Tag Archives: Social

Should We Sell Vatican Art for the Poor?

Tapestry_by_unknown_weaver_-_Urban_VIII_Consecrates_St_Peter's_Basilica_-_WGA24187

This actually isn’t a debate coming out of Rome these days (thankfully) but I write about it because most of you have heard this question from some family member or a person on a plane at one point.  Should we sell Vatican Art for the Poor?  Of course, my answer is “No,” but I want to give you some new answers for your friends.

1) The first great commandment comes before the second great commandment.  Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”—Matthew 22:37-39.  For the Christian and Jew, any debate must be framed within the universal call of worshipping God before helping people.  Both are good, but Jesus Himself gives the priority in Matthew 22 above.

2)  The Vatican doesn’t have as much money as you think.  Yes, the Vatican bank is in charge of $6 billion, but they don’t own it.  The Vatican’s annual operating budget is $300 million.  For a billion Catholics, that comes to 30 cents per Catholic.  In fact, the endowment of the Vatican is only $1 billion, where the endowment for Harvard University is $30 billion.  Considering there are only 30,000 students at Harvard, this means that there is an endowment for $1 million per current student.  No one is clamoring for their Cambridge campus to be sold!  Again, remember that the Vatican is operating a billion person organization on $300 million a year.

3) The poor deserve more than food.  A priest in Rome made my favorite point:  The poor of Italy have soul-needs just as much as they have bodily-needs,  and the Vatican has the rare gift of free art for the everyone to see with no admission price.  If we get rid of Vatican Art, where will the poor go to worship?  To see beauty?  To be inspired to seek God in their poverty?  Or do we just want to throw food at them and sterilize them?   Everyone has a need to live the transcendentals of the human soul (unity, beauty, goodness and truth.)  The poor need a place of free art, not just food.  Although the Vatican museum and the Sistine chapel cost to enter, Saint Peter’s square and Saint Peter’s basilica have an entrance that are gratis.

4) Judas and the body of Jesus.  Martha’s sister Mary actually spends an entire year of income to anoint Jesus’ body before He died!  Judas rebukes her in honor of the poor. Jesus then rebukes Judas: “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”  1 Remember that the center of St. Peter’s Basilica is the  Eucharist, the resurrected and living body of Jesus Christ, God among us.  If billions of faithful, poor Catholics over 2000 years have wanted to give their blood, sweat and tears to honor the very body and blood of Jesus of Nazareth, who are we to overturn such a gift?  Only a modern day Judas would insist.  Indeed, since Jesus is truly present in the Holy Eucharist, then He deserves all the gold and honoring that humanity can muster.  St. Francis of Assisi said “Poverty stops at the altar.”  In other words, he believed priests should be personally poor, but that the accoutrements of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass should spare nothing.

5.  The conformity of the soul to the building of worship.  The nine-minute video below was made by a young evangelical Protestant pastor.  In it, he explains that a Protestant Church conforms the place of worship to the extreme comfort demanded by the post-modern Christian.  But the Catholic Church conforms the soul to God.  His analysis is humorous and astoundingly accurate, except for his one historical error of saying that the Orthodox Church is older than the Catholic Church 2  In any case, the video below is worth it!

 


  1. This event happens one chapter before the Last Supper in John’s Gospel:  Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pinta of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.  But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages. ” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.  “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”—John 12:1-6.

  2.  Primacy of place was given to the Church in Rome no later than 110AD by St. Ignatius of Antioch, the personal disciple of St. John the Beloved (who wrote five books of the Bible.)  St. Ignatius writes in 110 AD: Ignatius . . . to the church also which holds the presidency, in the location of the country of the Romans, worthy of God, worthy of honor, worthy of blessing, worthy of praise, worthy of success, worthy of sanctification, and, because you hold the presidency in love, named after Christ and named after the Father. (Letter to the Romans 1:1 [A.D. 110]) and You [the church at Rome] have envied no one, but others you have taught. I desire only that what you have enjoined in your instructions may remain in force. (Letter to the Romans 3:1 [A.D. 110).

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.  

All Souls Day and Syria

IMG_0834

I have no intention of making this blog page a news source (much less a newsletter of personal prayer intentions) but I thought that today, All Souls, would be an important day to highlight the civil war in Syria. Today, I write a very short post to simply beg for your prayers on the behalf of 250,000 who have died.

St. Thomas Aquinas said that the greatest work we can do on earth is to pray for the dead, as I blogged about here.  It is good to visit the cemeteries and to pray for the repose of the souls of our loved ones, but our family is bigger than that; we can let the internet create a one-world order of evil or we can let the internet unite a one-world family by baptism and charity.

