Q and A: What does Pope Francis think about marriage?

» 22 November 2014 » In Uncategorized » No Comments

marrigeQ. I have heard many pundits from the MSM (mainstream media) declare that Pope Francis wants to redefine marriage. Is this true?

A. No, this is simply not the case. People who say these things are clearly not reading the Pope’s actual writings on this issue, or paying any attention to his homilies. That Pope Francis wishes to uphold Catholic teaching on sexual morality and marriage (which cannot be changed, at any rate) should have been abundantly clear when the Pontiff beatified his predecessor, Paul VI, at the conclusion of the recent Synod on the family. Pope Paul VI himself suffered greatly because of his defense of marriage, and is a personal hero to Pope Francis.

Q. What did Pope Francis say in his opening remarks at the Colloquium on the Complementarity of Man and Woman this past week at the Vatican?

A. This is a very important conference indeed. What stood out to me in particular was the brilliant connection the Pontiff drew between marriage and ecology. In a world where so many people are (quite rightly) concerned about the environment, it is so often forgotten that the “environment” of human society is the family. As the Holy Father said, “we must foster a new human ecology” by strengthening marriage. Here is a great quote from his speech (translated from the original Italian):

“We know that today marriage and the family are in crisis. We now live in a culture of the temporary, in which more and more people are simply giving up on marriage as a public commitment. This revolution in manners and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.

“Evidence is mounting that the decline of the marriage culture is associated with increased poverty and a host of other social ills, disproportionately affecting women, children and the elderly. It is always they who suffer the most in this crisis.

“The crisis in the family has produced an ecological crisis, for social environments, like natural environments, need protection. And although the human race has come to understand the need to address conditions that menace our natural environments, we have been slower to recognize that our fragile social environments are under threat as well, slower in our culture, and also in our Catholic Church. It is therefore essential that we foster a new human ecology.”

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Q and A on this Sunday’s readings: the talents

» 16 November 2014 » In Uncategorized » No Comments

Can you elaborate on the parable of the talents from this Sunday’s Gospel (Matt 25:14-30)?

This parable is very similar to Luke 19:11-27, and the parable of the “Ten Minas”, or “Ten Pounds”. It is possible that these parables are versions of the same basic parable, or that Jesus himself varied the details of the basic parable when preaching at different times and in different locations. Jesus’ teaching would have incorporated recurring themes (like that of many preachers, even today). Both the Matthean and Lucan parables have much in common with the simple statement of Mark 4:25: “For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away”.

The businessman who entrusts his property to his servants is indeed a “harsh man” (Matt 25:24). Is he supposed to represent God in the parable?

Not really. There is a correlation of course, but it is not exact. In fact, this man would not have been viewed favorably by Jesus’ original audience. He is a cutthroat businessman, who would be quite at home on the modern-day TV show “Dragon’s Den”. Although he is ruthlessly focused on profit, he is nonetheless prescient about his servants’ abilities. Indeed, the one the master trusts the most earns the greatest “ROI” – return on investment. The one who is trusted with the least amount earns nothing with his master’s resources.

So, what then is the lesson for the original hearers of Jesus’ parable, and for us today?

The parable is a warning to those who do not take the Christian life seriously – there will be serious repercussions for those who do not. God has entrusted us all with talents and abilities – some with more, others with less. But all of us are necessary to fulfilling God’s designs in the world. All of us are of equal worth as human persons, but not all have the same skills. There is a lesson here at the natural level, as we should quit comparing ourselves with others, and spend more time determining who God has created us to be, in order to fulfill some unique task in the world that only we can accomplish.

We as Catholics have also been entrusted with the unsearchable riches of the knowledge of Jesus Christ in the Catholic faith (cf. Eph. 3:8). How are we investing those truths in our day-to-day living? Are we studying our faith so that we may apply it better in our lives, our friendships, our families, our workplaces, and in society? “If you don’t use it, you lose it” is a popular saying. Many Catholics have advanced to a Masters or Doctoral level in their educations, or reached the pinnacles of their secular professions, yet have been content to remain at the level of a small child in their understanding of the faith. It is necessary to “grow up”, becoming mature adults in Christ (Col. 1:28), so we do not lose our heavenly reward.

Very often in the New Testament, the image of fire is used to describe hell. But in this parable, it is pictured as “the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”. Are these different renditions compatible?

Indeed, they are. In the Dead Sea Scrolls we read this description of hell from the Community Rule (1QS 4:12-13), which speaks of “everlasting damnation in the wrath of God’s furious vengeance, never ending terror and reproach for all eternity, with a shameful extinction in the fire of Hell’s outer darkness”. This is an example of Jewish thinking, roughly contemporaneous with Jesus, that ties the two images of fire and darkness together.

