Winning Doesn’t Take Care of Everything

Last week Tiger Woods won the Arnold Palmer Invitational and regained his title as the No. 1 golfer in the world, a title he had lost in 2010 after the consequences of his adulterous lifestyle caught up with him and affected his “game.” His faithful endorser Nike was quick to celebrate Woods’s return to the top with an ad stating, “Winning Takes Care of Everything” (pictured). Many PGA fans understood this message to mean that winning is all that really matters. Forget Tiger’s problems off the golf course; his game is back.

Tragically, today it seems that too many athletes, endorsers, and fans share this sentiment. Athletes are no longer held accountable as role models off the field as well as on it. Success in their respective sports reigns supreme. As long as they are winning, what they do in their personal lives is not important. This is tragic, because many fans look to them as role models—even in their personal lives—whether they like it or not. Pope John Paul II, an avid athlete himself, brought attention to this matter in an address to young athletes:

[P]eople tend to extol you as heroes, as human models who inspire ideals of life and action, especially among youth. And this fact places you at the center of a particular social and ethical problem. You are observed by many people and expected to be outstanding figures not only during athletic competitions but also when you are off the sport field. You are asked to be examples of human virtue, apart from your accomplishments of physical strength and endurance.

The main reason for this should be obvious. As role models, athletes are particularly susceptible to leading others astray in life. They are susceptible to giving scandal. The Catechism of the Catholic Churchexplains: “Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death” (CCC 2284). Thus, athletes have a duty to their fans to lead lives of virtue because their fans may tend to emulate them. Being good examples to their fans is part of the loving care that is due them (cf. Matt. 19:19).

But even beyond a duty to their fans, athletes have a duty to themselves to not allow their successes to overshadow what is truly most important in their lives. There is a goal far greater than being the best at what they do in this temporal life, and that goal must always remain in focus. John Paul II went on to explain this in his address:

[T]here are certain values in your life which cannot be forgotten. These values will set you on that clear track which has to be followed in order for you to reach life’s ultimate goal.

Primary among them is the religious meaning of human existence. Sport, as you well know, is an activity that involves more than the movement of the body: it demands the use of intelligence and the disciplining of the will. It reveals, in other words, the wonderful structure of the human person created by God as a spiritual being, a unity of body and spirit. . . .

May this truth never be overlooked or set aside in the world of sport, but may it always shine forth clearly. For athletic activity is never separated from the activities of the spirit.

If athletes succeed at sports but overlook or set aside spiritual matters, where does that leave them? I’m reminded of Jesus’ words, “For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” (Matt. 16:26). And where does that leave sports? John Paul II continued:

If sport is reduced to the cult of the human body, forgetting the primacy of the spirit, or if it were to hinder your moral and intellectual development, or result in your serving less than noble aims, then it would lose its true significance and, in the long run, it would become even harmful to your healthy and full growth as human persons. You are true athletes when you prepare yourselves not only by training your bodies but also by constantly engaging the spiritual dimensions of your person for a harmonious development of all your human talents.

Athletes like San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers seem to understand John Paul II’s message. We should pray for such understanding among all athletes because, in the long run, winning really doesn’t take care of everything.

A Tragic Story of a Senator and His “Gay” Son

Senator Rob Portman, a Christian from Ohio, recently submitted an editorial announcing, “I’ve changed my mind on the question of marriage for same-sex couples”. He now supports it. This is shocking news from a Republican in the senate “who could be one of the most conservative members of that chamber” according to the Christian Coalition of America. What made him change his mind? “Two years ago, my son Will, then a college freshman, told my wife, Jane, and me that he is gay.”

Such an announcement is excruciatingly painful for any parent but it is especially troublesome for Christian parents whose faith absolutely condemns homosexual behavior as gravely sinful. Senator Portman admits that he “wrestled with” reconciling his Christian faith with his decision to approve of homosexual behavior. His vague rationale has become all too cliché: “Ultimately, it came down to the Bible’s overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God.”

Such a simplified justification for flip-flopping on a moral doctrine is far too common today and Christians should know better. It is simply badtheology. It is true that Jesus taught his followers to love one another. In fact, loving one another is the second greatest commandment, second only to loving God: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:37-39). Unfortunately, Christians like Senator Portman fail to understand what this love that Jesus commanded actually looks like.

