Monday, October 21, 2013


Is Disney's New Disability Policy...Disabled?

October 19, 2013 at 10:46pm

For those unfamiliar with the challenges of dealing with disabled or mentally retarded children or young adults some of whom are on the Autistic spectrum, permit me to paint a picture for you of what I and parents like me deal with on a day-to-day basis.

For many Autistic children and young adults, routine is everything. Routine helps to ground them and keep them calm. Disruptions in routine can often result in heightened anxiety and for some, aggressive or anti-social behaviors, and meltdowns. And heightened anxiety can occasionally result in seizures. Many on the Autistic spectrum do not handle disruptions in routine or changes in their immediate environment well. As it is said of the rich, Autistic folks are not like you or me. Tonight, for example, my son insisted on a certain set of sheets for his bed when his caregiver and I were trying to make it. They must be the light blue sheets and not the light green sheets of an identical finish. And he was insistent enough about this to push his heavier set father all the way down the upstairs hallway toward the linen closet until he got his way. He is quite strong. Unlike the rooms of other teenagers or young adults, my son's has plywood sheets nailed to the drywall. This prevents him putting his foot through the drywall that he has done on too numerous occasions to count. So, tired of constantly doing drywall repair, the plywood has come in quite handy though not terribly attractive.

Some Autistic children and young adults also engage in self-injurious behaviors like biting their hands or head butting walls when they are frustrated. Some have OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and will pick at things constantly. My son has pulled out sutures on lacerations and removed entire toenails.

On at least three visits to Disneyland between the ages of eleven and thirteen my son kicked the shins of other children, innocent bystanders, at the park because he had lost his patience waiting in line. Needless to say on those occasions, after apologizing profusely to the injured parties and their parents and hoping not to hear threats of lawsuits, he was immediately taken home. Rewarding such behavior is not tolerated. A continued stay at the park would have been a reward. Bad behavior, as with any child, should have consequences. But with many Autistic children, despite punishments, time-outs, repeated reprimands and scolding, such extreme behaviors will persist.

A few days ago, I got wind of a new disability policy being instituted by Disney for its theme parks because some park goers were apparently scamming the system by pretending to be disabled when they were not. I also heard that many parents of Autistic kids, in particular, were dismayed and upset about the new untested policy. As a Disney devotee and Premium Annual Pass holder, I reserved judgment and gave Disney the benefit of the doubt, until today.

Allow me to place a few more dabs of paint on this canvas I'm painting. About two weeks ago, a slab leak in my home occurred much to my dismay. For those in older homes on raised foundations, a slab leak occurs when a water pipe in or under the concrete slab upon which a home is built springs a leak or bursts forth. Slab leaks can be localized to one part of a home or if undetected can ruin an entire foundation. I woke up on a Sunday morning two weeks ago and heard a gurgling sound in the living room and watched in shock as water poured forth from the baseboard onto my beautiful dark hardwood flooring. The leak may have been occurring for a few days in a more subtle way, because my insurance company has determined that my living room and entryway flooring and half of my kitchen are a total loss are now about to be demolished, treated and rebuilt.

As a single father of an Autistic son who has slight mental retardation and who is speech challenged, only able to speak in very fragmented sentences but still at this age, unable to carry on a conversation, and now who tips the scales at 185 pounds and is an inch taller than myself, I had to explore and weigh my options. Could my son tolerate the constant noise and disruptions of loud humidifiers and driers and crews of workmen coming in, from his perspective, to deliberately destroy a good portion of his home? What were my alternatives?
  • Temporarily place my son in a group home some 30 miles away and close to 40 miles away from the college where he is part of an adult transition program?
  • Would he understand why he couldn't live at home?
  • Would he, despite my attempts to reason with him, comprehend that this would only be a temporary arrangement? And not a punishment for some unknown transgression? Not likely.
  • Would my insurance company be willing to place us in an extended stay hotel for the duration of the demolition and rebuild of much of the downstairs area?
  • Would he act out at the hotel and kick the walls or destroy some of the hotel's property out of frustration that he couldn't be home in his room, his sanctuary from the confusion and chaos of the outside world? Was I willing to risk that?
  • Would I need an extra caregiver to stay over at the hotel to help keep him in line?
In the end, I opted to keep him at home, despite the noise and disruption to his routine and try to get him out of the house as much as possible while reconstruction was happening at the house. As I write this, my living room and entryway flooring has been removed leaving the bare cement slab. Furniture and the home entertainment center are stored in the garage and a large plastic curtain has sealed off half of the kitchen. My dining area now includes an open-air pantry of assorted canned food, boxed food, cat food, cereal and the new temporary home for the refrigerator. Kitchen appliances are typically more amenable to disruption and relocation than Autistic young adults.

