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Brantly Millegan Faith Formation Guest Posts Marriage Perspective from the Head Vocations

4 Reasons Getting Married and Starting a Family at Age 21 Was a Great Decision

weddingMy wife and I married the summer before our senior year of college and conceived a child just a few weeks later. On purpose. And it was one of the best decisions of our lives.

We actually sort of fell into it all. No, we’re not from a strange cult, and neither of us were pressured by our parents to do what we did (I can assure you we received opposite pressure). Not too long before, we almost certainly would have said we agreed with the conventional wisdom that marrying and starting a family while still in college was a bad idea. But then we fell in love.

The powerful winds of romantic love compelled us to get engaged with the plan to get married the summer before our senior year. But as I’ve written elsewhere, we did so with the implicit plan of contracepting (everyone does, what else would we do?). While trying to determine which kind of contraception to use, we came across Catholic arguments against it, and, to our own surprise, were convinced that the use of contraception is immoral. We were fine with natural family planning, but we were also convinced that the primary purpose of marriage is family and should only be avoided by a married couple for good reasons.

In any case, we ended up very joyfully deciding to simply be open to having kids from the beginning. If we had not planned on using contraception originally, we probably wouldn’t have gotten engaged when we did, but like I said, we sort of fell into the whole thing.

All this is to say, neither of us set out to be young married parents. But by God’s grace, I’m very proud to say that, with my 26th birthday coming up next month, we’ve been married four and a half years, we have two children, and a third one is due this summer.

And it’s been some of the best years of our lives! We don’t regret any of it but rather see all the great blessing we could have missed out on if we had followed the normal cultural path and (possibly indefinitely) postponed marriage and children.

Here is a non-exhaustive list with four reasons why it was a great decision:

1) We are getting to enjoy our sexual primes together in a healthy, fulfilling, and constructive way.

Young people have sex drives. This is a great thing! So it’s sad that our culture is basically designed to ensure one’s sexuality is frustrating, empty, and/or destructive.

Education extends far past physical maturity, making it practically difficult for people to make normal use of their sexuality by getting married and having kids. But people still have sex drives, so they fornicate, degrading themselves and using others. Despite people’s best efforts, sometimes the procreative act (surprise!) still procreates, and women get stuck raising a child with someone they don’t love or alone, or lose hope and decide the best course of action is to kill their child.

My wife and I aren’t perfect, but we’ve been blessed with the opportunity to enjoy our sexuality in a healthy, fulfilling, and constructive way. We have the security of marriage and we’re not disrupting the natural process with contraception, so we’re letting our sexuality lead to what it was meant to lead to naturally: children. And here’s the secret: it’s all very joyous, exciting, and fun.

2) We were first time parents during our physical primes.

Taking care of young children takes an incredible amount of energy, patience, and stamina – something that will only decrease as we get older. There’s a reason God made it so most people can’t conceive children after a certain age! A couple’s first child is even more work since they don’t have experience. Lord willing, we may continue to have kids, but hopefully we’ll be able to fold new children into an already formed family culture, rather than working through the initial shock as we’re entering into middle age.

3) We used our best chance to have children, and we have a greater chance for having a large family.

There are a limited number of a years that a couple can conceive a child. The longer a person waits, the more likely it is that they may become infertile before they are able to have children. By starting young, we gave ourselves the best shot at having children in the first place. And since we have many reproductive years ahead us, we at least have a chance at having a large family. If we had started ten years later, that may have not been an option even if we wanted it.

4) We have direction and responsibility.

“Adults don’t make babies, babies make adults,” the old saying goes, and there’s a lot of truth to that. Although people should obviously have a certain amount of maturity before getting married, it’s true that marriage and family have had a very positive maturing effect on us. Taking care of children is an incredibly huge responsibility, and one that can’t be compartmentalized. Raising children requires sacrifice in every area of one’s life – and that’s a good thing. That’s the paradox of love.

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Apologetics Brantly Millegan Doctrine Faith Formation Guest Posts Perspective from the Head

What Apostolic Succession Is and Why It’s Absolutely Essential

St Paul ordaining St TimothyCatholics believe that Jesus gave special authority to his Apostles to rule and guide the Church. These Apostles then ordained and passed on authority to others, called bishops (literally ‘overseers’ in Scripture, it’s the same word). These bishops have ordained and passed on authority to other bishops, and so on, all the way up to the Church’s current bishops.

