twelve apostlesIn this episode of Catholic Answers Live (Feb. 23, 2017, 2nd hour), Jimmy answers the following questions:

  • My wife divorced me, how do I get an annulment?
  • Why do we never hear about the Apostles children?
  • What’s the Catholic teaching on predestination?
  • What is the Douay-Rheims Bible and is it a valid translation?
  • When I explain the Immaculate Conception to my Protestant family, I get to the point where I say “It is fitting that Mary was Immaculate Conception” and my family says, “Well, it might be fitting, but that doesn’t mean it is so.” How can I explain this better?
  • If you’ve had spiritual experiences, how do you explain them? I’ve seen things that are hard to explain.
  • How do I correct the false teachings of my RCIA director?
  • Are the miracles of Medjugorje valid?
  • I invited two Mormons to breakfast tomorrow, how should I steer the conversation?

Resources Mentioned

Click the link to watch the video on YouTube.

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barnabusbIn its entry on the (apocryphal) Epistle of Barnabas, the Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary states:

Although Barnabas 4:14 appears to quote Matt 22:14, it must remain an open question whether the Barnabas circle knew written gospels. Based on Koester’s analysis (1957:125–27, 157), it appears more likely that Barnabas stood in the living oral tradition used by the written gospels (Treat, J. C. (1992). Barnabas, Epistle of. In D. N. Freedman (Ed.), The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (Vol. 1, p. 614). New York: Doubleday).

The connection between Barnabas 4:14 and Matthew is, indeed, striking. Barnabas 4:14 states:

Moreover, consider this as well, my brothers: when you see that after such extraordinary signs and wonders were done in Israel, even then they were abandoned, let us be on guard lest we should be found to be, as it is written, “many called, but few chosen.” (Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed., p. 283). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.)

If the last bit of this is a quotation from one of the Gospels, it can only be from Matthew 22:14, for this verse has no parallels in the other Gospels.

However, the idea that Barnabas is borrowing this from oral tradition is extremely implausible. The author introduces the quotation with the formula “as it is written”–not “as it is said.” This not only implies he is using a written source but also that he regarded it as scripture, for “it is written” is a standard formula for introducing scripture quotations.

The probability is thus that Barnabas was quoting Matthew’s Gospel, and that would let us establish a terminus ad quem (roughly, a latest possible date) for Matthew if we could establish when Barnabas was written.

It was clearly written after the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, for Barnabas 16:3-5 refers to that event:

(3) Furthermore, again he says: “Behold, those who tore down this temple will build it themselves.” (4) This is happening now. For because they went to war, it was torn down by their enemies, and now the very servants of their enemies will re-build it. (5) Again, it was revealed that the city and the temple and the people of Israel were destined to be handed over. For the Scripture says: “And it will happen in the last days that the Lord will hand over the sheep of the pasture and the sheepfold and their watchtower to destruction.” And it happened just as the Lord said.

Precisely how long afterwards Barnabas was written is not clear, but it is certainly early. In fact, it is likely the first surviving piece of Christian literature written after the destruction of the temple. In The Fathers Know Best, I date it to around A.D. 75.

The fact that Barnabas records the destruction of the temple as a past fact (“And it happened just as the Lord said”) but Matthew presents it only as a future fact, with no notice of the prophecy’s fulfillment, suggests Matthew was written before 70.

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In this episode of Catholic Answers Live (Feb. 23, 2017, 1st hour), Jimmy answers the following questions:

  • Appreciating science fiction from a Christian perspective
  • I’ve seen people touch the monstrance, is that okay?
  • What’s the Church’s position on transgender issue?
  • In the bible, there’s a footnote on the USCCB’s website under Genesis 2:8 on the garden in the east, saying it’s a pleasure park. What’s the Catholic understanding of this?
  • Hypothetically, if the Pope allowed divorced and remarried people to receive communion, what would that mean for the Church?
  • My husband and I just had a baby, and I’m not ready health wise for another baby, and I asked my husband if he could get a vasectomy, how big of a sin is that? Can I still receive communion?
  • Is there a possibility of intelligence life outside of us? What would that mean for theology and God’s relationship with those beings?
  • Should we be filled with the Holy Spirit so we’re speaking in tongues? Is it another language or is it just babbling?

Resources Mentioned:

Click the link to watch the video on YouTube.

