Tag Archives: Catholicism

An Open Letter to Penn Jillette From an Appreciative Young Catholic

Dear Mr. Jillette,

Before ever reading The Royal Road to Card Magic or learning how to do a pass, I was introduced to magic by yourself and Mr. Teller on THIS television special. Not only was I hooked on magic from then on, I also remember being impressed by your duo’s willingness to “reveal” one way in which an illusion might be done. There was an honesty in the unveiling that actually made me appreciate the piece more.

The next time I remember taking note of you was in 2003, when Showtime began airing your series, “Penn and Teller: Bullshit”. Beneath the bravado and aggressive language, I could plainly see an admirable pursuit of truth vs. the modern, selfish, emotion-based acceptance of “truthiness“.

You popped up on my radar a third time by a post on “Penn Says” about a man who gave you a Bible after a show. Though I was refreshed at your open willingness to speak of the man–whom you intrinsically disagreed with–as “kind, and nice, and sane,” I was most impacted by the following statement:

“I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize…If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life…and you think that …it’s not really worth telling…because it would make it socially awkward…how much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”

In a few, short, hastily-recorded words, you had put the impetus behind Matthew 28’s “Great Commission” into layman’s terms, all without actually believing any of it, and, yet again, I was impressed. Regardless of how vocal and sarcastic you could appear to be at times, you also seemed to possess a relatively rare docility to honesty and truth, even if it was found in a standpoint you found laughable.

Then, on March 7, you appeared in an interview with Piers Morgan and, among other things, relayed such a succinct, yet adequate, exposition of the Catholic Church’s belief in the Papacy that I had to write this letter.

Thank you, Mr. Jillette. Thank you for being the unusual type of person who realizes that you can’t truly disagree with someone until you understand their position. More specifically, thank you for being a man of such backbone and character that you will defend a tenet of the Catholic Church from misrepresentation and error, even though you disagree with said tenet.

Furthermore, thank you for seeing through the flimsy, theologically absurd belief that Christianity should bend to the whims of culture, which change by the minute and are generally dictated by the selfish desire for immediate gratification of any and all wants. If real, eternal, objective truth can be found in the Catholic Church and her members, then, as you so beautifully put it, “why would society move them?” Instead of bowing to a given population’s estimated value of the dollar, Christians are supposed to “impregnate culture and human works with a moral value” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 909). You said it best, yet again, “There’s not supposed to be modernizing, it’s supposed to be the Word of God.”

I joined the Catholic Church in 2008 after growing up in an Evangelical denomination, attending Bible College, becoming atheist, and spending a few years floundering in the choppy sea of personal opinion applied to Scripture. I found myself unable to swallow the inherent chaos which very clearly resulted from the belief that “your interpretation is as good as mine” and “if it works for you, then great!”

I came to agree that, as you put it, “if you have someone who is a conduit to God…even if you can’t understand exactly what God’s plan is…that still doesn’t mean you get to vote on what God actually believes.” It didn’t seem to me that truth, religious or otherwise, should–or could–be relegated to the anarchic realm of personal opinion. It seemed more logical and right to embrace Aquinas’ statement that “if there is anything true, there must be truth,” and then approach that truth with the beautiful philosophy of Mr. Penn Jillette and say, “You either agree or you don’t.”

There is a desperate, pressing need for more people like you to hold the line against the subversive gibberish and rhetoric of a culture which says you don’t have mean what you say or be what you are. The Church is rife with thousands who loudly profess to be Catholic and, in the same breath, unequivocally deny teachings which are intrinsic to Catholicism. Thank you for being one person who won’t stand for the paradox and contradiction.

I hope, and my heart prays, that you soon leave the ranks of those who believe “in the pope’s position more than most Catholics”, and join the merry band of actual Catholics who truly believe what the Church teaches. I desire this, not so that we have one more notch on our theological belt, but that your restless heart, starving for and relentlessly pursuing truth, may rest in the Truth that is Christ and His Church.

Thank you, again, Mr. Jillette.

Sincerely,

Nic Davidson

Davidson Family

***This open letter can also be found published at Ignitum Today***

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The Protestant Pope

When I started flight school in the fall of 2007 and, that same week, began working as the youth minister at St. Benedict’s Catholic Church in Duluth, MN, two things were true about me: I had never touched the controls of a plane and I wasn’t Catholic.  While I’m sure that’s usually the case in flight training, I’m quite sure it’s rarely the case in Catholic youth ministry.  I know that more than a few parishioners scratched or shook their heads in confusion as to why Fr. Eric made his decision.  Thankfully, he had been hired as a Catholic youth minister before he was Catholic, so he could identify well with my situation.

