I’ve been evangelizing prisoners and writing about evangelization and apologetics for 22 years, beginning while still a catechumen (“Faith behind Bars,” July-August 2010). I have tried vigorously to promote prison evangelization all over America, yet I realize we are not all called to the work I do. We are, however, all called to plant the seeds of faith. And know with moral certitude that we do all plant seeds, whether we are aware of it or not. What kind of seeds we plant is determined by three elements.
1. The first element is our level of faith. Are you a Catholic or a convinced Catholic? One becomes a convinced Catholic by knowing, understanding and living one’s faith. A convinced Catholic cannot help but be excited about our holy and ancient faith, and thus be inclined to plant good seeds.
2. The second element is priority. Does God come first? Does God come before family, friends, hobbies, jobs or anything else? If the answer is yes, then you not only sow good seeds, but you also find greater joy and pleasure in the lesser priorities. If you have to look in the mirror and give a negative response, then the seeds you plant are diseased and will bear only deformed fruit.
3. The third element is love. God’s love for us is infinite. In imitation of our Creator, our love for others must also be infinite. “Is this guy serious?” You bet I am (cf. Mt 5:48, Jn 15:9-11). Remember that love is not an emotion but an act of the will. There are often emotions attached to love, but love is an act of the will—a movement of the soul’s intellect. You don’t necessarily have to like a particular person, but you do have to love him. How much? Infinitely! This means we must love others so we are willing to sacrifice life itself for them. I have yet to meet a person I would not die for, if called to do so.
God calls us all to be farmers. He calls us all to plant seeds. However, not once does he ever demand that we be successful. He only requires obedience. When a farmer sows at planting time, he does all he can that science and nature have taught him to make the seeds grow, but ultimately it depends on God as to whether the farmer has a crop at harvest time. The same is true with the seeds we plant.
Finally, I have learned that no matter the circumstances of your seed-sowing, as long as you give yourself freely to God, he will not be outdone in generosity. My own situation is proof of that.
Nearly four years ago, new evidence surfaced that essentially proves my innocence. I have never made any public claim of my innocence, but have sat here in prison for 23 years for something I did not do, quietly biding my time and trying to reach souls. Now God is saying thank you.
Two Episcopalian attorneys and a Catholic paralegal took up my case. Believe me, getting locked up is much easier than getting set free, even after you prove your innocence. The laws are just that screwy. Anyway, my legal team continues to work, though I am out of money. I still have to pay all the expenses, which includes flying a DNA expert from New England to testify in Birmingham, and there is currently no money for that. I’m not worried about it, though. God has been most generous with the new evidence, so he will also provide the needed money. He is that generous.
The seed was planted two thousand years ago on Golgotha. The precious blood fertilized the mud and muck at the foot of his Majesty’s cross. That is where this most unworthy worm has wallowed for more than 20 years, learning how to love and plant seeds. May God bless you on your own farming efforts.
Sign, Symbol, and Sacrament
I was very appreciative of Mr. Schrauzer’s article, “To Make the Invisible Visible” (July-August 2010). As undergraduate philosophy student, I was in nearly complete agreement with everything he said. However, in the section “Ridiculous? Superfluous?,” a distinction could be made between sign and symbol. Signs usually point away from themselves, or merely communicate and direct. A sign for a bathroom merely points to the bathroom; it directs you, simply, and has no meaning other than “there is a bathroom.” A symbol, on the other hand, alerts and invites a response from the viewer; it draws the viewer inward, towards the higher meaning which it represents. Statues and paintings cannot be signs, since they represent realities, whether physical or spiritual, that can be partially manifested by the symbol. A sign for a bathroom is not a bathroom, whereas a symbol of Christ, in some manner, makes Christ present. This distinction is important when moving up to sacraments, which Mr. Schrauzer calls “those greatest of all outward signs.” Sacraments are perfect signs, because they do not only represent or manifest a reality, but actually accomplish it; the pouring of water cleanses the soul, and the sealing with oil is the actual seal of the Holy Spirit. These are not my distinctions, but I have found them helpful in trying to understand signs, symbols, and sacraments. After reading this excellent article, I am looking forward to my aesthetics class in the fall. God bless and keep up the good work.
Ave Maria, Florida
The Beauty of Holiness
In general, I’m not a patron of the fine arts, but the Grotesque Old Woman (Eyes to See, May-June 2010) caught my eye—how could she not? I was delighted and deeply moved by Michael Schrauzer’s observations on our subjective definition of beauty, how we often identify ugliness with sin, while God’s transcendent love gives worth and dignity to all his creatures.