The word “love” in the passage cited above is translated both times from the Greek word agapao which denotes love that is concerned primarily with our relationships with God as well as with each other’s relationships with God. When it comes to loving another person, this type of love desires the other’s salvation and takes effective steps to help ensure it. This type of love may be contrasted with philon, a type of love more concerned with friendship with one another than it is with each other’s friendship with God. (For a fuller treatment of the various types of love, see What is Authentic Christian Love?)

The so-called “love and compassion” that Senator Portman and others often accentuate is not the agapao type of love that Jesus commanded. Rather, it is the philon type of love about which Jesus said, “he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt 10:37). Senator Portman has apparently made his own friendly relationship with his son a priority ahead of what is truly good for Will.

Will Portman has now become a victim twice. First, he is a victim of Adam, as are we all, in that he suffers from attraction to sin, a consequence of original sin. But now he also is a victim of his own father who has chosen to coddle him in immoral behavior rather than to follow St. Paul’s teaching to “shun immorality” (1 Cor 6:18), a gesture that would be a truly loving action in the interest of Will’s salvation. This should be of great concern to Senator Portman for in Jesus’ words, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt 18:6).

Let us pray for both father and son.

The Seven Signs

Seven Sacraments

A textbook used for confirmation preparation in a parish in California teaches students that the sacrament of confirmation “only came into existence in the third century” and that “there was no sacrament of penance in the early church”. I suppose such sacramental ignorance is not surprising given that a deacon who instructs catechists in the same diocese teaches that at one time there were only two sacraments and, at another time, twenty two.

The Church teaches very clearly that the seven sacraments administered by the Church today were instituted by Christ. Those seven “outward signs instituted by Christ to give grace” have been administered by the Church since the first century. There was never a time in Church history when there were twenty two sacraments nor was there ever a time when there were only two.

It could be that there was a time when the term sacrament was used so broadly that it referred to twenty two more generally defined signs, but only seven of those signs would have actually been sacraments as the term is used today. It could also be that there was a time when the term sacrament was used so narrowly that it referred to only two of the actual sacraments but that does not mean that the other five sacraments did not also exist referenced by different terminology.

The following quotations are from the Catechism of the Catholic Church(paragraph numbers in parentheses):

The Sacraments (1210):

Christ instituted the sacraments of the new law. There are seven: Baptism, Confirmation (or Chrismation), the Eucharist, Penance, the Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony. The seven sacraments touch all the stages and all the important moments of Christian life: they give birth and increase, healing and mission to the Christian’s life of faith. There is thus a certain resemblance between the stages of natural life and the stages of the spiritual life.

Baptism (1226):

From the very day of Pentecost the Church has celebrated and administered holy Baptism. Indeed St. Peter declares to the crowd astounded by his preaching: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The apostles and their collaborators offer Baptism to anyone who believed in Jesus: Jews, the God-fearing, pagans. Always, Baptism is seen as connected with faith: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household,” St. Paul declared to his jailer in Philippi. And the narrative continues, the jailer “was baptized at once, with all his family.”

Confirmation (1288):

From [Pentecost] on the apostles, in fulfillment of Christ’s will, imparted to the newly baptized by the laying on of hands the gift of the Spirit that completes the grace of Baptism. For this reason in the Letter to the Hebrews the doctrine concerning Baptism and the laying on of hands is listed among the first elements of Christian instruction. The imposition of hands is rightly recognized by the Catholic tradition as the origin of the sacrament of Confirmation, which in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church.

Eucharist (1323):

At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet “in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.”

Penance (1446):

Christ instituted the sacrament of Penance for all sinful members of his Church: above all for those who, since Baptism, have fallen into grave sin, and have thus lost their baptismal grace and wounded ecclesial communion. It is to them that the sacrament of Penance offers a new possibility to convert and to recover the grace of justification. The Fathers of the Church present this sacrament as “the second plank [of salvation] after the shipwreck which is the loss of grace.”

Anointing of the Sick (1510):

 However, the apostolic Church has its own rite for the sick, attested to by St. James: “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders [presbyters] of the Church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” Tradition has recognized in this rite one of the seven sacraments.

