Tag Archives: Doctrine

Colbert vs. Mother Teresa

In this short video, Stephen Colbert (comedian-turned-theologian) says “Faith ultimately can’t be argued; faith has to be felt.”  Let’s cut through his poor philosophy and consider reality:

1) Feelings are often no different from biochemical pleasures.  God uses feelings in all stages of prayer, but it is not central to the substance of the soul where the Blessed Trinity resides.  If faith must be “felt” as Colbert said, then where does that leave Mother Teresa who couldn’t feel anything for 60 years of prayer?  But false-positives abound, too:  If I drink an enormous Chemex hipster coffee and feel like a saint who could take on the world, did I just “feel” an increase in my faith?  Of course not.  That is because there is some correlation between good spiritual “feelings” and the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine and norephinephrine. That’s why we called coffee in seminary “liquid consolation.”  But we were joking.  Sadly, Colbert was not.  Back to neurotransmitters:  These reuptake mechanisms are also found in more intense pleasures (like cocaine.) So, “feeling your faith” doesn’t increase faith anymore than cocaine.  Even atheistic scientists will agree with me here:  Spiritual “feelings” are frequently nothing more than the release of biochemicals in the brain. I make no moral judgment against either feelings or pleasure here.  God created both and can affect both in prayer, but it’s not the central tenet of faith.

2) One’s opinion of truth is only as good as the evidence that one has to support it. Few doubt this truth in science, but if religion refers to truth, then this is true in religion also.  Regarding feelings and logic together, Colbert does admit that “they do not defy each other but complement each other. ”  He then says, “Logic itself will not lead me to God.”  This is partly true,1 but there’s a glaring omission in the above video:  The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is a historical binary event (true or not true) upon which hinges our entire creed.  “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”—1 Cor 15:17.  Colbert inadvertently disparages the starting point of Christianity, namely, that the Resurrection and Divinity of Jesus Christ can be given some real evidence. Or rather, we can not prove that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, but we can disprove the contrary with pretty air-tight historical arguments found in books like Kreeft/Tacelli’s Handbook of Catholic Apologetics.

For all the Social Justice Catholics that promote Colbert, we have to admit it’s ironic that Colbert puts the emphasis on feelings—something the poor don’t have the luxury of always enjoying in their daily walk with Christ.  The Christians being crucified by ISIS may not “feel” their faith, but they have a hope in the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ based in a historical event.  But I guess feelings are good for a multi-millionaire hanging with the Jesuits of Manhattan.

Yes, for Colbert, “faith ultimately can’t be argued; faith has to be felt.”  In this philosophy, random biochemicals in the brain must take precedent over truth. Besides this conclusion being false for both Jesus on the cross (not good feelings but lots of truth) and St. Thomas Aquinas (who says very little of feelings and lots of truth) there’s actually another odd problem with Colbert Catholicism:  It’s the most boring version of Catholicism we have heard since the 1970s.  Almost all of my Gen-X friends raised by progressive-Catholic baby-boomers have left the Catholic Church.  Inclusive-Catholicism turned out to be exclusive-Catholicism, precisely because it was founded on the feelings of a few ex-hippies instead of the Truth.

Most normal people long for one of two ways of life:

Feelings=Pleasure=Religion of hedonism (max out on pleasure.)

or

Logic=Truth=Religion of Catholicism (max out on truth and love, but it hurts just a little on the way to heaven.)

At the end of the day, here are our best two options: An-unbridled-pleasure-fiend or a total saint.  I don’t believe in a middle-ground—practical or theological—where you get neither.

This isn’t to say that Catholicism is cold-cut syllogisms without any affections of love of Jesus Christ.  Nor does it mean that all pleasure is bad.   God made feelings and God made pleasure.  But at the end of the day, we have to decide if we’re going to live for feelings or the truth.  2

So, what is faith, then?  “Faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not.”—Heb 11:1.  Evidence means just that—evidence, as I wrote above in regards to the historical evidence for the resurrection of Christ.  But if Colbert wants this at a more personal level, the word “faith” in Greek (πιστις) is actually also the same as trust.  It means a trust-of-life, not just a single statement of salvation.  It means daily decisions, not just a single act of consent of the intellect (Protestantism) or emotions (Colberism.)  You see, if faith is trust, then this includes loving and hard decisions in the body all day long, including chastity, for “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”—2 Cor 5:10.

Jesus rarely said “Believe in me.”  He frequently said “Follow me.”

