Monday, October 26, 2009

The Mathematical Consequences of Contraception

Let's use a mathematical argument in regards to the use of contraception.

  1. Let's use a simple equation that argues for two married people becoming one flesh: a + b = c.

  2. Let's use a simple equation that argues for two married people not becoming one flesh by contracepting so that they stay one: a + b = a. (It could also be a + b = b, but the first will be used in these examples.)

  3. Finally, let's use some different properties of math to flesh this out.
Using the Reflexive Property of Equality
We find that a = a
and that b = b
and that c = c

Using the Symmetrical Property of Equality
We find that if a = me then me = a
and that if b = you then you = b
and that if c = me + you then me + you = c

Using the Substitution Property
We find that if a = me, then me can replace a in any equation
and that if b = you, then you can replace b in any equation
and that if c = me + you, then me + you can replace c in any equation

Using our new values the original equations come out to the following:
(a + b = c) is me + you = me + you
(a + b = a) is me + you = me

As you can see the first equation mathematically makes sense no matter what the values of a/me or b/you are. The second equation is a little trickier. Let’s try some more math to see if we can have it work out.

In order for the second equation to be true, we must use another property.

Using the Additive Identity Property
We find that a + 0 = a

Applying this property to the original equation (a + b = a) we find that b = 0.

Using the Transitive Property of Equality
We find that if you = b and b = 0, then you = 0

So we find that in order for contraception to be added into the mix and for the original equation to be mathematically true, either a or b must become zero. Either me or you must become nothing. The only way that I can have sex with you and use contraception (i.e. not join myself to you) is for you to be nothing to me.

Further Reading

(Read More)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Ecclesia Semper Reformanda

The Bishop of Sioux City, the Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless has written his first pastoral letter to his diocese, called Ecclesia Semper Reformanda (The Church is Always in Need of Renewal).

It is an excellent letter explaining where we have been for the last four decades and why the so-called "spirit" of Vatican II is not a correct intepretation of the council. He closes with very concrete ways we can change what we as Catholics have become in our witness to the world. I have included some of the many relevant passages (with my emphases in bold):

  • "We now find ourselves forty-four years since the close of the Council. Many questions still need to be asked and answered. Have we understood the Council within the context of the entire history of the Church? Have we understood the documents well? Have we truly appropriated and implemented them? Is the current state of the Church what the Council intended? What went right? What went wrong? Where is the promised “New Pentecost”?"

  • Quoting Pope Benedict XVI who says,
    On the one hand, there is an interpretation that I would call “a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture,” it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the “hermeneutic of reform,” of renewal in the continuity of the one subject – Church – which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.
    Bishop Nickless reflects, "It is crucial that we all grasp that the hermeneutic or interpretation of discontinuity or rupture, which many think is the settled and even official position, is not the true meaning of the Council. This interpretation sees the pre-conciliar and post-conciliar Church almost as two different churches. It sees the Second Vatican Council as a radical break with the past. There can be no split, however, between the Church and her faith before and after the Council. We must stop speaking of the “Pre-Vatican II” and “Post-Vatican II” Church, and stop seeing various characteristics of the Church as “pre” and “post” Vatican II. Instead, we must evaluate them according to their intrinsic value and pastoral effectiveness in this day and age.

    Therefore, we must heed the Holy Father’s point that one interpretation, the “hermeneutic of reform,” is valid, and has borne and is bearing fruit. This hermeneutic of reform, as described above, takes seriously and keeps together the two poles of identity (the ancient deposit of faith and life) and engagement with the world (teaching it more efficaciously).

    Lastly, the Holy Father, going into greater detail later in the address, explains that the “spirit of Vatican II” must be found only in the letter of the documents themselves. The so-called “spirit” of the Council has no authoritative interpretation. It is a ghost or demon that must be exorcised if we are to proceed with the Lord’s work."

  • "My brothers and sisters, let me say this clearly: The “hermeneutic of discontinuity” is a false interpretation and implementation of the Council and the Catholic Faith. It emphasizes the “engagement with the world” to the exclusion of the deposit of faith. This has wreaked havoc on the Church, systematically dismantling the Catholic Faith to please the world, watering down what is distinctively Catholic, and ironically becoming completely irrelevant and impotent for the mission of the Church in the world. The Church that seeks simply what works or is “useful” in the end becomes useless.