So, today (a Saturday), I decided that a good change of pace for my son would be to visit Disneyland, one of his favorite places since he was a toddler, because I knew workmen would be by in the morning to seal off half the kitchen and possibly engage in tearing out cabinetry from the walls.

I ventured forth to Disneyland with my son and one of his caregivers, in this case a young energetic woman in her twenties who is adept at redirecting and calming my son as required. Visiting Disneyland with my son but without a caregiver or another alert and physically fit adult is not a good idea. Years ago, when my son's Autistic behaviors were noticeable, behaviors that included tantrums, meltdowns, kicking, running away, hand-biting, and incessant screaming, we discovered that Disneyland offered what was known as a Special Assistance Pass for those park patrons with family members who were disabled. The pass was issued at City Hall in Disneyland and the kind folks behind the counter never asked for proof of my son's disability but had they ever done so, we would have been more than willing to provide it. Of course, his behavior and unfocused, uncontrollable demeanor were obvious signs that something wasn't quite right with him as he attempted, often unsuccessfully, to patiently wait while the pass was being issued.

The pass permitted disabled children and adults and their families or caregivers the opportunity to access Special Disabled entrances on various attractions and rides and thus avoid the longer lines that other patrons are required to stand in. For many of those more normal patrons, I'm sure their eyebrows were raised a bit when spotting my son, who from a distance had the outward appearance of a normal child and later teenager or young adult. Of course, today there are not many 6 foot-one, 20-year-olds who are insistent about riding the boat through It's A Small World or sitting in the lion's cage train car of the Casey Jr. train or making their pilgrimage to visit Mickey Mouse on every visit, attractions more frequented by much younger children and toddlers with parents than teenagers or young adults. And not many patrons were aware or had the opportunity to witness some of my son's more extreme behaviors. He has connected with an occasional punch to my face or kick to my ribs, something that in the last few years is more rare, thankfully. For parents with Autistic or mentally-challenged children who cannot be reasoned with, the Special Assistance Pass made Disneyland a pleasurable experience. Gone were the meltdowns, the kicking, the screaming, the hand-biting and the kicking of other park goers. And even with the pass, there were occasional waits in line of a half an hour or more but they seemed tolerable. This has changed.

Now families with family members with disabilities, like my son, who is severely Autistic and mentally retarded must scour the park for newly designated Guest Services locations to have a park employee let the family group get access to one ride at a time for waits that can be as long as 80 minutes or more. For each and every ride, the special needs family must hunt out and find the Guest Services location – there are only four in Disneyland and four in the adjacent California Adventure. Only one ride option is granted per request. So, half of the visit to Disneyland is taken up with constant returns to these Guest Services locations once found (and they are poorly marked), requesting access to a ride rather than enjoying more of what the park has to offer.

Explaining this new procedure and the wait times that can be in excess of an hour to an Autistic child or young adult without the intellectual capacity to understand can be a tense and frustrating experience and something that I question whether anyone in the brain trust at Disney ventured to do with any special needs or Autistic children or young adults themselves before instituting the new policy. Walking in the shoes of a parent of an Autistic child with Disney's new policy will require a substantial amount of new additional walking — much more walking to find and request special access than ever before. And sometimes only to find that rides require an inordinate amount of wait time after the request has been granted.

Prior to this new scavenger hunt, we entered the Disneyland gates and headed to City Hall to see how the new process would work. There were three lines outside City Hall. None of them marked with any designation. After about 20 minutes, we were informed that we had been standing in the wrong line. After finally being granted the opportunity to learn about the new system, which was still a bit incomprehensible, we decided that we had no choice but to give the system a try and soon found that in order to ride more than one attraction in one part of the park we had to spend half of our visiting time circling back to one of four Guest Services booths to allow the park employee to handwrite the name of the ride and the time we were permitted to go to the attraction.

Please keep in mind, that Disney, so determined to curtail fraudulent abuse of special needs access, still doesn't require that proof be given of a person's disability. So, scamming the system is still quite possible and I'm sure occurs despite the new policy. In fact, many of the complaints that led to the new policy were aimed specifically at those park goers who entered the park in wheelchairs pretending to be unable to walk. Wheelchair-bound attendees, whether truly disabled or faking it, are still able to go right onto to any ride while Autistic children and young adults must use the new longer-wait access system. So, it's not clear to this writer, at least, how the new policy is designed to curtail fraud when many of the abusers can still fake a physical not mental disability. Disney's new disability policy doesn't address this in the least.

