Saint Ignatius of Antioch: A Model for Our Times

Like St. Ignatius, do not be afraid. Do not worry about what people say about you for living out your faith.

What does it really mean to be a Christian? In other words, what does it mean to follow Christ Jesus? How do we know what is his will, and how do we act upon it? Well, first and foremost, we must acknowledge Christ. We must acknowledge Him as truly the Son of God, and we must do so before others: “I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God” (Luke 12:8-9). In acknowledging Christ, we must undoubtedly do so with our words, and we should not be afraid to do so. We should not fear those who can kill the body, but rather, the one who “can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna” (Matthew 10:28). As a matter of fact, instead of being afraid of persecution for living out the Christian life, we should “rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:13-14). This is the wonderful promise of redemption, and ultimately reveals the truth that Jesus, and only Jesus, can answer the suffering we experience in this world. The answer to suffering, in other words, is not to remove it from our life, but to redeem it, by uniting it to the suffering of Christ: “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Today, we celebrate the feast of a true Christian, a man who followed Christ to the end, who remained “steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12). This man is Saint Ignatius of Antioch.

St. Ignatius was what’s called an early Church Father, and the Church Fathers are absolutely necessary in order to understand what it means to be a Christian. The Catholic Church has, throughout the centuries, drawn on their writings for her theology, because they lived so closely to the time of Christ and were so united to the Apostles. If you have not read any of the writings of the Church Fathers, you really must do so, and St. Ignatius of Antioch is a great place to start.

St. Ignatius was born around the year 50 AD in Syria. He was the third Bishop of Antioch, immediately succeeding Evodius, who had immediately succeeded Saint Peter, Prince of the Apostles. St. Peter was ultimately the first Bishop of Rome, also known as the first Pope, and was eventually martyred in what is now Vatican City. St. Peter himself appointed St. Ignatius to the See of Antioch. Because St. Ignatius received his consecration as bishop at the hands of the first pope, he was greatly honored. 

During his time as Bishop of Antioch, he spent much of his time encouraging his flock to be steadfast in the face of persecution. He gave the faithful of Antioch hope during the persecutions of Emperor Dormitian, who reigned from 81-96 AD. St. Ignatius himself escaped the persecution of Dormitian, but he was not as lucky during the reign of Emperor Trajan, who was emperor shortly after Dormitian. That is, if we should consider it lucky to escape martyrdom. St. Ignatius certainly would have considered himself unlucky if he did escape! In his letter to the Romans, in which he requested that Roman Christians not try to save him from martyrdom, he said: “I beseech of you not to show an unseasonable good-will towards me. Allow me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose instrumentality it will be granted me to attain to God. I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ.”

In the year 106 AD, Trajan mandated that everyone, regardless of religious belief, give thanks to the pagan gods for the success Trajan had over the Scythians. If anyone refused to worship these pagan gods, he would be killed. In 107 AD, Trajan was passing through Antioch, and he was told that St. Ignatius openly confessed Christ and preached against these persecutions. Trajan had Ignatius brought before him, and St. Ignatius eloquently, courageously, and even joyfully, rebuked the emperor and welcomed the threat of martyrdom. Trajan ordered that St. Ignatius be chained and brought to Rome, to be fed to beasts in the Coliseum. To this day, his relics are in the Basilica of St. Clement in Rome. 

One thing that is so clearly exemplified in St. Ignatius’s writings is the presence of Catholic doctrine. The Early Church Fathers in general demonstrate the reality that the early Church truly was the Catholic Church, the same Catholic Church that exists to this day, but St. Ignatius is particularly important, because of his clarity, bluntness, and temporal proximity to the Apostles. To take just one quote from his writings, he states in his letter to the Philadelphians: 

Make no mistake, my brothers, if anyone joins a schismatic he will not inherit God’s Kingdom. If anyone walks in the way of heresy, he is out of sympathy of the Passion. Be careful, then, to observe a single Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and one cup of his blood that makes us one, and one altar, just as there is one bishop along with the presbytery and the deacons, my fellow slaves. In that way whatever you do is in line with God’s will.

Let’s go back now to our initial question: What does it mean to follow Christ, and how do we know what is his will? Here, St. Ignatius gives a synopsis of what this means and how to live that out practically. He states very bluntly that those who join schismatic groups, in other words, those who break off from the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church founded by Christ, will not inherit God’s kingdom. The way one knows whether they are in a schismatic group, according to St. Ignatius, is if they are out of communion with the bishops appointed by the Church Christ founded. He states that people who break communion with the Church are separated from Christ’s passion, which is the only means of salvation. In addition, he notes the absolute necessity of observing the truth of the real, not symbolic, presence of Christ in the Eucharist. He states that the Eucharist is truly the flesh and blood of our Lord, and that we must be very careful to make sure we are acknowledging that reality, in accordance with the words of Jesus Christ Himself and the Church he founded.

This quote also demonstrates the hierarchical nature of the early Christian Church, which had an episcopate (the bishops), presbyterate (the priests), and the diaconate (the deacons), which is the exact structure that exists to this day in the Catholic Church, and all of the apostolic Churches, the Orthodox included. This is why reading the Church Fathers is so necessary: We must know how to follow Christ, not only in the way we ourselves interpret Scripture, but in the way that Christ himself intended us to follow him. And a good way to know how he intended us to follow him is to look and see what the earliest Christians thought, because they lived and worked with the Apostles. 