    Our urgent need at this time is to reclaim and strengthen our understanding of the deposit of faith. We must have a distinctive identity and culture as Catholics, if we would effectively communicate the Gospel to the people of this day and Diocese. This is our mission...We cannot give what we do not have; we cannot fulfill our mission to evangelize, if we ourselves are not evangelized."

  • His plan to implement this “hermeneutic of reform" is five-fold:

    1. We must renew our reverence, love, adoration and devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament, within and outside of Mass. A renewal of Eucharistic Spirituality necessarily entails an ongoing implementation of the Second Vatican Council’s reform of the liturgy as authoritatively taught by the Church’s Magisterium, the promotion of Eucharistic Adoration outside of Mass, regular reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of the Eucharist and our Mother.

    2. We must strengthen catechesis on every level, beginning with and focusing on adults. If we, who are supposed to be mature in faith, do not know the Catholic Faith well, how can we live it and impart it to our children and future generations of Catholics?

    3. The first two pastoral priorities, renewal in Eucharistic Spirituality and Catechesis, will foster faithful families that are the foundation of the Church and the society. We are called to protect, build up and foster holy families in our midst, without whom the Church and the world perish.

    4. If we renew the Eucharistic, catechetical, and family life of our diocese, we will simultaneously foster a culture where young people can more readily respond to the radical calls of ministerial priesthood and the consecrated life.

    5. We must acknowledge and embrace the missionary character of the Catholic Faith and the vocation of all Catholics to be, not only disciples, but also apostles.

  • In closing his excellency says, "We truly need today those “great acts of renunciation” for the sake of Christ: not so much renunciation of our material things, as of our false attachments to both material and spiritual things. In order to strengthen our devotion to Christ in the Holy Eucharist and worship God rightly, we need to renounce any attachment to how we worship currently. To improve the spiritual depth of how we perform the Church’s liturgy, we will need to renounce attachment to worldly expectations and long-standing habits. To spend more time adoring Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, we need to renounce attachment to how we currently use our time. To deepen our intimate love for God in our hearts and heads, we need to renounce attachment to whatever is not God that is filling our hearts and heads. To live in more intentional and holy Catholic families, we need to renounce attachment to distractions, sins, and imperfections that harm our domestic churches. To accept the divine plan God has for each of us, we need to renounce attachment to our own plans. To change the world for Christ, we need to renounce attachment to how we want the world to be for ourselves."
Please, if you have time, read it in its entirety here.
(Read More)

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


Out of all the things that the Catholic Church teaches, indulgences are possibly the most misunderstood. I think it is safe to say that statement would include most Catholics. If you are one of those Catholics, it doesn't have to be that way. First things first...definitions.

An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.1
What an Indulgence Is Not
To facilitate explanation, it may be well to state what an indulgence is not. It is not a permission to commit sin, nor a pardon of future sin; neither could be granted by any power. It is not the forgiveness of the guilt of sin; it supposes that the sin has already been forgiven. It is not an exemption from any law or duty, and much less from the obligation consequent on certain kinds of sin, e.g., restitution; on the contrary, it means a more complete payment of the debt which the sinner owes to God. It does not confer immunity from temptation or remove the possibility of subsequent lapses into sin. Least of all is an indulgence the purchase of a pardon which secures the buyer's salvation or releases the soul of another from Purgatory. The absurdity of such notions must be obvious to any one who forms a correct idea of what the Catholic Church really teaches on this subject...2
So where is the definition of the definitions? If there are some words in there that you are not very familiar with, do not worry, we will get to them. To properly understand what the Church teaches about indulgences we only need to understand a few simple concepts.

The Two Consequences of Sin

Grave, or mortal, sin has two consequences; the first, which is called eternal punishment, and the second, which is called temporal punishment. The eternal punishment of sin is hell or an eternal deprivation of communion with our Creator. Eternal punishment is only a consequence of mortal sin. It is not a consequence of venial sin. "Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent."3 In other words it is a serious matter, you know it, and you freely choose to do it anyway. A sin is venial when at least one of the three conditions for mortal sin are missing. Temporal punishment is a consequence of both mortal and venial sin. Temporal punishment is a consequence that takes place in time. It is not eternal in nature, hence the name.