This is called Apostolic Succession, and it is absolutely essential to the constitution and life of the Church. What makes a bishop a bishop is if they have been consecrated by a bishop who was consecrated a bishop, all the way back to the Apostles who received authority from Jesus. A priest is only a real priest if he has been ordained a priest by a real bishop. If there is a break at some point – if a bishop wasn’t consecrated properly, or was consecrated by a bishop who wasn’t properly consecrated himself – then the line of authority stops at that point. It only works if there is no break in the line going all the way back to Jesus, the ultimate source of all authority in the Church.

Of course, this only works if Jesus did in fact give authority to his Apostles in the first place, and if his Apostles did in fact consecrate bishops with the instructions to pass their authority on to others in perpetuity. If the idea of apostolic succession was made up at some later point, and so did not originate with Jesus, then apostolic authority and succession isn’t real.

Most Protestants deny apostolic succession exists or is necessary for the Church. But so what? Why does apostolic succession matter? Here three ways:

 

1) Doctrine: The entire basis of the bishops’ teaching authority in the Church is the apostolic authority they’ve received from apostolic succession. Christians are obliged to follow the teachings of the Magisterium (the college of bishops headed by the bishop of Rome, the Pope) not because the bishops are smart, educated, or holy (some bishops are, but certainly not all), but because they have authority that ultimately comes from Jesus to teach in the Church and definitively interpret the deposit of faith.

If the bishops are not really bishops and do not have authority from Jesus, then they are simply one voice among many – there’s no reason anyone has to listen to them any more than anyone has to listen to the opinions of other theologians or preachers. But if they do have authority from Jesus, as Catholics claim, then they really do have a special charism of the Holy Spirit to protect them from error when definitively teaching the faith, and all Christians would have a moral obligation to follow their teachings – or else be heretics.

 

2) Worship: Certain Sacraments can only be validly performed by a bishop or a priest (a priest has been ordained by a bishop and has some of the powers of a bishop). The Sacraments that can only be performed by bishops and priests are Confirmation, the Eucharist, Reconciliation, and Anointing of the Sick. Holy Orders can only be performed by a bishop. (Baptism can be performed by deacons as well under ordinary circumstances and laypeople in emergencies, and in Holy Matrimony the spouses marry each other.) So, for example, if a layperson tried to consecrate the Eucharist, nothing would happen: transubstantiation would not occur, the bread and the wine would remain simply bread and wine.

So the validity of those five Sacraments listed above rests entirely on the veracity of apostolic succession. If the priest at your parish is not really a priest (either because he wasn’t validly ordained or because apostolic succession is false), the Eucharist is just bread and wine and your sins are not being forgiven in Reconciliation. But if apostolic succession is true, and our bishops and priests are real bishops and priests with the indelible mark of Holy Orders on their souls, then those Sacraments are truly effective – and in fact, necessary to the Christian life.

 

3) Unity: Bishops not only have authority to teach and perform the Sacraments, they also have authority to govern the Church and they serve as visible markers of the Church for unity. In other words, you can know that you are fully a member of the Church is you are in communion with a bishop who is in communion with the bishop of Rome. The sin of schism is when a baptized person intentionally breaks from the bishop of Rome and the bishops in communion with him.

But again, this is only true if the bishops really are bishops and have apostolic authority from apostolic succession. If they are not, if apostolic succession is false, then there’s nothing special about them and you don’t have to follow them.

 

So you can see, if apostolic succession is false, then the Catholic Church is largely a sham and Protestants are right. Everything salient about the Catholic Church stands or falls on the reality of apostolic succession.

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Apologetics Brantly Millegan Doctrine Faith Formation Perspective from the Head Spiritual Growth

We’re Talking About Eternal Salvation Here! 3 Need-to-Know Dogmas You Never Hear About

It is said that St Francis Xavier baptized 30,000-100,000 people

A dogma is a teaching of the Church that has been proposed infallibly by the Magisterium as something that has been revealed by God. This means you are required to believe it and, if you deny it obstinately, you are a heretic, are outside of full communion with the Church, and your salvation is in jeopardy.

Even if your heresy is merely material and not formal (translation: you believe a heresy out of ignorance, not out of rebellion to the Church), in which case your salvation may not be jeopardy, heresy is still dangerous: it means you misunderstand something fundamental about the faith.

This can cause at least two problems: (1) Since all doctrine is systematic, believing one heresy will likely lead you to believe other heresies in order to be consistent. (2) Since orthopraxis (right action) is based off of orthodoxy (right belief), believing heresies can lead to sin or otherwise not living the fullness of the Christian life.

