For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. ---Ephesians 6:12

"The age of casual Catholicism is over; the age of heroic Catholicism has begun. We can no longer be Catholics by accident, but instead must be Catholics by CONVICTION." ---Fr. Terrence Henry TOR, Franciscan University of Steubenville

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Should've Won The Oscar

United 93 (Two-Disc Special Edition) ****

United 93 is not glamorous. It is not laced with conspiracy theories. It is not laden with Hollywood stars. It is not political. It has no fluff or sentiment.

United 93 is real or as real as a Hollywood docudrama can be. It honors the passengers and crew by telling the story as it happened, based upon phone calls made by them to loved ones. It also shows both the shock and frustration of those on the ground trying to make sense of what was unfolding on that fateful day. Several who were actually there on the ground, either at Boston’s Logan Airport or Washington D.C., played themselves. The rest are played by professional actors, the faces of some you might recognize. But most you won’t.

Paul Greengrass, the director of The Bourne Supremacy, which impressed me, has outdone himself with this picture. The pace starts out slowly and increases at a natural rate as each event transpires. We see through the eyes of the air traffic controllers in Boston and New York, as well as the crew at Norad, the events, as they happened, starting with the realization that planes have been hijacked in mid air. We also see their frustration with their own blindness at what was occurring. Planes disappeared off the radar screen with no explanation, except for very brief radio signals of people screaming or foreign languages being uttered. It was all truly symbolic of our intelligence agencies not being able (being allowed in their case) to exchange information with each other. Eventually CNN was shown on their big screens and they saw the results of the terrorists’ plans, first one World Trade Center tower hit, then another, etc… The passengers aboard United 93 had the benefit of airplane phones to get their news of what was happening, and accurately assessed that their hijackers were on a suicide mission. It’s hard to watch, yet you’ll find yourself on the edge of your seat as the pace quickens. You’ll constantly ask yourself what you would’ve done in their shoes. And then you’ll see how the best laid plans can be foiled by staunch opposition. I’m not only talking about the terrorists’ plans. For a very brief spark of a moment you might just think the passengers can come out okay (blame it on suspension of disbelief). But you've read the newspapers...

We are reminded that we were all very slow to realize to what was happening that day (until the 2nd tower was hit). And if you look closely at this film you will see why. We were not awake to the plans of terrorists to use planes as missiles, though C.I.A. director, George Tenet, had publicly suggested a few years before that this was a possibility. It was not until the fourth plane was hijacked that day that people realized what they had to do. Flight 77 had passengers who had spoken to people on airplane phones, and should’ve been aware of the twin towers being hit before their own flight crashed into the Pentagon. But it wasn’t until the fourth plane was hijacked that the passengers took charge. Since then our government has acted quickly to stop attacks in both the planning and execution stages as recent events have shown. Even passengers like those aboard the flight with Richard Reid acted quickly to pounce on him before he could light his shoe-bomb. So it’s rather difficult to watch the reenactment of people in key positions ever so slowly come around to believing that our own planes were being used as missiles against our country.

It was all so overwhelming that day. But it woke us up. Many of us who had been spiritually sleep-walking through life suddenly found reasons to dust off the Bible and return to church, reigniting a fire for Christ. Others sought refuge in Harry Potter movies or other forms of escapism. Either way, the country suddenly became united for a time. I wonder when our enemies will be stupid enough to unite us again. I hear they’re trying.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


Movie Review of

SAVED *(out of four)
Starring Mandy Moore and Jena Malone

Before I saw this movie (for free on TNT) I was warned that it was anti-Christian, and that the writers of the screenplay didn’t have a clue as to what following Christ is really about. After seeing the movie I am convinced of the latter but only somewhat of the former.

Mandy Moore does a great job playing a legalistic, judgmental Christian named Hilary, who goes beyond “witnessing” in her attempts at converting others by using crisis intervention tactics—like blocking the hallways along with her friends, or attempting to kidnap the would-be convert and throwing him/her into their van for “treatment.” For Hilary, Christianity is all about behavior modification. It is clear that she lacks compassion for others, and at the end mires in bitterness. Her only hope at that point comes from her wheelchair bound brother, a nonbeliever, who offers to help her with her “problems.” One can only assume that rather than correcting her misperceptions of God’s grace, he will instead try to deprogram her of her faith, reasoning that you don’t have to be Christian to be nice to people.