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popr-francis-teachingThis version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 28 January 2017 to 22 February 2017.


Daily Homilies (fervorinos)

General Audiences



Papal Tweets

  • “I invite you to join in the fight against poverty, both material and spiritual. Together let’s build peace and bridges of friendship.” @Pontifex 16 February 2017
  • “A youthful heart does not tolerate injustice and cannot bow to a “throw-away culture” nor give in to the globalization of indifference.” @Pontifex 17 February 2017
  • “How often in the Bible the Lord asks us to welcome migrants and foreigners, reminding us that we too are foreigners!” @Pontifex 18 February 2017
  • “Let us be moved by the Holy Spirit in order to be courageous in finding new ways to proclaim the Gospel.” @Pontifex 19 February 2017
  • “If evil is contagious, so is goodness. Let us be infected by goodness and let us spread goodness!” @Pontifex 20 February 2017
  • “God knows better than we do about what we need. We must have faith, because his ways are different from ours.” @Pontifex 21 February 2017
  • “Jesus entrusted to Peter the keys to open the entrance to the kingdom of heaven, and not to close it.
    @Pontifex 22 February 2017

Papal Instagram

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popr-francis-teachingThis version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 2 February 2016 to 15 February 2017.


Daily Homilies (fervorinos)

General Audiences




Papal Tweets

  • “Let us never forget to pray for each another. Prayer is our greatest strength.” @Pontifex 3 February 2017
  • “Take action! Live life to the full! And when others see the witness you give, they may ask: why do you live this way?” @Pontifex 4 February 2017
  • “Those who do not believe in or search for God have perhaps never been challenged by a testimony of faith.” @Pontifex 5 February 2017
  • “Being a believer means learning how to see with eyes of faith.” @Pontifex 6 February 2017
  • “Let us hear the cry of the many children who are enslaved. No one must remain indifferent to their sorrow. @M_RSection” @Pontifex 7 February 2017
  • “Those who traffic human beings are ultimately accountable to God. Let us pray for the conversion of hearts. @M_RSection” @Pontifex 8 February 2017
  • “Hope opens new horizons and enables us to dream of what is not even imaginable.” @Pontifex 9 February 2017
  • “Let us be close to our brothers and sisters who are going through illness and also their families.” @Pontifex 10 February 2017
  • “I encourage all of you to see in Mary, Health of the Infirm, the sure sign of God’s love for every human being.” @Pontifex 11 February 2017
  • “The dignity of children must be respected: we pray that the scandal of child-soldiers may be eliminated the world over.” @Pontifex 12 February 2017
  • “Let us never place conditions on God! Entrusting ourselves to the Lord means entering into his plans without demanding anything.” @Pontifex 13 February 2017
  • “It is good to know the Lord takes on the burden of our fragilities and patiently gets us back on our feet with the strength to start over.” @Pontifex 14 February 2017
  • “The throwaway culture is not of Jesus. The other is my brother, beyond every barrier of nationality, social extraction or religion.” @Pontifex 15 February 2017

Papal Instagram

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Here’s my recent appearance on Catholic Answers Live where I discuss whether you need religion to be moral, and many other questions!

In this appearance on Catholic Answers Live (Feb. 2, 2017), Jimmy Akin explains how he lost 100 lbs and answers questions about:

* How the Eucharistic fast works
* How the Church is able to know that saints are in heaven
* What kind of medical care needs to be given to the aged
* Was there a “Council of Jamnia”?
* How to respond to atheists’ assertions that you don’t need religion to be moral
* Whether you receive “more God” when you receive the Eucharist under both kinds
* Why does only Matthew mention the dead who were raised when Jesus died?
* How to become a spiritual director
* The morality of British authorities letting Nazi attacks succeed to keep the Nazis from knowing their codes had been broken
* What was the status of the people who Jesus addressed when he said “Do this in memory of me”?

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This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 18 October 2016 to 2 February 2017.


Daily Homilies (fervorinos)

General Audiences



Motu Proprio


Papal Tweets

Papal Instagram

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Gerhard-Ludwig-MüllerCardinal Gerhard Muller has made public comments on Pope Francis’s document Amoris Laetitiae and the controversy surrounding it.

Here are 12 things to know and share . . .


1) What is Amoris Laetitiae?

