Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Weak Eye

Joe’s recent post about a third eye reminded me of another outstanding analogy from Frank Sheed that involves vision.
We all have a secular eye and a spiritual eye. Many Catholics end up with a weak spiritual eye because they don’t know or exercise their faith.
What happens if we have one weak eye? There is lack of focus; we cannot see reality clearly. This can explain how those who are highly educated in secular things can lack spiritual common sense. We can even be educated out of our faith as the secular eye gets stronger and stronger, while the spiritual eye is ignored and grows weaker and weaker (no exercise).
Once we find that reality seems unclear, what can we do? We can either exercise the weak eye and build its strength or close it entirely and forget it. Too many Catholics opt to close the weak eye because this is the easiest way to maintain focus, the path of least resistance, the wide road. Closing one eye will cost us our depth perception, but what are we to do? Exercise is so very hard and we are so very lazy!

It’s not too early to ponder a New Year’s Resolution. Many revolve around physical fitness, which is a good thing, but try exercising that spiritual eye more often in 2012.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Third Eye

Peter Kreeft has an interesting way of explaining how we see with the eyes of faith.  He refers to seeing with our "first" eye as using our bodily senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste), seeing with our "second" eye as using our mind or our reason, and seeing with our "third" eye as using our heart.

Anyone, animals included, use the first and the second eyes to see with.  The first is simple data gathering.  There is a wall there.  There is light coming in through the cracks in the wall.  The second eye reasons.  The wall is old and must be broken to be letting in the light.  The third eye however is used only by humans.  We go beyond reason just as reason goes beyond data gathering.  The third eye will look at the same crack in the wall and see along it.  It will see the hole reveals a world outside.  That the light is coming from the sun (which cannot be seen directly via the crack) and that it indicates a way out of the room.  There is more here than what meets the eye.

This third eye is how the heart sees.  It is also referred to as seeing by faith.  Animals do not understand a book, for example.  The dog sees the page.  It sees the markings on the page.  However it does not understand that the markings point beyond themselves to concepts beyond the print.  Only human beings can make the leap from a thing to what that thing symbolizes, to what it points to.

To a materialist, science is the limit of what can be seen.  The second eye, while very powerful for understanding and connecting the physical universe, is not sufficient to understand what cannot be seen by it.  To a materialist, a marriage is a simple pair bonding wholly explained by physical interactions, hormones and mutual advantage.  There is no more because the second eye can see no more.  On the other hand, the third eye can see that a marriage points to something beyond itself.  It is a sign of the love of God in the Trinity.  It understands that a man and a woman are created to be united as one in marriage, expressed in part by the physical, but the ultimate meaning of the marriage dwarfs the mere physical.

Just as reason makes sense of the data, the heart makes sense of reason.  This is not to say the heart is irrational, but that it goes beyond the merely rational.  As Pascal puts it, "The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing."

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Sacraments Map

As Christmas approaches, we prepare for the coming of Emmanuel which means God is with us. How could the joining of the physical and the spiritual happen more profoundly than God incarnate? Catholics believe that the physical world is good, although flawed, and that God becoming man somehow elevates it to a new level; for not only had God created it, He also dwelled in it.
Stop and think about Catholicism and the use of physical things from incense for smell, art for the eyes, music for the ears, motion for the body (kneeling, genuflecting, crossing ourselves, etc.). Sacraments take this even further with the required use of corporal things like bread, wine, water, oil, touch, garments, physical speech. Catholics understand how the physical relates to the spiritual and vise versa, and how reality encompasses both. This is mirrored perfectly in the sacraments and can even be expressed as a kind of map that parallels our earthly life. God is truly “with us” all the year and all our life through the sanctifying grace of the sacraments.
 Just as we are born into physical life we are born again into the spiritual life of Christ in baptism. By the way, if you are a baptized Catholic and someone were to ask you “Are you born again?” The answer is unequivocally “Yes”. Although we can sin afterwards, Catholics are “born again” at baptism. This is the reality.
At some point in our physical life we are considered an adult by the rest of society. In the United States we are legal adults at age 18. This happens regardless of how we feel about it or how mature we may think we are. With Confirmation we are considered adults in the Church with the same basic mission to go forth and preach the good news, whether we like it or not or whether we think we are mature enough or not.
Sacraments of Vocation (Marriage, Holy Orders):
As we grow and mature we discern some duty within society; some type of job/career or perhaps raising a family. In the spiritual life there are vocations and certain sacraments to help us advance the Kingdom of God.

