Human reason is a wonderful thing. It has helped us to engineer life-saving medicines and powerful vehicles, but human reason itself—as opposed to true, perfect reason, which includes a total knowledge of God and the universe—has its limitations. It is magnificent for taking measurements of the stars in the heavens, it is inadequate to teach us about Heaven. Reason is grounded; it is solid earth upon which to stand, which makes it sound and secure, and it is very good and useful in that way. Imagine, if you will, that human reason is an earth-bound vehicle. It is an amazing vehicle that can do great things, and carry us to places we never thought possible. It can traverse treacherous gorges, and climb to the highest heights, but it cannot fly. It can come as near to the stars as the tallest mountain, but it can reach no further. To take flight, reason needs faith. Faith gives reason wings. Faith can soar upon the winds, for it is not grounded the way reason is. That does not, however, make faith irrational, but it does need to be understood within the (rational) context of the faith-reason balance. To explore both earth and Heaven we need reason and faith working together, for neither one is sufficient on its own. Robert Sokolowski writes in his book, “The God of Faith and Reason”:
“It is natural for human reason… to come up against the world and its necessities as simply there, as the extreme margin of what can be thought. To think or believe beyond the setting of the world and its necessities should be recognized for the unusual movement that it is… it is not simply one more pace in the march of reason, or one more refinement in human self-understanding. It is a movement of a very different kind.”
Reason answers the questions of “what” and faith answers the “who.” Human reason alone is insufficient to answer the question of who God is, and therefore what we ought to believe, and how we ought to act. Even if we had a total understanding of the universe, we could still be in the dark about God, because, while study of creation gives us some clues about the Creator, it is simply insufficient to relate to Him in a substantial way (which is what He calls us to). We need both reason and faith working hand-in-hand to have a full understanding of God and the universe.
2. We need Divine Revelation
Thomas Aquinas taught that reason and faith are two ways of knowing. Stated simply, reason is informed through experience and logic, but faith (through divine revelation) is required to know the things of God. Every belief system, besides Catholicism, has at its most fundamental level an assumption that logical deductions can be trusted to draw accurate conclusions about the world. Whether it be “pure reason,” as Kant called it, or trust in “Scripture and plain reason” as Luther insisted, or reliance on deduced truths from any other thought system or holy book, all of them have at their core a faith in the sufficiency of human reason. But unless we are informed by divine revelation, there is always the possibility of information out there that has the potential to change our understanding of everything. Catholicism, being the only belief system that recognizes this, is set apart as the only truly rational belief system, because it is the only one that properly balances faith and reason.
3. Scripture Alone is Not Enough
God gave us the Bible as divine revelation, isn’t that enough? No, and here’s why: human reason is prone to error in interpretation of Scripture just as much as it is prone to error in understanding anything else. Just because something “makes sense” (via human reason) that does not make it true. Regardless of how holy a book may be, it is still subject to human interpretation, and that is always fallible.
Sacred Scripture itself teaches that the Church is “the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15) and Christ tells His disciples, well before the New Testament was written, “He who listens to you listens to me” (Luke 10: 16). For a more detailed analysis,
I recommend Robert Sungenis’ book, Not by Scripture Alone in which he, along with other leading Catholic apologists, expertly makes the case that Luther’s doctrine of “Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone as the sole authority)” is unscriptural and lacks a rational basis. In discussing the difference between material and formal sufficiency, he points out that the Catholic faith “also teaches that since the meaning of Scripture is not always clear and that sometimes a doctrine is implied rather than explicit, other things besides Scripture have been handed on to us from the apostles: things like Sacred Tradition (which is the mortar that holds the bricks together in the right order and position) and the Magisterium (which is the trowel in the hand of the Master Builder). Taken together, these three things--Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium.”
4. We need Infallible Interpretation
We not only need divine revelation, we need a source of interpretation of that revelation that we can trust absolutely. It must be infallible, for we cannot trust our own interpretation of God’s messages to us; without this, we cannot have sufficient understanding about who God is. Knowing this, the Church was instituted by Christ in Matthew 16, in which Peter made an infallible statement, Jesus appointed him to an office (referencing Isaiah 22:20 and following), and declared this to be the foundation of the Church. Divine revelation is seriously compromised, and subject to corruption without infallible interpretation.
5. Only the Catholic Church
Not only is the Catholic Church the only institution on earth that delivers God’s truth, uncorrupted, to humankind, it is the only one that even makes the claim. It is the only Church founded by Jesus Christ. This is evident in Sacred Scripture, when Christ founds the Church on St. Peter (Matthew 16: 17-19). Only the Catholic Church goes back to the time of our Savior. It was the natural successor to Judaism and its early history is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. It’s history, documents and traditions all go back to the Apostles whom Christ charged with spreading the Church throughout the world. All other Christian Churches were in some sense derived from the Catholic Church.
6. It’s either the Catholic Church, Pluralism or Skepticism
All religions of the world depend upon human reason alone to interpret holy books, or doctrines, and are therefore ultimately irrational and untrue. Atheism does the same. For this reason, there are only two alternatives to Catholicism: pluralism and radical skepticism. Catholicism employs human reason within the Magisterium or teaching authority of the Church, which Christ promised the Holy Spirit would guide (John 14:16, 26). As Jesus promised, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you [the Apostles] into all truth . ..” (John 16: 13) and the “gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16: 18). Jesus went onto assure His disciples, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” (Matthew 16: 19). St. Paul instructed the Church at Ephesus, “Make every effort to preserve the unity which has the Spirit as its origin, just as there is but one hope given all of you by your call. There is but one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God and Father of all, who is over all, and works through all, and is in all” (Ephesians 4: 2-4).