At the end of our visit, my son was only able to go on three rides. One ride was shut down while we waited, another was an hour and twenty-minute wait that we opted not to wait for on the thought that my son would become aggressive, and another favorite exhibit was shut down. In between looking for Guest Services booths, we walked and walked and walked some more.

Unless Disney revisits its new disability policy, we will have to get used to doing more walking and less riding on the attractions. I realize that some of you reading this may be thinking, "Cry me a river. Tough luck, chum. Now you have to do what we all do." And honestly I can understand that sentiment. Perhaps people with special needs should be treated like everyone else anyway. Perhaps we've been too lenient in America giving special treatment to those with special needs. I also get frustrated with the number of unused handicap parking spaces outside of shopping centers and grocery stores. Even though I'm entitled to get a handicap placard for my car because of my son, I've chosen not to because he can walk through a parking lot like any normal person. But if more public attractions like Disneyland decide to implement a policy like Disney has done for its theme parks, my guess is that ironically, the disabled will be more visible not less. You will see more Autistic children and young adults acting out and causing havoc. And who knows, maybe that's a good thing that can bring heightened awareness to the disorder rather than simply assuming that these kids are just like you or me. But some of you may want to take to wearing shin guards while waiting in line. Just saying.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013



The Burning Truth About Purgatory

Curtis Martin
From the Nov 1999 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine
Of all the misunderstood Catholic teachings—and there are a few of them—purgatory is often seen as the most embarrassing. Thousands of Catholics leave the Church every year. Their faith is questioned and their religious education doesn’t rise to the challenge. You’ve probably heard these questions yourself: “Where in the Bible does it say you have to confess your sins to a priest?” “Where does it say that the pope is infallible?” “That Mary was conceived without original sin?” And, “Where in the world did you Catholics get the teaching on purgatory?”
The typical conversation goes something like this:
Non-Catholic: “So you’re a Roman Catholic?”
Roman Catholic: “That’s right. I’m even a Notre Dame fan.”
NC: “Do you believe everything the Church teaches?”
RC: “Well, yeah, I guess so.”
NC: “Even purgatory?”
RC: “I think so.”
NC: “Well, let me get this straight. You believe in an all-loving God, don’t you?”
RC: “Yeah!”
NC: “Do you believe that this God sent His only begotten Son to die for you?”
RC: “Sure!”
NC: “So let me get this straight: You believe in an all-loving God, who loved you so much that He sent His only begotten Son to die for you, just so you can go to heaven when you die. Yet, this loving God first sticks you in a ‘cosmic oven’ and bakes you for a couple hundred years or so until you’re done?”
RC: “Well, I’ve never really thought about it that way.”
NC: “Where in the Bible does it say ‘purgatory’?”
About this time, our Catholic friend is looking for someplace to hide! He seems to have three equally unsatisfactory options. Option number one is blind
faith: “I don’t know why I believe it, but I’m going to keep right on believing it anyway. After all, I’m Catholic, so don’t confuse me with the facts!”
Option two is an over-confident triumphalism: “Silly Fundamentalist! Where in the Bible really!”
The third option is to run for the hills.
Each of these options fails to take the situation seriously. Blind faith ignores the importance of an answer. Triumphalism ignores the importance of the question. And running away fails to see the importance of reality.
There is, however, another way: the way of constructive apologetics, which takes the question and the answer very seriously, and prayerfully begins to search the sacred texts and the storehouses of apostolic Tradition to find the truth about these important issues.
The case against purgatory seems to be based on three major objections. First, the teaching of purgatory seems to contradict the finished work of Christ and offend the basic understanding of God as a loving, all-caring, all-merciful God who has forgiven our sins in Christ Jesus. Second, purgatory seems to offer a “second chance” for those who did not follow Christ in this life. Third, purgatory does not appear to be a biblical teaching. Before examining the truth about purgatory, let’s take a look at these objections and see why they should be taken seriously.
Scripture stresses the truth of God’s love, and Evangelical Protestants have frequently had a powerful experience of Christ’s forgiveness. St. John explains: “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his son to be the expiation for our sins” (1 Jn. 4:10). Jesus Christ Himself stresses mercy over judgment, stating,
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (Jn. 5:24).
Scripture teaches us about a God who “so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). The Christian believer is called to accept the mercy of God as all-powerful, capable of overcoming all sin, and yet the Catholic who holds the teaching of purgatory seems to belittle God’s forgiveness. From this perspective, God appears almost schizophrenic, wanting to forgive our sins and yet meticulously hold us accountable for them, at one time cleansing us from all unrighteousness (cf. 1 Jn. 1:9) and then later deciding to “fry us” for displeasing Him. Have we “passed out of judgment” (cf. Jn. 5:24) or haven’t we? Has Christ forgiven our sins, or hasn’t He?
The second objection against purgatory is that it is a manufactured second chance. If you don’t really want to follow Christ, you can still get to heaven through the “backdoor.” Yet Scripture is clear that spiritual mediocrity is unacceptable (cf. Rev. 3:15-16). Jesus calls for complete commitment. He is either Lord of all, or He isn’t Lord at all. There is no second chance; we are either for Christ or against Him (cf. Lk. 11:23). The doctrine of purgatory seems to be an “end run.” But Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me” (Jn. 14:6).
