Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Rethinking WWJD

Not everything Jesus said and did was all “lovey-dovey”. Here is a different take on WWJD. It should remind us of a vice called presumption.

“Fear and hope ought never to be without one another, since fear without hope is despair and hope without fear is presumption.”
- St. Francis de Sales

Thursday, July 24, 2014

What Do You Have in Common with a French Prince?

I recently came across this story from a book called 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens. The story is about the son of King Louis XVI and was presented in the context of how having positive paradigms can bring out the best in us. The story should also remind us about why we should strive for holiness.

Born to Be King

King Louis had been taken from his throne and imprisoned. His young son, the prince, was taken by those who dethroned the king. They thought that inasmuch as the king’s son was heir to the throne, if they could destroy him morally, he would never realize the great and grand destiny that life had bestowed upon him.

They took him to a community far away, and there they exposed the lad to every filthy and vile thing that life could offer. They exposed him to foods the richness of which would quickly make him a slave to appetite. They used vile language around him constantly. They exposed him to lewd and lusting women. They exposed him to dishonor and distrust. He was surrounded 24 hours a day by everything that could drag the soul of a man as low as one could slip.

For over six months he had this treatment—but not once did the young lad buckle under pressure. Finally, after intensive temptation, they questioned him. Why had he not submitted himself to these things—why had he not partaken? These things would provide pleasure, satisfy his lusts, and were desirable; they were all his. The boy said, “I cannot do what you ask for I was born to be a king.”

One is reminded of the story of Joseph in Genesis. You’ll recall that Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers and taken to Egypt by foreigners. Still, the Lord was with Joseph and he retained his dedication to high principles through many difficult trails. As a result, he became second in command in the household of Potiphar, second only to Potiphar himself.

When Potiphar was away from his home, his wife, who lusted after Joseph, approached him and said, “Lie with me.” Joseph refused and said to her, “How, then, could I do this great wrong and sin against God?” It’s the reaction of someone who knows who he is, the son of a King (see Gen 39:7-9). Joseph continued to trust God, his King, and used his gift of interpreting dreams in a straightforward and truthful manner. He prevailed against every trail and eventually became the most powerful person in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh.

Both of these stories should remind us that we too are the children of the King of kings and should behave as such. Instead, with the demise of human character we ask, “What can I get away with?” It relates to the plague of minimalism which can affect every aspect of our lives, including our faith. It holds a premise in the form of a question, “What’s the least I need to do to get by?”

Minimalism is enemy of holiness and the first step to failure. We are to strive for holiness. This is beyond the secular moral advice of “just be nice”. It is also more than a general adherence to the 10 commandments. It is the narrow path. It is a call to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect (see Mat 5:48 & Lev 19:2). It is no easy task because it needs to be a challenge fitting for a child of a King.

"Heavenly Father, give me the courage to strive for the highest goals, to flee every temptation to be mediocre"
- Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

Stand Tall

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Temptations with Christ and Bishop Sheen

Bishop Fulton Sheen
1895 - 1979
Bishop Sheen has an illuminating way of presenting the temptations of Christ in his book A Brief Life of Christ. Here it is…in brief of course.

Each of the three temptations from Satan is related to one of three stages of a man’s life. They can surly apply to woman’s life as well, but men may relate better (just my opinion, judge for yourself).

The 1st Temptation:
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” He said in reply, “It is written: ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:1-4).

This first temptation parallels the first stage of a man’s life; his youth. I’ve heard it said (in this book, pg 55) that the portion of the brain responsible for suppressing impulses does not fully mature until the mid-twenties. In other words, the difference between a twenty-year-old and a thirty-year-old is not just ten years’ experience. The brain is physically different. If you are over thirty, think back on your own life in this light.

If cognitive reasoning skills are underdeveloped, temptations involving the flesh or physical gratification are more difficult to resist; think of a baby or small child. If you have an itch, scratch it. Why resist what comes naturally? “Just do it!” “Obey your thirst!”

It is in our youth that we must learn that our passions are not necessarily wrong, but “eating bread” without God will harm us, meaning that we should reject passions outside of God’s will, even if we must go “hungry”.

The 2nd Temptation:
Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you’ and ‘with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’” (Matthew 4:5-7)

This is a temptation of pride and egotism. The miracles of Jesus always foreshadowed greater spiritual realities and had a point. Jesus was not just showing off.  In the second temptation, it’s as if Satan is tempting Christ to clothe himself in wonders. Mankind will not accept or understand the sacrifice of a crucified God. Stick with the miracles. Fly off the temple and float around the city for a while. That will get their attention. People are bored, so be a magician. You’ll really make a name for yourself then.

