His Office Let Another Take

Recently, our bishop died (Bishop Joseph Cistone). May God rest his soul. While the Vatican is working to appoint a new bishop, it is important to recall that this isn’t the same as any mere restaffing of a company’s open position.

Continuity in the Early Church

We saw in the early Church how the first bishops (the apostles) saw that their positions of leadership would need to be continued after their own deaths in order to lead the Church throughout time. After the loss of Judas, they knew someone had to take his place:

For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his habitation become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it’; and ‘His office let another take.’ So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.”

Acts 1:20-22

The apostles recognized themselves as stewards of the authority and power given to them by Jesus. Only they had this authority and power from Jesus to lead the fledgling Church. Only they had been set up by Jesus to be “overseers” (Greek: “episkopos”; English: “bishop”), but they need to hand this position on to future generations.

Later, St. Paul recognized the need to pass on the leadership:

…and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

2 Timothy 2:2

Eventually, the Apostles spread out and each took charge over a particular area (today called a “diocese”). As the Church spread to new areas, new dioceses were created, so new men were appointed as bishops.

Apostolic Succession

Episcopal Consecration of Deodatus
Claude Bassot (1580-1630)

In order to continue the Church throughout time, the Apostles/bishops (as in the above quote) appointed others to take the place of their deceased members. We call this “Apostolic Succession.” The Apostles’ power and authority (from Jesus) was handed down throughout successive generations within the one Church to certain men in order that they might preserve His teachings and help lead His Church to deeper holiness. Each of these bishops was called to be the spiritual leader of his respective diocese.

Some men tried to fake their way into these positions in order to gain power and influence. When there was a dispute, the question would come: “Who ordained you?”

To prove that a man was a true bishop, he would have to show how he was ordained by someone who was ordained by someone (…) who was ordained by Jesus.

Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [their first] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men—a man, moreover, who continued steadfast with the apostles. For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers

Tertullian Demurrer Against the Heretics, 32 [200 AD]

Succession Today

Today, Apostolic Succession is present among the Catholic and Orthodox bishops throughout the world. They have the authority from Jesus, through the Apostles to sanctify, teach, and govern their respective dioceses. All the more, then, should they be holy men who do not scandalize the faithful, but rather lead them on in fidelity to Jesus’ teachings.

Eventually, Rome will appoint a successor to Bishop Cistone who will take the helm for the Diocese of Saginaw, MI. More than a mere CEO, that man will be ordained with the same power and authority that Jesus gave to the Apostles to help lead souls to Heaven.

Lord, please bless the Diocese of Saginaw with a holy bishop. Let him be a man after Your own heart who will be our spiritual father. Give him great courage and wisdom to lead all of us closer to You.


Featured Photo credit: Saginaw.org

Finding a Home

April 8th, 2017 will certainly go down in the story of my life as one of the many times when God’s activity was more clearly seen. It was the day when God provided us with a house.

The Search

My wife and I had been hoping to buy a house for a long time, and we had been praying regularly for God to lead us in that whole endeavor. It wasn’t a prayer like “God, give me that house,” or “a house.” It was more like “God, we know you have a plan for our family’s housing. Please lead us to what you want for us. Help us to know when to act and how.” Coming into the beginning of 2017, we had been scouring Zillow.com and Realtor.com, trying to find a place of our own, but the more we crunched the numbers, the more we realized that we just wouldn’t be able to come up with enough money for a down payment until at least mid-2018–and that was with the help of a generous benefactor who was going to match our savings. By the end of March, we had settled on pinching our pennies for another year, trying to save as much as possible toward that down payment.

The Rental

At this point, we were nearing the end of our second year renting a quaint little cape cod in a small town in Central Michigan. For the most part, we had been happy with the place: good landlords, close to work, good neighborhood, etc. Around this time, however, we had begun to suspect there was a significant mold problem in the house. The basement leaked, and there were some plumbing and construction issues that trapped moisture in the house, so we had known for a while that there was probably some mold, but I hadn’t really considered how much there might be. Meanwhile, however, my wife had been dealing with various health issues which weren’t going away and our oldest daughter had developed some similar issues, especially as the weather started getting wetter. Amanda started to connect the dots and began conjecturing that, considering what we knew about the house and how much mold there could be, our whole family’s health was probably being affected.

The Advice

Amanda discussed this with her practitioner, who told us that the mold in our home could at least be delaying my wife’s healing (if not causing some of the issues to begin with) so it would be wise of us to try to move as soon as possible.

The Scramble

Heeding that advice, Amanda and I began intensely searching our area for a new rental. We live in a college town, so many rentals would already be booked for the next school year, but the rest would turn over very soon. The more we looked, however, the dourer seemed our circumstances. All the rentals in town seemed 25%+ more than what we were currently paying–and for less space. This just made the idea of saving up for that downpayment all the more elusive. Things were not looking good. Either we would be stuck in the same rental (with mold and possibly deteriorating health) for another year or we would find a tiny apartment that we could afford somewhere in town.

The Prayers

As in times past, when our backs were against the wall, we turned to God and to our friends. We had been praying through this whole situation and asking a few people to pray for us, but sometimes God wills a thing to happen on the condition that people pray for it, so I sent out a large group email request for friends to storm heaven . . . and that they did!

The Hunt

Looking further and further into the different rental opportunities in the area, Amanda was able to line up a few apartments to tour. They didn’t seem spectacular, but we hoped we could settle with one for a year or so.

Initially, we were supposed to go out of town to visit my family for the weekend, but it turned out my dad was going to be out of town, so we delayed our trip for a future weekend. I left work on Friday, April 7th and met Amanda at our first place to tour. It was a little split-level apartment in a run-down area of town. Neither of us walked away feeling that it was a good fit. The landlords, however, seemed nice, and they gave us a list of their other rentals that were soon to open up, so we decided to drive around and window shop for those. They also were able to arrange a tour of one of their son’s rentals in town the next morning.

We woke up on the morning of April 8th, planning to spend the whole day in search of a new place to call “home.” The morning rental tour we had set up with the landlords the night before was a bust, and as we left, Amanda and I decided to crisscross the streets of town, looking for “For Rent” signs. Up and down we went, jotting down addresses, phone numbers, and websites– hopeful that God would provide us a decent place.

Divide and Conquer

Amanda wanted to get a jump on contacting the various rental owners, so I dropped her off at home. It was nice weather, so the girls and I decided to go on a bike ride through more of the city, looking for other rentals. I pulled one in the trailer and the other was elated to use her new big-girl bike.

Popping in to See Jesus

We had found probably a dozen more rentals on our trip by the time we zig-zagged across town and ended up at Sacred Heart Church. I brought the girls in for a visit to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. On our way in, I noticed someone practicing singing, and noticed that the music was a considerably higher quality than I had ever heard on various visits to this parish. The girls and I made our way to the side niche with the Tabernacle, making acts of love to Jesus and also begging His help in our search for a home.