The greatest beauty of all is surely the beauty of holiness. It cannot be measured by human standards, but reveals itself in love—love which imparts its own beauty to the beloved, as Christ does for his Church. No doubt our rebellion is far uglier and more repulsive in God’s sight than the physical disfigurement of the poor duchess in Quentin Massys’ portrait is to us.
“But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). God loved us when we were “grotesque,” distorted and defaced inwardly and outwardly by sin. He imparts his own beauty—the beauty of holiness—to us here and now by his Spirit, and he will one day present us to himself, a glorious Church without spot or wrinkle (Eph 5:27), and radiant and resplendent Bride!
Mohammed and the Moon God
As a lifelong Catholic, I respectfully disagree with Fr. Serpa’s statement in “Quick Questions” (May-June 2010). You claim that the Muslims, in worshipping Allah, are worshipping the one true God, albeit not in the form of the Trinity. You may or may not have done much research into Allah, also known as el-Alilah, but at least our Protestant brethren have done so. This article [“Allah—the Moon God,” biblebelievers.org] is merely a synopsis supported by other research, but it merits your looking into it to avoid the possibility of committing blasphemy. Research shows that when Mohammed formed his religion from a composite of Judaism and Catholicism and his personal “revelations”; he intended it to be centered on the one true God. However, one of his favorite wives came from a tribe that worshipped el-Alilah, the moon god, and she convinced him to include the worship of el-Alilah in Islam. Mohammed gave in to her request but kept the rubrics of the false-god worship covered under the generic view of worshipping Allah. Further, in historical findings of statues of false gods in many shapes and forms, many have been found to have the crescent moon either on their heads or on their chests. Mohammed’s honoring of his wife’s plea to include el-Alilah as a worshipped god in his new religion is graphically shown even to this day by the crescent-moon device which is atop the main minaret of every mosque in the world. Please consider this information, Fr. Serpa, and revise your unfortunate misstatement.
—Ricardo L. Parks
Las Vegas, Nevada
Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P. replies:
The Original Catholic Encyclopedia disagrees with you:
It is a compound word from the article, ‘al, and ilah, divinity, and signifies “the god” par excellence. This form of the divine name is in itself a sure proof that ilah was at one time an appellative, common to all the local and tribal gods. Gradually, with the addition of the article, it was restricted to one of them who took precedence of the others; finally, with the triumph of monotheism, he was recognized as the only true God.
The notion of Allah in Arabic theology is substantially the same as that of God among the Jews, and also among the Christians, with the exception of the Trinity, which is positively excluded in the Koran, cxii: “Say God, is one God, the eternal God, he begetteth not, neither is he begotten and there is not any one like unto him.” (available at oce.catholic.com, under “Allah”)
The New Catholic Encyclopedia does also: “For Muhammad there was no redeemer, no need for redemption, no original sin. Otherwise Allah is invested with nearly the same general attributes of Yahweh” (New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd ed., Vol. 7, 608).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day” (CCC 841).
Spain’s Two Sides
I appreciated Russell Shaw’s “The Wartime Birth of a Spiritual Classic” (May-June 2010). However, I think one passage in his article did not express the reality of the Spanish Civil War. Shaw wrote: “Brutality and atrocities on both sides marked the war . . . 70,000 executions in the Republican zone and 40,000 in the Nationalist zone, with another 30,000 executions carried out by the Franco government from the end of the war until 1950.”
First, the executions carried out after the war were not brutalities and atrocities which marked the war, because the war was over. Second, this seems to make the two sides equal. The so-called Republicans were notoriously hostile to the faith. They burned churches and killed priests, nuns, and bishops. Consequently, when such men were captured or found, they were deemed to be too dangerous and too threatening to the weakest of society to protect. In the face of such barbarity, killing those murderers appeared to be a just solution, only done in reaction to their violence.
There is no need to make the two sides look similar in the way they carried on the war.
Russell Shaw replies:
I am grateful to Mr. Hummel for his comments. But to say that the war wasn’t marked by executions carried out after it ended is a verbal quibble at best. As to the rationale for them, one can argue as Mr. Hummel does, or one can argue that this was a terrible mistake which fanned the still-existing bitter feeling that led to war in the first place. It is not my intention to take either side in that argument, and I am not aware that St. Josemaria Escriva ever did either.
DNA and the Real Presence
I read with much interest “Because He Said So” (Last Writes, May-June 2010) about the Real Presence of our Lord in the Eucharist.