And so it goes for the second stage of a man’s life. We wish to make a name for ourselves. Power and prestige set in to tempt a man to the point of narcissism. This can be seen in anything from climbing the corporate ladder to trying to impress others in church ministry, or just spending inordinate amounts of time working on “six-pack abs”. If we were somewhat successful at resisting the temptations of the flesh in our youth, Satan may say to us, “Very well, if you really trust God do something heroic. Be amazing! Make a name for yourself!”

No matter how well someone can quote scripture in a particular situation, it does not mean that he or she speaks in the spirit of Truth. Satan himself will gladly use the Word of God.

The 3rd Temptation:
Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’” (Matthew 4:8-10)

In the autumn of our lives we are drawn to possessions and the security of worldly things. We are not so comfortable with John 21:18 “…when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”

We may have avoided the traps of the flesh in youth and the snares of pride in middle age, but it’s hard to let go completely and be “lead where we do not want to go”. Excessive hording of earthly goods and money as economic security gives the illusion of control. This preoccupation will distract us from our treasure in heaven and this happens at the worst time possible, the very end of our lives.

Few believe in the devil today, and that must be just fine by him. I’d imagine he is happy to hear the news of his death. If God is existence itself and calls Himself “I am who am”, then the devil is the father of lies and must be quite happy to remain in hiding and call himself "I am who am NOT".





Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Steps to Truth Continued

The last post on this blog spoke of 10 steps to Truth, from human passion (step 1) to Catholicism (step 10). It leads with the heart in hopes that the Truth can find its way on the sometimes long & difficult journey to the head. In this post I offer 7 steps as questions to the same conclusion, but this time starting with the head, in hopes that the Truth can somehow travel to the heart.

It represents my own line of reasoning from when I started back on the journey home about 20 years ago. Although I had some sense of these steps even before that time, I could not articulate them back then, not even to myself. I can do a better job now.

Step 1: Is there a God?
All of reality can be described in terms of two parts. There are physical or material realities and there are spiritual or immaterial realities.

The Physical
It can be proven through metaphysical logic that any physical reality must trace back to a “first cause” or one unconditioned reality; one thing that needs absolutely nothing else for its own existence, not even space or time. See a formal logic proof HERE. Unless someone can show a more rational proof that shows differently, the existence of one unconditioned reality remains the most reasonable conclusion.

If you knew people who denied the existence of physical reality, you would likely note that they do not live as if they actually believe what they claim (if they are sane), which implies they don’t really believe it.
The Spiritual
For the strict materialist to be consistent in his position, he must hold that we come from nothing for the purpose of nothing. More specifically, we come from nothing intelligent for no intended purpose. The universe and everything in it is a mindless accident that happens by itself (we are “dumbly” here). It must also follow that immaterial things like morality, human rights, justice, goodness, meaning, beauty and love cannot exist objectively. The rest of us get the sense that these things exists. For instance, moral law (right vs. wrong) is real. Consider rape as a specific example. Rape is objectively wrong regardless of ANY social construct or human opinion to the contrary.

How can one “sense” something immaterial like moral law? Physical laws can help us to understand. A child playing catch with a ball can sense the existence and certainty of physical laws without any understanding of physics or any kind of science. In a parallel way we sense the existence and certainty of moral law even if we have no training in ethics, philosophy or theology. If there is a moral law that transcends us, there must be a “first cause” for it or a moral law giver. A moral law giver reasonably implies a loving personality with intelligence.

Put this idea together with the physical “first cause” above and we are close to what Catholics call God.

If you knew people who denied the existence of spiritual reality, you will likely note that they do not live as if they actually believed what they claim (if they are sane), which implies that they don’t really believe it.

Step 2: Are we separated from God?
We do not see God plainly or face to face. Catholic teaching holds that sin is what separates us from God, but this is a simple step to reason through without any special catholic teaching. If we have concluded that God must exist in step 1, observation clearly shows us that we are separated from Him somehow. We also sense that the world is not as it should be.

Step 3: Does God care?
Creators tend to care about their creations, but we might ask why God would be concerned about any separation from man and his pitiful little world. Why would He care about our needs, our sins or our non-sins? Oddly, we project negative human characteristics of pettiness, arrogance and aloofness onto God. We thus imagine Him as a consciousness that will not embrace the whole.

God has reached out to man and revealed himself publicly to both believers and non-believers when establishing the nation of Israel (The Jews). Much could be said here about covenant theology, but simply put, God reaching out to bond with man over and over again via covenants certainly implies “caring”.

