The Great Adventure Catholic Bible Study 73 Books. One Story. Your Story. Thu, 17 Aug 2017 13:09:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Magisterium and the Dilemma of Dissent Thu, 17 Aug 2017 04:16:45 +0000 Editor’s note: This article was first published on Catholic Stand.

There used to be a time when many of the world’s Catholic Christians submitted to the Church’s vision of faith and morals. The teaching authority of the Church was respected and trusted by Catholics the world over. However, the 21st century is a different time. There are more baptized Catholics now than ever before. Sadly, many of our brothers and sisters have either not been properly catechized, have become lukewarm to the faith, or have completely lapsed from the faith yet may still make a claim to a sort of Catholic identity.

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What Is the Magisterium?

In all three cases, there is a common thread: the opinions of the secular world creep in and replace the Catholic worldview to which these people, at one time, purported to adhere. We call this authority the Magisterium of the Church. Before we continue, it’s necessary that we understand exactly what this Magisterium is. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines it in this way:

… [T]his Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication and expounds it faithfully.
Mindful of Christ’s words to his apostles: “He who hears you, hears me”, the faithful receive with docility the teachings and directives that their pastors give them in different forms. …
“By this appreciation of the faith, aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth, the People of God, guided by the sacred teaching authority (Magisterium), … receives … the faith, once for all delivered to the saints. … The People unfailingly adheres to this faith, penetrates it more deeply with right judgment, and applies it more fully in daily life.” (CCC 86-87, 93) 

Large numbers of Catholics worldwide ignore the Magisterium on a variety of subjects. Since they ignore and dissent from this “sacred teaching authority” they are faced with a dilemma. If the Church is wrong about any of its teachings, even just one, this is tantamount to admitting that Jesus is a false god, because he allowed the Church he founded to teach error. This brings up a pressing question: are dissenting Catholics ready to admit this?

Case in Point: Contraception

Recently in the news, we have an example of a dissenting Catholic in Melinda Gates, who was baptized Catholic as a child and is the wife of Microsoft founder Bill Gates. Gates is very well known for promoting artificial contraception both in the United States and abroad, especially in poorer countries. In a radio interview for the BBC, Gates made it clear that she and the Pope “agree to disagree” on the morality of contraception.

Gates went on to say, “It’s been a while since [the Catholic Church] revisited this topic [of contraception] — but I’m still optimistic that they might [change the teaching] over time.” This is a reference to Blessed Pope Paul VI’s remarkable encyclical Humanae Vitae, which reconfirmed the constant teaching of the Catholic Church:

Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation — whether as an end or as a means. Neither is it valid to argue, as a justification for sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive, that a lesser evil is to be preferred to a greater one [i.e., poverty] … (HV 4.2-3).

At this point, I’d like to make clear that we could talk about a number of issues that modern Catholics dissent on; from state sanctioned homosexual marriage to abortion, to in vitro fertilization and cloning, to the benefits of Freemasonry. But as this contraception issue is in the news now, let’s focus on this avenue as we try to show why a rejection of Church teaching on one issue of faith or morals necessarily entails a rejection of Jesus’ Church (not to mention, a rejection of Jesus himself) as a whole.

Who is Right?

At another point in the interview, Gates opines, “… I think what this pope sees is that if we are going to lift people out of poverty, you have to do the right thing for women.”  By “right thing”, she, of course, means giving and promoting artificial contraception to women in poverty.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. How does Gates gauge whether a certain thing or activity is “right” or not? Does she believe that the Church can make an accurate pronouncement on the morality or sinfulness of a certain action?

Apparently not, as she outright rejects what the Church teaches on contraception. If she believes she is doing “the right thing for women” by promoting contraceptives, then the Church, by doing the opposite in condemning the use of contraceptives, must be doing the wrong thing. Two contradictory things can’t both be right and true. In this case, either Gates is wrong, or Christ in his Church is wrong. And if it’s the latter, all those who profess to be Catholic have quite the dilemma.