As we live, we continuously need physical sustenance (food/water) for our physical journey. Jesus gave himself as our spiritual food; our daily bread (body/blood) for our spiritual journey.

As we go through life we experience sickness and injury which require healing. Many never experience serious injury or disease, but no one gets through life without the slightest sniffle, cough, bruise or cut. With no healing it gets worse and worse to the point of death. What these things do to the body, sin does to the soul, thus the need for spiritual healing.

After all, we can injure our own flesh whenever we want, but to heal it we look for a doctor who has skill, training & medical authority. In the same way we are perfectly able to sin and injure our soul, but to heal it we seek the help of “another”, a spiritual doctor.

Anointing of the sick:
Our physical life eventually comes to an end, and so there is a sacrament for this as well. Although the anointing of the sick is not always administered just before death, it should be received at some point before we die.

This sketchy outline of the sacraments is very simple (almost pathetic). But like so much in this blog, what is here is only a beginning; we have the rest of our lives to draw out Truth from an inexhaustible well.
Click on the mini-map below for a larger version of The Sacraments Map & Merry Christmas from Two Catholic Men and a Blog!

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Structure of the Mass

With the recent changes to the English translation of the Mass, it is a good opportunity to talk about a diagram that I created based upon a "Mass of explanation" I saw a few years ago.  It was given by our Pastor to the second grade Religious Education children I was teaching.  I took some notes and turned it into the diagram below.

Click here for a PDF version

Here's a quick overview.   The Mass is divided into two parts: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  There are two movements within each.  In the Liturgy of the Word, we first speak to God in the Processional Hymn, the confiteor, the Gloria and the Collect.  Then God speaks to us in His Word and in the presider's Homily.   The two Liturgies are connected by the Creed.  In the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we first offer to God in the Offertory, the prayers over the Gifts and the Consecration.  Then God takes what we bring, transforms it and offers it all back to us from the Prayer after consecration, the great Amen and reception of Communion, finally sending us forth changed.

I very much liked creating this diagram because it helped me to break down the parts and find an underlying structure to the Mass.  I hope it's helpful to you too.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Two Fish

One day two fish were conversing in the ocean. The first fish said to the other “I’ve learned of something astonishing called Water. This Water is all around us, provides everything we need and we could not exist without it.” The second fish was intrigued, but skeptical and set out to learn more about this remarkable thing.
After being gone sometime, he returned to report back to the first fish. He explained, “I’ve been all over this ocean from east to west, north to south, top to bottom and I have not seen anything that remotely resembles this Water of which you speak. I’ve seen nothing that could possibly surround & support everything.” He continued, “During my long and tedious swim, I have deduced that Water is a delusion which exits only in the imagination of fish. Furthermore, belief in Water evolved as a social construct from various fish cultures to help us explain how we can swim, breath and live.” With that, the second fish swam off.
The first fish was left floating there and thought, “Wow, if a fish can’t believe in Water, how will he ever comprehend Earth, Air & Fire?”

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Aquinas Regarding Almighty

St. Thomas Aquinas falls into that category of people I like to call scary-smart”. Reading his work can result in a peculiar experience. I may read something translated to English well, using perfect grammar, and understand the meaning of each individual word, yet somehow, not understand what was said. Does Aquinas write nonsense or am I not the sharpest knife in the theological drawer? The later is much more reasonable.  Here is a case in point from the compendium to Summa Theologica:
“The more remote a potency is from act, the greater must be the power that reduces it to act.”
With help from other Catholic theologians that explain Aquinas and my blog buddy Joe, I can make sense of such a sentence. Rephrasing in more common language, it may read something like this: The less one has to make something potentially happen, the more power needed to make it actually happen. But what does this mean when contemplating ultimate things?
Analogies are most helpful………
Suppose you have a new car you wish to start. All that is needed is the key and the ability to turn the ignition; not very difficult. Now take away the gasoline. You now need the ability to get some gasoline, put in the car and then start it. More resources are needed. In a sense you might say that you need more “power”. Now take away the battery as well. You’ll need even more “power”.
The more that is taken away from the car, the more power needed to make it actually work. Taking away things to infinity becomes nothingness. Adding power to infinity becomes all powerful. If left with not a single molecule to work with (nothing), the only way you could make a car first exist and then start it, is if you had infinite power. To create from nothing, then, requires infinite power.
All of this to get one word in our Creed. The word “Almighty” is not used simply because it sounds lofty and majestic. It describes, from logical necessity, the kind of power needed to bridge an infinite gap between potency and act.
St. Thomas Aquinas
1225 - 1274