Step 4: Is there a particular way back to God?
Particular problems tend to have particular solutions. I deal with analytical problem solving for a global 500 company. There is often more than one solution to a problem; more than one way to skin a cat, but when faced with a serious global problem we standardize one global solution intended for everyone experiencing the problem. It stands to reason that God would also provide a global solution intended for everyone.

Step 5: Can we know the way?
There is no point in having a way if it cannot be known. The alternative is to say there is no certainty with God.

The Jews were expecting a savior to “make things right” and God went public once again in the person of Jesus. Jesus claimed to not only know the way, but to actually be “The Way” by making himself equal to God. No other religious figure in history was so anticipated before their birth and made such radical claims of authority with the action to back it up, through many public miracles and a public resurrection with many eye witnesses. Much more could be said on this topic as it relates to salvation history. Click HERE for more.

Step 6: Did Jesus establish any particular church to guide us?
Many Christians may object to this step and say there is only the Bible to guide us, but Jesus founded a Church, not a book. The Bible is subject to human interpretation and requires a teaching authority to go with it. Jesus didn’t wait for us to invent a church of our own. Ironically for other Christians, it is the authority of the Catholic Church that certifies the authority of the Bible.


Step 7: What would His Church look like?
Jesus was concrete, historical, visible and authoritative, so it stands to reason that His Church would be the same way, and let’s not forget about four more things…

ONE: The Church is one, undivided in belief and worship. For both Catholics and non-Catholics who disagree…you believe & worship the way you want; the Church will continue to believe & worship the way God wants.

HOLY: The Church is holy because it flows from the holiness of Christ, not from the holiness of any individual members at any point in history.

CATHOLIC: The Church is catholic by its nature since catholic means universal. It is a global solution. The Church is for everyone in every nation. It would be strange if it were otherwise.

APOSTOLIC: The Church is descendent from the original apostles. Jesus authorized His apostles and they in turn authorized their own successors and this still goes on today.

It is the exception, not the rule, to find a strict materialist as described in step 1. Most people believe in a higher power of some kind, like “The Force”, but it is often a faith that is devoid of reason, which results in blind superstition. This quote I once ran across sums it all up pretty well:

“There is a widespread idea today that it does not matter what our conception of God is like; how vague it is, how confused, even how distorted. “We all worship the same God” has become almost a shrug of the shoulders, dismissing the responsibility of knowing God as he reveals himself to be, as if to know truly is no difference to us.”
– Caryll Houselander

 Click HERE for a PDF version of the flow chart below for a visual that goes with the flow above.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Answering a Sweeping Question with Dr.Kreeft

I recently ran across this comment on another blog:
“I’d like to learn more about this God. Are you suggesting that I read the Bible and follow the teachings of the Catholic Church in order to accomplish this? If so, why?”

It’s a sweeping question. Based on other comments from this person the question may have been posed more in sarcasm than sincerity, but whatever the case it certainly cuts to the chase. The question reminded me of a good answer from a book I read called “Jacobs ladder: 10 Steps to Truth” by Dr. Peter Kreeft.
Unlike aspects of this blog that tend to lead with the head in hopes that the heart will follow, Dr. Kreeft’s book seems to lead more with the heart, and the answer does not start with the Bible or the Catholic Church.  I thought I would share some notes and thoughts on this 10-step logic path in hopes that it can assist anyone with the sometimes difficult journey from the the heart to the head.

STEP 1: Passion
This is the first rung of the ladder. Humans get passionate about transcendent things like “the good”, “the beautiful” and “the true” and we all know the difference between true passion and just “interest”.

Many are passionate about morals or justice (the good). Others have their passion in art, literature (blogging?), music, dance, theater, athleticism or nature (the beautiful). Still others have a passion for technology, science, math, problem solving or discovery (the true). This is also how we know we are different than animals. Not even our closest animal relatives show evidence for having passion for “the good”, “the beautiful” and “the true”.
But passion alone can ignite anything it touches. It’s like blind power. This is why it is very dangerous to stop at step one. Adolf Hitler had passion. Imagine if his passion was driven by love instead of hate. Maybe we would be calling him Saint Hitler today.

STEP 2: Truth
If you are truly passionate, it’s not a big step to get to the second rung of the ladder and accept objective truth as something real. Holding truths to be self-evident, as the founders of this nation wrote, is different than a personal belief or opinion. If you are passionate in holding the truth that genocide is wrong, you will not accept relativistic terms like “it’s wrong for me” or “it’s wrong in our culture”. No, it is wrong…period. Just like a physical law, genocide being wrong is something universal and unchangeable.