The Tale of Two Brothers

At this point an example might make things clearer. You and your brother like to play catch after school and every day you come home and go outside and throw the ball back and forth. You do it outside because your parents have told you that you are not allowed to do it inside. This particular day it is raining outside and instead of doing something else you decide to throw the ball around inside the house and end up breaking a window. In true sorrow and repentance you both confess to your parents what you have done when they come home and they forgive your disobedience towards them. Just as your parents have restored you and your brother to your previous place in the family, so does God restore us when we repent of our sins in true sorrow and confession. The theological term for this is justification. The normative way that man is justified by God is in baptism. If following baptism man separates himself from God through mortal sin he can be re-justified by God in in reconciliation. Justification is not what is going on with indulgences. When we are made just (or justified) our eternal punishment, that eternal separation from God, has been removed.

There are some people who would say that everything is good now. You are just in the eyes of God and if you were to die you would go to heaven. Well, almost. You might notice that it is still a bit breezy in here. There are some other things that resulted from your little foray into disobedience. The most obvious is that the window is still broken. That is an example of the temporal consequences of our sin. There are many other temporal consequences that might not be so obvious. There is the bad example we have set for our younger brother who we convinced to join us in the disobedience of our parents. There is the resultant lack of trust that our parents will have in us when we are home without them there to supervise us. There is the predisposition to commit this sin again because the more we indulge in disobedience the more likely it is to become a habit, etc., etc. The list goes on and on. As you can see our sins affect us and others in many different ways. These are just some of the ways that we can readily think of. Imagine the ones that we have no idea are going on.

The Treasury of Merit and the Keys to the Kingdom

Let's say the window is going to cost $100 to fix. You do not have any money because the unemployment rate for 12 year olds is pretty high. Since you do not have a job and it has been quite awhile since you spent the last of your birthday money, you are in quite the pickle. Although you desire to fix the window, you have not covered that in shop class yet and your piggy bank is completely empty. What is a boy to do? You ask your parents for help of course. They tell you that they recognize your desire to repair the window and would like to help you and your brother earn enough to fix it. They tell you that you can mow the lawn and earn $10 towards fixing the window. You could also help dad this Saturday rip out the old deck and install a new one to pay off the whole $100.

It is the same way with us when we sin. The Church, thanks to the infinite merit of Jesus Christ, has a vast, limitless treasury of merit that she has access to. Because our Lord granted Saint Peter (and his successors) the keys to the kingdom and the powers to bind and loose, the Church is able to give us ways to make satisfaction for our temporal debts. Even when we are forgiven of the eternal punishment due to our mortal sin by God's grace and through repentance, contrition, and confession, we still have the temporal consequences of it to deal with. The Church, through her access to Christ's infinite merit, attaches an indulgence to a particular pious act. In this way the penitent can really pay for the temporal consequences which he may have no earthly way of perceiving or simply cannot repair. The Church offers us two different kinds of indulgences. They are either partial (as in the $10 example above) or plenary (as in the $100 example).

Just as we can benefit from receiving from this treasury of merit, we can also contribute to it. As Christians united to Jesus Christ, acting in and by his grace, our good works, penances, and sufferings are also added to this treasury. Although the treasury is already infinite our additions are real because they are acquired through the merits of Jesus Christ.

The benefits of an indulgence may also be applied to those who are in Purgatory. Continuing the previous example, if the younger brother were to have died without having made restitution, the older brother could mow the lawn and use those benefits, the $10, to pay his brother's part of the debt.

Indulgences are consistent with both God's mercy and his justice, because he allows us to unite ourselves to him through Jesus Christ whose satisfaction to the Father more than fulfills the indebtedness man has caused by his sin. Indulgences are a wonderful gift to every Christian. We will be called to account for all the temporal consequences of our sin, in this life or in the next. As Saint Augustine tells us:
But temporal punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by others after death, by others both now and then; but all of them before that last and strictest judgment. But of those who suffer temporal punishments after death, all are not doomed to those everlasting pains which are to follow that judgment; for to some, as we have already said, what is not remitted in this world is remitted in the next, that is, they are not punished with the eternal punishment of the world to come.4

Further Reading

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church ¶1471 ^
[2] Indulgences - The Catholic Encyclopedia <> ^
[3] Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et paenitentia (17 § 12) - Pope John Paul II ^
[4] Saint Augustine, City of God - Book 21, Chapter 13 ^

Purchase the Handbook of Indulgences now from!

(Read More)