Here are three dogmas that, in my experience, many Catholics just don’t know about – and to their great loss:

1) Original Sin alone condemns a person to hell.

From the 6th Session of the Council of Florence: “We define…[that] the souls of those who depart this life in actual mortal sin, or in original sin alone, go down straightaway to hell to be punished, but with unequal pains.”

So do only people who have committed great sins and explicitly rejected God go to hell? No. Original Sin alone is enough to condemn a person to hell. And according to the Council of Trent, the stain of Original Sin is passed on by propagation: it’s a stain we have from the moment of our conception.

Baptism, or the desire thereof, applies the grace of Christ and is the only means of removing Original Sin (another dogma). This is why we baptize infants. Even though they are not capable of committing any sins personally, they have Original Sin and thus are in desperate need of the grace of Christ offered in baptism for their salvation. It’s also why many missionaries have given their lives to physically preach the Gospel to non-believers – and then baptize them.

Orthopraxis: Get baptized yourself if you aren’t already, get your children baptized, and evangelize any non-Christians you know so they can be baptized and have their Original Sin removed.

2) For those who have sinned mortally after baptism, the Sacrament of Confession, or the desire thereof, is necessary for salvation.

From the 14th Session of the Council of Trent: “[T]his sacrament of Penance is, for those who have fallen after baptism, necessary unto salvation; as baptism itself is for those who have not as yet been regenerated.”

A mortal sin is any sin that is regarding a grave matter and is carried out with both full knowledge that it is wrong and with full intentionality (not done accident). Any mortal sin, if left unforgiven before a person dies, condemns that person to hell.

Any mortal sins committed before baptism are removed at baptism (only relevant to adults being baptized, not infants). But mortal sins after baptism can only be removed with the Sacrament of Confession, or the desire to receive the Sacrament of Confession.

Since this is true for anyone who has been baptized, this is also true for Protestant Christians (who have been baptized). If you’re thinking, ‘But my Protestant friends of course don’t ever to go confession to a Catholic priest’, you are correct – it’s a problem for their spiritual life and an example of how heresy (even if held out of ignorance) can have serious ramifications. The 16th century Protestant Reformers led large groups of people out of the fullness of the Church and away from the Sacraments, and it’s a serious problem.

Orthopraxis: Go to confession regularly. Especially be sure to go if you think you’ve committed a mortal sin. Don’t put it off, it’s a serious matter. Talk to Protestant Christians you know about the faith, trying to lead them to the fullness of the faith in the Catholic Church so they can receive all of the Sacraments, including the Sacrament of Confession.

3) Subjection to the Pope is necessary for salvation.

From Pope Boniface VIII’s papal bull Unam sanctam: “[W]e declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.”

This dogma was reaffirmed by the 11th Session of the Fifth Lateran Council: “[S]ince subjection to the Roman pontiff is necessary for salvation for all Christ’s faithful, as we are taught by the testimony of both sacred scripture and the holy fathers, and as is declared by the constitution of pope Boniface VIII of happy memory, also our predecessor, which begins Unam sanctam, we therefore… renew and give our approval to that constitution.”

The technical term for rejecting the Pope is “schism”: “Schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.” (CIC 751)

The bishop of Rome is the successor of St Peter the Apostle who was made by Jesus the head of the Apostolic college. As an essential part of the Church, anyone who rejects him rejects the Church, the Body of Christ, and thus Christ himself.

Again, you may be thinking, ‘My Protestant friends don’t follow the Pope’. Yes, and it’s a problem. The Protestant leaders that led people to break off from the Pope and thus the Catholic Church in the 16th century did something objectively very evil. Many Protestants today may reject the Pope out of ignorance (though only God knows a person’s heart), nonetheless, as Christians they should be consciously subject to him – and Catholics should help them do that.

Orthopraxis: Follow the teachings of the Pope and remain engaged in a parish headed by a priest who is in communion with a bishop who is in communion with the bishop of Rome. In other words, stay in the Catholic Church and try to lead others to the fullness of the Catholic Church as well.

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Apologetics Brantly Millegan Faith Formation Guest Posts Perspective from the Head

6 Bad Arguments You’ve Of Course Never Used Before

Laugh at the stupidity, cry at the fact that these arguments are used regularly by millions of people, feel vindicated that you’ve tried to explain these logical fallacies to others – but then repent of your own intellectual sins. Most likely, everyone reading this has used several of these before.