Hilary’s nemesis, whom she constantly tries to convert, is Cassandra, played convincingly enough by Eva Amurri. Cassandra, a Jewish girl attending a Christian school but determined not to convert, brings to mind Matthew 13:19. She has heard the word and “understandeth it not” as a person who received the “seed” by the wayside. She becomes a hero in the end for having a big heart, though she still chooses the earthly path rather than the spiritual one, thinking she only has to rely on herself.

Mary, played wonderfully by Jena Malone for her innocence, seems to turn against God a bit too easily when in trouble (see Matthew 13:21). Blaming God for her pregnancy when it was she who encouraged her boyfriend to engage in sex without protection, seems a bit shortsighted for a girl with such strong-willed faith. But many young Christians do feel persecuted when they don’t get what they pray for—a sign of spiritual immaturity.

The main problem with this movie is that no one has spiritual maturity, especially the writers of the screenplay. Even the most sinful pastor will answer “YES” when asked by a teenage homosexual, “Does Jesus still love me?” The pastor in this movie stands speechless and clueless. Since there are no real answers given to the audience of this film, many of whom are looking for answers, I will give one here:

Saint Augustine said something that at first sounds irresponsible when not fully understood. He said “love God and then do as you please.” What he meant is that when we really love Jesus intensely for who He is and what He sacrificed for us, our hearts will change. Sinful behavior we used to commit no longer has the same appeal to us as before; while being obedient to God brings us pleasure when we have true love and devotion to Christ. We are still sinners, but no longer by desire. We are not perfect but forgiven. Would it have been so difficult to include just one character at a Christian school who mentions this? The difficulty lies in finding screenwriters in today’s Hollywood who have any knowledge or true understanding whatsoever about Christianity that isn’t stereotypically negative. They just don’t have a clue.

In defense of the movie I will say that most of the time it was funny and cleverly crafted. Each of the characters appears to be essential to the plot. The problem is that they forgot the most essential of them all.

Hebrews 6:4-6 Explained

Author's note:  I have noticed in recent months that this early post of mine, which I wrote awhile ago when I was still nondenominational protestant, still garners a lot of visitors.  It is important that I point out that this was born out of a subjective opinion of mine as I was trying to make sense of a biblical passage that deeply troubled me.  It is NOT necessarily the opinion of the Catholic Church.  I am currently searching the Catechism to find our Church's opinion on this issue.

As a child you were taken to church on occasion, but lost interest during your teenage years. You never read much of the Bible, but instead focused on styles, trends, dating, and school. While keeping God at a distance, you even questioned His existence from time to time.

But in your early 30’s you begin to take a renewed interest and return to church. You even join a Bible study in which you learn about different passages and their meanings. But one evening while perusing the Book of Hebrews you come across a chapter that sends chills up your spine: Hebrews 6:4-6, which your pastor or priest and your Bible study group appear to avoid like the Plague. You read it and wonder to yourself, “is the Apostle Paul referring to me?”

(4) For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, (5) and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of of the world to come, (6) if they should fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame.

Your apprehension at this point is more common than you realize. But since you think you’re alone, there is a danger that you’ll keep your concerns to yourself, and simply show up less frequently at church until no more. Thinking that you “fell away” in your youth, you are convinced you won’t be spending eternity with the Savior, but instead will be thrown into the Lake of Fire.

My own situation was even worse. I was angry at God for years after my best friend, Dean, who was saved at age 16 and working on turning me to Christ, got cancer at age 19 and later died a very cruel death in 1983, only two months after turning 21. I spent much time with him that summer while he battled the disease, and drove him to and from hospitals in Rockford, IL. But a month after I left for college, he sought help at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN where he was told he should’ve come much sooner. When the cancer entered his brain he was sent to the psych ward, where he could be heard screaming that he was the Devil. After being told his last days were near, he came home the Monday before Thanksgiving to spend his remaining days with his family. But when I came back into town on Tuesday night from college, I was told he couldn’t recognize his old friends, that he was too tired for visitors, and that I should try again tomorrow. When I called the next morning, I was informed that he died during the night.

For years I was in denial about the effect that Dean’s fate had on me, and in anger I turned my attention away from God and toward secular distractions. During that time I pushed everyone I could out of my life through alienation and volatile displays of anger. I lost some good friends (recently retrieved two of them, two and counting), lots of acquaintances, and promising careers first in radio and then finance. When asked my religion I would during this time often refer to myself as an agnostic or even an atheist (when I was really angry), in spite of intermittently seeking God’s intervention in times of crisis.

