Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Why vote Pro-Life?

“I’m pro-life, but I don’t want to impose my views on others.”  Have you heard this argument before?  I bet you’d have never heard this one, though:  “I’m an abolitionist, but I don’t want to impose my views on slaveholders.”  Or this: “I oppose torture and terror, but I don’t want to impose my views on Hitler’s Nazis.”  

The truth is that if you are truly pro-life, this means you believe that human life begins at conception, and that each of us got our start as unique human beings at the moment of conception.  If you are truly pro-life, that means that you understand that purposefully stopping a human being from continuing to live is killing. 

I hope it goes without saying that killing an innocent person is wrong, and this is not a matter of opinion that is open to political correctness.  If we believe that there should be laws in place to prevent and/or punish murder, then this should not change based on the age of the victim.   

Now, if you believe that every woman should have a legal right to terminate the life of her unborn baby if she so chooses, then you are “pro-choice”.

But please don’t patronize real pro-lifers, people who stand up for the dignity of human life, by associating with them only when they stand unopposed.  If you are willing to look the other way as innocent babies are killed in the womb, then you are not “pro-life”; you are “pro-choice”.  There is no such thing as “pro-life, but…”

I’ve also heard of pro-lifers being accused of being “one-issue” voters.  Actually, I’ve fallen into this trap myself.  My political interests include immigration reform, affordable healthcare, renewable energy, peace.  But what am I really saying when I choose a candidate who seems to want to do so much good … for those of us who survived our mothers’ pregnancies?  That I only care about those issues that have a direct effect on me personally?  

If a candidate were running for president, and his proposed policies on the economy, healthcare, foreign policy, taxes, education, social security, energy, immigration, etc. all aligned with your views, and you believed he could deliver on all of these, BUT one of his domestic policies involved Jewish concentration camps or the enslavement of African-Americans, would you still vote for him?  

No? You wouldn’t be willing to sacrifice a segment of the population for the sake of improvement in quality of life for the rest of us? So how is the killing of babies before they are born any different?

And in reality, let’s not kid ourselves that abortion doesn’t affect those of us who do not face unplanned pregnancies.  A nation that allows the slaughter of the innocents will not stand up for any segment of society when it is difficult or unpopular.  A nation that looks the other way when abortions kill so many of our next generation is a nation that is not connecting the dots between abortion and other societal evils.  

Allowing a woman to abort her child instead of providing affordable child-care for her so she can continue her education or keep her job is not “pro-woman”.  Allowing women to abort their unborn children instead of opposing the portrayal of women as sex-objects throughout the mainstream media is not “pro-woman”.   Allowing exceptions for abortion in the case of rape without increasing the penalty for the rapists is also not “pro-woman.”

Speaking of exceptions for abortion, let’s be real.  If we believe that abortion kills, then how is the baby conceived in rape any different from a baby conceived within a loving marriage? If we allow one woman to have an abortion but not the other, then what we are saying is that if the woman chose to have sex, she deserves the consequences of her actions.  With this mentality, criminalizing abortion is a punishment for the woman who chose to have sex.  This is in no way “pro-woman”.  (And by the way, pro-choicers are no more fond of this "exception" than I am.  See here.)

Pregnancy is not a “punishment”.  It is the natural result of sexual relations.  Obviously, it’s not fair for a woman who did nothing to put herself into this situation to continue to suffer the consequences of the violence done against her.  But is more violence really the answer?  

Maybe you have heard this observation before: The problem with an eye for an eye is that everyone ends up blind.  What’s more, why is the innocent child being punished for the violence brought against his mother?  Why are we not focusing on the criminal, the rapist, the hater of women?   

Deuteronomy 24:16 states: "Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers."

It’s so sad that innocent children must pay as a sort of reparation for the sin of their biological fathers.  It means that our nation participates in a form of human sacrifice, the appeasement of feminists who desperately grasp at straws to find restitution for the evil of rape. (I don’t mean any disrespect to feminists by this.  I used to identify myself as a feminist, but that’s for another post.)