Holy Orders (1555):

Amongst those various offices which have been exercised in the Church from the earliest times the chief place, according to the witness of tradition, is held by the function of those who, through their appointment to the dignity and responsibility of bishop, and in virtue consequently of the unbroken succession going back to the beginning, are regarded as transmitters of the apostolic line.

Matrimony (1601):

The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.

The Jury is Out

I recently received a jury summons in the mail. As a citizen of the United States, serving on a jury is a civic duty. U.S. Code Title 28, Part V, Chapter 121 § 1861 states that all citizens have “an obligation to serve as jurors when summoned for that purpose”.

Commonly, the role of a juror is to decide whether or not a defendant’s conduct has been acceptable under the law. In other words, a juror must judge a defendant’s behavior. Every citizen has the obligation to do this. While many people may find excuses to get out of jury duty, everyone recognizes the necessity of jurors judging their peers’ behavior according to the law of the land.

Of course, there is a higher law than the civil law handed on by legislators: God’s law handed on by the Church. Civil law is primarily concerned with temporal matters, God’s law with the eternal. This being the case, since it is important to judge behavior under civil law, it must be immeasurably more important to judge behavior under God’s law. Why is it then, when it comes to the eternally significant laws of God, that so many Christians—even Catholics—shirk their responsibilities?

There is a nonsensical disconnect in this. People judge their peers’ behavior under civil law where a defendant’s temporal freedoms may be curtailed but when it comes to the potential loss of eternal life—what really matters most—they refuse to judge. (Actually, they unwittinglyjudge that the behavior of judging behavior is wrong!)

For example, during a recent exchange concerning homosexuality, I was berated by a Catholic woman who supported her cousin’s same-sex relationship. I judged, as the Church does, that her cousin’s behavior was immoral and that it should not be supported. I was labeled a bigot and a hater. She wrote, “I believe in God’s desire for us not to judge other people, but to accept them for what they are and love them all”. What a tragedy. Her cousin needed someone to tell her the truth, not coddle her in her destructive behavior! She needed fraternal correction; Christian love (i.e., charity) actually demanded it.


Now, I’m not suggesting that we judge another’sculpability in eternal matters as we do in temporal matters – that is God’s domain. But should we not judge the objective morality of our neighbor’s behavior for his own good and the good of others? I addressed this question from a biblical perspective in a magazine article I wrote some time ago. I invite you to read it and judge for yourself: Judge Not?

What in the World is Going on in This Sunday’s First Reading?

If you are not prepared for this Sunday’s first reading (Gen 15:5-12, 17-18), you will probably have a difficult time making sense of it. Your homilist might not discuss it so I hope this brief explanation will be helpful. It is not a lengthy reading so we will go all the way through it splitting it into two parts but hopefully not slaughtering it.

The reading begins straightforward enough:

The Lord God took Abram outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so,” he added, “shall your descendants be.” Abram put his faith in the LORD, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.

He then said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as a possession.” “O Lord GOD,” he asked, “how am I to know that I shall possess it?”

God promised Abram (later to be renamed Abraham) countless descendants and possession of the land. Abram then asks God for assurance of this. The rest of the reading tells us just how God assures him.

He answered him, “Bring me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old she-goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” Abram brought him all these, split them in two, and placed each half opposite the other; but the birds he did not cut up. Birds of prey swooped down on the carcasses, but Abram stayed with them. As the sun was about to set, a trance fell upon Abram, and a deep, terrifying darkness enveloped him.

When the sun had set and it was dark, there appeared a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch, which passed between those pieces. It was on that occasion that the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the Great River, the Euphrates.”

Unless you’re unfamiliar with ancient Near East covenant ceremonies, God’s act of assurance probably seems quite bizarre. But Abram would have been familiar with such ceremonies so it made perfect sense to him.

When two parties entered into a covenant, splitting slaughtered animals in two and walking between them was a symbol of one’s commitment to the covenant promise. It was the equivalent of saying, “Let what has happened to these animals happen to me if I do not keep my word”.

That being the case, God first had Abram slaughter animals and split them in two. Then, appearing as “a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch”, God passed between them.

Of course, being slaughtered and split in two could never really happen to God but that’s irrelevant. God was communicating to Abram in terms he could understand. It was an act of “divine condescension”.

In time, God did indeed fulfill his covenant promises as Abram went on to have countless descendants many of whom would eventually possess the Promised Land.