It’s a document issued by Pope Francis in April of 2016.

It deals with marriage and how the Church can help married couples.

The text of the document is online here, and a discussion of it is here.

More commentary, from a Catholic perspective, here.


2) Why has there been controversy around Amoris Laetitiae?

Certain passages in it have been taken to mean that couples who are divorced and civilly remarried can continue to have sex and receive the sacraments of confession and the Eucharist.

This would be at variance with the historic Catholic understanding because such couples would not be validly married to each other and thus sexual relations between them would be adulterous.

Because of different interpretations of the document, a group of four cardinals recently asked Pope Francis to answer several clarifying questions on the document and how it relates to Catholic teaching. Info on that here.

Thus far, Pope Francis has not publicly responded to these queries.


3) Who is Cardinal Muller?

He’s the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is the department at the Vatican charged with correcting doctrinal errors.

This is the same department that Pope Benedict XVI was head of before he was elected pope.

Cardinal Muller is thus, in terms of his office, Pope Francis’s right hand man when it comes to doctrine.


4) Where did Cardinal Muller make his remarks?

Most recently he did so in an interview that was published in the Italian apologetics magazine Il Timone (“The Rudder”).

That issue is available for purchase online here.

Thus far, I haven’t found a complete English translation of the interview, but key sections of it are provided here.


5) What does Cardinal Muller say in this interview?

He addresses several issues, including:

  • Whether there can be a conflict between doctrine and personal conscience
  • How Amoris Laetitiae is to be interpreted
  • Whether the requirement that divorced and remarried couples who cannot separate for practical reasons must live as brother and sister to receive the sacraments
  • How to resolve the chaos surrounding the different interpretations of Amoris Laetitiae


6) What did Cardinal Muller say on the conflict between doctrine and personal conscience?

This was the exchange on that point:

Q: Can there be a contradiction between doctrine and personal conscience?

A: No, that is impossible. For example, it cannot be said that there are circumstances according to which an act of adultery does not constitute a mortal sin. For Catholic doctrine, it is impossible for mortal sin to coexist with sanctifying grace. In order to overcome this absurd contradiction, Christ has instituted for the faithful the Sacrament of penance and reconciliation with God and with the Church.

I find this response somewhat puzzling. There may be a problem with the transcription or translation of the question or answer.

First, it is obvious that sometimes people’s consciences contradict Church teaching. In this situation they have what is termed an erroneous conscience.

I assume that Cardinal Muller means that there cannot be a contradiction between a person’s conscience and the Church’s teaching unless their conscience is in error.

Second, the Church holds that three conditions must be met for a mortal sin to be committed: It must have (1) grave matter and be committed with both (2) full knowledge of its moral status and (3) deliberate consent in spite of this knowledge.

An adulterous act always has grave matter, but there are cases in which a person may lack full knowledge or deliberate consent, in which case the sin is objectively grave but not mortal.

I assume that the cardinal is speaking of an adulterous act in which these two conditions are also met.


7) What did Cardinal Muller say on how Amoris Laetitiae is to be interpreted?

The exchange on this point was:

Q: This [see the previous Q and A] is a question that is being extensively discussed with regard to the debate surrounding the post-synodal exhortation “Amoris Laetitia.”

A: “Amoris Laetitia” must clearly be interpreted in the light of the whole doctrine of the Church. […] I don’t like it, it is not right that so many bishops are interpreting “Amoris Laetitia” according to their way of understanding the pope’s teaching. This does not keep to the line of Catholic doctrine. The magisterium of the pope is interpreted only by him or through the congregation for the doctrine of the faith. The pope interprets the bishops, it is not the bishops who interpret the pope, this would constitute an inversion of the structure of the Catholic Church. To all these who are talking too much, I urge them to study first the doctrine [of the councils] on the papacy and the episcopate. The bishop, as teacher of the Word, must himself be the first to be well-formed so as not to fall into the risk of the blind leading the blind. […]

Again, Cardinal Muller’s response contains what might seem like puzzling elements that may be due to a problem with transcription or translation.

Obviously, anyone reading Amoris Laetitiae must seek to understand what the pope is saying and in that sense interpret it.

Therefore, I assume what the cardinal is referring to is what is known in ecclesiastical circles as an “authentic interpretation.”