My two life paths at that time, aviation and considering Catholicism, looked quite the same in a lot of ways.  With flight, I’d researched a little bit and the desire and awe within had been gaining strength; with the Church, my desire for truth had been enkindled by attending a Mass out of curiosity and had developed into me reading an old copy of the Catechism at this Barnes and Noble for four hours a day, dog-earing my spot, and then hiding it behind other books until the next day because I couldn’t afford to buy it and I sure-as-heck didn’t want someone else to buy it, either.

My inaugural day immersed in both was also quite similar.  At the end of our first day of classes, the instructor showed us the sign up sheet where we could reserve our spot to be “up in the plane” within 24 hours, which my fellow students and I couldn’t believe; and, my first morning on the job, Fr. Eric proudly walked into my office and thumped a gleaming copy of the new, accepted, authoritative Catechism of the Catholic Church down in front of me, with a handwritten note inside, making it MY very own copy, which I couldn’t believe.  Now, suddenly and unbelievably, I had “slipped the surly bonds of earth” and was getting paid to study the Catholic Church!

Nic Pilot

And so the journey of learning to soar began.  Over then next few months, there were many parallels between flight and faith.  Often, I’d be studying something like the Coriolis effect or lift and how we use them to achieve flight, and I’d stumble upon CCC 354, which states, “Respect for laws inscribed in creation and the relations which derive from the nature of things is a principle of wisdom and a foundation for morality” or CCC 159, which states, “The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are.”

Not only were science and religion suddenly connected in a far deeper way, but the daily life of the Church began transforming my experiences at the yoke.  When I’d be lined up at the end of the runway, waiting for clearance, not only would there be the normal prayer that I used whenever I merged onto the freeway on my motorcycle, “Into thy hands I commend my spirit”; now, I’d also be quietly reciting a passage from Psalm 143 in the Liturgy of the Hours: “Let your good spirit guide me in ways that are level and smooth”.

However, of all the aspects of Catholicism I discovered that began to shape my life, few impacted and deepened it in a more powerful and steady way than that of Pope Benedict XVI.  My journey had been a constant process of hacking and sanding away the pile of prejudice and misconception toward Catholicism that I’d built up in my life and, along the way, two statements by Baba Bene were the most instrumental in hewing some of the largest boulders away.

First, in the forward to his book Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, Pope Benedict says that “everything depends” on “intimate friendship with Jesus”.  As a fervent Protestant Christian, having a “personal relationship with Jesus” was my eternal tag line, and seeing the Pope, leader of what I’d previously heard was the “whore of Babylon”, place such supreme importance on intimacy with Christ caused me to second-guess my  prior stance.  After all, if the mouthpiece of Catholicism thinks that all the Tradition and theology pivots and hinges on a personal relationship with Jesus, how bad could the belief system be, especially since, “It’s all about Jesus, man!” was my daily motto?

The second, more powerful, quote is the famous line from Deus Caritas Est:  “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”  When I first read those words, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  Here, in one sentence, the head of this enigmatic entity, the Catholic Church, had summed up everything I’d known about Christ.  As much as I was impressed–or nearly addicted–to the “Disneyland of Theology” I was finding in Catholicism, this one line kept coming back to me as the most complete line of apologetics for the Church I’d read so far.  I kept thinking, “Who IS this guy?  He talks like a Protestant!”

About eight months after starting my two paths of study, I’d joined the ranks of wanna-be pilots who had done their first solo flight and the ranks of the Church Militant.  Fittingly, the two were linked, yet again.  On the return trip of my solo, because of a combination of a couple of extenuating circumstances, I lost my heading, and, being that it was a small plane with no GPS, I was lost.  I had no clue which way to go.  In ground school, we were told that if you lose your way, simply locate a town, descend low enough to read the water tower, and you’ll know where you are, all of which I did.  I don’t know if I’d ever been so happy to see the town McGregor, MN!

I now knew my way home, and as I climbed back up to a comfortable level the words of our beloved B16 came to mind as clearly as if B16 was chillin’ in the control tower and talking through my headset: “a new horizon and a decisive direction”.  It was clear then, as it has been virtually every day since, that the Church, through the Sacraments, is able to bring us into the deepest possible intimacy with our Savior.  Pope Benedict, through his utmost service to the Sacrament of Holy Orders, has been the only pope I’ve known, so I guess I am a bit biased, but I don’t know if I could have dived into this Faith without his loving, Fatherly example each step of the way.

I may never meet Pope Benedict in this life.  The odds are against me getting a private audience, at this point.  And I’m pretty sure I’ll never get to sit down and watch “The Sandlot” with him, as I’ve always wished.  However, I am planning to meet him on the flip side.  I do know that his fatherhood brought me into the fullness of the family.  And I am certain that his decision to resign was done in love and wisdom, and will result in the betterment of the Church.