Do not be afraid. Do not worry about what people say about you for living out your faith.

Furthermore, if you find yourself in fear over the times we are living in, over the hostility to the Christian faith that pervades our culture, I want to encourage you. Do not be afraid. Do not worry about what people say about you for living out your faith. It is only natural that following Christ, we too, should be persecuted, just as He was: “If the world hates you, know that it hated me first” (John 15:18). Go out there and proclaim the truth, and proclaim it boldly, because if people do not know now, they will eventually, and now is better than later: “God greatly exalted him, and bestowed upon him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 4:9-11).

Use Quarantine to Grow Your Faith

Love is to will the good of the other. And willing the good, that is, choosing the good, of the other, is difficult, because oftentimes it involves sacrificing our own desires.

There is not one person whom COVID-19 has not affected, whether patients who have contracted the virus or those of us in quarantine. Regardless, the most important question to be answered, which many people are asking, but many are also ignoring, is the following: how do we respond spiritually? The answer is the same as it has always been, namely, to be a saint. But how?

Well, speaking from experience, I have no idea. However, one thing is certain: in order to be a saint, one must choose to be. The difference between those who become saints–canonized or not–and those who do not become saints is a choice. Rather, it is a series of choices that puts the person on a path to holiness and conformity to the person of Jesus Christ. While we must take advantage of all of the spiritual tools available to help us grow in our spiritual life, these tools will do nothing if the person’s free will is not in a state of cooperation with the grace of God.

If a person wants the spiritual life to be easy, then they also will not be able to pursue sanctity. They are confused about who the Lord is. The Lord Jesus said it clear as day: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Lk 9:23-24). So we must be clear what we are getting into. The person we follow is not Buddha, it is not Gandhi, it is not Joel Osteen, and it is not even your priest. The person we follow is the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last. He is Truth incarnate and He is an everlasting Father. But He is all of these things crucified. And we likewise must be crucified, that we may rise again with Him on the last day. “For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection” (Rom. 6:5). So we need to be clear that there is no easy trick to becoming a saint, other than to simply choose to be. And doing this is hard. But with God’s grace, it is eminently possible.

This is all nice and true, but how specifically can we accept the gift of God’s grace and become holy during this time of the virus? This will differ from person to person, but we can start with Jesus’s command to love our neighbor. Most likely, the people we are spending the most time with are our family members, who may also happen to drive most of us insane when all quarantined together for weeks. While this sounds like a nightmare at first glance, it’s actually the opposite when you look at it from God’s perspective. What is love? Love is to will the good of the other. And willing the good, that is, choosing the good, of the other, is difficult, because oftentimes it involves sacrificing our own desires. Someone might do something extremely bothersome in your home and get on your nerves. Instead of impulsively responding to your desire to tell them to stop doing whatever is bothering you, take that annoyance and unite it to Jesus. We might not want to do the dishes, and we might not want to help make our home a more peaceful place. Well, do them anyway and unite it with Jesus. When Jesus said to pick up your cross, He didn’t mean you’re going to be walking around with a physical cross all the time. Rather, we have all sorts of varying sufferings of various sizes. We can take the little sufferings and crosses that often happen in family life and unite them with Christ’s passion. This is infinitely beautiful and redemptive. It’s part of St. Therese’s little way, and it’s absolutely the truth. 

In addition to loving our family and neighbor, even, and especially, when we don’t want to, we must also love God. We do this by avoiding evil and doing good. The evil we must avoid is sin. If you have sin in your life (we all do, don’t worry), you need to work to avoid it. This is impossible on your own strength, but it’s extremely easy for God. Look around you; God created everything. And you doubt his ability to sanctify you and remove sin from your heart? Of course He can do that. Sin can only be avoided if it is acknowledged, so honestly examine your conscience to see what kind of sins you might be lying to yourself about. Once you have examined yourself, you must turn back to goodness. The only way we can turn back to goodness is through grace, and this is distinctly found in prayer. 

Prayer is the pillar of the spiritual life, and without it, we will not be able to love our neighbor, we will not be able to avoid sin, and we certainly won’t have much luck loving God. Every day, when you wake up, the first thing you should do is pray. Don’t go looking at your texts. Save that for later. The very beginning of your day should be devoted to booting up your spiritual system to be able to handle the trials of the day, as well as to be receptive and grateful for the many blessings God will give you during that day. At a bare minimum, you should spend ten minutes with God before you start living out the day God gives you. If you don’t do this, it’s going to be much harder to get through the day in terms of doing good and avoiding evil. This prayer should continue throughout the day, and be supplemented with spiritual reading such as the gospels, other scriptures, or other spiritual books such as the lives of some saints you find interesting. You might turn to Jesus randomly with aspirations, asking Him to show you His love and mercy throughout the day. 

So, to keep this short and to the point, let’s review the keys to the spiritual life during quarantine. First, love your neighbor and be kind and patient, especially when it’s hard. If you can’t be nice and are in a bad mood, just keep your mouth shut, but not in a passive aggressive way. This is a hard balance, but ask Jesus to help you and He will. Second, avoid sin, and examine your conscience so you can actually acknowledge your sins. And third, you must pray. Through prayer will you receive grace to be able to live the spiritual life during quarantine. With all of this time on your hands, I bet you can find some time to connect with the Creator of the universe. Probably a significant amount of time. 

If you can keep all of these things in mind, you can become a little saint, whether you become canonized or not. Enough reading this article and get after it!