“Authentic” is a term of art in ecclesiastical documents that means authoritative. An authentic interpretation is thus an authoritative declaration concerning the meaning of a text.

Cardinal Muller thus seems to be saying that bishops (and others) do not have the ability to make authoritative declarations about the meaning of the pope’s teachings. Only the pope himself and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (as authorized by the pope) are capable of doing so.

Authentic interpretations are periodically issued by the Holy See in official documents.

Thus an authoritative interpretation of Amoris Laetitiae would only be made in a new, public proclamation by the pope or the CDF.

Unless and until such a declaration is made, Amoris is to be interpreted “in the light of the whole doctrine of the Church,” including its historic understanding of the effects of divorce and civil remarriage.


8) What did Cardinal Muller say about the obligation of those who are divorced and civilly remarried to live continently if they are to receive the sacraments?

Here is the exchange on that point:

Q: The exhortation of Saint John Paul II, “Familiaris Consortio,” stipulates that divorced and remarried couples that cannot separate, in order to receive the sacraments must commit to live in continence. Is this requirement still valid?

A: Of course, it is not dispensable, because it is not only a positive law of John Paul II, but he expressed an essential element of Christian moral theology and the theology of the sacraments. The confusion on this point also concerns the failure to accept the encyclical “Veritatis Splendor,” with the clear doctrine of the “intrinsece malum.” [“intrinsically evil (act)”] […] For us marriage is the expression of participation in the unity between Christ the bridegroom and the Church his bride. This is not, as some said during the Synod, a simple vague analogy. No! This is the substance of the sacrament, and no power in heaven or on earth, neither an angel, nor the pope, nor a council, nor a law of the bishops, has the faculty to change it.

In this context, a “positive law” refers to a law that is made by humans (as opposed to “natural law,” which refers to the laws God built into human nature).

Cardinal Muller thus means that the principle in question is not simply a law John Paul II made up and that therefore would be capable of being changed. It belongs to divine law and cannot be changed by man.

He comments that confusion on this area is rooted in the refusal of some to accept the teaching John Paul II articulated in Veritatis Splendor that some acts are intrinsically evil and can never be done—such as an act of adultery.

He says that marriage “for us” (meaning either “from a Catholic point of view” or “marriage between the baptized”) has a sacramental nature that participates in the unity between Christ and the Church.

Such unity requires fidelity and thus absolutely excludes adultery—something he indicates nobody, including the pope, can change.


9) What did Cardinal Muller say regarding how to deal with the confusion surrounding Amoris Laetitiae?

Here is the exchange on this point:

Q: How can one resolve the chaos that is being generated on account of the different interpretations that are given of this passage of Amoris Laetitia?

A: I urge everyone to reflect, studying the doctrine of the Church first, starting from the Word of God in Sacred Scripture, which is very clear on marriage. I would also advise not entering into any casuistry that can easily generate misunderstandings, above all that according to which if love dies, then the marriage bond is dead. These are sophistries: the Word of God is very clear and the Church does not accept the secularization of marriage. The task of priests and bishops is not that of creating confusion, but of bringing clarity. One cannot refer only to little passages present in “Amoris Laetitia,” but it has to be read as a whole, with the purpose of making the Gospel of marriage and the family more attractive for persons. It is not “Amoris Laetitia” that has provoked a confused interpretation, but some confused interpreters of it. All of us must understand and accept the doctrine of Christ and of his Church, and at the same time be ready to help others to understand it and put it into practice even in difficult situations.


10) Since Cardinal Muller is the head of the CDF, does this mean his remarks can be taken as an authentic (authoritative) interpretation of Amoris Laetitiae?

No. Authentic interpretations by the CDF are issued in documents published by the Congregation and approved by the pope.

They are not made in interviews with apologetics magazines.


11) Could we see Cardinal Muller’s remarks as an unofficial response to the questions submitted by the four cardinals? I.e., that the pope doesn’t want to respond officially at this time, so he asked Cardinal Muller to give an unofficial response?

This is not likely. If we knew nothing else about Pope Francis’s views on the interpretation of Amoris Laetitiae, this would be a reasonable conjecture. However, we do know more.

We have significant evidence that Pope Francis has a different view (as acknowledged even in this piece by Fr. Raymond de Sousa, which is perhaps the most optimistic I have read).