The Timeless Teaching of the Church

What reasons does the Catholic Church have to believe that contraception is not the right thing? First off, this has been the timeless teaching of the Church, going back to the apostolic age. Secondly, it’s been reiterated numerous times in the past 2,000 years by the teaching authority of the Church. Most recently was last year by Pope Francis in his apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia:

… [S]exuality is “ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman” … [and this] union is ordered to procreation “by its very nature”. … From the outset, love refuses every impulse to close in on itself; it is open to a fruitfulness that draws it beyond itself. Hence no genital act of husband and wife can refuse this meaning, even when for various reasons it may not always in fact beget a new life. (AL 80)

Thirdly, we can also look to the Catechism, which, through the Magisterium, teaches that contraception is “intrinsically evil”. That’s a pretty serious condemnation. What does the word “intrinsic” exactly mean though? It’s defined as “belonging to the essential nature or constitution of a thing”. In other words, a contraceptive “action which proposes … to render procreation impossible is intrinsically evil.” (CCC 2370). Since evil is essentially and intrinsically connected to such an action, it is always sinful to engage in such an action, no matter the context and no matter what era in time one is living in. Compare this language regarding contraception to the Catechism’s condemnation of rape:

Rape is the forcible violation of the sexual intimacy of another person. … It is always an intrinsically evil act. (CCC 2356)

The Cardinal Difficulty of Dissent

So here’s where the dissenting Catholic has to face this quandary head on. Virtually everyone accepts the Church’s teaching that rape is morally wrong. There is no situation that could ever justify it. If the Church is right here in making such a pronouncement, why is it wrong in declaring the same thing for contraceptive acts? If the Church is indeed wrong in saying that contraception is sinful, as some dissenting Catholics believe, then that means the Church has led mankind into error on matters of faith and morals for centuries and directly contradicts the promise Christ made before his Ascension. It means that Jesus is not Lord, but a liar. It means that he is not the Truth, but a falsifier.

Here’s the promise Jesus made us:

I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; … and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:12-14)

If the Church has incorrectly been telling people for centuries that contraception is sinful, then the Holy Spirit, who speaks for Christ in His Church, has not guided us into all truth; He’s guided us into error. And an almighty God can never lead us into error, meaning Jesus can’t possibly be that same God.

That is the logical conclusion dissenting Catholics must face when their opinions come under scrutiny. Thankfully, we know the opinions and desires of such people are indeed false. Doctrine can legitimately develop (i.e., the natures of Christ), but a complete rejection or “change” of prior revelation and teaching can never be possible, as is the case with contraception.

Spiritual Formation

Now, ignorance of doctrine could be at play in Mrs. Gates’ case. But that’s no excuse, especially in the Internet age with a wealth of knowledge about the faith at our fingertips. All Catholics have a duty to learn about the faith they profess. Pope St. John Paul II laid things out nicely in his 1988 apostolic exhortation, Christifideles Laici:

There is no doubt that spiritual formation ought to occupy a privileged place in a person’s life. Everyone is called to grow continually in intimate union with Jesus Christ, in conformity to the Father’s will, in devotion to others in charity and justice. … The situation today points to an ever-increasing urgency for a doctrinal formation of the lay faithful …. Formation is not the privilege of a few, but a right and duty of all. (CL 60.2-3, 63)

Are we really taking this duty seriously? Or are we purposely being ignorant by not delving into the reasons why the Church teaches what it does? If we continue to be ignorant without learning more about what the Church actually teaches, we enter down a very destructive path, as St. Thomas Aquinas points out in his Summa Theologiae:

…[Some] ignorance is voluntary, either directly, as when a man wishes of set purpose to be purposely ignorant of certain things that he may sin the more freely; or indirectly, as when a man, through stress of work or other occupations, neglects to acquire the knowledge which would restrain him from sin. Such negligence renders the ignorance itself voluntary and sinful, provided it be about matters one is bound and able to know. (STh I-II, Q. 76 A.3 co.)

Summary: All or Nothing

If we are duty bound, as St. John Paul explained, to be well-formed in the doctrine of Christ’s Church, we have to make this formation a priority so we can avoid falling into the sin that St. Thomas describes. We can’t keep saying, “Well, I think the Church is wrong here,” while simultaneously neglecting our formation, which leads us to become ignorant of the faith we claim to profess.

Sometimes, people may not fully understand a teaching of the Church and struggle with it, but if they have trust that Jesus is working in the Church, they should not outright reject it. Instead, they keep their trust in Christ’s Church, progressing to a better understanding through prayer. If the Church is wrong on one matter of faith or morals, the whole house of cards falls. It’s time for active dissenters to face their dilemma head on and make a difficult choice: either they are right or Christ is right. As far as Christ and His Church goes, it’s all or nothing. Accepting only some of his teachings as true is nothing but a rejection.