The Concert

After our brief visit, we turned and headed out of the church. On our way, however, I noticed that the musicians were actually friends whose concert I was invited to attend at Sacred Heart. I thought to myself: wow, they’re awfully dressed up for a rehearsal! It turns out, however, the concert was to start later that day and I had misread the invitation, thinking it was the next day. Had I read properly, we would have all been getting ready to head out for this concert.

We exited the Church, continued our bike ride search, and eventually stopped again to visit some friends nearby. The girls and I chatted with our friends for a while and decided we should get back home to grab some lunch, see how Amanda was doing, and bring her our list of findings. Our route took us again past Sacred Heart Church, where I noticed a full parking lot and I thought to myself: I wonder what’s going on at Sacred Heart on a Saturday afternoon. Little did I know our family was supposed to be inside, attending the concert that I thought was the next day.

The Accident

As I mentioned, Amanda was at home, rifling through web pages and calling landlords. She had even set up a few rental tours for the following Monday. In the middle of doing this, Amanda accidentally tapped the icon to call someone on her favorites list, but she quickly hung up and thought nothing further of it, until later…

The Find

As Amanda was continuing to look for rentals, she happened to look on Zillow and see a house for sale that was just posted to the market. Out of curiosity, she clicked to find more details. As she looked it over, something about the house stood out to her beyond that of all the other houses we had previously seen. It had all of our “must have” options and some of our “want” options–and it was within our price range . . . if we had a downpayment. The extraordinary combination of all these features stirred Amanda up enough to call me and share what she had found. I and the girls were on the way home already and the thought of a house instead of a rental was music to my ears.

The Intuition

I returned home and Amanda showed me the house. I agreed that it stood out above all the others at which we had looked. Because of this, we knew this house would not last long on the market. It would probably be sold by Monday. I had to put the kids down for a nap, but as I returned downstairs, Amanda and I discussed what we should do. If there was any chance that we could possibly even consider this house, we would have to act quickly.

I resolved to call our real estate agent who had just returned the day before from a spring break trip. I told him we didn’t know if we could actually do anything, but we wanted to see this house. I also asked if there was any chance we could see it immediately. He said he would make a call and see.

Around this time, the person whom my wife had accidentally called returned the accidental phone call, so Amanda shared the news of looking for an apartment and coming across this house and how we were trying to go see it. Amanda passed along the URL to view the details. The person was very excited and agreed that this was a great house for us.

During that phone call, the realtor called back and said: “how about 20 minutes from now?” I agreed, unsure of how we’d figure out what to do with the kids. Quickly, I called the friend whom we had just (knowing from our visit that she was likely available) and she gladly came over. God gave us intuition to know things needed to happen quickly, and He provided us with the means to begin acting.

The Drive

As we began driving over, Amanda and I offered a spontaneous prayer, offering our thanks to God for this opportunity, our trust in Him if He wanted us to move forward with this house, and, in general, resigning ourselves to His will for our housing. The drive there was only a few minutes, but at about the halfway mark, Amanda’s phone rang. It was the accidentally called person calling again-actually husband and wife on speaker phone.

This couple knew of our mold/health situation and they know the benefactors who were willing to match us to help our downpayment, and they knew we still needed another year to save up that money. They were calling to let us know they would work with the benefactors to help us with whatever was needed for the downpayment and that if we thought this house was worth it, to feel free to go ahead and make an offer.

Wow, Amanda and I wondered, God is so amazing and these people are so generous! We both were in awe as we approached the house.

The Tour

Riding on Cloud 9, Amanda and I came into the house and searched it over. We did our best to inspect everything we could (particularly mold) and everything checked out. We both could see ourselves in this house.

We let the realtor know of the news of financial backers, and we started to discuss a price. We already knew that even though the house just came on the market that day, we would probably have to offer a little above list price, just to make sure no one else made a higher offer.

The Other Couple

As we were finishing our conversation, we were walking back to the entry when we noticed another couple with another agent outside. Not surprising, we thought. This is a good house and a decent price–a combination we hadn’t found too common in our area.

At first, we thought nothing of it, until Amanda recognized who they were. They were really good friends of ours–our goddaughter’s parents! They were actually among the people who had received the prayer request email and were praying for us. We knew they, too, had been on the house hunt and that their desires were very similar to our own.

We stepped outside and chatted with them for a while. They asked what we thought of the house, and we said that we were going to make an offer. After continued friendly conversation, we parted ways–us to our realtor’s office and them to tour the house.

The Friend’s Calls

We finished most of the paperwork at the realtor’s office when I received a phone call from my friend whom we had seen at the house. He wanted to know if it would affect our friendship at all if they also made an offer. What class! I thought. It was so heartening to know that they valued our friendship higher than a potential home in a tough market–God has certainly blessed us with some solid friends! I reassured him that the feeling was mutual and that them making an offer would not affect our friendship.

Our offer ended up being higher than theirs, but when they heard from their realtor, all they knew was that their offer was not the top one, so my friend again gave me a call to see if my offer was higher than his. He wanted to make a counter offer if someone else was in the mix, but if we had the high offer, he didn’t want to go any higher. He tactfully broached the offer amount and I let him know that ours was higher, so he congratulated me. Wow, again! I thought: What class! God has surely given us amazing friends!

[Please take a minute to offer a prayer for God to provide a home for them, too. See how well prayer works!]

God’s Continued Provision

After that, minor hiccups came up, but God continued to provide.

  • Our lease was supposed to end in July, but after some conversation (and some prayer) our landlords responded that we could break the lease early.
  • The house has .6 acres but didn’t come with a mower and since we’ve been renting for years, we don’t own one, but my mom happened to have an extra mower and trimmer.
  • My aunt offered her extra snow blower.
  • I already happened to have a 5-day weekend planned just before the time of the closing (and they couldn’t be moved to later), so we asked the bank and the sellers if it could be moved up, and it all worked out.
  • The inspection went smoothly.
  • We had many friends and family members help us move and happen to have extra home supplies that they offered to give us: a lawn mower, a snow blower… We’ve even been offered a new furnace! (The existing furnace works fine but is getting older, so it’s nice to know one is available.)

The 7 Years

The day after finding the house, we brought the girls over to see it. We also decided to introduce ourselves to the neighbors. We learned that the lady who was previously in the house had passed two years prior and before that, she had been in hospice for five years. The house, then, had been empty for about seven years. We, at the time, were two-thirds of the way through our seventh year of marriage. Our whole marriage this house had sat empty, waiting for us to come along and bring life into it again. God sure works in wonderful and mysterious ways!

The Power of Prayer

It’s so amazing to see how God orchestrated all of this. There were so many moving parts over which we had no control. Now, I’m not preaching a Health & Wealth Gospel here. It’s not as though everyone who prays to God will automatically have everything he/she ever wanted. God is a good Father who knows what is best for His children (and when will be best to give those gifts). It’s important, on our end, to do what we can with the means we have available to us, to leave the rest up to God, and to recognize His gifts as such and not just chalk it up to “chance” or entirely the work of people–yes, people definitely had a great part in this, but God provided the means, the generosity, the timing, etc.

We also need to make good use of the gifts God gives us. I hope this post is a small start to our work of putting God’s blessing to good use.