The third argument against the doctrine of purgatory flows from a main dogma of Protestant theology, sola scriptura (“the Bible alone”). After all, where in the Bible do we find purgatory? A quick word check in any concordance will demonstrate that the word is nowhere to be found in Scripture. There’s no discussion of some third place between heaven and hell. Surely something as important as purgatory would be clearly taught in the pages of Scripture!
Purgatory also appears to be “guilty by association”: The doctrine is caught up in the “Catholic collection” of the intercession of the saints, indulgences, the sacrifice of the Mass, and other items that are perceived as “unbiblical” and the fruit of mere human tradition. As Christ warns, “[F]or the sake of your tradition, you have made void the word of God” (Mt. 15:6).
These views are held by very sincere Christians, men and women with whom we are united in Baptism. Catholics have an obligation to take these issues seriously.
When I began to investigate the teaching of purgatory, I knew that it wasn’t enough to simply ask, “Where in the Bible is purgatory?” As a Christian, the two most fundamental truths that I held were the Trinity— three Persons in one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and the Incarnation, that the eternal Son, at a point in history, took on human nature and became man like us in all things but sin. And yet the words “Trinity” and “Incarnation” were nowhere in Scripture. That is to say, the words weren’t, but the teachings were.
I now needed to go to the Bible and examine whether the teaching of purgatory—whether the word was there or not—was to be found in the teachings of Christ and the apostles. I began to search the Gospels to see if Jesus gave any teachings concerning judgment or purification at the end of our earthly life. I began to see that several of Our Lord’s teachings, far from disproving purgatory, seemed to point to the possibility that there might be some debt of justice that would be paid after our earthly life.
As Christ teaches about the importance of forgiveness, He gives the example of a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. He brought in a man who owed a great deal of money and forgave him the debt. The forgiven man in turn went out and met one of his fellow slaves, who owed him but a fraction of the amount, and demanded repayment. The just king summoned his slave back and said,
“You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?”
And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt (Mt. 18:32-34).
What was Jesus talking about? Scripture clearly teaches, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). And yet Our Lord Himself gives the example of a man who had been forgiven, afterward acted unjustly, and finally was handed over to repay all that he owed.
Again in St. Luke’s Gospel, Our Lord challenges His followers to make peace with one another, so that they will not be handed over to the magistrate who would throw them into prison: “I tell you, you will never get out till you have paid the very last copper” (Lk. 12:59; cf. Mt. 5:26). Christ calls the believer, who has passed out of condemnation—the sentence of hell—to live a life of justice which will be exacted to the last cent. If this is not the
case, then the teachings of Jesus make no sense. The Catholic teaching about purgatory is that if, at the end of a Christian’s earthly life, this debt of justice was not satisfied, he shall be purified in purgatory before entering heaven. The teachings of Christ did not seem to contradict this. But lack of contradiction is still a long way from proof.
In St. Matthew’s Gospel there is a tremendous confrontation between Christ and the Pharisees, in which they accuse Him of exercising authority over demons by the power of Beelzebul, the “prince of demons” (Mt. 12:24). Jesus then warns them of the sin against the Holy Spirit and states,
Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come (Mt. 12:31-32).
If this sin cannot be forgiven either in this age or in the age to come, some sins might be able to be forgiven in the age to come. Without using the word “purgatory,” Jesus is presenting teachings that seemed in harmony with the Catholic teaching on purgatory and were a bit difficult to interpret from an Evangelical perspective. While I was far from ready to accept that Jesus was referring to purgatory, I was finding myself hard-pressed to come to any other conclusion. This “forgiveness of sins” and “the age to come,” the reference to a prison in which we would not be released until we had “paid the last cent”—this is certainly not heaven or hell. We never get out of hell, and heaven is no prison.
I came across a passage in the New Testament that I found very surprising. While addressing the very issue of sin within the Christian community— those who were believers and had accepted the Lordship of Jesus Christ into their lives—St. Paul writes:
For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble—each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire (1 Cor. 3:11-15).
The passage is quite clear: Gold and silver, when placed into a furnace, would be purified; wood and hay would be burned away. As this is done, Scripture says we will suffer loss, but be saved “as through fire.” The image of purgatory was becoming more vivid as I read. What else could St. Paul be referring to? He can’t be referring to hell, because it’s clear that the people who undergo this “purifying fire” will be saved, while those who are in hell are lost forever. And yet he can’t be referring to heaven, because he mentions the suffering of loss, while in heaven every tear will be wiped away (cf. Rev. 21:4).
Scripture teaches that God is a “consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29). The point St. Paul seems to make is that, as God draws us to Himself after death, there is a process of purification in the fire of God’s holy presence. God Himself purifies us of those imperfect deeds: the wood, hay, and stubble. And those works that are performed in faithfulness and obedience to Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, those of gold and silver, are purified. This purification is necessary because, as Scripture teaches of heaven—the new Jerusalem—and the temple within it, “Nothing unclean shall enter it” (Rev. 21:27). The biblical images of the purifying fire, through which the believer is saved while suffering loss, were now beginning to sound more and more like purgatory.