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Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time Wed, 16 Aug 2017 19:38:05 +0000

In this week’s Encountering the Word video, Jeff Cavins reflects on the readings for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time:

First Reading: Isaiah 56:1, 6-7
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8
Second Reading: Romans 11:13-15, 29-32
Alleluia: CF. Matthew 4:23
Gospel: Matthew 15:21

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How Mary’s Assumption Is Rooted in Tradition & Scripture Thu, 10 Aug 2017 04:09:46 +0000 The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which we celebrate on August 15, is the dogma most recently proclaimed by a pope infallibly. Pope Pius XII did so by promulgating an apostolic constitution on All Saints’ Day of the Jubilee Year 1950. In the document (entitled Munificentissimus Deus), Pius defined the dogma of the Assumption by an ex cathedra pronouncement—that is, an authoritative teaching “from the chair” of Peter.


In his teaching, Pius XII explained that defining the dogma of the Assumption would benefit the faithful by strengthening their devotion to Our Lady in the midst of tumultuous times. Just coming out of the aftermath in Europe from the Second World War, Pius noted how Catholics clung to the Blessed Mother for refuge.

What Led up to the Pronouncement

In 1946, not long after the end of hostilities, Pius had sent a letter to all the bishops of the world. Though the pope could make an ex cathedra pronouncement without the assistance of the bishops, Pius XII sought to follow the example of Pius IX, who had consulted the bishops of the world prior to defining the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. The letter to the bishops, Deiparae Virginis Mariae, later promulgated as an encyclical in 1950, was given in response to a popular petition for a definition of the dogma.

Pius XII recalls (in Munificentissimus Deus) the close connection of the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception (that the Blessed Virgin was conceived without original sin) and her Assumption (that she was taken up to Heaven, body and soul, without seeing corruption). This is because the corruption after death is a penal effect of original sin. If the Blessed Virgin lacked original sin, then her body must have escaped corruption.

Thus, ever since the proclamation of the Immaculate Conception in 1854, there was a public outcry for the pursuant dogma of the Assumption to be definitively proclaimed. Pius XII speaks of there being two whole volumes recording the letters received from the faithful requesting a proclamation. Furthermore, many of the bishops of the First Vatican Council, which was ended abruptly because of war in 1870, expressed favor for the Assumption being defined. Already, the Assumption was celebrated as a feast on the Roman calendar on August 15 and belonged to popular devotional consciousness in the Fourth Glorious Mystery of the Rosary. Many churches had also been named in honor of Mary’s Assumption.

Above is an example of the successor of Peter listening closely to and interpreting the sensus fedelium, or the supernatural sense of the faithful for the Church’s traditional teaching. It is also an example of the pope discerning a doctrine as being taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium—that is, taught faithfully by the bishops throughout the world and throughout history. Pius simply elevated the teaching to a still higher and clearer level of authority—an infallible papal pronouncement, specially guaranteed by the Holy Spirit. Such a pronouncement would make clear for the faithful that this teaching is (and always has been) part of the deposit of faith received from Scripture and Tradition. Certainly, the recent experience of this process of defining the Assumption was fresh in the minds of the fathers of the Second Vatican Council in later teaching on the various levels of infallibility in the Church, supporting and interpreting the Word of God in Scripture and Tradition (Lumen Gentium, no. 25).

The Assumption in Sacred Tradition

Though supported by Scripture, the Assumption is clearest from Tradition. Thus Pius XII first explains the reasoning for the Assumption from the way in which the Church throughout history has prayed and taught. One of the principles for discerning Sacred Tradition has been classically articulated as lex orandi, lex credendi – “the law of prayer is the law of belief.” Thus the way the Church traditionally prays shows how the Church believes. Many ancient liturgical books celebrate the Assumption, including the ancient Gallican sacramentary, which states, “an ineffable mystery all the more worthy of praise as the Virgin’s Assumption is something unique among men” (Munificentissimus Deus, no. 18). Popes from early centuries, including Adrian I, Leo IV, and Nicholas I, showed official papal approbation for the celebration of the Assumption of Mary, which was already long established (no. 17, 19). Furthermore, the Assumption of Mary was held and celebrated universally in the Eastern Church.

Numerous Church Fathers also taught on the Assumption, including St. John Damascene, who held that the love of Christ for his mother moved him to preserve her from corruption after death (no. 21). Damascene writes, “It was fitting that she, who had kept her virginity intact in childbirth, should keep her own body free from all corruption even after death. It was fitting that she, who had carried the Creator as a child at her breast, should dwell in the divine tabernacles” (quoted in no. 21). Pius XII also notes support for the Assumption among the Scholastic theologians and in the devotion of the saints throughout history.