Will Our Next Pope Be the Last, Ushering in the End of the World?

Pope Benedict’s renouncement of the papal office this week has spurred a rash of questions about the purported prophecies of St. Malachy. “Will Benedict’s successor be the last pope?” “Are we headed into a period of great tribulation?” “Will the world end soon?”

The last time we fielded so many such questions at Catholic Answers was about eight years ago shortly after the death of Blessed John Paul II. This makes sense because the prophecies in question concern the identities of popes from the twelfth century to the end of time. This time around it is a little different though because there is only one more pope identified after Benedict XVI: “Petrus Romanus” (Latin for “Peter the Roman”).

St. Malachy was an Irish bishop who lived in the twelfth century. He died in 1148 and his close friend St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote his biography shortly afterward. St. Malachy was canonized in 1190 by Pope Clement III. Throughout this entire period there was never any mention of St. Malachy’s prophecies concerning the identities of future popes. In fact, not until the year 1590–four hundred years after St. Malachy’s canonization–did his prophecies surface.

Interestingly, 1590 was the same year Pope Sixtus V died and his successor was elected. At the time, every pope who had reigned during the prior four hundred forty seven years had been correctly identified by St. Malachy. Sixtus V’s successor, Urban VII, ended that. There was another candidate for the papacy that year who did fit St. Malachy’s prophetic identification but he was not elected. Since that time, interpreters have had to perform contorted acrobatics with St. Malachy’s cryptic prophetic phrases in order to somehow vaguely relate them to the identities of the successive popes. In many cases it just cannot be done. In other cases, doing so is a stretch, at best.

For example, the Latin phrase identifying our current pope is “Gloria olivioe” (“Glory of olives”). To make this fit Pope Benedict, many interpreters follow a train of thought something like this: Joseph Ratzinger chose the name Benedict; St. Benedict founded the Benedictines; formally affiliated with the Benedictines since 1960 is the Order of Our Lady of Mt. Olivet (the Olivetans); thus Pope Benedict XVI is the “Glory of the olives”. It’s something akin to Kevin Bacon’s “six degrees of separation”.

Considering all these facts, most historians have concluded that the purported prophecies were a sixteenth century forgery that failed to sway the electorate of 1590. Nevertheless, the prophecies were published in 1595 and they have continued to be an item of curiosity and speculation ever since, especially whenever a new pope is elected.

In regard to people who still choose to believe in the authenticity of the prophecies today, it is important to note that the prophecies do not actually predict the timing of tribulation or of the end of the world. The Catholic Encyclopedia, published over 100 years ago, explains:

It has been noticed concerning Petrus Romanus, who according to St. Malachy’s list is to be the last pope, that the prophecy does not say that no popes shall intervene between him and his predecessor designated Gloria olivioe. It merely says that he is to be the last, so that we may suppose as many popes as we please before “Peter the Roman”.

St. Malachy, pray for us.

Last Minute Lenten Retreat Idea

ImageLent is just around the corner. In fact, Ash Wednesday is one week from today. Lent is chosen by many parishes as the ideal time to offer retreats, parish missions, and workshops. If you are planning such an event, I have a suggestion: Invite a Catholic Answers speaker to give talks on Vatican II and the Catechism. Doing so could have the added bonus of a plenary indulgence for attendees.

The Apostolic Penitentiary, which issues indulgences, recently announced:

Throughout the Year of Faith—established from 11 October 2012 to 24 November 2013—all individual members of the faithful who are truly repentant, have duly received the Sacrament of Penance and Holy Communion and who pray for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff may receive the Plenary Indulgence in remission of the temporal punishment for their sins, imparted through God’s mercy and applicable in suffrage to the souls of the deceased . . . every time they . . . attend at least three lectures on the Proceedings of the Second Vatican Council and on the Articles of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in any church or suitable place . . .

