemed medically safe, rather than promote moral values and chastity; and

WHEREAS, this liberal sexual education leads to more teenage sex, teenage pregnancy, and teenage abortion;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Vermont State Council express its disapproval of any sex education in our schools that encourages heterosexual or homosexual activity; and
                                                                 
FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Vermont State Council, in its 119th Convention, urges the Supreme Council to include in the Crusade for Life Campaign, its opposition to sex education in our schools which promotes and encourages sexual promiscuity; and

FURTHER RESOLVED, that a copy of this Resolution be sent to the Chairperson of the Vermont State Board of Education.

VT Resolution # 6
DEFINITION OF MARRIAGE
BE IT RESOLVED, that we never waver in our efforts to promote the church’s understanding of marriage as the faithful, exclusive and lifelong union of one man and one woman joined in an intimate partnership of life and love; and

FURTHER RESOLVED, that we pray that the Holy Spirit will enlighten elected officials to adopt laws and judges to make judicial decisions that affirm the family and the authentic nature of marriage; and

FURTHER RESOLVED, that we join with the bishops and priests of the United States, Canada and throughout the world in their efforts to achieve legal and constitutional protection at the federal and state levels for the traditional definition of marriage as a union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Random Thoughts on the Lord's Prayer

“Give us this day our daily bread.” 
This is truly a reminder of the manna in the desert. This could also be translated “give us only for today our sustenance from heaven.” It is a reminder of our mortality, that God never promises us tomorrow, but only today.


“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
The word “forgive” comes from the word “give.” The word, for me, means that forgiveness amounts to giving the same thing twice, or to giving a thing preemptively before it has been taken from us.

In the analogy of monetary debts, if I loaned someone an amount and they did not pay it back, then forgiveness is like me giving them the exact same amount, a second time, as a gift, so that they can pay me back the same amount which they had borrowed in the first place. Thus, I for-gave by giving the same amount twice.

In terms of offenses it means making an excuse for the offense before the offense is even done. It is as if I take the mindset and say, prior to the offense, “you will do this to me but it matters not.” Or, has been said in other words, “before the cock crows you will deny me three times.” That is in anticipation of the sin, the debt is already accounted as nothing compared to the relationship.



Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Vermont Knights of Columbus

Yours truly just returned from the annual Vermont State Council Knights of Columbus Convention. As State Chaplain for the Vermont Knights of Columbus, I will share some of the statements adopted as resolutions.

There is this one:
IN DEFENSE OF RELIGIOUS LIBERTY
WHEREAS, the Catholic Church teaches that the right to religious freedom is based upon the inherent dignity of the human person, which is known through both reason and divine revelation; and

WHEREAS, the right to religious freedom is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States; and 

WHEREAS, religious freedom means that all persons are to be free from coercion in matters of belief and conscience, and that no person should be forced to act in a manner contrary to his or her own beliefs or conscience;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that we will never waver in our efforts to defend religious freedom as an inherent right of all Americans; and 

FURTHER RESOLVED, that we will remain steadfast in our opposition to any future governmental action or policy that forces Catholic institutions and individuals to violate our most deeply held moral and religious convictions; and

FURTHER RESOLVED, that our struggle for religious freedom at this decisive moment in our nation’s history is not only for our sake, but for the sake of our children, our grandchildren and all future generations, so that they too may know a country that is “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”; and


FURTHER RESOLVED, that a copy of this resolution be sent to the President of the United States, our Governor, our two U.S. Senators, and our Congressman.

And also this one:
FAMILY PILGRIMAGE TO ST ANNE’S SHRINE
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that on July 16, 2017, the Vermont State Council sponsor a pilgrimage to St. Anne’s Shrine at Isle LaMotte, under the direction of the State Chaplain; and

FURTHER RESOLVED, that every council and their families take part in the Family Pilgrimage to St. Anne’s Shrine.  Families are strongly encouraged to attend; and

FURTHER RESOLVED, that the installation of the elected State Officers shall take place after the celebration of Holy Mass on July 16, 2017 at St. Anne’s Shrine at Isle LaMotte under the direction of the State Deputy.


Regarding these two (more to follow later) I make a few comments.

First, the National Knights of Columbus have some great initiatives and materials on the efforts in our nation to secure religious liberty. They are worth checking out. Click the link.