Our Unequal Separation of Church and State

The American doctrine of religious liberty and separation of church and state began as a good attempt to mark out the boundaries of the secular and the religious and allow each to flourish on its own. Yet it seems to me that this is, at best, an unequal yoking.

Freedom of faith should go beyond personal belief.

We draw a sharp line between the religious and the secular in the modern United States. There may be a complicated relationship between them, but it seems we cannot allow overlap. The two are mutually defining concepts: what is secular is everything in society that is not religious, and what is religious is all that’s not secular. This is usually a useful legal concept. We use it to separate the religious beliefs and practices of the individual as untrespassable, guarded by an inalienable divine right to believe what one will regardless of the laws and whims of the secular state—guarded even by the First Amendment, the writings of the Founding Fathers, and a slew of Supreme Court cases. 

It is also worth reflecting on the origin and interpretation of this right to “free exercise of religion.” In a response to the Dansbury Baptist Association after his election to the presidency, Thomas Jefferson famously interpreted the First Amendment’s religion clause as “a wall of separation between Church & State.” This phrase, alongside similar words from James Madison, has justified a number of Supreme Court decisions—from banning the religious practice of polygamous marriages (Reynolds v. United States) to banning school-sponsored prayer at public institutions (Engel v. Vitale). This separation also codifies into law the secular nature of the government—it is not-religious and it even consciously separates itself from close association with religion.

We have, then, a distinction between the religious and the secular, each taking up where the other left off. The state sits squarely on the side of the secular, behind a “wall of separation.” The Dansbury Baptists encouraged this separation for the sake of their protection from the state, but that same wall of separation has been used to keep prayer out of public schools and otherwise prohibit the state from sponsoring or being sponsored by religion. All of this tells us something of the secular, something of the state. But what does “religious” mean in this context? 

The Dansbury Baptists speak of religion as “at all times and places a matter between God and individuals” and express their concern that any man should ever suffer “on account of his religious opinions.” Jefferson agrees with them in his reply, writing that “religion is a matter that lies solely between Man and his God” and that the “legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions.” This attitude paints an individual, personal picture of religion that might work for the Dansbury Baptists but not many others.

For many, even within Christianity, religion is inherently communal rather than individual. The beliefs of Catholics—including many of their political views—often take root in explicit communal statements. The individuals are only Catholic inasmuch as they adhere to these communal views. It is not a matter between God and individuals, but between God and the Church. Similarly, Judaism rarely takes form as a state of belief between the individual and God. As we see most clearly in stories from Jewish texts, the faith is largely a matter of the actions of a people and the response of their God. Likewise, Islam holds value in language and place–things shared by a people, not just beliefs held by an individual. The image of religion handed down to us by Jefferson appears not so much as a general expression of religion, but of a particular form of American Protestantism. 

Yet this breaks down further when we consider religion in practice. The IRS regulates what sort of organizations are deemed “religious” in the eyes of the state, as well as which actions such organizations can take to keep their tax-exempt status as religious entities. Religious organizations are explicitly prohibited from “directly or indirectly participating in” political action that would favor or oppose one candidate or group of candidates over another. This is political action, and as such, is under the purview of the secular—not the religious. 

But why would any particular religion relinquish political action to the secular? My own church holds strong views on a variety of topics. We must oppose abortion, racism, and a number of other issues, and we must actively support policies that give preferential treatment to the poor, protect the environment, and support the traditional family structure, to name a few. In America we advocate as individual Catholics, yet historically, the Church has played an active role in public institutions and political action. We are a church of action as well as belief. But, as Jefferson helpfully put it, “the legitimate powers of the government reach actions,” and there must be a wall of separation between the government and the church—so there must be a wall of separation between actions and the church. 

In similar fashion we see the Supreme Court rigorously define what counts as religious actions we are entitled to take. From ritual drug use (Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith) to cake baking (Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission), the Supreme Court decides what counts as religious and what begins to encroach on the secular–which is to say the political. Whether or not they rule in favor of individuals to pursue what they take to be specifically religious actions (and so protected by the First Amendment), it is still the state—rather than the church—which ultimately defines what counts as religious. 

The American doctrine of religious liberty and separation of church and state began as a good attempt to mark out the boundaries of the secular and the religious and allow each to flourish on its own. Yet it seems to me that this is, at best, an unequal yoking. Much ground that at other times in history and in other places was under the domain of the religious has since been claimed by the state. There may be a wall of separation between the church and the state, but it is the latter that holds the building permit and wields the power to change its boundaries.

Easter Service Recommendations

Easter is less than a week away. As we ponder Christ being welcomed into Jerusalem as a king, only to be put to death less than a week later, we’re going to be thinking about how to celebrate Easter, if we haven’t already.

Easter is the most important holiday in the Christian year – it’s the chief day we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. But, in the middle of the semester, and with only a three day weekend, it can be hard for those who aren’t from Texas to make it home to spend this day with their families (perhaps Trinity should give us more time off for Easter next year). For those of you who aren’t able to make it home for Easter, or are choosing to stay for another reason, I asked our staff and friends of our staff to write short descriptions of just a few of their Churches and what they’re doing for Easter. If you don’t know where you’re going yet, we hope this list can help you!

St. Anastasia the Great Martyr Byzantine Catholic Community – Luke Ayers

St. Anastasia is a small community of Byzantine rite Catholics that meets at the old St. Stephen’s Church on South Zarzamora. Show up for Vespers and the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great on Saturday afternoon at 4pm. This is probably the most welcoming Church I’ve ever been a part of, and I’m sure you’ll feel just as home your first time as I did.”