Thanks, prayers, and love to you, Pope Benedict XVI, my Protestant Pope.

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Peter’s Appetite and the Bread of Life

Gospel

Luke 9:11b-17

Jesus spoke to the crowds about the kingdom of God,…

As the day was drawing to a close,

the Twelve approached him and said,

“Dismiss the crowd

so that they can go to the surrounding villages and farms

and find lodging and provisions;

for we are in a deserted place here.”

He said to them, “Give them some food yourselves.”

They replied, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have,

unless we ourselves go and buy food for all these people.”

Now the men there numbered about five thousand.

Then he said to his disciples,

“Have them sit down in groups of about fifty.”

They did so and made them all sit down.

Then taking the five loaves and the two fish,

and looking up to heaven,

he said the blessing over them, broke them,

and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.

They all ate and were satisfied.

And when the leftover fragments were picked up,

they filled twelve wicker baskets.

“Dismiss the crowd so that they can…find lodging and provisions…”

As always, the disciples are thinking so practically, so pragmatically.  They realize that Christ is, indeed, worth following, worth listening to, and, quite possibly, the Messiah; but people have to eat.  It is one thing to listen to good teaching, even teaching from THE Messiah, but, as my Baptist youth minister friend says, “The brain can only handle as much as the rear can.”  If it was me in that setting, and it has been many times, I’d be thinking, “Alright.  Good teaching.  Great sermon.  I’m hungry.”  The disciples seem like the sort of people I’d get along with.  When I’m tired and hungry, I, too, would be willing to walk up to the Son of God, interrupt, and…um… “strongly suggest” that we adjourn for a while and get some Arby’s, or at least a McDouble from the dollar menu (we disciples are a cheap lot).

“Give them some food yourselves”

He’s not clueless.  He knows they don’t have any food, right?  Just in case, let’s tally it up and give him the rundown.  “Okay, here’s the deal, Jesus.  5 loaves, 2 fish.  You pick the 5 people that’ll feed.  No, Peter, you can’t have it.”  On a complete side note, I have always loved that, though there were 5,000 men present and 12 disciples of the Messiah, the ONLY person to have thought to bring extra food was a little boy.  I’d say he’s a prime biblical proof of the existence of an ancient clan of the Boy Scouts of America.

It is at this point that I see a scene in my head.  It’s speculation,  I know.  But I see it go down this way: a staredown for like thirty seconds, as Jesus thinks about how exactly to get his point across in the best way, the disciples think about finding a knife sharp enough to cut the 5 and 2 into 5,000 pieces, and Peter thinks about how good the it will all taste when he sneaks off with it in like 35 seconds.

Staring……………………..blink……………………………

staring……………………..blink……………………………

a sandal shuffles………… someone coughs……………..

blink……………………………………………………………..

Peter quietly sidles towards the Fishloavesnack© ……..

blink ………………………………. and then ………………….

“….have them sit down…”

I personally like that His first step is to get them all comfy.  Don’t leave them shifting and sweating; get ‘em in a receptive, relaxed situation.

“Then, taking the five loaves and the two fish,

and looking up to heaven,

he said the blessing over them, broken them,

and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.”

I see him wink at Peter as He steps between the man and his “precious”.  But, then, all the joking is set aside.  Christ is about to cut through the hunger, the wilderness, the confusion, the ambiguity as to what’s going on.  There, before their eyes, a minimum of 5,013 people watched as a boy’s lunch became their feast.  In a moment, the small became great.  Through Christ, aching hunger is satiated.

We don’t get the scientific narrative of how things multiplied.  We don’t get to know if baskets and hands simply began overflowing.  We don’t read how the atoms and electrons and quarks of each loaf and fish replicated.  What we DO see, un-arguably, is that normal matter (Fishloavesnack©) is played upon by a force greater than itself.

We are witnessing Christ saying, “I am not daunted by your empty bellies and thin faith.  I am not here to feed only your mortal flesh.  What I am doing here, I do to prepare you for what happens in just a few verses.  When I explain the Bread of Heaven, though you are confused, you WILL remember what I can and have done with normal bread.”

So often, it is easy for us (me) to doubt that the Eucharist is what the Church says it is.  We (I) have trouble believing that the silver dollar-sized wafer and the mild wine are, in actuality, transubstantiated.  The “source and summit” can all-too-often look stale and simple.  But the entire history of the Christian Church beckons us (me) to trust otherwise.  The gospel of Luke exhorts us to set aside what measly resources we have and trust our Savior.  His Word urges us to remember the heights and depths of the supernatural that He’s already accomplished by His suffering, death, and resurrection.  Our Lord calmly asks us, right now, wherever we are, to sit down, taste, and see that the Lord is good.

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