Years later, when I got over most of the anger and turned my attention back toward God, I read Hebrews 6:4-6, and asked myself the same question that many struggle with: “Have I ‘fallen away’ to the point of no return?”

Although I didn’t feel like I had, I wondered if I’d crossed some invisible line and was fooling myself into thinking I could come back. After all, how does one ignore such a passage in the Bible? One doesn’t. Instead, one examines the context under which such a passage is presented. For that one must read the verses previous to this one once more. Let’s back up a bit to Hebrews 5:12-14 and 6:1-3.

(12) For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. (13) For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. (14) But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

This passage presents us with two types of Christians, spiritual infants and spiritual adults, or those who are new to their salvation and those who have matured spiritually. Let’s read on:

6 (1) Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and faith toward God, (2) of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. (3) And this we will do, if God permit.

Whether or not one moves from infancy to perfection (or maturity) appears to depend upon the permission of God. Reading further into verses 4-6 we find that it is in part based upon whether or not one has fallen away.

With that in mind, let’s look at John 12:39,40.

(39) Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, (40) He hath blinded their eyes and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.

After making the choice not to believe, the hearts of those people were hardened by God to make their choices permanent. Therefore it would appear when taking these verses into account, that if God has not chosen to harden your heart permanently, then you may not have fallen away. And you most certainly have not fallen away if you are then able to move on into spiritual maturity.

Now how do you know when or if you've reached spiritual maturity? According to the Life Application Study Bible KJV, TuTone (x), one way to evaluate spiritual maturity is by looking at the choices we make. Are we teaching others rather than just being taught? Are we developing depth of understanding rather than struggling with the basics? Do we desire spiritual challenges or simply entertainment? Several others are listed but you get the point.

What happens if those who already have spiritual maturity lose their faith? If one can fathom such an occurrence, then one must consider the following: Infants are usually allowed to misbehave to a certain extent. We don’t punish them harshly because they don’t know any better. Adults, on the other hand, know better and are held to a much higher level of personal responsibility. It is therefore the same with spiritual infants and spiritual adults. A spiritual infant may not fully appreciate the ramifications of behaviors and decisions that a spiritual adult may. I’ve been a spiritual infant most of my adult life and have only recently moved to spiritual adulthood. Had I been spiritually mature and then declare myself an atheist, there would’ve been hell to pay, literally.

Besides, God knows far better than we do what’s inside our own hearts. Hebrews 4:12 says:

For the word of God is quick and powerful,…and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

But does a person always know when his/her own heart is hardened? It seems like it would be obvious since a person with a hardened heart wouldn’t be on his/her knees praying to God. But in fact some do. And we can see this in people who claim to follow Christ but do not live according to His Word. I’m not talking about perfection here, for we all fall short in the eyes of God. But how a person talks or reacts to the world around him/her could be an indicator of whether or not they are true believers, or pretenders, or even liars unto themselves.

John 15:15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.

Matthew 7:17,20 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit… Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

If you are still worried then consider Ezekiel 36:26, 27

(26) A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.

Now if you are still worried then perhaps you should read The Confessions of St. Augustine: Books I-X, in which he describes his long spiritual journey through sorcery, eastern religions, promiscuity, and other sinful transgressions, before returning to the religion his family had tried to instill in him: Christianity. Now he's a saint. Go figure. God works in mysterious ways...

Now don’t you feel better?

Lost Credibility

Book review
Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew
By Bart D. Ehrman

When I purchased this book at Borders in Philadelphia during the summer of ’05, I had been looking for an analysis of the Gospel of Thomas and other apocrypha, because I was curious as to why some books were canonized into the Bible and some weren’t. I grabbed this one because it looked like a comprehensive study not only of different gospels, but of the different faiths surrounding them.

But as I read through this book I discovered some new truths. First, just because someone refers to himself as a “Bible scholar” doesn’t always mean that he believes in the Bible. Most people would be surprised to learn that many religious studies classes at public universities analyze the Holy Bible purely from a secular point of view. Second, no matter how hard the most educated scholar may try to sound objective, he will invariably give away his political position if he is allowed to espouse long enough. This author, in fact, does just that.