Calvary Temple Assemblies of God – Isaiah Mitchell

“I go to Calvary Temple Assemblies of God on O’Connor Road. At 12:30, right after their morning service, they’re having an Easter picnic. Bring a lawn chair and some food and meet the friendliest people in the world.”

Our Lady of the Atonement – Angelique Lopez

I love my parish, Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church (OLA), because of the amount of reverence shown at each Mass, the beautiful architecture and imagery, and its traditional use of the Anglican rite. For Easter, OLA has something called “The Great Vigil of Easter” where the night before Easter a solemn vigil is held. The congregation lights their candles from the Paschal candle, a burning sign of the presence of the resurrected Christ. Everything is dark until the candles are lit, and it’s truly beautiful to see. The Great Vigil of Easter is perhaps the most theologically important service of the Church Year.”

One theme you might have noticed in these recommendations is that we all love the people at our Churches, and you’re sure to be welcomed there. Have a blessed Easter!

Editor’s Note: We may update this post with more staff recommendations, so check back!

Photo: Byzantine Christian icon of the Resurrection. Read about the symbolism here.

Fasting Isn’t an “If”, it’s a “When”

Christians are now fully underway in fasting before Easter. Western Christians, namely protestants and most Catholics (celebrating Easter this year on April 21) began either on Ash Wednesday on March 6, or Pure Monday, on March 4. The Orthodox, who calculate Easter according to the older, Julian calendar, began the Great Fast in earnest with Pure Monday on March 11. Whether you’ll be celebrating on April 21 or 28, we are all now fully immersed in preparation for Easter.

Fasting, and asceticism generally, are grossly misunderstood terms, not only in secular society but even among Christians. Put simply, asceticism is the practice of prayerfully denying yourself worldly pleasures so as to train yourself in resisting the empty pleasure of sin.

In the Christian tradition, there are common periods of fasting that have been observed since the earliest days of the Church. Traditionally, Christians would fast on Wednesday, because that is the day Christ was betrayed, on Friday, the day Christ died, and Saturday, the day Christ was in the tomb. Fasting prior to Easter in a longer and more rigorous way also emerged fairly early in Christian history.

Over time, other fasts emerged. Rigorous fasting was observed in the west on four sets of Ember Days throughout the years. In the Byzantine tradition, which I do my best to follow, there are also periods of fasting 40 days before Christmas, 14 days before the Dormition of Mary (August 15), and from the second Monday after Pentecost (itself 50 days after Easter) to the feast of Saints Peter and Paul (June 29).

The Coptic, Armenian, and Syriac fast traditions are also spiritually rich, and have served their faithful well for 2,000 years. But rather than going into a history of Christian asceticism, I want to encourage those Christians reading this to take up prayer, fasting and almsgiving this Lent, even if you aren’t part of a denomination that traditionally does so. Rather than avoiding Lent as “too Catholic” or legalistic, embrace this time, as an element of your shared tradition, to prepare yourself for the most important feast day in the Christian’s year: Easter.

Asceticism does not just mean fasting. Some people aren’t able to fast at all. Pregnant women, young children, the elderly and those with eating disorders will often be exhorted by their pastors not to fast, or to fast in a less difficult way than what is prescribed generally. If limiting your food is not an option, you can also also abstain from certain foods or activities. Around this time of year, it is common for many Christians to give up chocolate, sugar, alcohol or television. Some people take cold showers, exercise, or will stop listening to music in the car.

Even though we’re less than a month until Easter, you can still start doing something. I can assure you that fasting from worldly pleasures, if done prayerfully, will prepare your heart for the joyousness of the rising of Christ (and ourselves) to new life in a way you would not expect.

You might notice the qualifier I added there: prayerfully. Fasting apart from prayer is just dieting (and not very good dieting, as the strictest fasts tend to mostly be carbs) and won’t give you anything but a bad attitude and an empty stomach. If you go to Church on Sundays, excellent. Add more services throughout the week. At Trinity, that might be Catholic Student Group’s Eucharistic Adoration on Wednesdays and Fridays, or InterVarsity’s large groups on Thursdays. In the Byzantine tradition, we celebrate the Divine Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts, a special Lenten service that offers us a chance to receive our Eucharistic Lord in a more penitential way than is usually appropriate for Sunday Liturgies, which are always oriented towards Easter, even during the Great Fast.

I want to close with a final exhortation: if you’re Catholic, do more than the bare minimum this Lent. Do as much as you can do, and do it well. If you’re from a faith background that doesn’t typically fast, don’t let that stop you. Christ gave us instructions for when we fast, not if we fast. Fast, pray, and give alms.

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A final note: if you’re still confused about fasting, I highly recommend you check out this short video from Eastern Hospitality, featuring Mother Gabriella of Christ the Bridegroom Monastery and my friend Father Moses of Holy Resurrection Monastery.

Photo from the Facebook page of St. Anastasia the Great Martyr Byzantine Catholic Community of San Antonio during Lent, where the author attends Church.

CSG Hosts First Thomistic Institute Lecture

On Feb. 11, Trinity University’s Catholic Student Group (CSG) hosted Fr. Isaac Morales to give a lecture titled “What Has the Historical Jesus To Do With the Church’s Christ?”. Morales is a Catholic priest in the Dominican Order and a Biblical scholar who obtained his PhD in New Testament from Duke University.