Why Christians Don’t Need to Eat Kosher

crispy bacon
Photo Credit: WedMd.com

Over the years, I’ve met a few fellow Christians who claim that we are still called by God to eat the same diet (kosher) as the Hebrew people in the Old Testament. Last summer, I met a man who made such a claim and shared with me his reasons, which basically boil down to the following:

Why Some Christians Think We Must Eat Kosher:

  • They claim the reason God declared certain animals “unclean” was because they are the scavengers (eating other dead animals and such) and they are not meant to be eaten–neither morally nor nutritionally. They claim that this is a universal moral imperative because it comes from God Himself (Leviticus 11).
  • They claim that the comment in Mark 7:19 that Jesus made all foods clean was a parenthetical note, invented by a later author. It’s not in the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible.
    • In that pericope, Jesus had just mentioned that the Pharisees ignore the law of God for man-made traditions. Therefore, these Christians say, it would be silly of Jesus to change God’s law right then.
    • They claim, if Jesus had changed the law right then, the Pharisees would have stoned him, but they didn’t, so He must not have changed it.
    • They claim that if Jesus had changed God’s law, He would have sinned.
  • They claim that because Peter was surprised by the command to eat unclean food (in Acts 10:14), it must be assumed that Jesus never taught that all food was clean. They claim the vision was strictly teaching him not to distinguish between Jews and Gentiles.
  • They claim the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) declared nothing about allowing previously unclean meat.
  • They claim Jews only referred to clean food as “food” (broma). Unclean food wouldn’t have even been considered food. Thus any mention from early Christians (like Paul) of all “food” being edible (e.g. Romans 14:20) only implied that all “clean food” was edible.
  • They claim the Apostles knew that the diet would be a hard selling point for Gentile converts, so they didn’t impose the dietary practice on new converts but waited for them to come to it willingly. That’s why we don’t see it in the New Testament.

Responses to Those Claims:

The Law

Yes, at Sinai God regulated what His people could and could not eat, but that begs the question: why? Was this because it is intrinsically evil to eat certain animals? Is this merely a ritual purity law? Did God have some other reason?

Many scripture scholars point to Israel’s disobedience–particularly the Golden Calf incident–as the reason for much of the Law. Prior to the Golden Calf, the 10 Commandments are all the law that God had given Moses. The Hebrew people had proven they couldn’t be trusted to worship the true God, only the true God, and in a manner that is fitting to worship the true God. 400 years in Egypt were enough to get them addicted to pagan Egyptian idolatry (and their manners of worship). They needed a spiritual detox. A detox, however, implies a time of freedom from the malady/addiction–a time when the detox is no longer needed. That post-detox freedom has come in the New Covenant.

Some scholars suggest God’s method of detox was to establish a law that made them sacrifice (and eat) only the animals the Egyptians worshipped as a way of drilling into their heads the idea that these animals are not God (it’s hard to worship something you’re forced to eat and sacrifice to the one true God). Hebrew people who did not follow these diet prescriptions had disobeyed God’s orders and were not ritually pure (in a proper state for worshiping God), so they had to make a sin offering in order to return to the community. So, yes, it was a moral imperative to the extent that God required it of them at that time. By the time Jesus came, however, God’s people were sufficiently separated from Egyptian idol worship. Jesus’ New Covenant does not require the Old Covenant diet in order to be ritually pure. God’s people have been sufficiently detoxed from addiction to pagan worship.
Here is a study by a contemporary scholar who explains this in regard to which animals were to be sacrificed. The relevant section is III.D – IV.A. The whole study, however, is really interesting.
One challenge that comes along with living this diet (and the rest of the total distinction from Gentiles) is the reintegration of Jews with Gentile people and food after thousands of year of separating themselves. They’re so accustomed to the distinctions, that it has become signs of who they are–Gentiles knew Jews are the ones who lived apart, circumcised, ate differently, etc. Jews prided themselves on those differences. When Jesus broke down those walls of separation with His New Covenant, it was hard for Jews to accept. Even the Apostles struggled to adjust to this new way (see comments on Peter and Acts 10 below). Paul’s letter to the Romans is an extended treatise on how following the Jewish law isn’t what saves someone, but rather it is faith in Christ that initially saves us and living it out in love that preserves that salvation. In chapter 14, Paul specifically describes diet, saying that if someone wishes to continue to follow the Jewish diet as a way of honoring the Lord through abstaining, that’s fine, but if another person wishes to eat all foods in honor of God freeing us from His temporary restriction, that’s fine too–as long as they don’t condemn the other.
Let not him who eats despise him who abstains, and let not him who abstains pass judgment on him who eats; for God has welcomed him. (Romans 14:3)
He who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; while he who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. (v. 6)
…nothing is unclean in itself… (v. 14)
Do not let what is good to you be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God does not mean food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit; he who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God… (v. 16-18)
Everything is indeed clean… (v. 20)
220px-saint_augustine_by_philippe_de_champaigneAugustine, in his letter Contra Faustum, explains the distinction between OT moral
precepts (those that truly distinguish good/evil acts and are retained in the NT) and OT symbolic precepts (those that were meant to teach the Hebrew people, prepare them for Jesus’ coming, and/or make some other temporary point, but were not, in and of themselves, moral). He clearly taught that the dietary laws were symbolic precepts that are no longer necessary to follow physically, but that we must look at that to which the law pointed. See below:
6 (emphasis mine):  …And you persist in making out an opposition in us to the Old Testament, because we consider no flesh unclean: according to the opinion of the apostle, “To the pure all things are pure;” (Titus 1:15) and according to the saying of our Lord Himself, “Not that which goes into your mouth defiles you, but that which comes out.” (Matthew 16:11) …
7 (emphasis mine): …The apostle speaks of the natures of the things, while the Old Testament calls some animals unclean, not in their nature, but symbolically, on account of the prefigurative character of that dispensation. For instance, a pig and a lamb are both clean in their nature, for every creature of God is good; but symbolically, a lamb is clean, and a pig unclean. So the words wise and fool are both clean in their nature, as words composed of letters but fool may be called symbolically unclean, because it means an unclean thing. Perhaps a pig is the same among symbols as a fool is among real things. The animal, and the four letters which compose the word, may mean the same thing. No doubt the animal is pronounced unclean by the law, because it does not chew the cud; which is not a fault but its nature. But the men of whom this animal is a symbol are unclean, not by nature, but from their own fault; because, though they gladly hear the words of wisdom, they never reflect on them afterwards. For to recall, in quiet repose, some useful instruction from the stomach of memory to the mouth of reflection, is a kind of spiritual rumination. The animals above mentioned are a symbol of those people who do not do this. And the prohibition of the flesh of these animals is a warning against this fault. Another passage of Scripture speaks of the precious treasure of wisdom, and describes ruminating as clean, and not ruminating as unclean: “A precious treasure rests in the mouth of a wise man; but a foolish man swallows it up.” (Proverbs 21:20) Symbols of this kind, either in words or in things, give useful and pleasant exercise to intelligent minds in the way of inquiry and comparison. But formerly people were required not only to hear, but to practise many such things. For at that time it was necessary that, by deeds as well as by words, those things should be foreshadowed which were in after times to be revealed. After the revelation by Christ and in Christ, the community of believers is not burdened with the practice of the observances, but is admonished to give heed to the prophecy. This is our reason for accounting no animals unclean, in accordance with the saying of the Lord and of the apostle, while we are not opposed to the Old Testament, where some animals are pronounced unclean.