However, thus far Pope Francis has not issued an authentic interpretation of the disputed points in Amoris Laetitiae, nor has he authorized the CDF to publish one.

It therefore appears that Cardinal Muller is giving his own views about how the document should be interpreted and that these views differ from the way Pope Francis would like to see the document interpreted.


12) For the pope and the head of the CDF to disagree on a point like this seems very serious. What should we do?

Pray for them both—and for the Church as a whole.

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Healthy breakfast. Bowl of yogurt with granola and berries

The state of diet and nutrition reporting is horrible.

Remember the “chocolate makes you lose weight” claim that the media fell for all over the world—despite the fact it was a deliberate hoax to prove how bad the state of diet and nutrition reporting is?

Yeah. Totally happened.

Well, things haven’t improved much.

Take, for example, this piece by The Telegraph’s Saffron Alexander.

Saffron Alexander is a Food and Lifestyle reporter who posts pieces with titles like “How to choose the perfect armchair for your home” and “Chocolate, flowers, and cards: the best Valentine’s Day ideas.”

Okay, fine. Someone needs to write pieces like that. (I guess?)

But if you’re going to be writing pieces with headlines like:

Is skipping breakfast bad for us?
New study finds links with heart disease and obesity

Then you really ought to get the story right. I mean, you’re ostensibly giving people information about their health, and low-information news consumers will be making health decisions based on what you write.

So how well does this piece work?

It starts like this:

Skipping breakfast or eating late in the day could raise the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity according to a new study.

Pretty scary, eh kids? A study showed that?

Except it wasn’t a study.

The piece in question was a “statement” published in the American Heart Association’s Circulation. The abstract, identifying it as a statement, is here.

To be clear, a statement is not a study. To put it in journalese, a statement is basically an editorial.

It does not represent original research. No new experiments were performed. While it does refer to previous studies, it’s an opinion piece that makes recommendations.

So we’re not off to a promising start.

What next?

The study [there’s that word again–ja] from a group of American researchers suggests that the time we eat our meal is equally as important as what we eat.

Writing in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, researchers from Columbia University said both meal timing and frequency are linked to risk factors for a variety of conditions including heart disease, strokes, high blood pressure, blood glucose levels, obesity, and reduced insulin sensitivity.

The researchers reviewed other current scientific studies concerning breakfast and heart disease and found that those who eat breakfast daily are less likely to have high cholesterol and blood pressure, while those who skip breakfast and instead snack and graze throughout the day are more likely to be obese, have poor nutrition, or be diagnosed with diabetes.

Okay! Hold your horses! We just hit the money quote.

The thing with all the scary health effects wasn’t just skipping breakfast.

It was skipping breakfast and then going on to “snack and graze throughout the day.”

That’s suggestive of an entirely different headline. Something like:

Snacking and Grazing Throughout the Day Will Make You Obese and Give You Diabetes, Strokes, and Heart Disease

Or perhaps the pithier:

Snacking and Grazing Throughout the Day Will Kill You

At this point, the article has basically gone off the rails, since it’s misframing the issue in terms of “skipping breakfast,” when what it should be focusing on is “snacking and grazing throughout the day.”

It does, however, go on to say a few good things. For example, it notes:

There is still some debate in the scientific community about the benefits of eating breakfast. In a 2016 study, research suggested that claims breakfast is the most important meal of the day have very little scientific basis.

That’s true. The idea that breakfast is a super-important meal is a nutritional myth.

But how does that square with the “skipping breakfast can kill you” narrative the article has been working so far? We’ve got cognitive dissonance here, folks!

The article doesn’t resolve this dissonance, though it does helpfully provide a little more on the subject:

Dr James Betts, a senior lecturer in nutrition at the University of Bath said the idea breakfast is inherently good for us may stem from marketing campaigns designed to sell us cereals, eggs and bacon, and the ‘benefits’ of eating early haven’t actually been scrutinised properly.


Breakfast isn’t the most important meal of the day—unless you’re a food industry marketer trying to get people to buy breakfast foods.

The article also notes:

The researchers from Columbia University writing in Circulation also found that eating late at night could lead to a greater risk of poor cardiometabolic health. In one of the studies analysed it was found that late-night snackers are more likely to be obese when compared to those who don’t eat after a certain hour.

That last phrase is very interesting. If you “don’t eat after a certain hour” then you aren’t “snacking and grazing throughout the day.”