Let’s start with P52, which is a credit card sized piece of papyrus thought to be the oldest surviving scrap of scripture of the Gospel of John. Mr. Ehrman repeatedly declares that it was found in a “trash heap in Upper Egypt.” In fact, Mr. Ehrman declares this every time P52 is mentioned. To paraphrase Ralph Manheim, “It is the half educated writer, without clear ideas, who generally feels that to say a thing only once is rather slight.” Mr. Ehrman is much too intelligent to be doing this by accident. According to Dr. Bruce Metzger, to whom Mr. Ehrman dedicated his recent book, Misquoting Jesus, that fragment “was purchased in Egypt as early as 1920, but sat unnoticed for years among similar fragments of papyri” (see interview in Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ). Hmmm, I thought a trash heap was a mountain of garbage one finds in a landfill with vermin crawling about and seagulls flying overhead. Mr. Ehrman has altered its definition to include any stack of papyri containing Holy Scripture.

While Mr. Ehrman gleefully tears apart any possibilities that most of the apocrypha could have any credibility (he claims nearly all of them are fakes or forgeries, and probably correctly), he nonchalantly mentions off the cuff that all but seven of the New Testament books are forged as well (those seven themselves also being tampered with). The latter is, I believe, the real purpose for writing this book. Lacking the courage to make this the focused topic, he covertly slips it in. Since then he has gathered enough courage to make it the focus of the afore mentioned Misquoting Jesus.

Another gutless tactic he employs is to present a hypothesis very distasteful to Christians, laying out all of the best arguments to solidify the point, then in the final sentence saying that he doesn’t actually believe it himself, without offering any facts to back up his late contradiction (which means he really does believe it!). It is truly a coward’s way of arguing a point, (pretending to disagree) which he does more than once. It is done most notably when relating the story behind the naked man in sack cloth who flees when Jesus is arrested (see Mark 14:51, 52). He presents the claim of some “Bible scholars” that “missing chapters” detail a relationship laced with homoerotic overtones between Jesus and the naked man. How can one take an author like this seriously?

The tendency for conspiracy theory to emanate from Mr. Ehrman is common. For instance, there can be many reasons why so many more recently hand copied manuscripts of the New Testament differ from the oldest ones. Mr. Ehrman points to large political movements most often while ignoring some more obvious reasons.

Case in point: the Gospel of Mark. He says the earliest copies show Jesus reacting angrily to just about everything that confronts Him. Reasoning that the oldest surviving versions must be the correct ones, Mr. Ehrman assumes the newer copies were purposely changed by scribes in order to sound more like the other three gospels. But could it be possible that these oldest copies survived because it was known back then that they were wrong? Consider the likely possibility that a scribe or two might’ve thought a “compassionate” Jesus was rather weak and so rewrote Him to be angry all the time to show a more powerful God. These “angry” copies were then set aside by church elders from the other more often handled “compassionate” copies and preserved for any number of reasons, perhaps as examples of bad behavior by “foolish knaves,” while the correct copies were handled so much they fell apart and were discarded. Just look at your own bookshelf. The books that last the longest are the ones read the least. It is an incorrect assumption on Ehrman’s part that the oldest known copies in existance today were the only copies written at the time.

Regarding the differences among the four Gospel accounts: If scribes were so prone to change the Gospels to make them more uniform, why after 2,000 years and countless hand copied manuscripts are there still differences in accounts of events, such as when Jesus died in relation to the timing of the Passover meal or what garments were found in the tomb after the resurrection?

Also, could some of those “lost Christianities” which competed with what Mr. Ehrman refers to as the prevailing “proto-orthodox” views (as shown in today’s Holy Bible), have failed the test of time simply because they were wrong? And if history is suspect anytime it is “written by the winners,” should we also be inclined to doubt the holocaust or the failure of Soviet Communism? Perhaps Mr. Ehrman thinks that slavery didn’t get its fair shake from an historical perspective. Maybe he’ll start rooting for the Chicago Cubs. One can only wonder.

In defense of Mr. Ehrman, I will say that his writing style is engaging and lively, and not totally without fact. And while he is no Dan Brown, who stands behind utter falsehoods to bring Jesus down to our level, Mr. Ehrman’s transparent agenda forces me to question his credibility. It is not uncommon these days for secular Bible scholars to attack the KJV simply to shake the foundation of the “religious right.” After reading this book and hearing him interviewed on NPR, I think that’s exactly what he’s doing.

On there are several glowing reports of this book submitted by “secular fundamentalists” who applaud anything that contradicts the New Testament, rejoicing in having NO God looking over their shoulders telling them with whom they can and cannot sleep.

I think it's quite possible that Mr. Ehrman may have committed apostasy since leaving the Moody Bible Institute. Only he and God know for sure. Mr. Ehrman needs our prayers (whether he wants them or not).