What I think a “pro-choice” candidate is doing is trying to get the feminist vote by pretending to be “pro-woman” while not bothering to make hard decisions that would actually improve women’s lives, prevent the sexualization of young girls, encourage women to value themselves by means other than their physique.  Not doing all these things but being “pro-choice” is nothing more than a cop-out.

And so this is how I came to realize that if I call myself pro-life, then I must vote pro-life.  Liberty and the pursuit of happiness have meaning only if life is respected first.  Therefore, I vote pro-life.

Psalms 139:13-14

For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Journey synopsis...part 2 (infertility treatment)

When we first got our diagnosis of azoospermia, I never gave us a chance at trying to have a biological child.  I never questioned the doctor’s results or suggestions.  And I never questioned my own assumptions as to what could be done about it or if there were a moral way around it.  But once adoption started to lose its idyllic appeal, the option of fertility treatments reentered my horizon. I slowly started to read about IVF and found out that there is the “typical” way to do it, but that there are also alternative ways to do it. 
For one thing, IVF can be done without creating “excess” embryos who would have to be cryopreserved (frozen) and, in the long term, possibly destroyed.  For another, if my cycle was within the norm, there was no need for me to go through daily injections of hormones for weeks and weeks before attempting egg retrieval and embryo transfer.  Being equipped with the knowledge that there are ways to go about this without necessarily throwing caution to the wind allowed me to reexamine all of my reasons for running from IVF.

As it turns out, I had been hiding behind the veneer of self-righteousness in an attempt to hide my fear of physical pain.  (I’m getting better, but as recently as this January, I passed out during a blood draw.)  It seems that I jumped at the chance to “blame” virtue for the reason why I wouldn’t consider IVF.  

As the renewal of our homestudy for international adoption stalled, I started to reflect on how difficult it was to adopt in spite of us being much more open to different “criteria” than many other couples.  It wasn’t us who were rejecting children; it was us who were being rejected. I started to consider that maybe, just maybe, in spite of adoption being such a good calling, it wasn’t MY calling.  Maybe God wanted me to stop assuming that I knew what He wanted for my life, and start listening and obeying instead.

These realizations were coming to me early on in my renewed effort to find God.  We had just made our marriage encounter weekend and started to openly discuss faith with each other.  We were still “baby” Christians, and in spite of growing up in the Church, I was nonetheless not well-versed in Catholic reasoning behind various stances on such things as IVF.

Therefore, having only my personal prayer life and reason to guide me, I began to discern if I would be willing to go through IVF after all.  You see, the irony of male factor infertility is that it doesn’t matter that it's the man's body that is affected by the medical condition; the treatment will nonetheless fall primarily on the woman. I say “primarily” because in some circumstances, it does involve a surgical procedure on the husband.  In our case, this procedure was called TESE, and it was the end of the road for us.  

Once we agreed that we would try IVF because I found a clinic that specializes in natural cycle IVF (one of only two in the US, I believe), the next step was to schedule a procedure to try to extract sperm to freeze and then thaw and use in a future IVF natural cycle.  We were still new to praying together as a couple, but this was the procedure that brought us together before God.  We prayed for a successful outcome, of course.  I spent the two or so hours sitting in the waiting room flipping through my Bible and praying intensely.  I thought that the intensity of my prayer would have a direct effect on the results of the procedure. 

This is why I was so shocked when the doctor ushered me into a private room to tell me the procedure did not yield any sperm.  I still wasn’t that clear on the lifecycle of sperm, so I thought she just meant no mature sperm.  I thought for sure there must’ve been a few that we could use in a procedure called ICSI, where one sperm and one egg are brought together in a very intentional way.  But alas, there were none.  I didn’t waste any time.  I immediately called the fertility clinic and cancelled our appointment for a consultation that was to lead to our natural cycle IVF.  And then, I had to be the one to break the news to Alex.