Scriptural Support for the Assumption

Pius recognized numerous Scriptural allusions to the Assumption. Though the event of the Assumption is not explicit in Scripture, it is consistent with what Scripture teaches us about the effects of sin and Jesus’ love for his holy mother. The Assumption can be seen in Scripture through typology and symbolism. In the First Reading for the Solemnity of the Assumption we read, “God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple. A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Revelation 11:19a, 12:1). Here the Ark of the Covenant is associated with the apparition of a glorious woman. Likewise in the Gospel Reading (particularly Luke 1:43-45), Mary is associated with the Ark of the Covenant, since her cousin Elizabeth greets her with almost the same words used by David when the Ark came to him (2 Samuel 6:9, 14). Pius XII also quotes Psalm 132:8, which has often been read symbolically of Mary’s Assumption: “Arise, O Lord, into your resting place: you and the ark, which you have sanctified” (no. 26).

At the end of his Apostolic Constitution, Pius XII provides the ex cathedra definition of the Assumption: “we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory” (no. 44). He also expressed hope that the definition of this dogma would increase the fervor of the faithful in devotion to Mary and inspire them to follow her purity of life, knowing more clearly the rewards of fidelity to God’s grace. Likewise, in our day, full of its own uncertainties, we can take the solemnity of Mary’s Assumption as an opportunity to turn to the Blessed Mother and hope in the promises of God to which she aspired.

What does Mary’s Assumption mean for you in your life of faith?

Licensed photo is by Nheyob.

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Why We Named Our Son Kolbe Thu, 10 Aug 2017 03:58:36 +0000 Maximillian Kolbe was quite simply an extraordinary human being. Born in 1894, he excelled early on in math and science—and would maintain a keen interest in technology all his life. By the age of twenty-five, he held doctorates in both philosophy and theology. In 1927, he founded the Franciscan friary, Niepokalanow—Polish for “Mary’s City.” Before World War II, this friary had a radio station, made extensive use of the printing press in order to promulgate Catholic literature, and had preparations ready for television. Kolbe sought to live in poverty, but spared no expense when it came to the use of technology for passing on the faith.


The same was true during his missionary tour in Japan from 1930-1936. Kolbe learned to speak Japanese and even found translators for his Catholic publications. The bishop of Nagasaki had offered to sell him a vacant seminary, but Kolbe declined, saying: “It is better to invest in publications than buildings” (cited in A Man for Others, Patricia Treece, 63). Instead, Kolbe bought very cheap, hilly land—which made it exceedingly difficult to clear in order to build their structure. In a strange twist of fate, his building—tucked behind a series of hills—was unaffected by the atomic bomb of 1945. Kolbe’s friars, who had remained in Japan, then made permanent quarters for one thousand Japanese children (ibid.). Kolbe had to return previously to Poland because of his tuberculosis, which he had suffered since he was a young man.

A key moment for young Maximillian—then Raymond—came as a boy: Mary appeared to him and offered him two crowns, one white and the other red (standing for “purity” and “martyrdom,” respectively). Asked which one he would like, the future saint responded like any eager youngster: “yes!” He wanted both—and Mary would be his constant guide from that day forth, leading him into union with Jesus.

On February 17, 1941, Kolbe was arrested by the Germans and taken to Pawiak, and then later to Auschwitz—a similar fate would await one third of all Polish clergy. At Auschwitz, Kolbe became #16,670. Survivors took note of his serenity, as he accepted his suffering. Here is the witness of one harrowing moment for Kolbe:

“The bloody capo [often spelled “kapo,” prisoners appointed by the Nazis to oversee the forced labor of other prisoners] selected him to be the day’s special victim and tortured him as a bird of prey …. [They] loaded Father Maximilian’s back with the heaviest branches, then ordered him to run. When the priest fell, [they] kicked him mercilessly in the face and stomach, shouting, ‘You don’t want to work, you drone! I’ll show you what work means’ …. [They] ordered Kolbe to lie across a stump. Then from among the guards [they] summoned the strongest and ordered them to give the innocent priest fifty lashes” (ibid., 180).


Witnesses describe Kolbe’s aftermath this way: “Afterwards Father Kolbe couldn’t even move …. His attitude in the face of suffering was a marvel …. He conducted himself with virility and with complete acceptance of the will of God. He often said, ‘For Jesus Christ I’m ready to suffer more than this. The Immaculata is helping me’” (ibid., 181).