The topic of Morales’ lecture was in response to historical studies of Jesus that sometimes lead Christians astray from their faith. In his lecture, Morales focused on explaining how learning about Jesus from a historical perspective can reveal and highlight the Christ of the Church.

Morales discussed the presuppositions in modern historical Jesus scholarship. The first presupposition arose during the Enlightenment when the idea of naturalism became popular and is the idea that miracles cannot exist and, therefore, Jesus’ miracles did not exist. Morales says this is the basis of how scholars approach Jesus today: if miracles do not happen, then the evangelists that wrote the Gospels made them up, and if the evangelists made up the miracles, they could have made up any parts of the Gospels. So, scholars take on the job of analyzing the Gospels and deciphering what actually happened and what did not.

Morales explained that people losing their faith after learning of minute discrepancies between the Gospels is a result of not taking a nuanced enough approach. For example, each of the Gospels gives an account of the Last Supper, however, each account varies just slightly from the other. Morales explained that the authors had no way to record their experiences directly, so they could only give the gist of the event. Furthermore, while recounting events, each of the four authors shapes the significance of the events. Morales suggests that we analyze and compare the specific themes, rather than the specific details.

Morales outlined the arguments we have for Jesus’ baptism by John, that Jesus has twelve disciples, that the miracles happened and Jesus’ preaching on the kingdom of God. Morales cited many Old Testament passages, the majority from the book of Isaiah, that prophesied what Jesus would do on Earth. “All of these different aspects of Jesus’s ministry – the baptism, choosing 12, the miracles, preaching about the kingdom – they all point to the fulfillment of these prophetic hopes,” said Morales.

Morales directly answered the titular question throughout his speech. “The bottom line for me is that historical Jesus studies has an important place in the intellectual life in coming to know Jesus, but it has a very limited role from the perspective of the Christian faith,” he said.

“If the Jesus of history is not something like what the Gospels say he was like, then Christianity is a sham,” Morales said. The historical Jesus serves an apologetic purpose; understanding that the Jesus of the Bible can be proven through historical scholarship is important, but for the purpose of backing up the faith that Christians already have.

Morales closed his lecture explaining that we do not encounter the Jesus of the Bible through historical reconstructions, but through “the authoritative texts written by his disciples and the sacrificial meal that he left us on the night before he was betrayed.”

Alex Jacobs, events coordinator for CSG, saw great value in the event. “Trinity can gain the understanding that an intellectual understanding of Jesus does not lead one to skepticism but rather leads them to faith,” said Jacobs.

CSG will be hosting another lecture through the Thomistic Institute with Dr. Alexander Pruss of Baylor University addressing the question “Does God exist?” The lecture is Monday, March 4 at 7 pm in Northrup Hall 040.

Photo by Maddie D’iorio.

Rethinking Sex: Catholicism, Sex, and Morality

Before I start, I would say that I am pessimistic about the prevalent cultural attitudes toward sex in America, particularly on college campuses. So, what motivated me to write this article? Primarily, a lack of articles in this space (and in Trinity University’s school newspaper) about sexual morality (although we have recently published some good pieces about love, morality, and relationships, which I recommend taking a look at) in general. Is it morally right to have premarital sex? What about gay/lesbian sex? What about using protection during sex? Should sex be seen merely as a means for pleasure?

All interesting questions, and none of which I can provide an answer to in a short article such as this one. However, I do want to discuss the problems with the current sexual climate; I write this article acknowledging that, as a self-identified libertarian and lifelong Catholic, people have a right to do what they please with their lives. But so long as I do not impose my own beliefs on others, I should be free to criticize others’ actions as immoral and wrong. That being said…

Let’s talk about sex.

To start off, I might be the worst possible person to talk about sexual morality. My own church is embroiled in a child sex abuse scandal that has spanned over the past several decades, with a new scandal involving priests and nuns emerging just last week. I unapologetically condemn these incidents and pray to God that the perpetrators are brought to justice. But this is a good springboard to talk about sexual morality, because for far too long, one of the main criticisms of Catholic morality has been the stingy criteria it places on its followers and clergy for having “acceptable” sex (or none at all).

And for that, I want to propose a new (Catholic) approach to thinking about sexual morality, but one that is inclusive enough so that everyone can take something away from it, regardless of religion. Because right now, I believe that we are in a sexual crisis. As traditional gender and sex norms have given way to “explorations” of gender and sexuality, we need to consider whether or not this “shift” has been for the better, that “shift” being the product of the sexual liberation movement spearheaded by feminists and the broader left-wing.

To be clear, I am not looking to “move backwards” or lament about “days gone by.” The only direction we can look now is forward, so that should remove any notion that I want to roll back any genuine progress we have made as a society. But I will point out that problems some might think are isolated are rather part of a larger failure of the sexual liberation movement that happened under multiple waves of feminism and a relativistic approach to gender and sexuality. Those problems range from a 40% out-of-wedlock birth rate (the bulk comprising minority groups) to the rise and growth of the “incel” (short for “involuntary celibate”) subculture.

It goes without saying that sexual freedom can have its consequences, and I do not think the way forward should be paved with irresponsibility.

I do not want to understate the severity of these problems. Children born out of wedlock are much more likely to have social and behavioral impairments, lower education and job prospects, and engage in early sexual activity. These problems are compounded when the child/children live in a single-parent home. It goes without saying that sexual freedom can have its consequences, and I do not think the way forward should be paved with irresponsibility.