I didn’t understand why I had been led to finally accept the possibility of putting my body through IVF if it wasn’t meant to be. Or what was the point of praying so intently if it wouldn’t be fruitful?  Maybe because without this experience, I may never have considered another alternative: embryo adoption.

Deuteronomy 7:14

You shall be blessed above all peoples; there will be no male or female barren among you.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Journey synopsis, part 1 (adoption)

Immediately after our diagnosis of azoospermia, we were told that our option was to adopt or try IVF.  At that time, I was vehemently opposed to IVF, on moral grounds, as I would call it.  I hadn’t been seasoned yet by the pain of infertility, so I could afford to judge all options on a strictly idealistic basis.  To me, IVF was “playing God”, and I wanted no part of it.  I had wanted to adopt even before we got our diagnosis, so it was a logical step for us to go immediately into adoption.  Surely, adoption is ordained by God, a holy thing to do, and clearly God is calling us to it since we were found to be infertile.  Right?

But after a year or two of trying to adopt unsuccessfully, after constantly reexamining our “criteria” to be as open as possible to the “type” of child we’d be willing to open our homes and hearts to, I started to wonder if it would ever happen.  I had this picture-perfect view of adoption – making lemonade out of lemons.  

I had no idea that to adopt, one would have to make such unnatural decisions as the age, sex, and race of the child, what sort of medical conditions we could handle, or even how many children we could reasonably accommodate in the case of sibling groups being placed for adoption together.   

In theory, we could have said that we’re open to “any child”, but in reality, different agencies specialized in placing different “types” of children. The homestudy would have to be geared towards a specific “type” of situation.  If we’d accept a child of a different race or with medical needs, there’d be special training to go with that.  (Interestingly enough, when mixed-race couples have biological children and the couple splits up, no one thinks about having the single parent take classes on how to raise their child. And when a special-needs child is born to a family, they make due by learning about that particular need at that time.)  

And often times, these “difficult to place” children (namely, non-Caucasian/Hispanic, older, with medical issues, etc.) were placed via specialized programs with frequently less expensive program fees.  (While I understand that this is done to encourage people to adopt children they may not otherwise consider adopting, doesn’t that still sound wrong?) Therefore, every choice was either for or against a certain “type” of child.

Nothing about the adoption process was natural.  Having to make decisions about our future children was unnatural.  But being judged by perfect strangers as good or bad parenting material on abstract criteria was equally unnatural.  Somehow, where we lived, where we worked, how much money we had, how good our health was, what we did in our free time, and what others thought of us suddenly carried weight that no biological parent ever has to worry about.  We walked on pins and needles hoping we’d be able to prove that we would make good parents.  How do you prove that, by the way, if not by hands-on experience?

In the end, for reasons completely unrelated to any of this, the Lord gave us a cross to carry that would solidify once and for all what I had started to suspect: namely, that He did not want us to adopt after all.  It is difficult to explain to people who innocently suggest "just adopt" that there are factors that come into play that simply make adoption impossible for some people. We do not owe anyone an explanation.  Suffice it to say that after over 4 years, our adoption journey is over.

Romans 8:15-16

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Why I'm Catholic... part 3 (Eucharist)

We have come to the single most important reason why I am Catholic: the Eucharist.  Having covered the papacy, the single greatest point of contention between Catholic and Orthodox Christians,  who believe the same thing about the Eucharist,  I am free to explore the amazing grace that comes from Jesus’s promise to be with us always, “even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

The Eucharist, also known as Holy Communion, refers to the bread and wine that is central to Catholic worship, because a mere work of the human hands and fruit of the vine is literally transformed in our presence into the body and blood of Our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Once this transubstantiation, as it is called, takes place, we no longer look at the host as “a wafer” or the cup of wine as “drink”.  We believe that God is capable of all miracles, and we believe Jesus when He speaks to us in Scripture.  And in the 6th chapter of John, He is very clear about His institution of the Eucharist as a way in which He intends to be present for future generations in a way that surpasses all human understanding.