But where is the word “purgatory?” I began to see that this question revealed an ignorance on my part. The Scriptures were written in Hebrew and Greek. “Purgatory” comes from the Latin word purgatorium. In Scripture, we do find references to an afterlife that is neither the hell of the damned nor heaven. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word sheol is used to describe this condition; in the New Testament, the Greek term is hades. I
had always thought that hades was hell, but Scripture teaches very clearly that hades is not hell; it is distinct from gehenna, or the lake of fire which is the hell of the damned. In fact, the Book of Revelation describes how, at the end of time, death and hades are thrown
into hell (gehenna). This is the second death, the lake of fire. Scripture teaches that at the end of time, there is no more death; and once the purification of all souls has taken place, there is no more need forhades. This same concept of sheol (in Hebrew), hades (in
Greek), and purgatorium (in Latin) is purgatory as we have come to know it today (cf. Catechism, nos. 1030-32).
The major objection to purgatory is that somehow it undermines the finished work of Christ. Is Christ’s death sufficient? Of course it is! It is sufficient to win our redemption and to allow the Holy Spirit to sanctify us. The work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, however, is the work of purification and sanctification. It is the application of the divine life won by Christ. Purgatory in no way should be viewed as a “second chance,” by
which those who did not believe in and follow Christ can somehow “suffer their way into heaven,” despite their rejection of the Christian life. Jesus is clear that those who refuse to follow Him are guilty: “[H]e who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (Jn. 3:18). Spiritual purification is possible only for those who have been reconciled to God in this life (cf. 2 Cor. 5:18-20).
The concept of purification after death dates back to the Jews of pre- Christian times. Evidence of this can be seen in the Second Book of Maccabees. Catholics will quickly cite this as scriptural evidence for the reality of purgatory, but we must remember that Protestants do not accept 2 Maccabees as scriptural. Nevertheless, objective readers will have to note that, even if the seven books of the Old Testament accepted by Catholics and rejected by Protestants are not biblical, they are godly writings and worthy of our consideration. In 2 Maccabees, following a battle, the faithful Jews found out that
their fallen comrades each carried with them sacred tokens of idols, which the law forbade the Jews to wear:
[T]hey turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out. And the noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering (2 Mac. 12:42-43).
The sacred text notes that this was an honorable deed, and the passage closes with the statement, “Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin” (2 Mac. 12:45).
What is striking about this passage is not what it asserts, but what it takes for granted. This episode is not told in an apologetic style, as if to prove that prayer for the dead was a pious act, but rather assumes it. Moreover, once the Catholic Church is accepted as the Church that Christ founded, and thus as the Church that defines the canon of Scripture, the teaching in Maccabees takes on greater weight as inspired Scripture (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16).
What is clear and undeniable is the solidarity the early Christians felt with the deceased. Many ancient Christian monuments call out for prayer. For example, the epitaph of a bishop named Abercius, composed toward the end of the second century, provides: “Standing by, I, Abercius, ordered this to be inscribed; truly, I was in my seventy-second year. May everyone who is in accord with this and who understands it pray for Abercius.” This practice of prayer for the deceased predates a fully developed defense of this practice, which was provided at the ecumenical councils of Lyons II (1274), Florence
(1439-45), and Trent (1545-63).
As I began reading the Church Fathers, I was struck not only by the confidence of these holy men and the reality of the purifying fire (cf. 1 Cor. 3:15), but also by how deeply the teaching was rooted in the apostolic Tradition. The historic evidence clearly pointed to a belief in a state of purification that would later be called “purgatory.” This term corresponded to the Hebrew concept of sheol, and to the Greek term hades in the New
Testament. This third and temporary state of purification is biblical, apostolic, historical and, most of all, true and completely reconcilable with the teachings of Jesus Christ in the Gospels.
The doctrine of purgatory is completely reconcilable with a loving God who is a consuming fire. As we are drawn up into His love, into His very divine life—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—we begin to burn with that same divine fire, and those impurities to which we have clung in this life must be burned away. This will inevitably involve suffering, as we let go of those imperfect things to which we are attached.
The hidden mystery behind the teaching of purgatory is our calling to live in God for all eternity, which requires us to give perfectly of ourselves (cf. Mt. 5:48). Even with deep faith, the Christian life is difficult. We are called to manifest heroic generosity, and yet generosity hurts in this life. No matter what we’re asked to give, we seem to run out—of time, of energy, of money. God calls us to acknowledge this weakness, this poverty, and to turn to
Him and cry out for help that He might fill us with His grace.
In heaven, generosity will not hurt; the lack of generosity will hurt. That is because in heaven God will give Himself to us fully and completely, holding nothing back. Our ability to receive from Him will be completely contingent upon our ability, in turn, to immediately give back. Otherwise, the gift of God would destroy us. Like strapping a water balloon onto a fire hydrant nozzle, we would explode! It is only when we learn the habit of complete and total self-giving that we will be able to experience the joy of heaven.
Christians are called to accept the finished work of Jesus Christ, and to allow that work to be applied to our lives by the work of the Holy Spirit, so that those who are justified will be sanctified. For us it is impossible. But with God, all things are possible.
Curtis Martin is the executive director of FOCUS. This article is a condensation of his chapter fromCatholic for a Reason: Scripture and the Mystery of the Family of God which can be ordered from Emmaus Road Publishing (

