Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sunday Sermon, September 17 -- The Catholic Approach to St Paul (Father Ryan Erlenbush, Corpus Christi Parish - Sermons on Romans, Part 9)

We come to the conclusion of the Church's reading of the Letter of St Paul to the Romans which has continued for the past three months from the last Sunday of June to the second to the last Sunday of September. St Paul directs our focus entirely to Jesus Christ.

Looking back over the Letter, we revisit the question of faith and works, of grace and free will. Martin Luther's fundamental philosophical error of thinking that an action cannot be both fully of God and fully of man -- but, in truth, God is fully the primary cause of our good works and we are fully the secondary cause of our good works. When we cooperate with God's grace, we merit our salvation.

The protestant doctrine of "grace alone" leads quickly to the idea of "double predestination."  If a man is saved without any reference to his good works, but simply by God's choice; another is damned without any reference to his sins, but simply by God's choice. This is precisely what John Calvin taught, and this is where protestant theology ultimately leads.  However, as Catholics, we believe that human choice really makes a difference -- and we are saved by our good works, or damned by our sins.

Fundamentally, Martin Luther and the protestants approach Scripture in a way very different from how all Christians have always read the Bible. Luther starts with St Paul, and then forces all of the rest of the Bible to "fit" into his interpretation of Romans. However, Christians have always given priority to the Gospels, and then the rest of the Bible (including St Paul) is interpreted in light of Jesus' preaching and ministry.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Truth and Tolerance: Catholicism in an age of relativism (Father Ryan Erlenbush, Talk to the Seniors of GFCCHS)

This is a talk given to the seniors at Great Falls Central Catholic High School, during their senior retreat this year (15 September 2017). It's a very casual setting and a very casual talk.

What is truth?
We can see truth either after the analogy of a river or a tree. The river: All the streams start in different places, but flow to the river which itself flows to the ocean. All belief systems and claims ultimately lead to the same truth.

The tree: The trunk starts as one, but the branches go off in every direction and end up in very different places. Man begins with the same search for truth, but the different belief systems and claims ultimately lead to very different places and do not converge into a single truth.

Christianity proposes that only the teachings of Jesus lead ultimately to the truth. Only through Christ is there salvation. Different religions and different beliefs really do lead to different places -- Christianity leads to heaven, every other belief system ultimately leads only to hell. However, non-Christians can be saved, not through their gods or their own merits but through the grace of Christ and the Catholic Church.

What is tolerance?
This claim seems arrogant to modern man -- even more, it seems intolerant to claim that Christ is right and everyone else is wrong. But what is tolerance?

Tolerance can only exist when we have different beliefs in contact (and conflict) with one another. If we all believe the same thing, that isn't tolerance it's agreement. If all beliefs ultimately lead to the same truth, there isn't room for true tolerance - because really we are all in agreement. Likewise, if we don't allow for real discussion and debate, we don't have tolerance we only have separation.

Christianity believes in true tolerance: Allowing different ideas and beliefs to be discussed and debated. And Christianity affirms that the truth is itself compelling to the human mind. We do not use power or external force to compel a man to accept the truth - we use discussion and debate, to allow the splendor of truth to shine forth.

The dictatorship of relativism
Joseph Ratzinger, just prior to be elected Pope Benedict XVI, stated that there is a growing "dictatorship of relativism" in which any claim to possessing absolute truth is cast aside or even persecuted. The relativistic age in which we live has no room for real discussion or debate, but rather forces all to accept the doctrine that truth is relative -- what is true for me, is only true for me and not for everyone else.

But we believe that there is absolute truth, and that this truth will appeal to all people, if only we present it in love. That's our job: To spread the truth, and trust that God will make the seed of truth grow.

Sunday Sermon, September 10 -- On Excommunication (Father Ryan Erlenbush, Corpus Christi Parish)

"If he refuses to listen even to the Church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector."

We consider the doctrine of excommunication. Jesus himself not only gives the Church the right to excommunicate, but even mandates excommunication in certain cases of obstinate grave sin. To treat a brother like "a Gentile," is nothing less than to excommunicate him.

What is excommunication? It's much more than simply not being allowed to receive communion. Many cannot receive communion, but they are not thereby excommunicated. Excommunication means cutting a person off from the whole Body of Christ - he is no longer in communion with the Church. When a man has been excommunicated, the Church no longer even prays for him - he is not even permitted to attend the Mass.

However, excommunication has never meant that a person is condemned to hell. Excommunication refers to the relation of a man to the Church on earth, it is not a claim about what might happen to a man's soul after death. Indeed, we do not judge the man's soul, and we trust that God is continually offering the grace necessary for his conversion and salvation.

Excommunication is a medicinal act - it's medicine. The Church (Pope Francis included) excommunicates people so as to call them to conversion. Ultimately, excommunication is all about salvation.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Sunday Sermon, September 3 -- Christian Morality in Romans (Sermons on Romans, Part 8 -- Father Ryan Erlenbush, Corpus Chrsti Parish)

This Sunday, we begin reading from the second part of St Paul's Letter to the Romans which focuses on Christian Morality, living the life of grace.