Receiving Our Lord in the Eucharist for the first time.
Jesus says in John 6:51, I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.  We know that Jesus was understood at the time to be speaking literally because the response of the Jews in verse 52 is “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?  Yet Jesus does not correct them here, saying that he means this as a metaphor.   

Instead, He reaffirms that they have understood correctly: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink.  He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.  As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me.  This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever” (John 6:53-58).  Jesus doesn’t leave much room for misunderstanding here. He literally says “he who eats me”, not “he who eats that which represents me”. 

In verse 60, we see that the Jews understood Jesus literally, yet had much trouble accepting this: “This is a difficult teaching; who can listen to it?” Clearly, they had the same objections as many modern-day Protestant Christians do. In fact, this teaching proved to be too much for them and they stopped following Jesus over it: “As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore” (John 6:66). 

Jesus would not allow these would-be disciples to walk away from faith over a mere misunderstanding. He would correct their assumptions and let them know that they could still follow Him.  But He did not.  Why not?  If Christians can believe in the literal meaning of the Scriptures in reference to the creation, incarnation, resurrection, then why not believe in the literal meaning of the Scriptures when it comes to the manner in which Jesus would stay with us always?

But to be honest, it’s not the Scriptural evidence that compels me to be Catholic; it’s the presence of Our Eucharistic Lord that I sense when I am near the tabernacle (the ornamental box where the Eucharist is kept).  There is, without a doubt, a difference for me between entering a Catholic church and any other place of worship.  In a Catholic church (I’ve never visited an Orthodox church, so I can’t speak to that experience), upon entering, I am reminded of Exodus 3:5, where the Lord tells Moses “Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground. I feel compelled to show reverence in the house of God.  I am not there to fellowship with others, or to be entertained by the choir, or to sit back and enjoy a thought-provoking sermon.  I am there to worship God.

Recall that in the post on Mary, I mentioned that Catholics see a difference between prayer, praise, sermons, Bible studies, and worship.  The Eucharist is the reason for this.  During the celebration of the liturgy of the Mass, we have prayer, we have musical praise, we have sermons (called homilies), we have Scripture readings, but it is all of these together, done with reverence in the presence of the living God, that for Catholics means “worship”.

The Mass is made up of two parts: the liturgy of the Word, and the liturgy of the Eucharist.  In the liturgy of the Word, we listen to the Word of God – usually a reading from the Old Testament, a Psalm, a New Testament epistle or letter, and a Gospel reading.  In the liturgy of the Eucharist, we are brought to our knees as we witness the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.  The priest reminds us of Jesus’s words in John 6, and then obeys His command to “do this in remembrance of Me” (1 Corinthians 11:24b). We pray, we tithe, we sing.  And then, the climax of the worship service: we humbly approach the altar to come face to face with Our Maker, something that cannot be sufficiently explained to someone who doesn’t believe and hasn’t experienced His presence.  

The popular Christian song by MercyMe, “I can only imagine,” comes close:

I can only imagine what it will be like when I walk by Your side.
I can only imagine what my eyes will see when Your face is before me.
Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel?
Will I dance for You Jesus or in awe of you be still?
Will I stand in Your presence or to my knees will I fall?
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all? 

When I stand in the presence of the holy Eucharist, I am standing on holy ground, as Moses was.  When I prepare to receive Jesus in Holy Communion, I am sitting with Him at His last supper table.  When I kneel before the altar, I kneel before the presence of God Almighty. Too often, Catholics take for granted the amazing grace that we have in the Eucharist.  It is easy for us to take for granted that which is so easily available to us.  Nonetheless, I try to remember just how blessed I am that my Lord wishes to share Himself with me.  The words from Matthew 8:8 that we say just before going up to receive the Eucharist speak for themselves: “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof”.  I’m not, and yet He does.  

The Eucharist is a humbling total-body experience. This side of heaven, it is home.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?  For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Why I am Catholic... part 2 (Mary)

Why do I believe that Mary has an intricate part in our salvific story?