Other witnesses relate: “I recall his saying, ‘I don’t fear death; I fear sin.’ He kept encouraging us not to be afraid of dying, but to have at heart the salvation of our souls. He said that if we feared nothing but sin, prayed to Christ, and sought the intercession of Mary, we would know peace” (ibid., 190).

Already physiologically frail from tuberculosis, Kolbe was known for giving away some of his food rations (see ibid., 205). While his martyrdom in Auschwitz is witness enough, anecdotes like these help us realize how he ministered physically and spiritually to others before he died, raising their spirits and lifting their eyes to heaven.

Kolbe’s Martydom

Eventually, a prisoner escaped and the German reprisal was the execution of ten prisoners. A certain Francis Gajowniczek was chosen among these ten, at which point Gajowniczek cried out: “My wife and my children.” Kolbe stepped forward, saying, “I want to die in place of this prisoner,” pointing at Gajowniczek.

Noting how unusual it was for a prisoner even to step out of line, let alone speak, Kolbe’s biographer writes: “He [Kolbe] presents this audacious request without a stammer. Fritsch [the German overseer] looks stupefied, irritated. Everyone notes how the German lord of life and death, suddenly nervous, actually steps back a pace” (ibid., 223).

Gajowniczek later reflected: “I could only try to thank him with my eyes. I was stunned and could hardly grasp what was going on. The immensity of it: I, the condemned, am to live and someone else willingly and voluntarily offers his life for me—a stranger. Is this some dream or reality?” (cited in ibid., 224).

Amazingly, the prisoner-interpreter who witnessed Kolbe’s last days, Bruno Borgowiec, survived; and in fact, he died in 1947 at the age of forty. But before he died, he provided sworn testimony regarding Kolbe’s final days.

Kolbe’s biographer relates: “In spite of thousands having died in that bunker, [Borgowiec] remembered even such isolated details about Father Kolbe’s last days ‘with absolute clarity’, he maintained, ‘because of the absolutely extraordinary behavior with which the noble Father faced death’” (ibid., 226).

Borgowiec recounts how Kolbe frequently led his fellow prisoners in prayer, Rosary, and hymns. Apparently, this even made an impression on the Nazi officers: “I overheard the SS [Nazi officers] talking about him among themselves. They were admiring his courage and behavior. One of them said, ‘We’ve never had a priest here like this one. He must be a wholly exceptional man’” (cited in ibid., 229).

Speaking of Kolbe’s final days, Borgowiec observes: “What kind of martyrdom these men were enduring can be imagined from the fact that the urine bucket was always dry. In their dreadful thirst, they must have drunk its contents” (cited in ibid.).

Two weeks of starvation went by, with most of the prisoners having died off. Only four remained, one of whom was Maximillian Kolbe. Annoyed at how long things were taking, the SS sought to finish off these final four with injections of carbolic acid.

According to Borgowiec, Kolbe’s serenity continued through his final moments: “I saw Father Kolbe, with a prayer, himself hold out his arm to the executioner” (cited in ibid., 228).

Kolbe’s Legacy

Kolbe died on August 14, 1941; and in a bit of cruel irony, he was cremated on August 15—the very day on which the Church celebrates the Assumption of Mary, body and soul into heaven.

The man Kolbe saved, Francis Gajowniczek, lived to see (and was present for) Kolbe’s beatification in 1971 and canonization in 1982.

And when John Paul II made his first papal visit to Poland in 1979 and visited Auschwitz—after praying and kissing the floor where Kolbe died—he met and embraced the seventy-eight-year-old Francis Gajowniczek, whose life Kolbe had saved so long ago.

Kolbe’s interior peace and unfailing confidence in the mystery of divine providence can only be explained by his deep and living faith: Kolbe knew the living God and our Blessed Mother in a personal and intimate way. And this gave him the ability to see things as they truly are: sin is a far worse tragedy than death.

How can we remind ourselves of this great truth and how might it reorient our lives this very day?

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Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Wed, 09 Aug 2017 18:30:25 +0000

In this week’s Encountering the Word video for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jeff Cavins tells us how we can discern God’s voice during prayer:

First Reading: 1 Kings 19:9A, 11-13A
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 85:9, 10, 11-12, 13-14
Second Reading: Romans 9:1-5
Alleluia: cf. Psalm 130:5
Gospel: Matthew 14:22-33

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