I sometimes imagine that attending a talk of mine must be a penitential act of itself. This might be true for other speakers, too, so I’m quite happy that, for a limited time, attendees may actually gain an indulgence in the process! To schedule an event at your parish, contact our Catholic Answers Seminar Coordinators at 619-387-7200 or email

Receiving the Sacraments After Divorce and Remarriage

 I recently got a call at Catholic Answers from a woman who had fallen away from the Church many years ago but had recently come back home after watching EWTN and listening to Catholic Answers Live. Sadly, though, she had been told by a deacon at her parish that she could not receive the Eucharist or even go to confession because she had gotten remarried outside the Church after her first marriage ended in divorce. Before she could be fully reconciled with God and the Church, she would need to get an annulment and then have her second marriage convalidated. She was heartbroken to find out that the annulment process could take years to complete. I was happy to tell her that she had another option.


Tragically, the information the woman was given at her parish is the only information many people in her situation ever hear. She was told that she was living in the state of sin and that only an annulment and convalidation could fix that. What she wasn’t told is that she could return to the sacraments right away if she was sorry for her sins and was willing to stop sinning. I explained to her that if she would commit to abstaining from conjugal relations (e.g., live as brother and sister) until her marriage was convalidated  – and there is no guarantee that it ever will be – she could go to confession and receive the Eucharist today! I then read to her from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1650):

Today there are numerous Catholics in many countries who have recourse to civil divorce and contract new civil unions. In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ – “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” – the Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists. For the same reason, they cannot exercise certain ecclesial responsibilities. Reconciliation through the sacrament of Penance can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence.

She was in tears as I read that last line. She said that making such a commitment would be only a small sacrifice compared to being unable to receive the sacraments. It was such a relief for her to know that she could hear the joyous words of absolution and receive her Lord again at Mass.  She planned to do both that very evening.

I would like to see the above Catechism paragraph rearranged, moving the last sentence up near the top. After all, that is the only moral option in such a situation. Maybe then that would be the information people in invalid marriages would be given.  Returning Catholics and others coming into the Church as adults are often quite serious about their faith and it is a disservice to them to assume that they are not willing to do what is right.

Make Room on Your Bookshelf!


There is a newly published resource that every apologist will want in his library: Heinrich Denzinger’s Compendium of Creeds, Definitions, and Declarations on Matters of Faith and Morals. This reference book is a sorely needed English update to one of the richest compendiums of Catholic doctrine ever compiled.

Commonly referred to simply as Denzinger (after the German theologian who published it in 1854) this doctrinal compendium is a single-volume resource that brings together a wealth of doctrinal documents spanning the history of the Catholic Church. It has been expanded over multiple editions, and it now includes the documents of Vatican II and documents published as recently as 2008. Denzinger is such a valuable resource that even the Magisterium cites it. For example, whenever you see a footnote abbreviated “DS” in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it is a reference to Denzinger.

Denzinger begins with the creeds of the Church and contains documents organized chronologically beginning with Clement I of Rome’s Letter to the Corinthians (circa A.D. 96). It also contains an index that allows you to look up doctrinal statements by topic.

One thing English-only speakers will find particularly helpful in this new edition is the updated marginal numbering system. Marginal numbers were introduced in an early edition of Denzinger, and they remained fairly consistent for about the first hundred years. Then, with the publication of the thirty-second edition in 1963, they were drastically reworked. This presented a problem for English speakers whenever subsequent Church documents referenced editions of Denzinger published in 1963 and later because these newer editions had not been translated into English. In fact, this new (forty-third) edition is the first English translation of Denzinger since the long-outdated thirtieth edition of 1957 titledSources of Catholic Dogma.

To help remedy this problem, a concordance was introduced some time ago to assist in matching up the new marginal numbers with the old ones. So, for example, if you researched a Denzinger citation in the Catechism (which cites the 1965 edition ofDenzinger utilizing the new marginal numbers) you would first need to find the new marginal number in the concordance and then cross-reference it with the corresponding old marginal number. This sounds simple enough but, in practice, it was not always easily accomplished, due to Denzinger‘s radical overhaul in 1963 that widely increased, abridged, or even omitted many earlier texts. Fortunately, this will no longer be a problem when studying modern documents of the Church.

This valuable new resource should be a welcome addition to every apologist’s library. I already got my copy. Did you get yours yet?

Enchiridion Symbolorum: A Compendium of Creeds, Definitions and Declarations of the Catholic Church
This compendium of theological-historical source texts, in a bilingual edition, is completely revised and extended to the pontificate of Benedict XVI. With its unique wealth of official church documents and sources, it is an essential resource for theological work.