This portion of the Letter is often quoted by Protestants in contradiction to Catholic practice. St Paul states that Christians need not keep specific days as holy or as days of penance, nor need we abstain from meat.  "For one believeth that he may eat all things." (Romans 14:2) or again "For one judgeth between day and day: and another judgeth every day." (Romans 14:5)

In fact, St Paul is speaking of the Jewish holy days and the Mosaic dietary laws -- Christians no longer must keep the ritual days of the Mosaic Law, neither do we follow the Old Testament rules about clean and unclean foods. St Paul is certainly not forbidding the Christian holy days or Christian fasting - he himself kept days holy and others as days of fasting, in honor of the Christian mysteries (Sunday for the Resurrection, Friday for the Passion).

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Sunday Sermon, August 27 -- What we do and don't believe about the Pope (Father Ryan Erlenbush, Corpus Christi Parish)

In his own life on earth, Jesus himself established the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church, with the Pope as Supreme Shepherd and Head of the Church on earth. The Pope is the visible source and sign of unity in the Church.

What do we really believe about the Pope and Papal Infallibility? We don't believe that Pope will teach clearly, or even teach everything that he should teach; we don't believe that he won't make a mess of things -- what we do believe, is that when he invokes his supreme authority and teaches infallibly, he will not state what is false (he may not speak the truth clearly, but he won't actually teach what is false).

We also don't believe that the Pope is chosen by the Holy Spirit, or that he is "the best man for the job". But, whoever the Cardinals choose, even if he isn't the best man for the job, even if he is very weak or sinful -- the Holy Spirit will preserve him from leading the Church into error. 

This is the gift of the Papacy: The gates of hell will never prevail even against the bad Popes. And that proves that God is the one who truly guides the Catholic Church.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

13 October 1917: An Apocalyptic Miracle, An Apocalyptic Message (Laurel, MT - Fatima Conference; Father Ryan Erlenbush)

Talk from Fatima Conference in Laurel, MT - August 9, 2017

This week we have heard the account of the history of the apparitions of our Lady of the Rosary in Fatima, Portugal. From 13 May to 13 October 1917, our Lady appeared six times to the children, Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta. 13 October was the occasion of the great Miracle of the Sun, which I propose is a miracle of absolute unprecedented proportion. A truly UNIQUE event in all of human history.

This great miracle, which confirmed the previous apparitions as well as the message which Mary had given, this miracle was promised by our Lady during the July apparition. Recall that the numbers of the crowd who had been coming to witness the apparitions had been steadily growing. However, with the children promising a miracle from our Lady in October (predicting this three full months in advance), the crowd ballooned to somewhere between 70 and 100,000 people.

This is what is so unique about 13 October 1917 – a great miracle, with tens of thousands of witnesses, which was predicted three months in advance as to the precise day, time and place.

I. Background: What is a miracle? How do we verify if a miracle has occurred? Why should we learn about miracles?

II. The History of the Miracle of the Sun: Eye witness testimonies.

III. Answering objections to the Miracle of the Sun: Not hysteria, not power of suggestion, not a natural phenomenon.

IV. Proposing an "explanation" for the Miracle: Similar to the Star of Bethlehem, or the Pillar of Fire.

V. The apocalyptic overtones of the Miracle: The Flood and the destruction of Sodom.

VI. Fatima: A message for the Last Times.

Sunday Sermon, August 20 -- The Conversion of the Jews (Father Ryan Erlenbush, Corpus Christi Parish - Sermons on Romans, Part 7)

St Paul tells us that, even as the Jews as a whole rejected Jesus opening the way for the Gospel to be preached to the Gentiles, so also the Jews as a whole will ultimately receive the Gospel prior to the end of the world and the day of Judgment. Although nobody is saved simply for being Jewish, the Jews do remain the "chosen people" of God, and they have a crucial role to play in salvation history.

This dynamic of proclamation from Jews to Gentiles and finally back to the Jews is symbolized in the ritual of the traditional Roman Liturgy, as interpreted in the beautiful liturgical commentary of St. Albert the Great, the teacher of St. Thomas Aquinas. The Mass begins with the Missal on the "Epistle side" of the altar. The singing of the Epistle by the subdeacon, facing the altar, "towards the east," facing Jerusalem to the east of Rome, symbolizes the preaching of the prophets, and especially St. John the Baptist, who proclaimed Christ to the Jews.

Then the Missal is moved to the "Gospel side" of the altar and the deacon sings the Gospel facing the side wall of the church, "towards the north," facing the pagan Gentiles to the north of Rome. This action symbolizes the proclamation of the Gospel by the Church to the Gentiles. The Missal stays on the "Gentile side" for almost the whole Mass, but at the end it returns to the side of the Jews, to symbolize what St. Paul prophesies in our second reading: their final acceptance of Christ at the end of the world!