Having spent a few years in Catholic apologetic circles and otherwise engaged in the culture wars, here are my top six favoriate bad arguments:

#6 – “I do (or someone I know does) the action you are saying is immoral, therefore it is not immoral”

You’re discussing something with a friend, and you mention that you think a particular action is immoral. Your friend responds: “Well…but I do that.” The unspoken premise is that the person (or person’s friends) are not capable of immoral acts, which is obviously false. This is also a form of intimidation, trying to make a person back down due to social pressure rather than due to the force of argument.

#5 – “Since you think what that person does is immoral, you therefore must hate that person”

Very related to #6, this seems to be based on a childish notion of love/hate. For those who propose this argument, “love” seems to mean you have good feelings about the person or think the person is a good person, and “hate” means you have bad feelings about the person and must think the person is a bad person. If you think what the person is doing is immoral, so the reasoning goes, that probably means you have bad feelings about the person and think them to be a bad person, and therefore hate them. In reality, to love is to will the good of the other (not merely that the other would have good feelings, but their actual good).

#4 – “A lot of people agree with this proposition, therefore it is true”

This is just a sophisticated version of the middle school argument “but everyone is doing it”. The number of people who agree with a proposition is irrelevant to truth or falsity of the proposition. This argument is also often used as a form of intimidation since it emphasizes that you may be in a socially weak position.

#3 – “You are wrong because you are [insert characteristic]”/”You can’t say that because you are [insert characteristic]”

Insert “white”, “black”, “male”, “female”, whatever, it doesn’t matter, this is just an old fashioned ad hominem attack – attacking the person rather than the argument. Any given argument can be articulated by any kind of person. The truth/falsity or logic of a given argument is irrelevant to who happens to be proposing it at a given time.

#2 – “You are a fundamentalist”

The term “fundamentalist” was coined by evangelical Protestants in the 20th century and meant that they wanted to return to what they believed were the fundamentals of the faith. Today, the term appears to be a derogatory term that means simply “I believe you are wrong, and you are more conservative than me”. Sometimes, it can mean “you are insisting on using logic and are showing my view to be illogical, please stop”.

#1 – “That’s just your interpretation”

This is a way for the person to try to avoid engaging what you’ve proposed. The act by which a person extracts any meaning whatsoever from a text is called interpretation. The “just” is supposed to imply that the act of interpreting somehow makes whatever you have to say irrelevant. Of course, simply pointing out that a person is interpreting is like pointing out that a person is speaking (“That’s just what you say” is actually a common variant), and obviously has no bearing on the truth or falsity of what they’ve claimed. Neither does it follow that your interlocutor can dismiss what you’ve said without argument.

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Apologetics Brantly Millegan Faith Formation Guest Posts Mary Perspective from the Head

No, We Don’t Worship Mary: What The Differences Really Are

The first rule of debate is to be sure you correctly understand the position of your interlocutor.

Any Catholic who has engaged in dialogue with Protestants knows that discussions can quickly devolve to the Protestant insisting that Catholics believe something that Catholics do not in fact believe (e.g. that we worship Mary, or other such nonsense). Such discussions can be frustrating and waste a lot of time, particularly since there are many significant areas, including ones that cut straight to the heart of the Gospel, where Catholics and most Protestant actually do disagree. Of course, Catholics can be guilty of straw manning Protestant beliefs, too, but in my personal experience it has been more likely for the Protestant to come to the conversation with confused ideas about Catholic beliefs.

In addition, probably due to the strong Protestant presence in the US combined with poor catechesis, it’s not uncommon for me to see Catholics telling Protestants that the Catholic Church agrees with Protestants on things that in fact the Catholic Church does not agree with Protestants.

Listed below are just a few examples of major areas Catholics and most Protestants don’t disagree (but that people often think they do) and then some examples of areas where Catholics and most Protestants do in fact disagree. For each, I’ve given a short description meant simply to further explain what I am referring to, but not meant to exhaustively explain the issue.