Jimmy Akin provides a more nuanced explanation than Augustine in his article Paul and the Law (see part III).

Mark 7:19 & Parentheses

Grammar symbols in our modern translations (even the KJV) are not always the best keys to knowing what was originally written. They are included as the translator’s best approximation of how the original text might have been intended. To judge a specific phrase as non-biblical strictly based on grammatical marks in modern translations (or even in the KJV) is to disregard the original document and treat the translator as the original author.

Both the Greek and Latin New Testaments contain (without parentheses) what is commonly a parenthetical comment in many modern translations (Thus He declared all foods clean–Mark 7:19).

Greek: καθαρίζων πάντα τὰ βρώματα

Latin: purgans omnes escas

Yes, parentheses often indicate an explanation, but that explanation may have been penned by the original writer. Mark may very well have written those words himself. On the other hand, if something is a footnote, you can pretty much bet it is a modern addition (aside, of course, from the footnotes that say that some other early manuscripts have varying phrases).

Peter’s Vision in Acts 10

We have to be careful not to limit the meaning of scripture to a single interpretation. Many times, God wants to teach more than just one thing with a statement. The vision was actually teaching Peter BOTH 1) not to make a distinction between Jews and Gentiles, AND 2) that all foods were now clean. This is not an either/or situation.

Why was Peter surprised about the command to eat? Simple: Peter was human–a man who both grew in understanding and lived habitually. There were many times when the disciples didn’t immediately understand what Jesus taught. It had to be explained to them later. Just consider the number of times Jesus predicted His Death and Resurrection and how, when it came to pass, they still didn’t get it.

Even after Pentecost, the Apostles didn’t instantly comprehend everything Jesus taught. They had to be led into all truth (Jn 16:13).

Mark didn’t write his Gospel for at least a couple of decades after Jesus’ Ascension. Even though he wrote about food not defiling us (Mark 7:19), this teaching might not have been apparent to him until much after Jesus actually said it. Mark had lots of time between Jesus teaching and him writing to grasp this concept. (“Aha! Back when Jesus said that, He was letting us know that all foods are clean. I should write that down so other people understand Jesus’ implication.”) The same could be said for other Church leaders like Peter. The scene in Acts 10 is happening historically earlier than when Mark was writing. It’s quite understandable that Peter might not have yet grasped the full significance of Jesus’ original words by the time he was told to eat.

Peter had lived as a faithful Jew his whole life. He was habituated to the laws. Even if he intellectually grasped that there is no distinction between Jew/Gentile and clean/unclean food, it would likely still take a while for that head knowledge to make it to his heart. We can see this in how he reverted back to not eating with Gentiles (Gal. 2:11-21) even though he knew there was no continued distinction (Acts 10, 15).

The Council of Jerusalem

The Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) is all about whether Gentiles need to become Jewish (by being circumcised and following the other Jewish laws) before becoming Christian. The Apostles, guided by the Holy Spirit, resolved only to hold the Gentiles to the following regulations:

Acts 15: 28-29: It is the Holy Spirit’s pleasure and ours that no burden should be laid upon you beyond these, which cannot be avoided; you are to abstain from what is sacrificed to idols, from blood-meat and meat which has been strangled, and from fornication.

There is no reference in Acts 15 (nor the rest of the New Testament) to refraining from non-Kosher foods.


It might be possible that Jews only meant “clean food” when they said “food,” but I have yet to see any proof. Even if this were the case, Jews would have probably still made distinctions when talking with non-Jews. Remember that Paul’s letters were written to Gentile audiences. Even if Paul might have strictly meant “edible food” whenever he said “food” to his Jewish brethren, he knew his audience in his letters and would have likely made appropriate clarifications to Gentiles, lest people get confused about what foods are actually clean. Yet, Paul didn’t make any distinction, which only leads us to assume there is no distinction and that, for food, “everything is indeed clean.”


Other Considerations


One issue that fails to get addressed by non-Catholic Christians regarding almost every position on which we don’t agree is history. How has the Christian Church always understood this position? There is no historical backup for Christians being held by the Jewish dietary laws. On the other hand, many early Christian writers are documented rejecting the application of the Mosaic law (including diet) to Christians:

Against this historical evidence for the contemporary mainstream interpretation that Christians are not bound by the Jewish dietary law, I have yet to see any historical statement by a Christian arguing that Christians should follow the Jewish dietary laws.

It appears as if this whole notion that Christians must still abide the Jewish dietary law was created in a vacuum by people reading their own personal interpretations back into scripture instead of listening to what has been consistently handed down for 2,000 years.


For a Christian who claims that we are still held by the Jewish dietary law, I think it might be helpful to ask yourself: “By whose authority do I say Mark 7:19 is not scriptural? By whose authority do I interpret the Bible to bind me to eat kosher?” Is it by my own authority? Is it my pastor or a teacher? Am I relying on the KJV as my authority (and if so, how do I know my interpretation is accurate)? Is there anyone today who has the authority of Jesus and the Apostles to interpret scripture authoritatively for us? Here are a few articles to consider that point:

The Glare off the Monstrance

If you’re like me, when you go to an adoration chapel or some other exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, you tend to have places you like to sit. For some, you might like to sit close to Jesus. For others, you might just have a spot that you sat the first time you came, and you formed a habit of always taking that seat. For others, you might just sit in a certain seat because you can view the Blessed Sacrament without getting a glare off the monstrance from the overhead lighting.

Exposition Glare


How often have you found yourself leaning just a bit to the side, so that you have a clearer view of the host?

We Catholics reserve the Blessed Sacrament so that we may continue to adore our Lord outside of Mass. Sometimes we expose the Eucharist for visual adoration. Occasionally, however, even though exposed, the host remains hard to see because the glass protecting it is reflecting some sort of light.

Many time I have let this get to me. I could go to any Catholic tabernacle at any other time, but I’ve gone to the trouble of coming to worship God during exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, and I can’t even see Jesus! Well, this was the case yesterday. I was in my low-glare spot, sitting and reflecting. Then, I knelt to pray the Rosary and all I saw was a glass full of light.

This time, however, I must have been open to a few extra graces, because a few ideas came to me:

  1. While it is true that I can better focus on whom I am worshipping if there is no glare, I am really only able to see more clearly the accidents of bread. So while this clarity of view might help me to distinguish whether a white or whole wheat host was used, it won’t necessarily afford me a sight of Jesus Himself.
  2. One one hand, the fact that I am bothered by the glare is normal–clarity of sight is a good. On the other, it really pushes me to question if I am coming to God out of faith or if I’m just hoping He will bless me with some sort of miraculous apparition.
  3. Even if a miracle is my desire (let’s be honest, who wouldn’t like to see an apparition of Jesus?), why do I let reflections upset me? If God really wanted to manifest Himself to me, He wouldn’t let a glare impede my view.
  4. Not being able to clearly see the Eucharist is a reminder of the mystery of God and His transcendence. We are waiting for the next life to be able to see God as He is. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face . . .” (1 Cor 13:12).
  5. The light shining in my eyes reminded me of the Gospel reading from that day: “I came into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in darkness” (Jn 12:46). While I wanted to look at Jesus, I saw light, and I could “look” at that light as an annoyance or a reminder of the light that Jesus is.