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


Just good reading.

Knox Answers: If the Catholic Church is True, why all the Sinners?


In the hundred years 870-970 twenty-five Popes reigned, many of them violently done to death.  It was a period of unparalleled disorder, violence, depravity in all ranks of Church and State alike. How in the world can the Church's claims about itself be true in light of such a history?

Msgr. Ronald Knox

Monsignor Ronald Knox is one of the great yet unheralded Catholic thinkers of the early 20th Century.  Apart from being a writer of mystery novels, he was also a distinguished theologian and a scripture scholar; he even published his own translation of the Bible after years of study and work.
In one of his lesser-known books entitled Difficulties, A Correspondence About the Catholic Religion between Mgr. Ronald Knox & Sir Arnold Lunn (1932), Knox exchanges letters with Lunn, an English peer and Anglican, concerning the truth of Catholicism.  Some of the writing is long-winded (particularly Lunn's, who seems more interested in impressing the reader with his knowledge than anything else), but Knox usually manages to reduce his arguments very neatly.  Although the book is decidedly pro-Catholic, I think that Knox objectively prevails in presenting the better position.
The primary argument proposed by Lunn in his first letter to Knox concerns the claims of history that in the past centuries, the Papacy: 
...became the plaything of rival factions of Roman nobles, probably the most turbulent and vicious of all European history, who for more than a century forcibly intruded onto the papal chair Popes according to their will — licentious youths, feeble old men, worldly sycophants.  In the hundred years 870-970 twenty-five Popes reigned, many of them violently done to death.  It was a period of unparalleled disorder, violence, depravity in all ranks of Church and State alike.
Lunn asks how in the world the Church's claims are true in light of this history:
I find it difficult to believe that Christ was ever officially represented on earth by 'licentious youths, feeble old men, worldly sycophants.'  To describe a Borgia as 'the Vicar of Christ' seems to me almost blasphemous.
Fair enough.  We see this same argument used a lot today.  There's plenty from the Church's history:  just a few examples include the Inquisition, the treatment of Galileo, and the sale of indulgences.  We've even had a number of popes who were truly bad men.  Most recent is the priestly sexual abuse scandal, cited by many opposed to the Church's teachings in order to establish a basis for the argument that the Church has "lost its moral authority."
Knox's response is brief and effective.  First, he notes the distinction between person and office.  For instance, you pull over your car at the summons of a Chicago policeman, "because he represents law and order, although you may know that he takes bribes from bootleggers."
If you take the "Catholic view," Knox says, "it is hard to see why an immoral life (for example), if it does not invalidate the sacraments which a particular priest administers, should invalidate the public actions of a particular Pope, since the Pope is the Vicar of Christ in his public capacity."