On the other hand, the incel community is a hyper-misogynist online subculture whose members have at times engaged in violence in “retaliation” for their lack of sexual fortune, as is the case with Elliot Rodger, Alek Minassian, and Dimitrios Pagourtzis. There are many takeaways from studying this group, but what I understand is that these men feel an entitlement to sex, and if they do not get it, then violent retaliation is justified (which is horrifyingly celebrated within the incel community).

Of course, there are many others problems that I can discuss, like porn, the oversexualization of women, and prostitution, but for the sake of length, I want to answer the burning question in the room: what is the solution? Is there a one-size-fits-all answer to the diverse range of problems we have about sexual morality? As I have said, it is not a culture that encourages having sex with whomever you want, whenever you want. But neither is it an entitlement, where if a man fails to get sex, it is the collective fault of women and that there must be a Marxist “redistribution of women” so everyone gets their “fair share” of sex.

My solution is simple: take on responsibility. Some intellectuals have already been talking about this, so let’s build on their work and apply it to sexual ethics. Teaching people to be responsible for themselves can build self-respect. If you respect yourself, you can respect others. For those inclined to have lots of sex, being responsible will help in foreseeing potential consequences in having so much sex (like having children out of wedlock). For the “sexually challenged,” having more responsibilities can take one’s mind off constantly thinking about sex. Focusing on oneself and one’s talents will surely attract someone’s attention at some point, and people like (and love) a responsible person every now and then.

In the Catholic tradition, the act of sex is the renewal and sign of the sacrament of matrimony, the ultimate expression of giving oneself over to the other. In other words, sex is something to be cherished as gift from God, not something that is to be feared, reduced to a one-liner on a bucket list, or become an entitlement. And I fear if we do not change our attitude toward sex soon, much less have a serious conversation about it, we will continue to suffer the problems that I have outlined in this article, and then some.

Photo by Prayitno. CC BY 2.0. Flickr.

Reflections of an Atonement Alumna

The Atonement Academy, founded by Fr. Christopher G. Phillips, is a private Catholic school with Anglican roots and provides a classical education for students from Pre-K all the way up to 12th grade. Now a freshman at Trinity University, I’m proud to say that on June 2nd, 2017, I graduated from the Atonement Academy high school along with 24 of my fellow classmates.

The literal translation of the Latin phrase “alma mater” is “nourishing mother,” which is so fitting for me to call Atonement. Both the attached parish, Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church, and Atonement Academy truly did nourish me in both fides et ratio (faith and reason), in accord with the school’s motto.

As I am writing this, Valentine’s Day is drawing near and I simply could not pass up this chance to express my love and gratitude to this beautiful school. Atonement has taught me so much in academics, but even more so spiritually, and I’m extremely thankful that I chose to attend this school that brought God into every moment of my life.

I love how each class started with a prayer, and how the school brought God in not just its religion classes but even in Latin, History and Literature classes. I love how each month teachers took time out of their classes to bring my classmates and me to the Confession, and above all I love how The Atonement Academy made time for the students to go Mass every day so that we could partake in the beautiful celebration of the Eucharist—the source and summit of the Catholic life—each day and receive the sacramental graces which come with it.

And because of Atonement I can proudly say that I read, outlined, and studied the Catechism of the Catholic Church cover to cover, and that I studied and read the whole Bible in the course of one year. Because of Atonement I was able to go to the March for Life in DC, and go on a week and a half long trip in Italy and the Vatican. Because of Atonement I can proudly say that I’m a Catholic, and that I have been equipped with the tools to help me distinguish right from wrong.

I can go on forever, but in short, the Atonement Academy has taught me things that will stay with me for the rest of my life– things that will prepare me for a world full of persecution and misguidance.

During my studies there I was shown nothing but love from the staff, the parish priests and my peers, but that is not to say my time there was nothing but sunshine and rainbows.

After transferring from St. Luke’s Catholic middle school to my first year in high school at The Atonement Academy, through no fault of the school, I developed a severe social anxiety disorder. Because of this, most of my days went by with me not using my voice at all, save for a few barely audible murmurs of a “thank you” or “good morning.” I had extreme difficulty making eye-contact to where at one point it took herculean effort to simply look up at the board and stay in the classroom full of people. Eventually four hours of sleep became what I considered a decent amount of rest for one night, if I was able to even sleep at all, and this led to an even bigger can of worms– psychiatric medications, long-term depression, and eventually being hospitalized multiple times after having suicidal ideations.

These were the hardest four years of my life, yet these hardships made me love The Atonement Academy even more. Throughout every step of the way, the teachers of the Atonement Academy, most especially Mrs. Catherine Prochko, Mr. John Markovetz and Mrs. Ana Powell, were there to help me and my family and made sure that I was able to graduate; and I cannot thank them enough.

The Atonement Academy showed me nothing but love, and out of all the things I learned during my time there, above all, I was able to learn the importance of loving myself. It was here that I learned that I had to be kind to myself to be kind enough to the world.

Because of the Atonement Academy I am where I am at today. I am now a freshman at Trinity University and the president of Trinity’s pro-life group, Tigers for Life. I am now majoring in Psychology and Business Administration with the aim to be a psychotherapist for the mentally ill. I am now the owner of the best pug in the world, Nugget.

My name is Angelique Lopez, and I am a proud alumni of the Atonement Academy.