What about you? Do you ever have the issue of monstrance glare? What do you do about it? Have you had any insights when “reflecting” on it?

Why Catholics Don’t Wait Until Adulthood To Baptize

Why do some Protestants wait until they are adults to get baptized?
The difference in our practices stems from the difference in our understandings of Baptism. Since the beginning of the Church, we have understood that Baptism actually affects us. It is something that God does to us. Protestants (in one way or another) have rejected the idea that the Sacraments actually do stuff to us. Depending on the denomination, they may be closer or farther from the full truth of what Baptism does, namely:
  • Allows us to go to Heaven (CCC 1257, John 3:3-7) 
  • Forgives all sins (CCC 1263)
    • Original sin
    • Actual sins (obviously none for babies)
    • Punishment due to sin (if you died right then, you’d go straight to Heaven–nothing to be purified in Purgatory)
  • Gives new life in the Holy Spirit (makes each person a new creature, CCC 1265-1266)
    • Adopted by God as a son or daughter
    • Given sanctifying grace (made a partaker in God’s life)
      • Given Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Wisdom, Knowledge, Understanding, Fortitude, Counsel, Piety, Fear of the Lord) 
      • Given Theological Virtues (Faith, Hope & Love) 
      • Given Moral Virtues (prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude) 
      • Made co-heir with Christ
      • Made into a temple of the Holy Spirit
  • Incorporates us into the Body of Christ (the Church)
    • Unites us with each other (CCC 1267)
    • It also unites us with non-Catholic Christians (CCC 1271)
    • Share in Christ’s priestly, prophetic, and royal mission (1268-1270)
      • Priestly – we offer sacrifices to God, uniting them to the Sacrifice of the Mass
      • Prophetic – we must help spread the faith
      • Royal
        • We have the dignity of God’s family
        • We are at the service of others (servant leadership)
      • We belong to the Church
        • We respect the Church’s leaders
        • We’re allowed to receive the other Sacraments
  • Seals our souls with an unremovable mark (CCC 1272)
    • We call this an “indelible character”
    • Kind of like branding our souls as “belonging to Christ”
    • No sin can erase this mark, but we must still be faithful to it in order to spend eternity w/God in Heaven (CCC 1274)
    • This mark is given only once, and cannot be changed or given again
  • Consecrates us for religious worship (CCC 1273)

Because we recognize how amazing Baptism is, we want that for our children as soon as possible.

My daughter being baptized

Many protestants think Baptism is something they do for God (an outward sign of their acceptance of Jesus). Since they don’t understand that Baptism does all the above-mentioned stuff for us, they have no reason to baptize until they’re older (when they can make an adult decision to accept Jesus).

They also don’t find any explicit mention of baptizing infants in Scripture. Scripture does, however, mention whole households being baptized at the same time (Acts 16:15, 33; 1 Cor. 1:16). Baptism is also clearly the New Testament fulfillment of circumcision (which happened to babies), and we have explicit 3rd-century texts on infant Baptism as an already long-standing tradition of the Church:

Baptize first the children, and if they can speak for themselves let them do so. Otherwise, let their parents or other relatives speak for them (Hippolytus: The Apostolic Tradition 21:16 [A.D. 215]).

The Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving baptism even to infants. The apostles, to whom were committed the secrets of the divine sacraments, knew there are in everyone innate strains of [original] sin, which must be washed away through water and the Spirit (Origen: Commentaries on Romans 5:9 [A.D. 248]).

[See more quotes here.]
Most Protestants don’t know of these glaring examples. They instead hold to a strict sola scriptura* study to create their own interpretations as doctrine, failing to see how infant Baptism was practiced by the earliest Christians and has been a consistent practice ever since.
*- Sola scriptura is the Protestant notion that every teaching must be explicitly mentioned in the Bible, however, neither sola scriptura nor anything like it is mentioned in the Bible, so it doesn’t stand up to its own requirement. Catholics understand that Jesus taught and did much more than what was written down–even the Bible states so (John 21:25)–and that the Church has the authority to pass down both those things that were written down and those that were passed on orally (2 Thess. 2:15). Infant Baptism was a practice of the earliest Christians and has been passed on by the Church to today because parents care for their children and want them to have those graces as soon as possible.

What about “re-baptism”?
Since, to many Christians today, Baptism is something they do for God, there’s nothing (in their minds) preventing them from doing it again whenever they have fallen away from God and want to re-commit themselves to Him.

If, after Baptism, I want to re-commit myself to God and show remorse for post-Baptismal sins, I would confess my sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and receive Jesus physically in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Since Protestants lack both of these, it is easy to see why “re-baptism” was invented.

“Re-baptism” fails to understand the unremovable mark on our souls–something that can only be given once, and cannot be changed. That is why the Nicene Creed states “I believe in one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” I can only receive the mark on my soul once. Any future “baptism” is really just me getting wet.

What about Confirmation?

Confirmation is fundamentally different from the Protestant understanding of Baptism.

It is NOT the public act of the person “confirming” (affirming) that he wants to be Catholic, nor as some say “confirming one’s life to Christ.”

Confirmation confirms (strengthens) the graces we received in Baptism (something God does to us). In our diocese, we confirm as early as possible (age of reason: about 7) because we want our children to have the advantage of those strengthened graces in their souls from as early as possible.The Sacraments affect us. They are not merely outward actions that we do.