Mary isn’t met with resistance by as many people as the papacy, since our Orthodox Christian sisters and brothers honor her as well.  But there are enough people who do seem to not only misunderstand her role, but are downright agitated by any mention of her merits.  This pains me, since without Mary, we would not have had Jesus, and without Jesus, we wouldn’t be saved. 

The first reason I believe what the Catholic church teaches regarding Mary’s role in our faith lives is that, as Christians, we are to follow Jesus’s example in all things, right?  And Jesus certainly loved and honored His mother; therefore, so should I.  

When Jesus was a boy and He traveled to Jerusalem with His parents, they got separated.  When His parents finally found Him three days later (!), He was teaching at the temple (see Luke 2:41-50).  He clearly shows He already recognizes Who He is when He says in Luke 2:49: Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?”  Yet in spite of this, Jesus obeys His mother and returns to Nazareth with His parents (verse 51).  By so doing, Jesus honors His mother. 

Jesus again obeys His mother even as an adult, when the two of them are at the wedding in Cana.  In John 2:3, Mary points out to Jesus that the newlyweds had run out of wine.  At first, Jesus tries to argue with His mother by saying that His “hour has not yet come” (verse 4).  But verses 6-8 show Jesus nonetheless performing His first miracle precisely at Mary’s urging. 

These are just two specific examples of how Jesus honored and respected His mother. If we believe that Jesus was fully human except for sin, then we know that He must have perfectly kept all commandments, including the one about honoring one’s parents.  Therefore, how can any Christ-follower dare to ignore Mary, Jesus’s mother, as if she were no different from any other human being?  We ought to honor Jesus’s mother just like we are to honor our own mothers.  Yes, we are to respect everyone and be charitable to everyone, but we are to honor our parents in a particular way.  If Jesus is our brother, then Mary is our mother, and we ought to honor her.

Another reason why I honor Mary is because she is the first in the Communion of Saints.  Hebrews 12:22-23 says, you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect”. I don’t know about you, but to me, the underlined part very clearly signifies what we Catholics commonly call “saints”.  And was not Mary the first Christian saint?

In Luke 1:38, after the angel Gabriel announced to Mary God’s plan of salvation, she replied: “may it be done to me according to your word”.  In other words, Mary agreed; she said “yes” to God.  This means that she had the option to say no.  After all, who would believe her that she was pregnant due to a miraculous conception?  In fact, Matthew 1:19 tells us that Joseph, Mary’s husband-to-be, did indeed want to break off their engagement when he first heard the news of her pregnancy. 

But it wasn’t just her reputation that was at stake.  If Mary got pregnant without sleeping with Joseph, then the logical conclusion was that she must have slept with someone else, which was clearly punishable by death by stoning (see Deuteronomy 22:23-24).  As we read in Luke 1:30, God had already recognized Mary’s righteousness (the angel Gabriel says that Mary has “found favor with God”), and this is why He chose her for this extraordinarily special ministry of mothering the Son of God.

This is all fine and good, you may say, but it still doesn’t explain why Catholics worship Mary; saint or not, we are to worship God alone.  You would be completely right to say this, which brings me to my third point.  The way that Catholics and Protestants view worship is different, and this is where we get into a misunderstanding.  Most Protestants view worship as praise, prayer, singing, evangelizing, and/or righteous living.  These are all great ways to show love for God, but Catholics do not equate them with worship. 

Many if not all Protestants at some point in their lives ask a fellow Christian to pray for them.  It’s not because they don’t want to or can’t pray themselves directly to God.  It’s because in prayer like in a lot of things, there’s power in numbers.  Protestants talk of “storming the gates of heaven with prayer” because it is understood that God is more likely to respond to a multitude of requests than to a single, isolated request. Catholics see asking Mary to pray for us simply as a conversation that involves both sides of Heaven. 

