We’re approaching the first anniversary of the election of Pope Francis as supreme pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. Acton President Rev. Robert A. Sirico joined host Warren Pierce on The Warren Pierce Show on WJR Radio in Detroit Sunday Morning to discuss the style, substance, and impact of Pope Francis on the Vatican as he continues to lead the church. You can listen to the interview via the audio player below.
The Holy Spirit is often described in the New Testament as a deposit, a down-payment. Thus Paul writes, “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Cor. 1:21-22).
This image is primarily a communication of comfort. What God has guaranteed he will surely reclaim in full. As Jesus says, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you may also be where I am” (John 14:2-3). This image of the Spirit as a deposit is the reason why some of these verses are my favorite Scriptures, because they resonate so closely with the identity of the Spirit as Comforter.
But this deposit is also something that God expects to be active, not passive. It is something he has entrusted to us and wants us to put to productive use. God, in this sense, expects a return on his investment in us. Like the owner in the parable of the talents, God has an ongoing interest in the deposit he has placed in us (see Luke 19:23).
We have been empowered by this Deposit to do good works, to offer up our service, our very lives, in grateful sacrifice to “him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb” (Rev. 5:13).
Praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever, to him who gave us this deposit of comfort and encouragement!
In a nation founded upon (at least in part) the ability to practice one’s religious beliefs without government interference, we Americans are in a weird spot. It seems that everywhere we turn, folks who practice their religious beliefs are under assault. Again, weird, since most of us who do practice our faith don’t try to cram it down anyone’s throat. Even groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses – well-known for their door-to-door proselytizing – are happy to step off your front porch if you aren’t interested in what they have to say. (more…)
As 2013 was coming to a close, federal courts issued rulings on three injunctions sought by religious non-profits challenging the Affordable Care Act contraceptive coverage mandate rules:
• Preliminary injunctions had been awarded in 18 of the 20 similar cases, but the 10th Circuit denied relief to the Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of Catholic nuns from Colorado. However, late in the evening on December 31, Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor issued a temporary injunction blocking enforcement, and ordered a response by the federal government by 10:00 am on Friday. Justice Sotomayor’s order applies to the nuns, the Little Sisters of the Poor, and other Catholic nonprofit groups that use the same health plan, known as the Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust.
• Earlier in December an Indiana federal district court rejected Notre Dame’s claim in University of Notre Dame v. Sebelius that its rights under Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the 1st Amendment are infringed by applying the accommodation in the final rules to its self-insured employee plan and its health insurance policies offered to students. On December 31, the 7th Circuit denied Notre Dame’s emergency motion for an injunction pending appeal, but ordered expedited briefing and oral argument.
• In Priests for Life v. U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services, the D.C. federal district ruled on December 19th that no substantial burden was placed on a pro-life group’s free exercise by requiring it to complete the self-certification form to opt into the accommodation for religious non-profits. But on December 31 the D.C. Circuit granted emergency motions for injunctions pending appeal filed by Priests for Life and by the various plaintiffs in the Catholic Archbishop of Washington case. The court also ordered the two cases consolidated for appeal.
2013 certainly had its fair share of religion in the news. Despite the fact that most major news sources know little-to-nothing about religion, they still report on it with gusto. Jeremy Lott, editor-in-chief at RealClearPolitics has put together a list of the top 14 religion news stories of the past year. (You can read them all here.)
Here are some highlights:
- The Tale of Two Popes. Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world by abdicating, and the election of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who chose the name Pope Francis, was a huge story. The fact that Pope Francis seems to have a knack for saying and doing provocative things keeps him in the headlines.
- The Final Sermon of Billy Graham. America’s preacher, now 95, gave his last sermon this year. “He warned, ‘our country’s in great need of spiritual awakening.'”
In my Christmas commentary this week, “Gratification and Civilization,” I examine the connection between making your kids wait until Christmas morning to open their presents and the development of civilization.
Self-denial and self-sacrifice form the basis of human life together. As Matthew Cochran puts it in a piece last week at The Federalist, “Civilization depends on the tendency of men to produce more than they consume for themselves.”
A key factor of driving forward the development of civilization, then, is the family unit. For Cochran rightly warns that civilization “depends on masculine ambition.” The ambition to grow a business for someone “could mean feeding himself & his workers, along with any family they might have. His ambition could be a huge boon to society. Take that away, and you have a bunch of men doing what they need to do to stay comfortable, but nothing more—nothing for any women or any increasingly hypothetical children.”
The Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck explores the link between family and civilization in his study of The Christian Family. Bavinck describes the triad of father-mother-child:
The two-in-oneness of husband and wife expands with a child into a three-in-oneness. Father, mother, and child are one soul and one flesh, expanding and unfolding the one image of God, united within threefold diversity and diverse within harmonic unity.
These relationships are of civilizational significance:
This three-in-oneness of relationships and functions, of qualities and gifts, constitutes the foundation of all of civilized society. The authority of the father, the love of the mother, and the obedience of the child form in their unity the threefold cord that binds together and sustains all relationships within human society. Within the psychological life of every integrated personality this triple cord forms the motif and melody. No man is complete without some feminine qualities, no woman is complete without some masculine qualities, and to both man and woman, the child is held up as an example (Matt. 18:3). These three characteristics and gifts are always needed in every society and in every civilization, in the church and in the state. Authority, love, and obedience are the pillars of all human society.
One can hardly discuss the family during this season of the year without also reflecting on the holy family, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Bavinck describes them as “the divine counterpart” to Adam, Eve, and their children. “The holy family is the example of the Christian home,” writes Bavinck.
And on this Christmas let us remember and be thankful for the greatest gift of all, the birth of Jesus Christ!
At last week’s Acton on Tap, I discussed the economic teachings of the Heidelberg Catechism, beginning with the divine origin of material blessings as expressed in Lord’s Day 50, which explores the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” The catechism emphasizes God as “the only source of everything good,” echoing the classical Christian understanding of God as the fons omnium bonorum, a Latin phrase meaning the font or source of all good things. This formula appears in many places, notably in the work of John Calvin.
The conclusion from such an understanding is, as the catechism puts it, that we are “to give up our trust in creatures and trust in you [God] alone.” So even though the bread we normally consume each day is brought to us by the work of others, including farmers, millers, and bakers, we are to look beyond these secondary means to the origin of all good things, giving thanks to him.
In his guide to the Heidelberg Catechism, the Rev. Cornelis Vonk provides us with a powerful image connecting the divine origins and the human means by which our material blessings normally are provided. Vonk writes,
Someone might nonetheless ask, “How can we ask the Lord for bread when it is already prepared and ready on our table?”
We see the same thing when a child takes an apple from a bowl on the table, after first asking, “Mother, may I take an apple?” The child does this even though those apples were purchased for him. But Mother is the owner. In the same way, before we enjoy a finely furnished meal, we acknowledge our heavenly Father as the owner by saying, “Please.”
The Lord’s Prayer is a way of gratefully acknowledging that God has provided for our material needs, most often through the work of our neighbors, and asking in faithfulness that such provision continue.