Trusting God

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5) These words are written on a small prayer card given to me by my grandmother when I was young. I read that card many times growing up, but it wasn’t until my young adult life that I really started to learn what it meant and how to do it. Through various trials, the Lord has been showing me a way to a deeper union with Him: trust. Many times God has taken something away from me, only to draw me closer to Him–and often give me something better than what He took. He has called me to trust Him with what He was doing, and be open for what He has next.
At the dawn of our marriage, the Lord put on the hearts of my wife and I the desire to raise much of our own food. The dream was to raise enough money to someday buy a house with enough land to homestead on the side while teaching theology for my day job. Two years ago, we came across the New Catholic Land Movement, and after reading Kevin Ford’s material, I decided to contact him and compliment his work. Much of what he wrote had spoken to my wife and I (in fact, we had backed up to the beginning of his blog in order to read the whole story). Quickly a friendship developed between our families, and (long story short) the Fords invited us to join them on their farm.
This was a big leap for Amanda and me. We were going to leave a comfortable theology teaching job in Austin, TX to move to the-middle-of-nowhere, KS, to become co-owners of a farm (for which neither of us had any experience). Nonetheless, both of us felt God leading us in this direction. All of us had ideas of bringing more families onto the land, and starting an institute for rural Catholic life, where we could pass along not only farming know-how but theology as well (Kevin is also a former theology teacher). This was it: God was giving us our “in” for the agrarian life. Of course, this was all much sooner than we had expected, but with God, I’ve learned over and over again to just follow His timing, and things will turn out better than I could have ever imagined.
After a year of farming, door after door was closing for getting housing for other families who wanted to move out with us. Dreams of an agrarian Catholic cultural revival in this small town were seeming more and more distant. 
Beyond that, farming was getting tougher and tougher. On the heels of the worst drought years on record, we had a spring drought this year. Summer drought is one thing, but spring drought is a farm-killer. Mature plants respond much better to irrigation in the middle of a drought than seeds and seedlings–most of which we couldn’t even get into the ground because there was no rain to soften the soil enough for us to effectively till. If it weren’t for our greenhouses, we wouldn’t have had any spring crops. All of our summer crops were pushed back drastically. 
And problems didn’t stop there. A literal plague of grasshoppers (probably multiple millions of them) descended on our farm. This happened last year and wiped out half of our crops. After they died down at the end of last season, we spread NOLO Bait at 10 times the recommended level, we put pigs in some of the areas where they had bred, so they would root up the dirt and eat any grasshopper eggs therein. We also released guinea fowl and ducks on the farm to eat the assaulting insects. Alas, however, they came back worse this year. Not to mention the drastic increase in tomato horn worms and squash bugs. 
All told we will probably lose 80-85% of our crops this year. Ugh! Because of this, our farm will not be able to bring in enough income to support our families through the rest of the year. We already knew that it would be difficult because we rely mostly on subscriptions to our delivery service, and we were only able to sign up about half the number of patrons we needed to survive the year. As it is, we are already going to have a difficulty giving those few customers enough produce to offset the money they invested. We started seeing the writing on the wall about a month ago. Our two families met for a heart-to-heart discussion, and we decided to pray about where God is leading each of our families (and whether we should close the farm after this season).
Initially, we were shocked, sad, and really felt bad for our customers invested in us and who rely on us for good food. We also didn’t know what we were going to do with the fixer-upper house we bought. 

Two things became clear: one family needed to move so the other could try to survive until the end of the year, and the obvious choice was our family because Kevin has family here, and he is a much better/more experienced farmer than me. Questions remained, however: Didn’t God bring us here to farm and re-establish a community? Didn’t He provide us with this inexpensive house? How do we sell a house in a village of fewer than 30 people? Didn’t my in-laws buy the house next door? What will they do? What will we do for income? Do I return to teaching theology to bring in money and perhaps garden as a hobby? Where do I find a job at this time of year? Halfway through the summer, theology jobs are generally already filled for the next year. What will the Fords do for income? If we leave early, they can last a little longer, but they will need help and a new job, too.

Again, I had to rely on that passage from Proverbs: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” I had to trust God that He brought us to Kansas to farm and that He allowed the natural disasters to occur to push us onto the next step in His plan for us. I could not “lean on my own understanding.” I don’t have the vision that God has. I could not immediately understand all His motives for allowing what He has allowed. Whatever that plan was, I had to trust that He would make it happen. Thankfully, He has put me through many similar situations (though perhaps not on this scale), so I was a bit prepared. Through this whole ordeal, I’ve felt like His little lamb from Psalm 23:

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want; he makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies; thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

I’ve felt God’s assurance close by me this whole time, and I knew that I just needed to trust Him. 
Knowing that God often wills for us to help each other in completing His will, I also reached out to some close friends and family who I knew would pray for us. Amanda and I began the novena (nine days of prayer) to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and asked them to pray along with us. The very next day, my friend, Jeremy, told me that the position He just left (in order to attend grad school) had yet to be filled and that he was going to pass my name along to the pastor. This position is the Director of Student Outreach at St. Mary University Parish on the Campus of Central Michigan University. The following day, the pastor contacted me. In the past, it has always been a good sign of where God is leading me when an opportunity reaches out to me instead of me gaining something on my own. As my former spiritual director advised me, “you paddle, and let God do the steering.” In those situations, I have been forced to be weak (letting God bring the opportunity to me on His own terms and timing) rather than strong (me aggressively pursuing the opportunity). I couldn’t help but think of 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:

but  He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

Then weak I must be–and be it gladly–for I must realize that whatever God has for me is better than anything I can bring about on my own. Further I dove into my times of prayer, beseeching God for His guidance and clarity (for both me and the parish). If this opportunity panned out, I would be able to fulfill my passion of imparting the faith to young adults (how I got started in ministry/theology back in 2001). Also, I would only be 2 hours from my hometown, with many friends/family (including my best man) within an hour. We would also only be 5 hours from most of Amanda’s family. Up to now, we have never (in our married life) lived less than 6 hours from any family. Through all the places God had brought us, I had always pined for the beauty of Michigan. After having spent the first 31 years of my life in Michigan, I haven’t stepped foot on the sandy shores of a Michigan beach. After spending so many of my summer days swimming in Michigan’s clear, sand-bottom lakes and bays, I have rarely swam in the dirty muck-bottom waters of Iowa, Texas, and Kansas. It would be a dream come true to return to my native land, and to be able to teach my kids to swim in those same waters where I learned. But would it be? 
Trust, I must, and wait. Ah! So many of God’s plans involve us waiting, being more and more patient, continually offering up the sacrifice of not knowing and not being able to actively do anything but pray. As the novena went on, we had multiple contacts with the pastor. Then on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, he called me and set at ease some of our concerns about how much I could earn–ministry jobs aren’t known for their ability to provide the single income for a family, but he was able to make it work. He also, in that same conversation, offered to “move things to the next step:” an interview via Skype with multiple members of the parish. There was just one hitch: we had to wait two more weeks for one of them to return from vacation. Again, we were back to being refined in the fires of waiting to form the virtue of patience.
This time was not without its own highlights, though. During the novena, our next door neighbor, Aaron (Kevin’s brother) had heard that we were going to move, so he walked over and offered to buy our house. Not only that, but since he’s a carpenter, he offered to buy it “as is,” and he will finish our work, meaning we could stop and focus on more important things. We are still waiting to find out what will happen for my in-laws and their fixer-upper house next door, but I’m sure God has a plan for that, too.
Prayer works, I’m telling you! “Pray, hope, and don’t worry!” – St. Pio
But wait, there’s more: I wrote to an acquaintance I had met through Jeremy, who is a member of the parish. I wanted to know if he knew anything about housing in the area. He responded, and get this: not only does he go to the parish, but the pastor asked him to be on the interview committee, and he happens to own a duplex that might just come up for rent right when we need a place. Not only that, but the other side of the duplex is going to be rented to missionaries with whom I will be working! Yes, God provides:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day. (Matthew 6:25-34)

No wait, there’s still more: A few days later, we found out that Amanda is pregnant! So, counting our little Simon Peter (in Heaven) and Miriam Ruth (on Earth), we have Baby Truelove #3 due March 3rd! We again deepened our prayers. 
Amanda came across another novena that was coming up: that to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Both Amanda and I wear the Brown Scapular as a sign of our devotion to Jesus through Mary, who gave the scapular to St. Simon Stock on Mount Carmel July 16th 1251, so this is a prominent Memorial for both of us. We don’t normally pray back-to-back novenas, but this time it seemed appropriate. We prayed both to get the job and for the health of the baby (having lost Simon Peter, we’re particularly sensitive to baby health).