Some areas where Catholics and most Protestants do not disagree (but people often think they do):

  • Worshiping God alone. Contrary to rhetoric that is unfortunately all too common among certain groups of Protestants (but that seems to have subsided significantly in other Protestant circles), Catholics do not worship Mary, the Pope, the saints, statues, icons, rosaries, relics, or anything else other than God. We never have and certainly won’t be any time soon. Protestants who assert otherwise may simply be misinformed (it’s what they’ve been told by other Protestants they trust) or, if they continue to assert that Catholics worship anybody other than God after being repeatedly corrected, they might simply have a strong anti-Catholic bias.
  • Jesus is the one, absolutely unique, and necessary mediator between God and men. This misunderstanding is related to the first one. Any role in the life of the Church held by Mary, the saints, the clergy, etc, is not the same as, and does not replace, the unique and necessary role of Christ. Catholics and Protestants both agree with Scripture when it says “there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”. (1 Tim 2.5)
  • Grace is necessary for salvation. When they hear that Catholics reject sola fide, many Protestants assume this means that Catholics believe we don’t need Jesus but instead save ourselves. This is entirely false: it is a matter of Catholic dogma that God’s absolutely gratuitous grace that comes through the work of Christ is necessary before, during, and after every part of a person’s salvation.
  • Faith is necessary for salvation. While Catholics reject the belief that faith is, by itself, sufficient for salvation (sola fide), Catholics do agree that faith is necessary for salvation.
  • The Bible is the inspired Word of God and the final word in all it teaches. When people hear that Catholics follow Tradition, they often think this means Tradition can somehow trump Scripture. In actual fact, Catholics hold that Scripture is the inspired Word of God and therefore infallible and final in all it says. But what if Scripture and Tradition contradict? They don’t and can’t, since they both pass on the Word of God, and the Word of God can’t contradict itself.
  • Public revelation ended with the deaths of the Apostles. Lots of Protestants misunderstand what the Catholic Church means by “Tradition”, and part of the reason is because the term “Tradition” can mean different things in different contexts for Catholics. Many Protestants mistakenly think an appeal to “Tradition” is a way for Catholics to make up new things hundreds of years after Jesus and, after those things have been around a while, declare them to be a part of the Tradition, and then hold those things alongside Scripture. In fact, Catholics agree with Protestants that the deposit of faith was sealed with the death of the last Apostle. The question is how that revelation is passed on to us today. While most Protestants believe that the revelation of Christ is passed down only in Scripture, Catholics believe that revelation is passed down both in writing (Scripture) and orally (Tradition). In other words, something is only a part of “Tradition” in this sense if it originated in some way from Christ and His Apostles themselves. If a particular doctrine or practice was truly created at some later date, it is not a part of the Tradition in this sense and therefore not a part of public revelation.

Here are a few of the many significant areas where Catholics and most Protestants do disagree:

  • Sola Scriptura vs Scripture and Tradition interpreted by the Magisterium. How is the Word of God as revealed in Christ passed down to us? Many Protestants say the only way is via writing in what we call the Bible. Catholics say the Word of God has been passed down in writing (Bible) and orally (Tradition). And did Christ leave his Church with an authoritative body for interpreting the Word of God? Most Protestants say no, while Catholics say yes: Catholics believe that doctrinal disputes among Christians can be definitively settled by the bishops with the Pope or by the Pope alone.
  • Apostolic succession. Catholics believe Jesus gave the Apostles authority over the Church, and that the Apostles passed this authority onto bishops, who in turn passed on the same authority in succession down to the present episcopate, and that the bishops are an essential element of the Church. Most Protestants deny this.
  • Sola Fide vs Faith, Hope, and Love. Most Protestants believe faith alone is sufficient for a person to attain heaven. Catholics, on the other hand, believe faith must be completed by hope and love as expressed in obedience to God’s commands and a growth in holiness by God’s grace, as received primarily through the Sacraments.
  • The number, nature, and role of the sacraments. Are there seven Sacraments, as the Catholic Church holds (Baptism, Confirmation, Communion, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Marriage), or some other number, as held by most Protestants (most often two, baptism and communion)? Are the Sacraments effective (as Catholics and some Protestants hold) or only symbolic (as other Protestants hold)? And are any of the Sacraments necessary for salvation (as the Catholic Church holds) or not (as many Protestants hold)?
  • The content of the Bible. We both agree Scripture is the inspired Word of God – but what writings make up Scripture? Both Catholics and Protestants agree on the 27 books of the New Testament, but disagree on the number and versions of the books of the Old Testament.
  • Mary’s role in salvation history. The Immaculate Conception, her perpetual virginity, the Assumption, even her title Theotokos is controversial for some Protestants.

There’s plenty to debate about here. So let’s stick to the real differences.