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Q and A on The Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

» 09 November 2014 » In Uncategorized » No Comments

images-1Q. This Sunday we celebrate the dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome. Why is this particular Roman church so important?

A. It would surprise many Catholics to learn that the official cathedral of the Pope is not St Peter’s in Rome, but rather in the Basilica of St John Lateran. The bishop’s chair is known as the “cathedra” (the term “cathedral” is derived from this). Hence, the cathedral in each archdiocese is the “mother church” of the diocese, because this is where the bishop’s “chair”, or “cathedra” resides.

In Saint Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto, for example, one can view the “cathedra” of Cardinal Thomas Collins, our Archbishop. The insignia of his episcopal coat of arms is embossed into the very fabric of the chair. In the same way, the Lateran Basilica is the home of the “cathedra” of the Pope, the Bishop of Rome and earthly head of the Universal Church. Thus, the Lateran Basilica is, in a very real sense, the “mother church” of the entire world. If the Holy Father were to speak ex cathedra (“from the chair”) in a solemn dogmatic statement, it would be from St John Lateran.

Q. What is the connection of this Feast with today’s Mass readings?

A. The first reading, from the book of Ezekiel, speaks of the Temple of Jerusalem. “Living waters” flow from it, irrigating the earth. This is a metaphor for the Holy Spirit, bringing supernatural life to the world. The source is God, and his unique dwelling place on earth in the Old Covenant period was in the Temple.

Jesus Christ, in his physical Body, became the true dwelling place of God on earth in the New Covenant. In the sacred humanity of Christ, God “pitched his tent”, or “tabernacled” among us (John 1:14; the tabernacle was the forerunner of the Temple for the Israelites). This is one of the points Jesus makes in today’s Gospel reading from John 2.

But Jesus also has a “Mystical Body” – the Church, of which all the baptized are members. Because we have received the very life of God via the Holy Spirit’s action in the Sacraments, we too, as long as we remain in a state of grace, are “temples” of God on earth. God truly lives within us! We are “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).

This is why a Theology of the Body, as Pope St John Paul II so tirelessly proclaimed, is so crucial. As St Paul writes in today’s reading from 1 Corinthians 3: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” If more Catholics realized this, they would fastidiously avoid sin. As Alexander MacLaren so memorably proclaimed in the 19th century, in words that are just as relevant today:

“Christianity reverences the body; and would teach us all that, being robed in that most wonderful work of God’s hands, which becomes a shrine for God Himself if He dwell in our hearts, all purity, all chastisement and subjugation of animal passion is our duty. Drunkenness, and gluttony, lusts of every kind, impurity of conduct, and impurity of word and look and thought, all these assume a still darker tint when they are thought of as not only crimes against the physical constitution and the moral law of humanity, but insults flung in the face of the God that would inhabit the shrine.”

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Q & A on All Saints & All Souls

» 02 November 2014 » In Uncategorized » No Comments

imagesQ. What are the origins of the feast days of All Saints and All Souls?

A. First, let’s talk about All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1). Anyone in heaven is a saint. And that is the goal of our lives, for to gain heaven means allowing God to make us saints. But, of course, not everyone in heaven has their own feast day on Church’s liturgical calendar. After all, there are only 365 days in the year! At first, only St John the Baptist and some martyrs had their own particular feast day.

In the early centuries of the Church, the faithful would celebrate the anniversary of a martyr’s death at the site of the martyrdom, and in the fourth century, dioceses which were geographically very close would begin to “trade” relics and feast days with each other. It was common in those days (as, sadly it still is in our time) for many people to be martyred at once, which led to joint feast days. The Church felt that every martyr should be venerated, and the only sensible way to do that was to eventually create a common feast day for them all.

The Church has taught since her earliest days that one who gives their life for the Gospel of Jesus Christ goes directly to heaven, thus becoming an “automatic” saint. Their suffering serves as their “purgation”, if you will, as they bypass purgatory altogether. Of course, many other exceptional saints have not needed purgatory, due to their outstanding holiness.

But the fact is that most of us will not yet have “been made perfect” (Matthew 5:48, Hebrews 12:23) at the time of our death, and have need of some purification after death in purgatory, for “without holiness no one can see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). What a good reason not to delay our need for spiritual development! And this brings us to the Feast of All Souls, commonly known as All Souls’ Day.

Q. Tell me more about why All Souls’ Day is so important.

A. All Souls’ Day (Nov. 2) is so important that priests are granted the rare opportunity on this day to celebrate three Masses (normally two is the max): one for the faithful departed; one for the intentions of the Holy Father; and one for the priest’s own intentions.