Today, on the Memorial of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, we were supposed to have that interview. On Monday, however, the pastor called me, asking to move the interview up a day. I couldn’t help but wonder, what if Our Lady is praying so that things move up and we will be offered the job on her memorial? Well, that is just what happened! Praise God, the interview went well, and they decided to hire me! 

We’re still waiting to hear on some opportunities the Fords might have for future employment, but we trust in God’s providence there, too.

So let’s recap: God took away the farm, only to bring me: 1) a new job, returning to my passion of teaching theology to one of my favorite age groups, 2) a return to my beloved state of Michigan, 3) a buyer for my house, 4) a potential place to live, and 5) a new baby. God is so good! I encourage you, if you are in any trial now (or in the future): place your trust in Him. Yes, I know it’s scary. I know you’ll probably have to let go of something(s), but He has a plan for you. Yes, He has a plan for you–not just me or some other guy: you. He wants to give you something even better for you (that which will draw you closer to Him and will draw other souls closer to Him through you), if you let Him. The question is: “Are you going to lean on your own understanding, or are you going to trust Him?”
Always trying to trust more and more,



We Only Keep the Photos We Like

Yesterday, my family went to a park, and we took many photos. The photo above stood out, however, as particularly beautiful in how it captured the expression of pure joy as my daughter, Miriam, experienced swinging for the first time.
Later in the day, my wife and I sorted through all our shots and kept the few that we really liked. This particular shot stood out as beautiful. I recalled how during my childhood years my family would occasionally look back through photos and I would see pictures of myself as I grew. I started to look forward to giving my daughter this opportunity to look back at some beautiful pictures of her childhood.
Through all this, a simple thought struck my mind that really made me think: We only keep the photographs we like. Out of all the photos my wife and I took, we only kept the ones that were beautiful–that moved us in some way. The ones that were blurry or had awkward poses or strange faces were moved to the trash. I thought back to the first time I purged my collection of photographs from boxes and albums. At that time, these were actual, tangible photographs, taken with film and printed on paper. Now, it is simply a matter of deleting an electronic file. I realized then that I didn’t have to cling on to every single snapshot of my past. I have taken thousands and thousands of photos throughout my life, but I only have certain ones that I have retained–only the best ones, the most beautiful and/or the most important.
God’s Photos
Just as we only keep the photographs we like, God desires to keep only the good memories of us. He wants only pictures that He likes, and He offers us the opportunity to get rid of those less-than-stellar shots through Confession. In this act of repentance, we choose to accept His opportunity to turn away from whatever evil we have committed in thought, word, action, or omission. He said to His Apostles (the first Catholic priests): “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Jn 20:22) God continues to give us Catholic priests today, who are given this power to act as His instruments of forgiveness. God wants to get rid of those blurry, awkward shots from our lives. He wants to only see a life of beauty in each of us, but we have to take Him up on His offer. We have to admit we have done wrong and try to not sin again.
Our Photos of Others
We also have to do the same for others. God said that in order to be forgiven, we must forgive others. 

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us . . . For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Mt 6:12, 14-15, emphasis mine) 

So, God wants to get rid of the bad pictures of us, but we first need to get rid of the bad pictures we have of each other. He wants us to look at the good in others. 
Rather than focussing on the crazy times when Miriam’s teething drives her to bouts of crying that seem unconsolable or focussing on how many hours of sleep we have lost (Amanda more so than me), my wife and I are called to focus on the good in Miriam (like re-viewing this picture of her) . . . and those aren’t even sins! We have to be willing to get rid of those bad photos we hold against others for their offenses. I have to recognize that I’m still holding a grudge against someone: my wife, my brother, my sister, my parents, my relatives, my friends, people at work, in the community, etc. What have they done that I still hold against them? In justice, I naturally want to see something done about this, but in mercy, I need to follow God’s lead and forgive these people. I cannot condone sinful activity, but I must love sinful people (like me).
The Final Album
Eventually, God willing, we will be with God forever in Heaven. In that state there won’t be any bad pictures, only the best. Before we can get there, however, we must go through a final touch-up, a final purging of bad pictures, a purification. St. John told us that nothing unclean can enter Heaven. (Rev. 21:27) So we cannot enter without these pictures being removed. This final purging of the stains of sin is what we call Purgatory.
In the end, those who have “feared God and done what is right” (Acts 10: 35) will be with Him forever. All in Heaven will glorify God’s mercy for forgiving their offenses. They will marvel at His mercy, for He has kept only the best photos.
Trying to keep the best photos,

Would A Human Clone Have A Soul?

One of my previous students recently wrote me, asking about human clones:

If a person is ever cloned, does that living being have a soul? Can we say that God made that person, and that despite being cloned by man, is still a unique individual? Should a clone of a person have the same rights as a person who is, well, the original? Would it be a sin for a person to allow themselves or to allow others to be cloned?

The following is my response with some additions:
To answer your question: every human person has a unique, unrepeatable soul, no matter how he/she came to be. The means by which a human clone came into existence would be evil (assuming that scientists are actually able to figure this out, and one day do), but the person him/herself would still have all the rights as anyone else (just as a person who was conceived in a test tube or in rape would have been conceived in an evil way, but would still have his or her own unique soul with all the rights as anyone else).
If a human is alive, he must have a soul, and souls only come from God. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote:

the soul is defined as the first principle of life of those things which live: for we call living things “animate,” [i.e. having a soul], and those things which have no life, “inanimate.” (Summa Theologia I.75.1)

the human soul is produced by God (Summa Theologia I.75.6)

Like all moral situations God gives us free will to do things the right way or the wrong way. Rape, artificial insemination, sex outside of marriage, and cloning are all wrong ways of bringing a human being into existence. God also allows all the consequences of our actions (good or evil), so He just might allow these evil situations to be effective in their natural consequences (creation of a new human life) by creating a soul to animate the body these people are forcing into creation–even though these means are against His design.
Yes, you’re right. People who practice things like artificial insemination and cloning are (knowingly or unknowingly) trying to be as great as (or greater than) God. They’re taking a place that belongs to God in the human reproduction process. Every human being has the right to be the fruit of the loving act of his/her mother and father (c.f. CCC 2378). God designed humans to be the natural result of a loving marriage, not the result of scientific processes. Any act that creates a human being outside of the marital act, then, is evil (contrary to God’s design). It would also be a sin for a person to willingly have him/herself cloned (for the same reasons).
The only exception for this is, obviously, natural cloning (a.k.a. twins). If I remember correctly, I think I heard somewhere that identical twins (or was it fraternal twins?) are considered clones of each other because of the way they develop in the womb. That’s something about which an embryologist would a have much better understanding, so don’t quote me on it.
Some might try to argue that if clone has a soul, and God created the soul, this must be proof that God thinks cloning is okay. Again, we refer back to the fact that God allows the natural consequences of all of our actions (good or bad). If I jump off a tall building, God will let me die (no matter how good or evil of a person I am) because death (separation of the soul from the body) is the natural consequence He has set up for things like falling from high places. If I steal food from a restaurant, it will still taste the same as if I had bought it honestly. God would not be allowing it taste good because He condones my theft; rather, He would allow the experience of the good taste of the food to be a natural consequence of putting good tasting food in my mouth. Too often, people try to excuse their evil actions because they do not see an immediate reaction by God (like lightning bolts shooting out of the sky to kill them for doing whatever they did). They’re just fooling themselves into thinking their activity is okay.