Martyr Valentinus the Presbyter of Rome

Today is Valentine’s Day, a day when couples are given special permission to be extra affectionate, guys who never buy flowers buy their wives and girlfriends two dozen roses and when many single people wonder whether next year will finally be the year they have someone for whom to buy chocolate.

Everyone knows that Feb. 14 is a holiday connected in some way to romantic love. Many will know that it has something to do with a Saint named Valentine. A small minority will have some vague idea that he was a priest who married people (or something like that). I personally credit Jason Bach Cartoons with 95% of contemporary Catholic awareness surrounding the life of the actual saint. For those of you who are (defensibly) unaware of the life of this priest, and his festal history in the past decades, allow me to provide a brief primer.

In 1969, following the Second Vatican Council, St. Valentine was removed from regular public commemoration because so little is known about his life. He most certainly existed (that’s his skull at the top there, if you were wondering), and we have records of his public veneration as early as 496, just about two centuries after he was martyred around 270.

Additionally, there were actually two saints named Valentine, both martyred around the same time, and by the same emperor. The first St. Valentine was the Bishop of Terni, Narnia, and Amelia in Italy, and is closely associated with miraculous healings. Bishop Valentine was known as a friend of young people and the sick, and was ultimately martyred for attempting to convert the Roman Emperor Claudius II.

The second St. Valentine, the priest, is where the association with romantic love comes from. The story often goes that he married Christian couples in secret, in defiance of Emperor Claudius’s orders. Once he was found out, he was also executed. Regardless of whether St. Valentine was one priest, one bishop, or two men who were priest and bishop, the association with Christian marriage is one that we should not lose sight of in our modern day celebrations.

Today, a record number of American adults—around 20%—have never been married.

Rising Share of Never-Married Adults, 1960-2012

Also today, less than half of people think society is better off if marriage and children are a priority.

Public Is Divided over Value of Marriage for Society

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic (though I don’t think I am), the family is the foundation of society, and if the family unit crumbles, the society will too. At the core of family is marriage. Thus, if marriage crumbles, so too will family, and the society as a whole will not be far behind. St. Valentine promoted marriage in the Roman empire, and he was literally killed for it. The modern United States isn’t at that point, but that doesn’t mean we should be any less forceful in our defense of sacramental marriage as an institution worth preserving and expanding.

Consider what most people in their 20s and 30s today treat marriage as, in practice. I don’t mean what they put in their vows, or what they speak of, I mean the way they act. Essentially, marriage today is what Dr. Budziszewski would call “cohabitation with formalities.” People who live together before marriage will get married, and very little will change except some rings, a big party and then a vacation. Even popular media is becoming aware of this, as Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes remarks in BBC’s Sherlock before Watson’s wedding: “Two people who currently live together are about to attend church, have a party, go on a short holiday and then carry on living together. What’s big about that?”

Marriage as a divinely instituted covenant is something that St. Valentine thought was worth dying for. Marriage is not merely a legal agreement to have a joint bank account, live together and then to possibly divide your possessions in half down the road if you decide it was a mistake. Marriage ought to be a promise before each other and before God. It is something supremely important—something capable of leading yourself, your spouse and your children to heaven. St. Valentine thought that real, sacramental marriage was worth dying for, and we should too.

In college, we are constantly bombarded with questions about our future. “What are you doing when you graduate?” “What are you majoring in?” “Where are you interning this summer?” These are all important questions, and I don’t mind answering them when my friends and family ask, but they all fail to get to the real heart of why I’m studying in college.

Every person of faith, and I daresay even the irreligious, should look to their education as primarily an instrumental good—certainly knowledge has some intrinsic value, but the primary purpose of seeking an education should be to provide a good life for our spouse and our children. You’ll notice I didn’t say “ourselves, our spouse and our children.” That was an intentional omission: the nature of love is to be self-sacrificing, and none in quite spectacular a fashion as the love that comes with marriage and raising children. I don’t have to be married or have children to see how difficult, and fulfilling, it is in the lives of those around me.

If you’re reading this and single, it may seem odd to think of something as foundational to the contemporary American experience as college as being directed towards a spouse you haven’t met and children who don’t exist yet. I don’t have any immediate plans for marriage, but I am dating, so it’s less abstract. We are all called to something in life that will help lead us and those around us to heaven. For most, that vocation is marriage. For others it’s the priesthood, monastic life or living single and in the world. If you are confident that you are called to marriage as the means to sanctify yourself, your spouse and whatever children God blesses you with, but don’t yet have the faintest idea of who that person might be, that’s OK. Pray for them, whoever they are.

Author’s Note: You might notice this is tagged “Luke’s Catholic Corner.” If you liked this (this being a distinctively Catholic take on something), leave some feedback either as a comment or using our contact form, and if it got a positive response I’ll begin writing things like this once or twice a month.

Photo by AlvfanBeem. CCO 1.0. Wikimedia Commons.

The Darsch Report: Jan. 28 – Feb. 3

Money Laundering and Russians

Court documents were released on Friday, Feb. 1 detailing a money laundering scheme of more than half a million dollars committed by a San Antonio luxury car dealer with Russian connections. Karen Mgerian, 40 — one of two men arrested in raids Thursday in which more than 100 high-end vehicles were seized — is accused of laundering $575,000 in four separate money-laundering sting transactions in 2018 with undercover IRS and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents.