For the faithful, there are plenary indulgences granted to those who visit a cemetery to pray for the dead, and for visiting a Catholic church. This year, every Catholic must visit a church, because All Souls’ Day falls on a Sunday, a holy day of obligation to attend Mass! As Catholics we are also obligated to pray for the dead. Our prayers and spiritual sacrifices are counted on by those in purgatory. They need our help to allow God to purify them so that they may gain full entry into heaven. Once there, they will be no longer in need of our prayers, but will instead pray for us!

For those lost for all eternity in hell, no prayer can help them (the Church does not state who has ended up there, only who we know is in heaven). The only people who have passed into the afterlife who we can help with our prayers are the souls in purgatory. And those prayers are never wasted. If the deceased person whom we are praying for has, tragically, not died in God’s friendship, or if that person is already in heaven, the Lord will direct the benefits of our prayer to someone else who does need it and can benefit from it – perhaps souls in purgatory who have no one to pray for them.

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This Saturday’s conference talk topics revealed

» 26 September 2014 » In Uncategorized » No Comments

imagesFolks, there is still a bit of time left to order tickets for The Faith Explained Conference online at this link: http://goo.gl/Rdgl6M. After tonight, one can only buy tickets at the door.

Here are the topics of tomorrow’s presentations:

Cale Clarke: Jesus, Alive Forevermore: The key question is this: Did Jesus rise from the dead? If this didn’t happen, nothing else matters, as St Paul himself said: “If Christ is not risen, our preaching is useless, and so is your faith”. We’ll examine the evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

Dr. Craig Evans: Talk #1: How Old and How Reliable are the Bible Manuscripts? Many scholars say that one can’t trust the text of the Bible – that it has been hopelessly corrupted over time. Is this true? What do the latest discoveries tell us about the trustworthiness of the Scriptures?

Talk #2: Jesus and Archaeology: Learn how archaeology helps us to understand – and in many cases to confirm what we know of – Jesus of Nazareth.

Cardinal Thomas Collins: Discipleship: What does it mean to truly follow Jesus in the 21st century?

I can’t wait…see you there!




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Bible Study (Genesis) Thursday; The Faith Explained Conference this Saturday!

» 23 September 2014 » In Uncategorized » No Comments

GenesisYou’ve no doubt heard about The Faith Explained Conference this Saturday, Sept. 27, featuring Cardinal Thomas Collins, Dr Craig Evans, and me. If you don’t have tickets yet, grab them at this link: http://goo.gl/Rdgl6M, but hurry, as online sales will end soon.

However, that’s not the only big event we’ve got this week: if you’re in the Toronto area and are looking for a Catholic Bible Study, join us this Thursday night at 7:30 at St Justin Martyr parish in Markham as we begin The Faith Explained Bible Study of the book of Genesis.

The Bible’s first book is endlessly fascinating, and we’ll be exploring a lot of important questions people ask about it. Just what does Genesis teach, for example, about creation?

One of the best Catholic scholars out there, Dr Brant Pitre, has put together a good shortlist of what we need to believe about creation, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). The axiom about Church teaching as an interpretation of Scripture holds here:

Fundamental Catholic Doctrines on Creation

1. Creation is a work of the holy Trinity (CCC 290-92)

2. The world was created for the glory of God (293)

3. God created the world from his free will and divine love (295)

4. God created the world ex nihilo (“out of nothing”) (296-99)

5. God created an ordered and good world (299)

6. God transcends creation and is present to it (300)

7. God upholds and sustains creation at every moment (301)

8. God’s providence guides creation towards its perfection (302-305)

9. God gives his creatures free will to share in his providence (306-308)

10. If Creation is good, why does evil exist? (309)

a. Reality of physical evil (310)
b. Reality of moral evil (311)
c. God can bring good out of an evil (312-314)

(source: BrantPitre.com)

For much more, join us for our series on Thursday evenings.

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William Lane Craig on the value of apologetics

» 12 September 2014 » In Uncategorized » No Comments

UnknownThe Faith Explained Conference on September 27 (go here for tickets: http://goo.gl/Rdgl6M) is fast approaching, and I can’t wait! As we explore our conference theme of “Jesus: Yesterday, Today, and Forever” (Hebrews 13:8), we’ll be spending some time in the presentations on apologetics – offering a reasonable basis for Christian faith.