STEP 3: Meaning
Once we consent to the existence of at least some objective truth, the acceptance of some meaning or purpose behind it all is not a far leap either. All people desire lasting happiness and the truths that we hold are meant to lead us to happiness. We use our heads and our hearts in the pursuit of that happiness that will ultimately lead us to the meaning of life.
STEP 4: Love
If we are only physical beings, then it stands to reason that only physical things are needed to keep us happy. Outward abundance and physical pleasure should satisfy us fully and bring lasting happiness, but they don’t. We seek more; we seek love and love is not the same as “good feelings”. If it were, we could say that taking drugs, which result in good feelings, is what true love is all about.

So what kind of love are we looking for? It’s unconditional, unselfish and sacrificial love. This kind of love involves more than feelings. It requires willing the good of the other, so it requires an act of the will or a choice. So love comes from an act of the will and it brings lasting happiness to everyone and is thus the meaning of life.

“If you find the meaning of life, you’ve found something more precious than the little time it took you to find it, because you’ve found the meaning of ALL your times.”
― Dr. Peter Kreeft
STEP 5: Principles (law)
Humans live in organized societies which are guided according to certain principles and those principles are reflected in the laws. If love is the meaning of life that will bring lasting happiness, then the law should be love’s servant, not love’s masters; love’s ally, not love’s enemy. Good laws would support and be consistent with the natural law of love. Bad laws would undermine love and thus be unnatural.

STEP 6: God
If there is sunlight, there must be a sun. There are always the traditional proofs for the existence of God, like how the creation proves the Creator or the design proves the Designer, but in the context of these steps God is not a far leap of faith after step 5. If one has accepted objective truth or morals that are not sourced from human opinion (step 2), then there must be a truth giver of some sort. If love is from the will and is the meaning of life (steps 3&4) there must be a first lover and a first “willer”. If there is a natural law (step 5) there must be a natural law giver.
“…they told you that love is just down here, under the clouds; so when you climb up high enough, beyond the clouds, to places you can’t see from down here, you won’t find love but something else.”
― Dr. Peter Kreeft

STEP 7: The Jews
Why doesn’t this God revel himself publicly? Well, He did, and in a big way. God revealed himself publicly to both believers and non-believers when establishing the nation of Israel. The Hebrew people were few and weak, but broke out of bondage and survived for thousands of years even with many powerful nations wanting to destroy them. They received and passed on the greatest moral code in history (10 commandments) which the world still lives by today.

They taught us that God is one, a person, a creator, eternal, perfect, faithful and loving. This notion of god or gods did not come from the Egyptians, Romans, Greeks or anyone else in history. They taught us that God loves us and wants us to love Him and each other in return. This fits with the meaning of life we concluded in step 4.

STEP 8: Christ
The Jews were expecting a savior as can be read about in the Old Testament. Other religious figures like Buddha or Mohammad were not anticipated ahead of their birth and certainly did not make the radical claims or do the radical things that Jesus did. God went public once again in the person of Jesus through many public miracles and a public resurrection with many witnesses.

Although many Jews were expecting a political savior, a savior that can free us from sin through sacrificial love makes more sense in the logic of life we are following. Sin is what separates us from God which means we are separated from the source of love. Since we are saying love is the meaning of life (step 4), it makes sense that we need to be freed from sin to travel properly from passion (step 1) all the way up to God (step 6).

STEP 9: Catholic Church
Jesus was concrete. He was historical, visible and authoritative, so it stands to reason that His Church would also be concrete, historical, visible and authoritative. He didn’t wait for us to invent a church of our own. Jesus authorized His Apostles and they in turn authorized their own successors. The two big reasons for believing the Catholic Church is to be sure to get Jesus right and to be sure to get the Bible right. Jesus founded a Church, not a book.

STEP 10: Authority
We need the authority of the Church when reason isn’t enough. Things like the Trinity or the cannon of scripture cannot come from reason alone and certainly cannot come from the Bible alone. All Church creeds are basically answers to heresies of the past.

If you reject step 10, you must water-down or completely reject step 9 and so on with the other steps, all the way back to rejecting step1,  which leaves you nowhere, and that’s where many people are today.

It is inconsistent to have…
  • Authority without a Church…or a Church without authority
  • The Church without Christ…or Christ without a Church
  • Christ without Jews…or Jews without a Christ
  • Jews without God…or God without Jews
  • God without laws…or laws without God
  • Law without love…or love without law
  • Love without meaning…or meaning without love
  • Meaning without truth…or truth without meaning
  • Truth without passion…or passion without truth

Please take the time to read and explore the 10 Steps to Truth in their totality!