And you know what they call it when you don’t snack and graze throughout the day but have defined eating periods between which you fast?

Intermittent fasting.

Intermittent fasting has a bunch of health benefits.

The classic “three meals a day with no snacks” model of eating is a form of not-very-restrictive intermittent fasting. It has three periods of eating (that’s the not restrictive part) embedded among three periods of fasting (since no snacks).

If you really want to identify whether skipping breakfast is harmful, that’s what you’d want to test it against: three meals a day with no snacks versus lunch and dinner with no snacks.

And there are stronger forms of intermittent fasting, such as eating once a day, once every other day, once every few days, etc.

If only the studystatement by the AHA said something about intermittent fasting!

Oh, wait! It did!

Saffron Alexander just didn’t tell us about it.

Here’s what it said:

There is evidence that both alternate-day fasting and periodic fasting may be effective for weight loss, although there are no data that indicate whether the weight loss can be sustained long term.

In addition, both eating patterns may be useful for lowering triglyceride concentrations but have little or no effect on total, LDL, or HDL cholesterol concentrations.

These protocols may also be beneficial for lowering blood pressure, but a minimum weight loss of 6% may be required to see an effect.

Intermittent fasting may also be effective for decreasing fasting insulin and IR [i.e., insulin resistance, the key factor in type 2 diabetes–ja], but fasting glucose remains largely unchanged.

Future work in this area should aim to examine whether these effects still persist in longer-term (>52 weeks) randomized, controlled trials.

So, wow. Intermittent fasting seems to have notable positive health results.

How does that compare to what it said about skipping breakfast?

In summary, the limited evidence of breakfast consumption as an important factor in combined weight and cardiometabolic risk management is suggestive of a minimal impact.

There is increasing evidence that advice related to breakfast consumption does not improve weight loss, likely because of compensatory behaviors during the day.

On the other hand, breakfast consumption can contribute to a healthier eating pattern that leads to slight improvements in cardiometabolic risk profile.

Additional, longer-term studies are needed in this field because most metabolic studies have been either single-day studies or of very short duration.

Got that? They say eating breakfast likely has “a minimal impact”—scarcely justifying the scare tactics used in the article about the “dangers” of skipping it.

Further, skipping breakfast won’t help you lose weight if you don’t also fast and instead engage in “compensatory behaviors during the day”—i.e., the “snacking and grazing throughout the day” referred to earlier.

And most of the studies related to this are basically junk science because they were either “single-day studies” (!) or “of very short duration.”

So Ms. Alexander’s article essentially misreads and distorts the AHA statement.

This is not to place all the blame on Ms. Alexander. The AHA itself has a history of bad diet advice.

My impression, upon reading the statement, is that it’s a transitional document. The benefits of not using the snacking/grazing strategy are becoming clear in the scientific data, but old habits die hard, and the authors of the AHA statement haven’t yet gotten to the point of flat out endorsing intermittent fasting.

Hopefully, they’ll get there.

Before a lot more people die.

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question-markThis week at St. Anonymous the Ambiguous, there was a priest I hadn’t seen before.

He was a younger priest who struck me as sincere, earnest, and orthodox, so I was favorably disposed to him.

I was also grateful that he wasn’t the emotionally insecure, narcissistic priest who sometimes fills in and makes himself the center of attention by pacing up and down the aisle and into the transepts, sometimes going as far back as fourteen rows down the main aisle, so that he’s standing behind most of the congregation (and directly behind many of them) as he yells his scoldy, overwrought sermons into the wireless mic.

That guy drives me nuts.

So I was really glad it wasn’t him, and that automatically made me like the new guy.

This didn’t stop there from being some distractions, though.


Heart Trouble

Early in his homily, the new priest said the following (quoting from memory):

The heart of the gospel is the Sermon on the Mount
And the heart of the Sermon on the Mount is the Beatitudes
And the Beatitudes show us the heart of God.

I get what the priest was trying to do here. He wanted to say that the Beatitudes show us the heart of God.

But this is a case of less is more, because he should have just said that.

By introducing the statement the way he did, it popped me right out of the sermon, causing me to become distracted as I tried to figure out what he meant.

The heart of the gospel is the Sermon on the Mount? Really? Not Jesus? Not his death and resurrection? Not God’s love for man? Not something like that?