We do not automatically reject the authority of a bad person who holds an office, because the authority comes from the office itself, and not from the personal integrity of the officeholder.  We hope that those in offices of authority also have personal integrity, but there is no promise that this is so.  In fact as it regards the Church, none are immune to sin and all are in need of Christ's mercy, so the expectation of virtue on the part of our leaders is nothing more than an expectation.
Knox continues:
If you are a priest, and have to stand at the altar day after day as God's ambassador, with the consciousness of your own weaknesses and failings crowding in on you, you begin to be grateful for the distinction between the man and his office.
What it comes to is that you would have expected something different of the Church from what appears on an examination of history.  You would have expected that the Popes would be a long line of Saints, or at least very good men — certainly no licentious youths or worldly sycophants among them...
If you are a priest, and have to stand at the altar day after day as God's ambassador, with the consciousness of your own weaknesses and failings crowding in on you, you begin to be grateful for the distinction between the man and his office.  But in any case the question is not what you or I would expect, but what we have a right to expect.  And it does seem to me that one of the reasons why our Lord chose Judas to be an apostle was because he wanted us to be prepared, from the first, against every possible shock to our consciences.  If Judas could be described as our Lord's apostle, I don't quite see why Alexander VI should not be his Vicar.
We want and hope for good, virtuous and holy popes, bishops, priests, etc.  We want and hope for them because we know that these are the attributes Jesus wants, and the Church needs.  But Jesus doesn't say only good people will make up the Church.
Rather, looking at Peter and Judas as prime examples, both men were sinners.  Both men lacked virtue in certain things at certain times.  Both men denied Our Lord, even.  But what distinguished Peter from Judas was that Peter returned.  He recognized his failure, and he sought Christ's mercy.  Jesus restored Peter to his place, even though some might have said it was not a good idea, considering Peter's personality and record.
Even the most virtuous men and women of the Church are still sinners.  It is the obstinate refusal to repent that defeats the salvation of the soul, and brings scandal to the Church.  This obstinate refusal is personal on the part of the actor, and is not attributable to the Church herself.  It is the same "non serviam" spoken by the Evil One.  It is in spite of, not because of, the holiness of the Church.
For the Apostles, it was 11 out of 12.  Frankly, the record of good popes versus bad is better than that.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Atheists in Heaven

From Jimmy Akin:

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Did Pope Francis say atheists don’t need to believe in God to be saved? (9 things to know)

 Sunday, September 15, 2013 9:14 PM

Did Pope Francis say that atheists can go to heaven (or that man can save himself by his own efforts?)
The press is full of accounts that, once again, claim that Pope Francis has said you don’t need to believe in God to go to heaven.
Even atheists can go there, according to these reports.
What’s the real story here? What’s going on? And why can’t the press get this kind of thing right?
Here are 9 things to know and share . . .

1) What is the basis of this story?
In July and August, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica ran a pair of open letters to the pope by Dr. Eugenio Scalfari, an atheist commentator.
In his open letters, Dr. Scalfari asked the pope a number of questions.
Much to everyone’s surprise, though thoroughly in keeping with his way of doing things, Pope Francis wrote a response, which the paper also published.
The Italian original is on the Vatican web site.
Here’s a (not very well-edited) English translation from La Repubblica.

2) What did Pope Francis say in the letter?
Basically, he attempts to enter into a cordial and constructive dialogue, which is exactly what you’d expect.
He doesn’t go through Scalfari’s previous open letters point by point (presumably, that would make his own reply overly long), but he makes some general points and then attempts to answer some questions Scalfari posed.
One of these concerns the salvation of atheists.