Monday, June 9, 2014

Catholic Evangelization

I recently read Dr Scott Hahn's new book Evangelizing Catholics: A Mission Manual for the New Evangelization and was again swept away with his clear and accessible prose, and again by the scope of his vision.

This book describes how the Kerygmatic movement of the 1950's began a change in the Church that gained momentum in Vatican II and began to sprout through Pope St John Paul II.  The heart of this movement (as indicated by the word kerygma) is evangelization, or the proclamation of the Gospel.

Dr Hahn goes on to describe just how evangelization is carried out, both in word and in deed, emphasizing that, while a silent witness can be effective, this in no way frees Catholics from the obligation of using speech.

We are reminded that evangelization is often associated with the work of Protestant Christians, but that all Christians are expected to take part in bringing others to Christ.

This is where he brings out how Catholic evangelization differs from Protestant evangelization.  Catholic evangelization is Eucharistic.  He unpacks statements by Pope St John Paul II and Francis Cardinal George that Catholic evangelizers proclaim a "Eucharistic Christ."  In short, the simplest street corner or coffee table evangelism to bring a person to Christ is in four parts:

  1. God loves us
  2. We have sinned
  3. Christ has died and risen to save us
  4. We have to respond with faith

That may be where evangelism in practice ends.  In Protestant thought, that person is "saved" and cannot be un-saved.

Catholic evangelism, in order to be Eucharistic, must go further.  How?  This kind of evangelism is more of an ongoing and deepening relationship with Jesus.  Dr Hahn likens this process to the three-part movement towards marriage.

  1. Courtship.  In this movement, a person is introduced to the other and begins to get to know the other.  Interests are piqued and time is spent together enjoying each other's company. This is analogous to the initial evangelization where a person learns about Jesus and how Jesus wants to be part of his or her life.  The person is evangelized.
  2. Engagement.  In this movement, the person takes a step forward and declares a certain conditional exclusivity to the other.  He or she is thinking about making a commitment and really focuses on whether the other is the person with whom he or she will spend the rest of their life.  This is analogous to an RCIA program where tough questions are asked and a full understanding of the obligations and perhaps quirks of the relationship are revealed.  The person is catechized.
  3. Marriage.  In this movement, the person makes a commitment to non-conditional exclusivity with the other.  For better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death us do part.  This commitment until death is one where each person lives self-sacrificially for the other.  Every day an effort must be made to deepen the understanding, trust, and mutual availability for the other.  A natural consequence of this mutual love and intimacy is the production of new life though children.  This is analogous to being sacramentally brought into the Church and sustained via the sacraments.  A natural consequence of this deepening relationship of trust of and intimacy with Jesus is evangelization.  The person is sacramentalized.

Note that the final movement is not a once-and-done event.  It is ongoing. This is how evangelization is Eucharistic, it is sacramental in that it culminates (but does not end) with the creation of a new family and new life.  This is what sacraments DO!

In a related way, the concept of this book that grabbed me by the lapels and got in my face was something that I am sure I knew, but heard so differently here. It is what it means to be "saved." The question "have you been saved?" is one many of us have been asked and is an entrée to street evangelization. This phrase is where it hit: "Salvation is more than about being forgiven."

If we are fallen people, guilty of sin and going to hell because of it, we need forgiveness. Forgiveness is the washing away of our guilt, giving us entrance into heaven, right?  Not quite. How would being forgiven give us entrance to heaven?

Dr Hahn uses an analogy. Suppose my car breaks down and my mechanic finds two problems and agrees to fix them.  Now when I go to pick up the car, I find that only one problem had been fixed. If I then go back and complain, the mechanic will apologize for the mistake and I will forgive him. However, I will NOT take him home and write him into my will and make him a part of my family!!

Salvation is nothing less than sacramental adoption into God's family.  This means that not ONLY am I forgiven, I am made an heir. (Rom 8:17)  All that God has is mine and I am unconditionally loved.  Heaven is a state where I am living as a child of God.  Where can this happen?  After I am dead?  Nope! God has ordained that this happens here on earth in his Church.  At Mass, in the Eucharist, we are taken to heaven, joined in worship and at a meal with the rest of our family, the saints living and dead. The marriage supper of the Lamb is OUR wedding feast, because it is sacramental, it is Eucharistic! 

Let the feast begin!  And bring your friends!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Let the Fire Fall!

As today is Pentecost, I thought it would be a good idea to recall the post on the Holy Spirit that I wrote last summer.   The Holy Spirit's character is viewed through the lens of "availability" as understood by theologian Khaled Anatolios.  

Take a look back here and may you have a blessed and fruitful Pentecost!