We honor Mary as Queen in that she is the Queen Mother of Jesus Christ, our King. 2 Kings 2:14 illustrates the honor biblically bestowed on the mother of the king: “So Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him about Adonijah; the king got up to meet her and bowed before her; he then sat down on his throne; a seat was brought for the king's mother, and she sat down on his right.”  When we pray to Mary, we ask her to do what she did at the wedding in Cana, and put our requests to Jesus.  We do not do this instead of going directly to Jesus; we do this in addition to pleading with Jesus. 

To better understand the difference between what Catholics view as worship and prayer, I will have to address the third big difference between Protestants and Catholics, the Eucharist, which will require a post of its own.  For now, suffice it to say that we believe that during Mass, Jesus becomes really present, body and blood, soul and divinity, right there in the sanctuary, and invites us to literally take Him into our bodies, His temples.  When we stand in the very presence of God, only then can we be said to be worshipping Him.  Everything else we do may help us lead godly lives, remind us of His graces, and encourage us to do His will, but it is not worship.  Therefore, when we have the Eucharist as the perfect way we worship Jesus, a prayer to Mary is merely that – a prayer, not worship.  But that’s a topic for another day, so let me not get ahead of myself.

I want to bring your attention to the most popular prayer we address Mary with, so you can see for yourself how honoring her in this way is one of the ways we seek to please Jesus.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with Thee  
(see Luke 1:28, the angel Gabriel addresses Mary this way at the Annunciation)
Blessed are Thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of Thy womb, Jesus.
(see Luke 1:42, Elizabeth addresses Mary this way when the two miraculously pregnant women visit together)
Holy Mary, Mother of God, 
(hopefully I’ve shown why Mary deserves to be called holy, and by virtue of giving birth and mothering the Son of God, she is therefore mother of God-the-Son, Jesus)
pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. 
(essentially, all we ask of her is that she intercede on our behalf to the Lord)

Finally, I want to share Mary’s prayer, as found in the gospel of Luke, called the Magnificat, with which she responds to Elizabeth during their visit.  This is how Mary saw herself, and this is how we see her as well.  She is not God; she was chosen by God.  God expects us to honor His choices.

Luke 1:46-55

My soul exalts the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave;
For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.
For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
And holy is His name.
And His mercy is upon generation after generation
Toward those who fear Him.
He has done mighty deeds with His arm;
He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their hearts
He has brought down rulers from their thrones,
And has exalted those who were humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things;
And sent away the rich empty-handed.
He has given help to Israel His servant,
In remembrances of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and his descendants forever.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Why I am Catholic... part 1 (papacy)

There are many aspects of Catholicism that distinguish it from other forms of Christianity: differences of dogma, style and understanding of worship, and how we translate our faith into action (as well as the fact that we believe we must do so).  But I am not a theologian, though my mom would probably beg to differ (czesc mamusiu!).  Therefore, in this mini-series, I will focus only on those aspects that present the biggest differences (papacy, Mary, Eucharist).  

Why do I believe that the Pope holds an office that was instituted by Christ Himself?

Well, in John 21:17, Jesus addresses Peter (still called Simon) with this directive: “tend my sheep”.  In Luke 22:32, Jesus tells Peter to “strengthen [his] brothers”, as one in a role of authority would do.  And throughout the gospels, Peter is always listed first among the apostles.  But I want to focus on my own sense of why I believe that the papacy is in Christ’s plan for His church, so for a more theological discussion of the papacy, see here.

I believe it makes sense that Christ would leave his followers a clear system by which future generations can come to know Him.  This is in stark contrast to the notion of sola scriptura, which means “only Scripture” in Latin, and refers to the idea that Christian faith ought to be based only on what is contained in the Bible, and not on the tradition of the church.  But Jesus didn't write the Bible; it was the early Church Fathers who, inspired by the Holy Spirit, recorded Jesus's life and teachings for us. The Bible is not a how-to book, written with self-explanatory language geared towards the masses, consistently made up of a single genre, or contextualized within a single and familiar world-view that is easily accessible to all readers. 