Right now, your family in Syria needs your prayers. The land of the Apostle Paul has recently seen 8 million ejected from their homes amidst torture and unspeakable pain.  A quarter million people have been killed, including the recent crucifixion and beheading of 11 Christian missionaries. Obviously the latter is surely in heaven, but satan is hard at work:

ISIS is predicted in the next couple days to attack a town of Christians called Sadad, about the last city in the entire world that speaks Jesus Christ’s own language of Aramaic. Imagine a group of Catholics who pray the Our Father in the same language that Jesus did. They are about to be killed and they depend on your prayers.  Let us pray for their protection, but if God allows them to join the army of white-clad martyrs, may they die “as sorrowful—yet always rejoicing, as poor—yet making many rich, as having nothing—yet possessing everything.”—2 Cor 6:10

FOCUS Breakout Sessions

catholic-cartoon-poster

If you want to see something new and serious from me, see here.  But, on my Evernote,  I recently looked at this satire that my teammate and I had made a decade ago for an upcoming conference while working for FOCUS (also in Virginia, where I am now—but back in 2004.)   Forgive a few inside jokes, but here’s our FOCUS conference breakout-session title suggestions, mostly still valid suggestions for the next one:

  • Protestants: Friend or Foe?
  • Rainforest Decline: Ecoterrorism and the Catholic.
  • How I made it to Life on the Rock.
  • Dare We Hope that All Be Saved?
  • Why Lord of the Rings was, like, totally Catholic.
  • Fashion Tips for the New Evangelization
  • FACT: What it originally stood for.
  • Christendom vs. Steubenville: When will the war begin?
  • MTV and the Jesuits: “Keepin’ It Real” on the way to hell.
  • Breakout sessions: Why they’re much cooler than workshops.
  • Do we have to be circumsized to be saved? Rethinking Acts 15.
  • Mel Gibson vs. Justin Kraft: Who will win?
  • File 852UY: Superstar FOCUS team infiltrates the KGB with spiritual multipication.
  • A Heureumenic Analysis of Rahnerian Eschatological Solipsism
  • So you want to be a eunuch? Rethinking Matthew 19.
  • Predestination: Why you’re in Bible Study and your friends aren’t.
  • Fun with Puns with Dr. Hahn:  It’s Scott to be Good!
  • Laser beams and the Vatican
  • Fundraising in Hawaii: “It was so much fun!”
  • Xtreme fasting: So extreme you don’t need the “E”
  • The “I-know-Tony-Ariniello-Show!”…overbooked and canceled.
  • Ways to Pretend You Belong in a Dorm.
  • RPGs and How to Avoid Them—By Off. Kuetemeyer
  • Why I deserve a Motorcycle—By Jim Jansen
  • Bishop Morlino vs. Bishop Chaput: Who will get the guys?
  • Lethal Weapon 5: How Mel Gibson told Jim Caviezel he won’t be in this one.
  • Dumb things that Eck and Horn did on a mountain this summer: a documentary.
  • The life of Shane Ortega, as mimed by Jim Caviezel.
  • Self-flagellation: Then and Now
  • Hippolytus: From Anti-Pope to Saint in 12 easy steps
  • Deep Blue: The Staring Contest Between Staples and Martino
  • “We Built This City on Rock and Roll: My life before Benedictine,” by Dr. Ted Sri

Old People with Cell Phones in Adoration

Senior-Woman-Using-Cell-Phone-716613

I got debilitated by some Indian food poisoning, so I let Ryan start the Camino without me.  I got some good time in adoration in Pamplona.  Let me be clear:  I love seeing people of all backgrounds and ages in adoration.  No one who claims to be pro-life should even begin to bothered by crying babies in adoration chapels.  At the other end of the spectrum, let me say that I love seeing the more “mature” generation in adoration, too.  However, someone needs to tell them how not to use a cell phone before the Blessed Sacrament.  Who will do it?  Ok.  I will do it in a top ten countdown:

10) You don’t have to go running out of the chapel to answer your cell phone.  Voicemail comes free with every plan.
9) Vibrate is not off. Vibrate is not off. Vibrate is not off.
8) If you actually expect phone calls (yes, assuming you’re going to run and answer them) please don’t put your phone at the bottom of your purse.
7) If you’re actually expecting an emergency to the point that the world won’t continue without you answering your cell phone in adoration, then that’s okay.  Short of that, please turn it totally off, not vibrate, not airplane mode.  This is an exercise in humility for arrogant people like me to remind ourselves that no one needs me as much as I need Jesus in adoration.  If your daughter really needs you, she’ll leave you a voicemail without considering if she should leave the family, just because you didn’t pick up.  
6) If you plan on your phone ringing in adoration, please pick a different tune than circus music.  This happened with an older woman in an adoration chapel in Pamplona today, so I realized this isn’t an American-only-problem.
5) Two accidental phone calls in the same adoration session is probably a sign you shouldn’t own a cell phone.  This too happened with the circus-woman in Pamplona today.
4) If you’re actually going to adoration in order to screen calls, although this approach is ridiculous, here’s some concessionary advice:  Please figure out the button needed to reject a call.  That’s better than panicking, answering it, and immediately hanging up on the caller.
3) Whatever you do, do not answer your cell phone in adoration, whispering “HELLO!?” into your phone.  This does not help anyone, in the chapel or on the other line.  Adoration is a special place, different from all the rest.  How different?  I once heard an older man in adoration clipping off his fingernails. I looked.  He was actually using  metal toenail clippers right before exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.  I turned and asked if he could please attend to his personal hygiene at home.  True story.
2) If you must have throat lozenges to talk on your cell phone, fine, but could the candy wait until home?  There are children in there you’re supposed to be setting the example for.
1) If you can’t remember any of these, here´s the best part:  Just don’t bring your cell phone into the adoration chapel.