[P.S. It’s been over 6 months since I posted because things have been a little busy: I have a 5 month-old daughter, I moved from Texas to Kansas, and I switched from teaching theology to farming–see also the New Catholic Land Movement]

How is the Pope Holy?

A friend wrote to me on Facebook, asking the following question:

 . . . how is the Pope considered a ‘holy man’ when he is elected by a group of individuals? It seems too Democratic a system to be pure and holy.

I enjoy when friends ask questions because they often ask questions that go beyond the scope of what I have already studied, so I have to do more research to learn exactly what the Church teaches on that particular topic. I was intrigued to begin to formulate an answer to this question, because I had been wondering about part of it myself–specifically, what the Church taught about God’s role in the election of the Pope. I believe I was able to make a good start, but I think there is probably much more I can learn about this topic. Feel free to comment if you know any more than I have already listed.
What follows is my response:
1) How is the Pope a “holy man?”

Photo Credit: catholicism.about.com
First, it will help to understand the word holy. We use “holy” in multiple ways, particularly to describe the following:
  • A: God Himself
  • B: A person, place or thing consecrated to God (set aside as belonging to God)
    • Gen 28:16 – the place God appears
    • Ex 19:6 – God’s people
    • Ex 28:43 – the Tabernacle
    • Is 48:2 – Jerusalem
    • Lev 10:17 – the sacrificial goat
    • Rom 1:7 – what Christians call each other
  • C: Someone who has an outstanding relationship with God and lives an exemplary moral life. (This is probably the most common use in our ordinary vocabulary.)

We also use other words that mean holy: sacred, saint, hallowed, blessed, etc.
We call the pope “the Holy Father” because of his particular position (his office). In Mt 16:18-19, Jesus said to St. Peter that he was “Rock” [Jesus changed his name from Simon to Kephas (Aramaic for “rock”) –> Petros (Greek feminine for “rock”) –> Petre (Greek masculine for “stone”) –> Peter (English transliteration)] and on this “Rock” He would build His Church. At this point Jesus also promised to Peter the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven [a symbol of Jesus’ authority being handed on to Peter to be “in charge” after Jesus ascended–when the Old Testament King was going away, he would give his prime minister the keys to the kingdom to show that he had the authority while the king was gone (see Is 22:20-22)]. Catholics see this as Jesus establishing Peter as the head apostle, who after the Ascension would have Jesus’ authority to lead the Church. Peter left James in charge as the “bishop” (from the Greek episkopos or “overseer”) of Jerusalem and moved on temporarily to Antioch. Peter eventually settled in Rome, where he spent the rest of his life. Peter helped to begin and grow the Christian community in Rome. After Peter was crucified, the remaining Apostles and other bishops knew that someone needed to take Peter’s place just like Matthias had been appointed to take Judas’s place (see Acts 1). Linus was appointed to take Peter’s place as not only the bishop of Rome, but also the new head of the whole Church. Since then whoever was the bishop of Rome was considered the head of the Church (Benedict XVI is the 265th bishop of Rome).
Because his position is to lead the faithful closer to God, he is called the “Holy Father” –> the “papa” –> the “pope.” This corresponds mostly to definition B (above) for holy. He is “holy” by virtue of the fact that his office dedicates him totally to God, and he is acting with God’s authority in that position. He acts in the person of Jesus as the earthly head of the Church, so we also call him the “Vicar of Christ” (vicarius is Latin for “in the person of”).
Ideally, we can also apply definition C to the pope: that he is a moral role model. We have been very fortunate to have recently had a string of some very definition-C-holy popes. Some popes have not been very morally upright (Leo X comes to mind), but the REALLY cool thing with that is this: even though there have been some really morally lousy popes in the past, God has prevented all of them from changing official Church teachings to say that those bad things are good. God wants His people to always have access to the correct teachings about Him (faith) and how we ought to act (morality), so He prevents the popes from changing the teachings that Jesus handed on to the Apostles, who handed it on through history to us today. The popes don’t necessarily get any extra knowledge, but because God wants us not to be led into error, the Holy Spirit prevents the pope from changing the teachings. This can be seen in that same passage from Matthew: both in the authority of the keys, but also when Jesus told Peter that whatever he “bound on earth will be bound in Heaven, and whatever he loosed on earth would be loosed in Heaven” (“binding” and “loosing” were terms used by rabbis both for doctrine and for the forgiveness of sins). This is what Catholics mean when they say the pope is “infallible.” He is not made “impeccable” (without sin), but he is prevented from changing the truth that Jesus handed on. It has been such a blessing that Benedict XVI and John Paul II were such holy men in all accounts, but not every pope has been that way.
2) Does the election of the Pope make him holy? Isn’t it a rather fallible human system?

Photo Credit: Fotographia Felici
Analogously to Jesus Himself, in the election of the Pope there is a certain combination of the human and the divine. Yes, the cardinals are men, electing the next pope, but they are called to pray for God’s help. Pope Paul VI described it in his document on the Election of the Roman Pontiff (#84):

Like Our predecessors, We strongly exhort the cardinal electors not to be guided by likes or dislikes in electing the pope, nor influenced by the favor or compliance of anyone, nor moved by the interference of persons … nigh places or pressure groups, or by the suasive language of the masters of the communications media, or by violence or fear or love of popularity. Instead, with God’s glory and the good of the Church as their sole guide, and having asked for divine help, let them vote for him whom they judge most fit to rule the universal Church in a fruitful and useful way.

In the next paragraph, Paul VI also recognized that all the Catholic faithful around the world are called upon to pray for the cardinals in the conclave, so that they may be open to listening to God’s direction. While it is open to human fallibility, the conclave of cardinals electing the new pope is called upon to open themselves to God’s direction. And even if they don’t, and the worst pope in history is elected, we can trust in Jesus’ promise to Peter in that same quote that the gates of hell will never prevail against the Church. Whomever they elect will be the new bishop of Rome, and God will help him in guiding the Church. Even if the man is not definition-C-holy, he will be by default definition-B holy. We pray for both B & C.

UPDATE (3/1/13): A friend linked me to this article at the Deacon’s Bench, quoting Cardinal Ratzinger 8 years before he became pope:

I would not say so, in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the Pope. … I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit’s role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined . . . There are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit obviously would not have picked!

I hope this helps. If you have any questions, feel free to ask.
Again, if any of you have any good quotes on God’s guidance of the papal electors, please share.
Praying for our current and future Holy Father,