Mother Teresa’s faith went deeper than both emotions and logic.  For 60 years she did not “feel her faith.”  Yet she got up at 3am or 4am to pray for two hours before her Eucharistic Lord and served Jesus in the poorest of the poor in the streets of Kolkata for decade after decade.  Mother Teresa was living trust in the body when the feelings weren’t there.  These were decisions she lived out in her body, and yet her emotions were so dark that she had to make constant acts of faith in God via her will—acts that were above and beyond the dark night of the soul that lasted a grueling 60 years.  This is a tough marriage to a Divine Spouse!  She often complained lovingly of her silent lover…

In fact, at the risk of scandalizing my readers, I’ll point out what she once wrote to a friend:  “Pray for me, pray that I may have the courage to keep on smiling at Jesus—I understand a little the tortures of hell—without God.”  I used the word “scandalized” because you should be surprised that Mother Teresa felt herself (not made herself, but felt herself) to be “without God.”  And yet, she made constant acts of faith—essentially hope against hope—of having no feelings of God, yet seeking Him anyway.

Since her death, many people who felt on the verge of suicide have since found strength in the ways of Mother Teresa.  People who had struggled their whole life with very personal sins and thought God abandoned them found hope in Mother Teresa.  Why?  Because, they reason,  if God loved Mother Teresa even when she couldn’t feel Him, then His love must still be there.  If God could love Mother Teresa as she was, maybe He loves me in my serious sin.  They are right.  And it is still His kindness that leads us to repentance.

In fact, in that same letter, Mother Teresa explained her suffering for the life of the world:  “I have no words to express what I want to say, and yet last First Friday—knowingly and willingly I offered to the Sacred Heart—to pass even eternity in this terrible suffering, if this would give Him now a little more pleasure—or the love of a single soul.”

mother-teresa-young


  1. St. Thomas Aquinas found this debate so important that it’s his very first response in his 3000 page “summary” of the Catholic Faith: “It was necessary for the salvation of man that certain truths which exceed human reason should be made known to him by divine revelation. Even as regards those truths about God which human reason could have discovered, it was necessary that man should be taught by a divine revelation; because the truth about God such as reason could discover, would only be known by a few, and that after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors. Whereas man’s whole salvation, which is in God, depends upon the knowledge of this truth. Therefore, in order that the salvation of men might be brought about more fitly and more surely, it was necessary that they should be taught divine truths by divine revelation. It was therefore necessary that besides philosophical science built up by reason, there should be a sacred science learned through revelation.”—ST I.1.1 respondeo

  2. Colbert, if you ever read this, I’ll happily discuss this on or off the air in your studio.  Our mutual friend, Fr. Z (not the blogger), can hook us up.  

Repost: The Greatest Work

purgatory

All Souls Day and all of November is the month to pray for the dead, so I decided to run my first “re-post” on this very topic.  (Don’t worry.  I have a new blog post coming out Friday called “Stephen Colbert vs. Mother Teresa,” and also don’t miss my recent commentary on New York Times’ Ross Douthat.)

Every Christian is called to do the “Works of Mercy,” upon which our final judgment will be based, as seen in Matthew 25: 1 Did you know that St. Thomas Aquinas considered one of them to be the greatest and most encapsulating? Before scrolling down to see the answer, see if you can guess which one:

The Corporal Works of Mercy are:

  1. To feed the hungry;
  2. To give drink to the thirsty;
  3. To clothe the naked;
  4. To shelter the homeless;
  5. To visit the sick;
  6. To ransom the captive;
  7. To bury the dead.

The Spiritual Works of Mercy are:

  1. To instruct the ignorant;
  2. To counsel the doubtful;
  3. To admonish sinners;
  4. To bear wrongs patiently;
  5. To forgive offences willingly;
  6. To comfort the afflicted;
  7. To pray for the living and the dead.

Answer to my quiz:  St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “Of all prayers, the most meritorious, the most acceptable to God, are prayers for the dead, because they imply all the works of charity, both corporal and spiritual.”

As if the picture didn’t give it away…In any case, the last one of all fourteen is considered the most important:  Praying for the dead.

How beautiful that a person in a wheelchair on earth can do the greatest work of mercy that entails all of the other ones! To pray for the souls in purgatory is considered the greatest deed a human can do, according to St. Thomas Aquinas.  It is the greatest petitionary prayer we can utter on earth, in which we do all 14 works of mercy.  (No time to explain right now, but you can probably figure it out.)

I am convinced that never in the history of the Church have the Holy Souls of Purgatory been so ignored.  As you probably know, they cannot pray for themselves, but they can pray for us.  This is one of the reasons we must pray for them.  Are they in the millions?  billions?  I hope so, because that means a lot are saved.  Some saints have claimed that their power to intercede for you and for me is greater than the intercession of the saints.

Love the souls in purgatory by praying for them a lot. That is my resolution at my new parish, for I have utterly failed up to this point.

The early Church documents I have read seem to say that the earliest Christians prayed more for the dead than they even prayed for the living. Love the souls in purgatory by praying and offering sacrifice for them a lot. If you don’t love the souls in purgatory as a lover (for the others’ sake) then love them as a mercenary, for in praying for them they will reward you a thousandfold while you are on earth and/or purgatory one day…a speedy exit will be assured, they say.


  1. The Final Judgment

    “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

    “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

    (Matthew 25:31-46 ESV)