And also, as state Chaplain I will, of course, be offering the Mass at St. Anne's Shrine on July 16th. It will be a special 12:30PM Mass, preceded by 11:00AM Rosary and followed by the instillation of state officers, and a barbecue lunch. I here share that I plan to provide a juggling show for entertainment at the lunch.
Therefore I say, consider joining us. And share away.
Fr. Tim Naples

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Holy Thursday for my parish

Text prepared for the Holy Thursday Homily in St. Paul's Church, Thursday April 13th, 2017.

This special Mass of the Lord’s Supper brings us into the unique experience of encountering Jesus among the settings and experiences which he went through, 2000 years ago. On the day he celebrated the Last Supper, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. On the day he died - that will be tomorrow - we will enter into the experience of his passion by fasting and venerating the cross. On the “day” he rose from the dead (really, “the night,” since he rose before sunrise) we will begin the greatest celebratory season in the Church: the Church which is the greatest witness to the fact that he rose and lives even today.
We know that in the course of the Last Supper Jesus did several things. First, he transformed the Passover meal into the Mass, by making the bread become his body and the wine become his blood – mysteriously, miraculously, but really, and truly. This miracle is forever connected with the fact that he died in our place, and this we will explain in just a minute. But we also observe that Jesus told his Apostles to celebrate his body and blood, as the memorial of his death and resurrection, in the same way. So Jesus also made the 12 Apostles priests, and he set up his Church so that priests could always bring these mysteries to the world. And one more thing he did; he gave a picture of service, the most dramatic that he could. He washed the feet of the Apostles, which was a job only laid upon the lowest and most useless of servants.
With all of these things in mind – and we just heard about each of these elements in our scripture readings – let us contemplate a most significant aspect of each.
First: when we celebrate the Eucharist with a priest, we are always reminded of how Jesus died for us. Without Jesus we would all suffer two kinds of “death.” We would suffer both physical death, and spiritual death. Spiritual death is the worst kind. But Jesus knew that if he suffered physical death, it would save us from spiritual death. This is the great message that we should remember tonight in remembering the Last Supper. It connects us to our Lord’s saving death. Without this, the rest of our life would really have no meaning.
With that said, I invite everyone for a moment, to close their eyes, and say this prayer with me.
“Jesus, you are my lord and my savior. I thank you for dying on the cross for me. Forgive all of my sins, and bring me to eternal life. Amen.”
Now, one saying of Jesus I want to focus on specifically, since I have asked middle school students from our school to help represent the washing of the feet. As we just heard, when Jesus was done washing the feet of the Apostles he said “I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you should also do.”
This commandment has a specific meaning for priests, and that meaning can be brought out when there are 12 men of the parish who display the washing of feet. But it has a meaning for all Christians, and I invite you to think about the very specific word that Jesus used: that of an example. He said “I have given you an example.” The washing of the feet should give an example of some particular point. And the point I wish to emphasize to night is that examples of Jesus’s example should be reinforced constantly between each generation of believers. Who has the greater responsibility to give an example, and who has the responsibility to take heed of the example? We, the adults, must give that example of faith to our youth. They do not have the responsibility to give the example to the adults. They have the responsibility to receive that example, and put it into practice.
I hope it makes sense that if I ceremoniously wash the feet of our young students here tonight, the point is not whether they are getting the example of Jesus from me. The point is whether everyone else here is getting the example of Jesus from the Church.
I want our students here to help me give an example to our parishioners, to remind our parishioners that we must give an example to our youth. May I say also that this same pattern should exist when we have our young people participating in the Liturgy each on any given Sunday. I hope that more and more of them can serve, sing, usher, and read at our weekend Masses. But let us not think that they will hold onto ANY of the messages that we receive every Sunday, unless they have a strong example of many other people who step forward in faith, and provide that example of trusting discipleship to our Lord Jesus Christ.
As we display the washing of feet tonight, I invite you to think and to pray about the best ways that we should be passing on to our youth the examples of faithfully loving and following our Lord Jesus Christ.

After that, as we celebrate the Eucharist, and receive our Lord Jesus Christ into our hearts – and then spend some silent time with him at the end of this Mass – I invite you to offer him everything. Not for our youth, but for love of his love alone.