I refer you to the book A Catechism of Church History by Father Robert J. Fox and specifically to Chapter 8, regarding the miracle of Lanciano. This miracle occurred because of a local priest’s doubt of the presence of our Lord’s body in host and wine. The miracle was the host turning to flesh and the wine to blood. These relics are still available today, as the Church has preserved them since the year 750. They have been scientifically viewed as recent as 1971. I do not believe DNA tests have been conducted on them yet, but if you read the beautiful story in this book, you will see that it has been determined that the blood is real blood and the flesh is real flesh (of the heart muscle) and that they belong to the human species. The blood type of the flesh and the blood are the same. I would imagine that DNA testing was not then what it is today, and if the Holy See wished to pursue this, I am sure that DNA testing might tell us more. Our doubting Thomas, the Evangelical, might not know about this miracle.
—Richard J. Schneider
No Pelagians, Please!
Please allow me to critique Michael T. Tkacz’ response to Jerome Colburn’s letter to the editor (March-April 2010).
According to Tkacz, “God’s grace is freely (without external imposition) and providentially given to us on the occasion of our praying, an occasion to which God is eternally present.”
Wrong. Tkacz’ quote is a common misconception and over the centuries has been reduplicated since the time of Pelagius to the age of Kant and Calvin. Councils beginning in 416 and again in 418 in Carthage corrected the errors of Pelagianism and the semi-Pelagians. In 529, at the Council of Orange, it became a truth of faith that without grace we can neither dispose ourselves positively to conversion to persevere for a notable time in good, nor above all persevere until death (The Council of Orange, Denzinger, Enchirion 176-200; see also St. Thomas Ia, 11ae, q. 109; see also Trent, Vatican II documents, even John Paul II’s Catechism of the Catholic Church).
Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the Divine Truth by command of the will moved by God through grace (Summa II-II, 2, 9)—did not the Archangel Gabriel find our Blessed Mother “full of grace” before any belief of her Immaculate Conception?
The perennial magisterium of the Church has always recognized the good and evil that is in man and taught that man’s nature is neither wholly bad nor wholly good, but that he is a being created in the image of God, but fallen, and that without God’s grace, he cannot attain his perfection. The first impulse of grace is from God, such as the [will] to faith.
St. Augustine says, “God gives us some things, such as the beginning of faith, even while we don’t pray. Other things such as perseverance, he has provided for those who do pray.” Pope St. Gregory the Great taught the necessity of a prevenient grace! Grace for the beginning of good works and faith and that predestination to grace and eternal life is absolutely gratuitous.
The Protestant song “Amazing Grace” (a musical presentation of a heretical catechesis) that teaches that grace comes “the hour we first believe” [sic] has found itself in modern Catholic songbooks, so it is not surprising to hear said erroneous doctrines from Dr. Tkacz even in the pages of This Rock.
—Kevin J. McNamara
New Britain, Connecticut
Michael Tkacz replies:
I am rather perplexed by Mr. McNamara’s claim that I reveal myself to be a Pelagian in my reply to Mr. Colburn. Given that my reply so emphatically insisted on the absolute dependence of human beings on divine assistance, I can only conclude that Mr. McNamara has completely misunderstood me. He apparently finds the last sentence of my reply to Mr. Colburn to contain the offending claim. I simply do not see, however, how he gleans from this sentence a denial of the necessity of grace, especially as it actually mentions grace. Perhaps he simply read the sentence out of context and misunderstood it. Here is the sentence along with the rest of the paragraph that precedes it:
Similar considerations apply to the purpose of prayer. It is not simply that God is eternally present to all of our prayers. He is, of course, but it is also that God’s answering our prayers is not his being caused by our prayer to grant us his grace. As created beings, we are totally dependent on God and he is absolutely independent of us. Thus, we cannot cause God to do anything. God’s grace is freely (without external imposition) and providentially given to us on the occasion of our praying, an occasion to which God is eternally present.
Perhaps Mr. McNamara thought that my phrase “. . . on the occasion of our praying . . .” was intended to mean “because of our praying.” It should be clear from the context, however, that I mean exactly the opposite. My whole point, and the point of St. Thomas Aquinas as well, is that human beings are totally dependent on God’s grace for everything. Far from being the denial of human dependence on divine assistance, what I said is the strong affirmation of this dependence.
Capital Confusion Cleared
Christopher Kaczor’s piece on the death penalty in the July-August issue was on point and necessary; especially in view of John Paul’s confused and disjointed writings on the subject. Thank God for Cardinal Ratzinger’s clarification of July 2004.
I would add two additional points seldom mentioned:
1. No one, pope or General Council, has the authority to abolish the death penalty. Why? Because it is taught in the Bible and in the 2,000-year tradition of the Catholic Church;
2. The death penalty always deters the one person who should be deterred: the perpetrator. Once dead, he will never kill again.
Does any serious person believe that 15 or 20 years in a German or Peruvian prison will deter a serial killer?
Pompano Beach, Florida