Also, the Sermon on the Mount is in Matthew 5-7, so it’s right near the front of Matthew’s Gospel, not at its heart.

And the Beatitudes are right at the beginning of Matthew 5, so they aren’t “geographically” at the heart of the Sermon on the Mount, either.

One wouldn’t even want to say that the Sermon on the Mount is the heart of Jesus’ ethical teachings, because that would be the first and second great commandments, which aren’t discussed until Matthew 22.

So I was distracted by trying to figure out what kind of “heart” language the priest was using when the priest finally got where he was going: The Beatitudes show us the heart of God.

Homilists take note: Getting rhetorically fancy like this can severely distract your audience, so apply the K.I.S.S. principle (Keep It Simple, Sir).


Ex Cathedra

A little later in the homily, the priest started to explain the term ex cathedra. (I’m not sure why.)

He explained (correctly) that it means “from the chair,” the chair being a symbol of a pope’s or bishop’s authority.

He explained (incorrectly) that the pope sits in a special chair when he proclaims a dogma.

At least, that’s what I thought I heard him say.

I may have missed a verb tense, and he may have said that the pope used to sit in a special chair when proclaiming a dogma.

But I have no evidence that that’s true, either. As far as I’m aware, the use of the phrase ex cathedra in connection with dogmas didn’t come about until the Middle Ages, when the term cathedra had already begun to be used metaphorically for a bishop’s magisterium or teaching authority.

I certainly can’t think of any dogmas that were ever proclaimed by a pope while sitting in his cathedra.

In reality, popes proclaim dogmas via special documents.

Since I’m not really sure what this had to do with the Beatitudes (the subject of the Gospel reading), I’m inclined to say this is another case of less is more. Omitting the digression about the meaning of ex cathedra would have let him make his point more clearly.


Becoming a Christian

Toward the end of the homily, the priest said something along the lines of:

When we become a Christian, we lose all fear.
When we become a Christian, we gain great confidence (or maybe he said “perfect love”).

Bang! Again I’m popped right out of the sermon.

The distraction in this case is that all of the baptized already are Christians, and it’s plain that they don’t lose all fear.

So I’m off thinking about 1 John 4:18, where John says:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love.

But John is talking about being perfected in love–something that happens later in the Christian life, if it happens in this life at all, not when we first become Christians.

This forced me to wonder, “What is the priest is going for?” Does he realize he may cause scrupulosity among some who are present if they infer from their fears that they aren’t truly Christians yet? Doesn’t he realizes that he’s in a building full of people who were baptized as babies and therefore have no memory of a time when they were not Christians? Why is he saying something that would (at best) apply only to adult converts?

I could only conclude that he was trying to employ some kind of rhetorical flourish by stating things in hyperbolically absolute terms.

So once again, his rhetoric was getting in the way of his message.

So once again, less is more.


The End of Christmas

At the end of Mass, during the announcements, the priest said that we’re coming up on Candlemas, “which is the end of the Christmas season,” that it “comes back for a day” and then goes away.

This is false. According to the Universal Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar:

Christmas Time runs from First Vespers (Evening Prayer I) of the Nativity of the Lord up to and including the Sunday after Epiphany or after 6 January.

That means the Christmas season ends no later than January 13, which is weeks before Candlemas occurs on February 2.

It isn’t clear to me whether the priest thought that the Christmas season literally ends on Candlemas or whether he thought it “kinda-sorta” ends on Candlemas, since that day commemorates events in the Infancy Narratives.

If the former, he was simply wrong and does not know the details of the liturgical calendar.

If the latter, he knowingly misled the congregation, who is not familiar enough with the details of the liturgical calendar to be able to detect the “kinda-sorta” aspect of what he was saying.

Either way, people in the congregation will end up thinking that the Christmas season literally ends on Candlemas, and that’s false.

I have some sympathy here. I’ve been in situations where I’m pressed in public to give an answer I’m not 100% sure of, and I’ve made mistakes. (I’ve afterwards made scrupulous efforts to check myself and to avoid making similar mistakes in the future.)

However, this was not a situation where he was being pressed. It was a situation where he was volunteering something.

Bottom line: If you aren’t sure of a claim, don’t make it.

Less is more.

If nothing else, it helps avoid distractions and makes your message clearer.

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