Before his arrest Thursday, Mgerian was in negotiations to launder another $4.7 million for the undercover agents by selling his business, MGM Auto, to the agents in return for a 12.9 percent money laundering fee. He also admitted to undercover DEA agents that he had recently laundered $780,000 “through a real estate transaction with a California marijuana distribution organization.”

Mgerian, a naturalized US citizen who traces his roots to the countries of Georgia and Armenia, denies the allegations, according to one of his lawyers, Jay Norton. Norton and his law partner, former Bexar County district attorney Nico LaHood, jointly represent Mgerian with former federal prosecutor Mike McCrum.

From what it looks likes with what he admitted to the DEA agents, this appears to be a cut and dry case that should be resolved fairly quickly.

Texas Tax Relief

On Thursday, Jan 31, identical property tax reform bills were introduced into the Texas State House and Senate by State Rep. Dustin Burrows (R–Lubbock) and State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R–Houston). House Bill 2 and Senate Bill 2 are also part of Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen long-anticipated “big bill” on property tax reform.

Highlights from the bills include:

  1. Lower the rollback rate from 8 percent to 2.5 percent for taxing units that collect more than $15 million in tax revenues and establish election notice requirements based on whether a school district will or will not exceed a 2.5% rollback rate for Maintenance and Operation property tax.
  2. Requires an automatic tax ratification election in November if the rollback rate is exceeded in a taxing unit, and;
  3. Creates a property tax administrative advisory board that recommends improvements to the effectiveness and efficiency of the property tax system, best practices and complaint resolution procedures.

These bills are a huge step in the right direction for Texas in their effort to slow down property tax increases and provide tax relief to many across the state. Vance Ginn, Ph.D., TPPF’s senior economist and director of the Center for Economic Prosperity, stated:“This is a positive step toward providing taxpayers the support they are looking for and we are eager to work with leadership on securing the greatest relief possible.”

Texas Clergy Identifies Abusers

On Thursday, Jan 31, fourteen Texas dioceses identified 286 priests and others accused of sexually abusing children. This represents one of the largest collections of names to be released since an explosive grand jury report last year in Pennsylvania. The move by Texas Church leaders comes a month after the Illinois attorney general reported that at least 500 Catholic clergymen in that state had sexually abused children.

It is unclear whether any local prosecutors will bring up criminal charges as the majority of those identified have since died. Some investigations dated back to 1950 while other reviews, as in the case of the Diocese of Laredo, only went to 2000 because that’s when that diocese was established. Of the 286 men named in Texas, 172 are no longer alive, a percentage comparable with the national tally.

Marc Rylander, spokesman for the Texas attorney general’s office, went on record to state “Our office stands ready to assist local law enforcement and any district attorney’s office that asks for our help in dismantling this form of evil and removing the threat of those who threaten Texas children.”

With Catholic clergy and Texas law enforcement willing to work together on this issue, everything should hopefully be resolved by the end of the year. And with the Catholic Church taking a harsher stance on abuse committed by its clergy, this issue should hopefully largely disappear within the next few years.

Virginia Can’t Catch a Break

Over the past week, Virginian Democrats, and by extension Gov. Ralph Northam, have come under fire for various reasons that many have found appalling.

The first being a new bill that would allow a pregnant woman to have an abortion throughout the entire 3rd trimester. House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert asked bill sponsor Kathy Tran if this bill would allow a woman who was in active labor to request an abortion if a doctor determined that childbirth would impair her mental health. In response, Tran stated, “It would allow that, yes.”

Gov. Northam is especially under fire for what this bill allows after he made comments regarding it on a local radio on Wednesday.

“In this particular example, if a mother is in labor, I could tell you exactly what would happen: the infant would be delivered; the infant would be kept comfortable; the infant would be resuscitated, if that’s what the mother and the family desired. And then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother,” Northam said.

These statements earned Northam the ire of conservatives, moderates and liberals across the nation as he described this scenario as one of “infanticide”. But the controversy doesn’t end there.

The governor is also now facing controversy for a supposed picture of him in his medical school yearbook wearing either a KKK hood or blackface in a manner that makes it look like a minstrel show. In the 24 hours it took the news story to circulate on Friday and Saturday, Northam has gone from apologizing for his behavior when he was younger to denying that the is even in the photo.

“When I was confronted with the image, I was appalled that it appeared on my page, but I believed then and I believe now that I am not either of the people in that photograph,” he said at a news conference at the governor’s mansion.

If this photo does indeed include him, then Gov. Northam needs to resign if he wishes to save face (no pun intended) following not one but two controversies within the span of a few days.

US Economy

It was a good week for US stocks, with quite a few gains in the stock market. The Dow Jones increased to 25,063.89 on Friday, increasing by +262.47 points, or +1.06% percent over its Jan 25 close of 24,737.20. The S&P 500 increased by +39.39 points or +1.48% percent on Friday. In addition, the Nasdaq had a decreased on Friday by +1.63 percent.

In addition to this, January gave the US an excellent jobs report despite the government shutdown. In January non-farm payrolls increased by 304,000, versus the expected number of 165,000, which analysts are calling the strongest number relative to expectations they’ve seen since June 2009. The labor force participation rate also increased to 63.1%, the highest since 2013, sending unemployment to 4.0%. Wages also continue to outpace inflation with yearly growth of weekly wages reaching 3.48% while inflation continues to stay around 2.0%.

With such a strong showing in January, despite the government shutdown, the US can look forward to continued excellent growth in the economy. All Trump needs to do now is finish trade negotiations with China and the US economy will be looking at growth rivaling that of 2018.