3) How did the press and blogosphere react to what he said?
La Repubblica itself gave the story a quite accurate headline: “Pope Francisco writes to La Repubblica: ‘An open dialogue with non-believers.’”
That’s a good summary of what the pope wrote.
In England, however, The Independent headlined it “Pope Francis assures atheists: You don’t have to believe in God to go to heaven.”
This was inaccurate, as we will see.
The matter got further twisted in the blogosphere, when Evangelical blogger Jay Younts did a piece on it headlined “The Pope declares Man can save himself.”
This piece was then quoted by Kirk Cameron, who gave it the same headline and helped it go viral.

4) What did Pope Francis actually say about atheists and salvation?
Here is the passage:
First of all, you ask if the God of the Christians forgives those who do not believe and do not seek faith. 
Given that—and this is fundamental—God's mercy has no limits if he who asks for mercy does so in contrition and with a sincere heart, the issue for those who do not believe in God is in obeying their own conscience. 
In fact, listening and obeying it, means deciding about what is perceived to be good or to be evil. 
The goodness or the wickedness of our behavior depends on this decision.
In this passage, you’ll note that after introducing the topic of salvation, Pope Francis begins by saying God’s mercy has no limits “if he who asks for mercy does so in contrition and with a sincere heart.”
This statement appears to apply to believers—the ones you would expect to ask God for mercy with contrition, etc.
Pope Francis then pivots to discuss “the issue for those who do not believe in God.”
He says that for them “the issue” is following their conscience, which will result in good behavior.
This is what the press, etc., have been interpreting as him saying that they can be saved.
But he doesn’t actually say that.
Believers also need to follow their conscience, and doing so will result in them having right behavior. But if they don’t follow their consciences then they sin and need to ask for mercy with contrition and a sincere heart.
What are atheists supposed to do if they don’t follow their consciences?
Pope Francis does not address this question.

5) That’s confusing. What is going on here?
There has already been one case in which Pope Francis made remarks that the press took as saying atheists could be saved, yet when his remarks were examined closely, they didn’t say that at all.
You can read about that case here.
Now we have something similar happening.
One reason, I suspect, is that the pope may be trying to remain within what the Magisterium has already said.

6) What has the Magisterium already said on the subject of atheists and salvation?
In Lumen Gentium 16, the Second Vatican Council addressed the subject of “those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life.”
This passage, like Pope Francis, stops short of saying that people in this condition can be saved. Instead, it says:
Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel.
She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life.
This passage speaks of the elements of “good and truth” found among those who have “not yet” arrived at a knowledge of God as “a preparation for the Gospel” so that “they may finally have life.”
Thus when the text says that divine providence does not “deny the helps necessary for salvation” to these people, it may not mean that they can be saved without faith but that God is giving them the helps that they need to come to the point of faith and thus be saved.
The fact that the text is open to both of these interpretations was noted by Cardinal Aloys Grillmeier, who was one of the authors of Lumen Gentium, in his commentary on this part of the document (see Herbert Vorgrimler, ed., Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, vol. 1, p. 184).
The same point is made by Ralph Martin in his recent book Will Many Be Saved?

7) Why would the Council not answer this question?
One possibility is that the Council fathers were not agreed on the matter.
There had already been magisterial interventions which indicated that non-Catholics could be saved if they were innocently (invincibly) ignorant and had at least an implicit desire for baptism.
But there had not been such statements made about people who apparently have no faith in God whatsoever and who may consciously oppose belief in God.
The Magisterium also tends to move slowly, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide the Church and its doctrinal development over time.
Many of the Council fathers may thus have thought it was not yet time to pronounce on the question of whether atheists can be saved without coming to explicit faith in this life.
It thus appears that the Council left this an open question in Catholic theology.

8) Why wouldn’t Pope Francis just settle the matter?
One reason might be that he doesn’t think adequate study has been given to the question yet, and so he didn’t want to go beyond what the Council said.
Then there is the fact that letters to newspapers aren’t the place for doctrinal development to take place.
Another possibility is that he didn’t want to appear to tell Dr. Scalfari and other atheists that they’re fine where they are, and so he spoke in a very measured way that would invite them to consider what they really need to do when they have sinned: ask for mercy “in contrition and with a sincere heart”—in other words, to come to faith.
His intent may have been to engage in a cordial, public dialogue that sidestepped the question of whether atheists can be saved without coming to explicit faith and that implicitly encouraged them to come to faith and ask for mercy.
This also may have been a reason that Vatican II phrased itself the way that it did.

9) So the media and Evangelical blogosphere reaction was wrong?
Contrary to claims otherwise, Pope Francis did not say that atheists can go to heaven without coming to faith, and he most certainly did not say that man can save himself by his own efforts.
Indeed, he speaks of the need for God’s mercy.