William Lane Craig is one of the foremost Christian apologists and philosophers active on the world stage today. Over at his Reasonable Faith site, Craig has posted a great talk that he presented at Calvin Seminary on the value of apologetics. Here’s a snippet:

Having sound arguments for the existence of a Creator and Designer of the universe or evidence for the historical credibility of the New Testament records of the life of Jesus in addition to the inner witness of the Spirit could increase one’s confidence in the veracity of Christian truth claims. On Plantinga’s epistemological model, at least, one would then have greater warrant for believing such claims. Greater warrant could in turn lead an unbeliever to come to faith more readily or inspire a believer to share his faith more boldly. Moreover, the availability of independent warrant for Christian truth claims apart from the Spirit’s witness could help predispose an unbeliever to respond to the drawing of the Holy Spirit when he hears the Gospel and could provide the believer with epistemic support in times of spiritual dryness or doubt when the Spirit’s witness seems eclipsed. One could doubtless think of many other ways in which the possession of such dual warrant for Christian beliefs would be beneficial.

So the question is: do natural theology and Christian evidences warrant Christian belief? I think that they do. In my published work I have formulated and defended versions of the cosmological, teleological, axiological, and ontological arguments for God’s existence and have also defended theism against the most prominent objections lodged by atheist thinkers to belief in God, such as the problem of evil, the hiddenness of God, and the coherence of theism. Furthermore, I have argued for the authenticity of Jesus’ radical personal claims and the historicity of his empty tomb, his post-mortem appearances to various individuals and groups, and the unexpected belief of the earliest disciples that God had raised him from the dead. Moreover, I have argued, using the standard criteria for assessing historical hypotheses, that the best explanation of these facts is the one given by the disciples themselves: God raised Jesus from the dead.

The entire address, which is well worth your time, can be found here.

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Pope Francis and Diego Maradona

» 02 September 2014 » In Uncategorized » No Comments

Yes, that Diego Maradona, he of the infamous “Hand of God” goal in the ’86 World Cup. Maradona was in Rome Monday night not simply to see his fellow Argentine Pope Francis, but to play, along with other futbol luminaries Javier Zanetti and Roberto Baggio, in a unique event billed as an “Interreligious Match for Peace”. Zanetti indicated that the “friendly”, played in front of a huge crowd at Rome’s Olympic stadium, was the “express wish of Pope Francis” who wanted to show the power of sport for building bridges of peace.

And this isn’t the only event Francis has dreamed up in this regard: the Vatican press office today spelled out more about an upcoming conference on sport:

On the occasion of the Interreligious Match for Peace, the Pontifical Council for Culture has organized a three-day seminar, called “Sports at the “Service of Humanity: From the ‘Results-Oriented Culture’ to a ‘Culture of Encounter”’. The seminar began on Monday, and ends on Wednesday.

In a video message for Brazil’’s World Cup Soccer championship earlier this year, Pope Francis said, “Soccer can and should be a school that promotes a ‘culture of encounter’. One that leads to harmony and peace between peoples.” With that idea in mind, the Pontifical Council for Culture, together with international Catholic sports associations, has organized a two-day seminar to coincide with Monday’s Interreligious Match for Peace to reflect on the theme of ““Sport at the Service of Humanity”.”

Organizers want the discussion to focus on sports as a means of encounter and dialogue rather than what it seems, in many cases, to have become: a lucrative business for a lucky few and a place for winner-takes-all competitiveness. In our highly consumeristic society, we must, they say, “replace the money and the medals with the human being”. One of the objectives of the seminar is preparing for the international Vatican Global Conference on Sport and Faith to be held in the Vatican in September 2015.

I don’t know about you, but I think this is brilliant on Pope Francis’ part. Sport is a huge cultural force that, if you’ll pardon the pun, is an overlooked arena for the furtherance of the Gospel. The soccer match, seminar, and conference is yet another creative evangelistic move by the Holy Father.

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Is that Craig Evans….or Tom Selleck?

» 01 September 2014 » In Uncategorized » No Comments

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Here’s a blast from the past: Dr Craig Evans, looking very Magnum, P.I.-ish, delivering a lecture on Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls, back in ’99.

Catch the good Doctor in person, along with Cardinal Thomas Collins and me, at The Faith Explained Conference in Toronto on September 27. Get your tickets at http://goo.gl/Rdgl6M while you still can!

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Scott Hahn on the Queenship of Mary

» 22 August 2014 » In Uncategorized » No Comments

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On this feast of Mary’s Queenship, here’s a brief video by Dr Scott Hahn explaining the link between the Assumption of Mary and her special role as Queen Mother of Christ’s Kingdom. Be sure to check out the wonderful work of Professor Hahn and all of his associates at The Saint Paul Center for Biblical Theology.


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