7. Pluralism and Radical Skepticism are also Irrational
Pluralism is self-defeating, for it violates the law of non-contradiction. If many conflicting truths can all be true, then how can Pluralism be true above Catholicism? One cannot make the case. Also Christ himself prayed that His Church be one in his great priestly prayer in the Gospel of John (see John 17: 11). This leaves us with only Catholicism and skepticism as rational approaches to understanding God (and therefore the world). Nor can radical skepticism—“one cannot know anything of God”—cannot claim any truth, and is therefore indefensible, and belief in it is also irrational.
Conclusion: Catholicism is the only rational system of ascertaining divine truth; any other belief system lacks both a rational basis and Scriptural support. That is, Scripture, which was written by the Church and for the Church, does not argue against itself. As the Second Vatican Council stated:
This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity. (Lumen gentium, 8).
St. Charles Borromeo and the Plague
St. Charles Borromeo was elevated to Cardinal at the age of 22 years old and was not prepared. He was not yet a priest. It was he as papal secretary of state, who did the lion’s share of the work in bringing the final sessions of the Council of Trent into session again in 1562. His older brother Federigo died during the Council and it caused him to devote himself to the religious life. He resisted all efforts for him to give up his office and marry for the interests of his family and instead was secretly ordained a priest in 1563.
After the Council he devoted himself to three monumental projects, the Catechism that incorporated the teaching of the Council of Trent and the revision of the Missal and the Breviary. He also worked on the commission for the reform of church music.
He then undertook the monumental task of reforming the Archdiocese of Milan in accordance with the decrees of Trent. He did not return to his Archdiocese in Milan until 1565 and was met with great rejoicing as the first resident archbishop in eighty years.
He gave up much of his property to the poor and lived with great mortification, all the while reforming the clergy, founding schools and the Confraternity of Christian doctrine for the children (Sunday school). He showed himself to be dedicated to a profound reformation in the interior life of the Church. He encouraged priests and religious to believe in the power of prayer and penance as a means of becoming holy. He preached to them that “souls are won on one’s knees.
In 1569 he survived an assassination attempt by member of the Order of Humilati (“a doctrinally suspect religious order”), some of whom decided they could not live with the reforms he imposed on them. It was considered a miracle that the bullet, from an arquebus, did not penetrate his vestments.
He helped to bring about a great re-conversion to the Church in Switzerland, risking his life at a time when Calvin’s version of Christianity was strong, visiting all of the Catholic cantons. When famine followed by plague struck Milan in 1576, he risked his life continually visiting the sick and the dying and his example finally led others of his clergy to follow his example.
He visited hospitals, organized penitential processions in the streets because he believed the plague was a “scourge sent by heaven” to bring the people to a spiritual reckoning so that more souls might be saved. He was convinced that the great mercy of God was evident in this crisis in which 6000 people died in two months.
In periods of plague or famine, processions, usually carrying the relics of the Blessed Virgin or a Saint, have been held and praying for relief from the calamity. One example was that of Pope Gregory the Great in 590, who organized a procession from all seven areas of Rome to come together at the Basilica of the Blessed Virgin Mary, praying for forgiveness of sins and an end to the plague. At the tomb of the former Emperor Hadrian, Pope Gregory saw a vision of St. Michael the Archangel sheathing his sword, which indicated the plague was over.
When the magistrates in Milan tried to get the Cardinal Archbishop, St. Charles, to end the processions, he was able to remind them of the effectiveness of a similar procession by Pope St. Gregory the Great. He even got the governor of the province, who had fled, to return to the city.
Later, when the people were too afraid to come out on the streets, St. Charles closed all the Churches and built altars outside them so that the faithful would have the opportunity to attend Mass even from the windows of their homes. He also initiated the practice of the forty hours devotion, displaying the Blessed Sacrament outside the Church for a period of forty hours. He asked for volunteers to help the people in the most need and donated Church tapestries to their relief. Led by St. Charles the Church he tried to feed 60,000 to 70,000 people each day, going into debt after expending his own funds to do so.
He died November 3, 1884 at the age of 46, after a lifetime of courageous good works. During his lifetime popes and sovereigns all over Europe sought his advice. Cardinal Baronius called him “a second [Saint] Ambrose, whose early death, lamented by all men, inflicted great loss on the Church.”
St. Charles pray for us, especially now during this crisis of the coronavirus.
Saint Faustina Kowalska
Maria Faustina Kowalska was born on August 25, 1905 in Glogowiez, Poland. She grew up in a poor, but religious family. Her father was a carpenter. She mserved as housekeeper in several cities before joining the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in 1925, where she was assigned duties as a cook, gardener and porter.
Despite her humble background it was soon evident that she had a rich interior life as a mystic. She regularly saw and received messages from Jesus himself. Although she confided these to her confessor Father Michał Sopoćko, who supported her, she struggled at times to know if God was really calling her to establish the new devotion of divine mercy. This was because of her profound humility and to be sure she was not being deceived by Satan. In time Jesus helped her to understand her mission and carry it out.
She recorded in her diary: “Neither graces, nor revelations, nor raptures, nor gifts granted to a soul make it perfect, but rather the intimate union of the soul with God. These gifts are merely ornaments of the soul, but constitute neither its essence nor its perfection. My sanctity and perfection consist in the close union of my will with the will of God.”
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Saint Faustina followed the instructions she received from Jesus to have a picture of Jesus painted that reflected what she saw of him in her visions. This is the Divine Mercy image shown below:
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