What is Papal Infallibility?

When you look at the Vatican flag, you will notice that the two symbols of the papacy are clearly evident in front of the white background.   On top is the papal tiara.  It was never used for liturgy but was worn in civic ceremonies by the pope.  It is shaped like a beehive and contains three crowns symbolizing the authority of Christ the Priest, Prophet, and King.  (Pope Paul VI retired the papal tiara after Vatican II.)  Below the papal tiara is the more prominent image: the two keys.  One is gold to represent the pope’s authority that comes from heaven, and one is silver to represent the pope’s authority over the faithful on earth.  While the “keys” are certainly metaphors for spiritual and ecclesiastical authority, they are not something the Catholic Church invented to justify having a human leader.  On the contrary, the keys are given by Christ Himself — and not to all the apostles, but to Simon Peter alone (Mt 16:19).  Just as the Church is to exist until the end of time, St. Peter’s primacy was not to end at his death but rather to extend to all his successors until the glorious return of Christ.  This is the basis of the Church’s teaching of Papal Infallibility. There are a lot of misunderstandings about Papal Infallibility.  A common misunderstanding about Papal Infallibility is that it means a pope is unable to sin, that is, that the pope is impeccable.  Well, all you need to do is look … Continue reading

The Role of the Church in Salvation

“It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs” (Mt 15:26).  Our Lord’s response to the Canaanite woman is shocking . . . not exactly the sweet and gentle Jesus we have inside our minds.  However, it is important to take into account that Jesus came from the Jews and for the Jews first, and then for the Gentiles.  Nevertheless, because of this woman’s humility, her utter abasement before the Lord and the disciples, and her faith and perseverance, the Lord listens to her and grants her request. As Catholic Christians, we hold as true that Jesus Christ chose to found one Church (Mt 16:18) and that this one Church has visible boundaries (Mt 5:14).  There is a related doctrine we hold that is often avoided and at best misunderstood.  In fact, many Catholics simply dismiss it as “unecumenical” without actually trying to understand it.  The name of this doctrine in Latin is: Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, that is, “Outside the Church there is no salvation” (CCC 846-8).  Now, firstly, what does this mean?  It means that membership in the true Church, the Church Christ founded, is necessary for salvation.  St. Paul teaches that the Church has Christ as its head and we are individually members of His body (1 Cor 12).  It is impossible to be joined to Christ without somehow being joined to His body.  Secondly, what does this doctrine not say?  We as Catholics are not saying that everyone else, including Protestant Christians, are going … Continue reading

The Devil Didn’t Make You Do It

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Rom 7:19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.   It was a beautiful autumn day up in Michigan, the kind where the glory of God is displayed in color, wonderful smells and the crispness of cool air. My friend, Dave, and I decided to go to the local park to throw the football around.  When we had our fill of fun we headed for home.  About halfway home I decided to practice my drop kick.  It was a pretty good kick but with a hook to the right, hitting the antenna of a car which was parked in the street.  Well, a good day proceeded to go down to the dumps quickly as the antenna snapped completely off the fender of the automobile.  Nobody looked like they were home; the doors and windows of the house were all closed.  I then cleaned up the scene of the crime, grabbed the stick-like antenna and told my buddy we need to walk quickly home, as if nothing happened.  With antenna in hand, we headed home.  I have always been blessed with a naive sense of right and wrong; why I took that antenna to my dad is a mystery to me to this day.  “Hey dad, I was kicking the football in the street with Dave and I hit a car’s antenna.”  I was looking for a reasonable approach and comment from my father … Continue reading

The Ship of the Church

At St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, before you enter the church and underneath the façade, there is a portico through which you must pass.  Inside the portico, above the entrance, is the image called the Navicella della Chiesa, that is, the “Ship of the Church.”  It is a mosaic attributed to the great artist Giotto from the 14th Century, and it depicts Simon Peter walking on the water, beginning to sink, and the holy Savior reaching out to save him.  What is unique about this mosaic is not so much the beautiful art but its placement in the portico:  You do not see this image when you enter the church; you see this image when you exit the church.  In the gospel passage that this mosaic depicts (Mt 14:22-33), we see the boat of the disciples being rocked and buffeted by a storm in the fourth watch (a time between 3 and 6 AM).  All of a sudden they see a figure walking over the water, which was extremely frightening.  When Jesus gets close to the boat, St. Peter — who always speaks on behalf of the Twelve — says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  And so Jesus says, “Come.”  Now, pay close attention to what happens next:  St. Peter starts to walk out into the water, but when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened.  Imagine:  St. Peter, the first pope, took his eyes off Christ and he began to sink!  And when we take our eyes … Continue reading

Feeding the Five-Thousand

If you look around Centerville, practically every other building is a church.  All these churches are visible signs of how seriously our local area views faith in Jesus Christ.  One of the great advantages of living in the United States is religious liberty.  Rather than stifling Christianity, this freedom has actually encouraged Christianity to grow.  As Americans, we have the right to choose whatever religion we want to embrace, or to practice no religion at all.  As those who profess Christ, we have the right to choose whatever church we want to attend and how we are going to be fed in our faith.  However, even though we can choose where and how we worship God, the question should be asked:  Is there a way that He has given us by which Jesus wants us to worship Him?  Is there a way that He has established for us to be fed? In today’s gospel, we hear the “Miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand” (Mt 14:13-21).  This miracle is recorded in all four Gospels.  (By the way, this was a miracle. To believe that 5,000 men simply shared 5 loaves and 2 fishes might give you mushy feelings, but logistically it would have been impossible unless Christ had actually worked a miracle for them.)  Our Lord miraculously multiplied the loaves and fishes for possibly over ten thousand people when you count women and children.  The prophet Elisha prefigured this miracle when he multiplied twenty barley loaves to feed one hundred men, with some bread left over (2 Kgs 4:42-44).  … Continue reading