When we read something, we automatically interpret the words on the page based on our prior knowledge of the subject matter, our knowledge of how language works, and the context of what is written.  We do not live in a vacuum, and we do not read in a vacuum.  There are as many interpretations of the Bible as there are readers.  Not all of them can be correct.  Therefore, it makes sense that Christ anticipated this conundrum and therefore organized a church tasked with the difficult job of biblical scholarship and translation of biblical truths into laymen’s terms.  

In a democracy, we abide by the laws that have been put in place by those who have been entrusted with their institution and interpretation.  Even when we believe that we know better than those in positions of authority, we don’t rise up in anarchy and declare independence every time we disagree with something being put forth by our government.  So why do we act like this when it comes to religion?

Think about how many denominations there are.  Every time a group of Christians disagrees with their pastor over something, there is a danger that they will splinter off and start their own church.  How do they know that they are right and their church of origin is not?  

I do believe that there are things that are right for one person but wrong for another person to do.  For instance, some people are called to married life, while others are called to the priesthood or religious life.  People are called to various ministries and if they resist and try to do something different, however note-worthy that other option may be, it is wrong for them to disobey God’s call.  

But what is right and what is true are two different things. There are some things that are universally true, meaning they apply to everyone.  

Given only a Bible, each Christian turns to Scripture in prayer, and essentially trusts their own interpretation of whatever verses come to them as the truth.  With this system in place, some people will interpret an unborn baby worth protecting at all costs, while others will see her only as a potential baby (whatever that means), and therefore able to be disposed of if it becomes inconvenient to treat her as the human being she is.  They may even point to the same Scriptures (for instance, Psalm 139:13, Isaiah 44:2, Jeremiah 1:5) to explain their polar views.  Some people will point out that God creates us in the womb as a whole, while others will say that God creates our bodies first, and then inserts our soul (apparently at birth), which gives us human worth.

Both of these views cannot be correct.  This is why I believe it is necessary to have a source of authority that is able to dedicate enough time, scholarship, and discernment to make definitive statements correctly interpreting these various verses so that we may know how to please God by doing what He would have us do.  In this case, the Catholic church, under the guidance and leadership of the pope and the council of bishops, inspired by the Holy Spirit in the same way as the first apostles and disciples were inspired by Him at Pentecost, take the guesswork out of the seemingly contradictory ways of viewing Scripture.  The bottom line is that the Bible’s message is NOT self-evident, so to think that it is sufficient to read one’s Bible without the input of the religious authority of the pope is folly.  

But what’s the difference between deferring to the pope for the interpretation of a difficult scripture versus one’s pastor?  Well, there are about as many biblical interpretations as there are pastors.  And who gave them the authority to make such interpretations to begin with?  The pope has the benefit of an unbroken line of apostolic succession, going all the way back to Christ’s original apostles.  The RCC has been consistent about its teachings over the years, even when those teachings have been unpopular or difficult.  Consistency to me sounds like the work of the Holy Spirit.

I recently heard a radio sermon on how Christians are not to consume any alcohol under any circumstances.  The pastor cited various Scriptures (Luke 1:15, 7:33; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Habakkuk 2:15; Proverbs 23:30-31) to show how drinking alcoholic beverages, including wine, is an abomination before God, failing  to mention how Jesus chose to perform His first miracle precisely by brining into being wine where there wasn’t any (John 2:1-11).  He also failed to mention how Jesus used bread and wine at His last supper (Mark 14:23-24, Matthew 26:2-28, Luke 22:20), and asked His disciples to do likewise (1 Corinthians 11:25).

For these reasons, I believe that the papacy was instituted by Christ as a way of keeping His flock on the straight-and-narrow path, undisturbed by misinterpretations of Scripture.  The pope is not perfect, of course, as he is only a human being.  But his office is blessed with the grace of infallibility, that is, a guarantee that the Holy Spirit will guide and inspire whoever holds this office into all truth and righteousness.  I don’t have to like the pope to respect his authority, and by so doing, I respect Christ’s decision to establish His church the way that He did, with a visible head of the pope in the papacy, begun with St. Peter.

Matthew 16:18

You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.