Jumping for joy: for love, for mercy, for life

Matt and Mindy Dalton

In the late spring of 1967, a single, young, energetic, smart, musical and athletic woman growing up on the East Coast found herself pregnant in her early 20s. In upstate New York she often frequented the local golf course for she enjoyed the outdoors and was an avid golfer. Out on the course she had met a 46-year-old gentleman who was married; however, his wife was at home dying of cancer.

Seemingly, now this young woman’s life was turned upside down. Her mother sent her to live with an older brother in Colorado and for the most part she lived nine months alone, carrying a baby in her womb. Her brother traveled a fair amount so she was quite isolated in a place where she basically knew no one.

How can it be that 46 years later God turned what appeared to be a tragedy into an abundance of life? That baby in the womb was Mindy, who 23 years later would marry Matt. We now have seven children, ages 4 to 21.

Mindy: I am so thankful that my birthmother chose life and through her one act of heroic courage, our entire family for generations now “jumps for joy.” One cannot even begin to imagine what my life would be if it wasn’t for the charity of my birthmother and the family that adopted me. And now as a mother myself, to experience the joy of God’s love, mercy and life through our seven children is a tremendous blessing. The accompanying photo was taken last week, when all seven gifts were home with us.

Recently I’ve been spending many hours helping my father fight through some difficult health issues. He is alone now because my mom passed away five years ago. When leaving the hospital the last visit, my dad’s eyes filled with tears, and with a lump in his throat, bloodshot eyes and his voice cracking with gratitude, said to me, “Thank God we adopted you through Catholic Charities all those years ago…” My parents had seven biological children, six boys and one girl, but they wanted their only daughter to have a sister, and so they adopted me and gave me a tremendous life.

Matt: I often contemplate the gift that Mindy, my bride, has been. She was conceived sometime in the spring of 1967 and born in February 1968. The papal encyclical of Pope Paul VI called “Humanae Vitae” (“Of Human Life”) was given to the Church on July 25, 1968. Less than five years later, the tragic law of abortion was made legal in our land on Jan. 22, 1973. Often my reflections turn to these dates and I find myself thanking God for the courage of a single young woman impregnated by a married man. Today, given the culture of death that has infiltrated our country, who knows what young women in this same predicament may do? Oh Lord Jesus, shower us here in this country with your love, mercy and life. This is why we are the Catholic Church. Through the sacraments, God is present to us every day, if we want; we have only to cooperate with all of his gifts. God—no matter where we have been or what we have done in our lives—can make all things new again, if only we turn and follow him.

 

 

COMING UP: 500 years later, who was Luther?

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Hero, villain, heretic, saint, reformer, corrupter, man of integrity, bombastic glutton. Which image of Luther should we believe? Because Luther primarily sought not to reform abuses in the Church but to reform the Church’s beliefs, Catholics cannot recognize him as a true reformer or a holy man. Nonetheless, it is widely agreed that Luther played a major role in shaping the modern world. With the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant movement he initiated approaching on October 31st, we have been given a number of new books to assess his legacy.

Paul Hacker, Luther’s Faith: Martin Luther and the Origin of Anthropocentric Religion, preface by Pope Benedict XVI (Emmaus, 2017).

Hacker’s book provides an in-depth, theological analysis of the issue that stands at the heart of the Reformation: Luther’s teaching on salvation by faith alone. Pope Benedict’s preface tells us that the Reformation dispute fundamentally concerned Luther’s “turning away from the center of the Gospel” (xxii). Emmaus released a new edition of Hacker’s book for the anniversary this year. It was published originally in 1970 (in English translation), the fruit of Hacker’s own intense study of Luther’s teaching on faith that led him into the Catholic Church from German Lutheranism.

Catholics agree with Protestants that salvation comes only through faith. The key issue of dispute, which Hacker reveals, is Luther’s subjective emphasis of absolute, personal certainty, which cannot be undermined even by serious sin. Hacker describes Luther’s faith as reflexive, that is turned back on oneself, by emphasizing subjective experience and personal surety more than anything else. He describes how Luther differs from the Catholic position: “Faith is the way to, or the perquisite of, salvation, but Luther makes it coincide with salvation itself. This becomes possible because he has first identified salvation with the consciousness of being saved or the certitude of salvation, and then he equates this consciousness with faith” (71). Hacker shows us how this view of faith negated the Church’s authority, the sacraments, and even the need to love God.

Brad Gregory, Rebel in the Ranks: Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the Conflicts that Continue to Shape Our World (HarperOne, 2017).

For those looking for a more general and accessible book, Brad Gregory gives us a broader narrative of how Luther’s troubled conscience exploded into the crisis that tore Christendom in two. The first section looks at Luther’s own story, tracing step by step his conflict with Church authority. The second section explains how Luther’s teaching spawned a multitude of new sects and divisions, all interpreting the Bible in their own fashion. Greggory explains: “What the early Reformation shows so clearly is that scripture and the Spirt can be interpreted and applied in radically divergent ways. Once the papacy and the Catholic Church are thrown off, there are no shared authorities to adjudicate disagreements” (137). The final section looks at how the Reformation set the tone for the development of a secular culture. Though not intending these consequences, Gregory argues that the Protestant Reformers “led indirectly to a profound diminishing of Christianity’s public influence in Western societies. The religious disagreements and conflicts that followed the Reformation set the stage for religion’s eventual separation from the rest of life” (2).

Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (Viking, 2017).

Metaxas, who wrote a monumental biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, provides us with a different perspective on Luther. His book seems poised to capture the largest audience for the anniversary this year. While I can’t agree with his view of Luther as a hero of faith, I can appreciate his presentation of a more sympathetic and thorough look at a man who has inspired many Protestant Christians. It is helpful to recognize why Luther is such an important figure for so many people. This book definitely provides many more details on the life of Luther (with over 450 pages). However, I would exercise caution, because it unfortunately also contains many gross misrepresentations of the state of the Church at the time of the Reformation.

For instance, even though Metaxas shows us many ways that Luther encountered the Bible in his early life, he still claims that the Bible and Church had no connection in the early 1500s and that “the study of the Bible per se was simply unheard of” (52). Luther himself was a theology professor and throughout the Middle Ages the Bible was the primary text for teaching theology. Brad Gregory makes clear in his book on Luther that there were even “twenty-two editions of the complete vernacular Bible . . . published in German . . . by 1518” (29). Metaxas presents a false picture of Catholics as ignorant, afraid to pray to Christ, and thinking they must earn their salvation through works. Good historical research could easily dispel these myths, such as the books of Eamon Duffy, but we see Protestants continue to project Luther’s own scruples (hating God and spending six hours in Confession, 47) onto the Church of his time.

Jerome K. Williams, True Reformers: Saints of the Catholic Reformation (Augustine Institute, 2017).

What could have Luther been if he had chosen faithful reform? The answer is a saint. There is no doubt that the Church was in need of serious reform in the 1500s. We have a number of great saints who show us that fidelity to God does not contradict fidelity to His Church. They stood against corruption and initiated deep and abiding reform. The Augustine Institute has release both a book and video series on true reformers, who boldly spoke out against abuses and led to a deeper realization of the truth found in the Bible, read in harmony with the Church. These figures—Teresa of Avila, Thomas More, Ignatius of Loyola, and Charles Borromeo, for instance—continue to inspire us to take up the task of genuine reform today.