Monday, July 23, 2012

Getting to Know Evil

I’ve been meaning to do an evil post, meaning a post about evil, not a post that is objectively evil. Regrettably, it took the horrific shootings in Colorado last week to spur me on. Studying Augustine and Aquinas helped me to understand evil better, so I thought I’d pass along some concepts that are rarely talked about, even in Catholic circles.

341 - 270 BCE
Many are familiar with what the Greek philosopher Epicurus said centuries ago:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

We wonder how a God that is all knowing, all powerful and all loving can permit evil, like what happened in CO. We conclude that there must be at least some error, weakness or indifference about God. A flawed assumption with this kind of thinking is that finite humans can fully understand perfect knowledge, perfect power and perfect love. Think of a child receiving a flu shot. Should the child conclude that the parents either do not know shots are painful, they do not have the power to stop it or they just don’t care?
St. Augustine of Hippo
354 - 430
Like us, St. Augustine had similar questions about evil before his conversion to Catholicism. He practiced Manichaeism in his younger days, which taught that there were two forces in the universe of equal power, one good and one evil. This would mean that God cannot be all powerful since there was a matching power of evil to counteract Him. Being the intellectual that he was, Augustine knew about Catholicism. He knew that Catholics taught God was all good and all things came from God. He had a question for Catholics, which we can read about in his Confessions, Book 7. The question was “From whence came evil?” If God is all good and all things come from God, where did evil come from? How could evil come into being at all?

It’s simple logic, but once again we have a bad assumption. The assumption is that evil has “being”. Catholics taught and still teach (because Truth does not change) that evil has no substance or “being”. Think of physical darkness; it has no “being”. Darkness is merely the absence of light. It doesn’t come from anywhere or find its source in anything; it is merely the lack of something. By the way, the Devil is NOT the source of evil, just like night time is NOT the source of darkness.
I'm finding this post disturbing.

After his conversion, Augustine equated evil to “disharmony”. I play some guitar and I’ve owned my current guitar for over twenty years. I can hear when it is even slightly out-of-tune, even if one string has the slightest disharmony with the other five. It may sound perfectly fine to you, but I know it can sound better. In a sense, I know my guitar’s perfection within the context of its nature. When all six strings are way out-of-tune, the guitar is gravely out of harmony with how it should be, and playing any chord would make an “evil” sound to anyone’s ears. It’s been said that without evil there would be no such thing as good. That is akin to saying without an out-of-tune guitar there would be no such thing as an in-tune guitar.

Thomas Aquinas tells us that good signifies “perfect being” and evil signifies “the privation of perfect being”, so when a thing lacks a perfection it ought to have, we perceive the deficiency as an evil. Blindness is evil for a human because a human ought to have sight. Blindness is not evil for a stone because a stone should not have sight. Also, think of a tree seedling trying to grow into as perfect of a tree as it can within its nature. Things preventing this like insects, disease, bad weather, animals or a man with an axe are evil to the tree, in the sense that they bring deficiency to it.

How does any of this help anyone? Does it take away the pain and confusion when a loved one is suddenly and senselessly taken from us? So what if evil has no “being”? So what if we understand evil better?  We can still ask, “Why does God allow the privation of goodness to happen?”
One thing I’ve learned from years of dealing with complex problems in my professional and personal life is this….The more you understand a problem, the better you can deal with it, EVEN IF you can’t necessarily solve it. And so it is with the problem of evil.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Message of Hope

The Apostolatefor Family Consecration headquartered in Bloomindale, OH is a lay apostolate dedicated to the renewal of the Church and the world through the renewal of the family. It’s a fruit of the apparitions at Fatima and the Marian spirituality of Blessed Pope John Paul II with the goal of consecrating as many families as possible to Jesus, through Mary, in union with St. Joseph. They have an audacious Message of Hope that derives from a peace plan given by Our Lady.

Setting the Stage:
One truth accepted by most everyone is that people desire happiness, and not only happiness, but lasting happiness. Everyone knows the situation of being unhappy in the midst of outward abundance. Many ask, “Why is there so much unhappiness”, “Why am I unhappy?”, “When I feel happy, why doesn’t it last? Either we seek a solution to our unhappiness or we begin to despair. A question then becomes, are we seeking a corrective solution to our unhappiness or an interim/adaptive solution, and do we know the difference?

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE: One night, in my late teens, a friend of mine showed up at our house in a very happy mood; turns out he was a wee bit drunk. He asked me, “Why can’t I feel this way all the time?” I had no answer back then, but it was first time I ever contemplated “lasting happiness”.

The Message of Hope outlines a specific 4-point plan for lasting happiness and world peace.

Point #1:
STOP SINNING!!! God is already too much offended! The first thing to understand is what the problem is. The problem is sin. Sin is the cause of unhappiness. We are prideful and distrust God. Since we distrust God, disobedience naturally follows.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE: Sin can be thought of as taking some guilty pleasure.
Q: What would be the precise opposite of taking guilty pleasure?
A: Giving – Innocent – Suffering
Who does that remind you of?

Point #2:
God’s Grace is the solution. Men seek power, possessions and pleasure as temporal (or temporary) solutions to unhappiness. God’s Grace is an eternal and simple solution to the problem of sin.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE: The solution is truly simple; think of weight loss. If you burn more calories than you take in, you will lose weight; VERY simple. What could be simpler? But how difficult it is to lose weight with our natural tendency towards fatty food, our bad habits, hunger pains and the “culture of food” we live in? So it is with sin and we need God’s Grace to overcome it.

Points 1 and 2 can be expressed in some troubleshooting language we use where I work. When taking some action on a problem, we must ascertain if we are taking action on the cause or an effect of the problem.

Ø  Action on the cause is called corrective action; it eliminates the cause.
Ø  Action on the effect is called interim or adaptive action; it limits the effect.
Ø  Problem: I have a cold
Ø  Cause: Virus
Ø  Effect: Runny nose (among other things)
v  Corrective Acton: kill virus
v  Interim or Adaptive Action: blow your nose

A troubleshooting triangle for the problem of sin looks like this:

Point #3:
We are called to holiness. How can the world receive this Grace which is also our solution? It can come through everyday people in the world. We are all called 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 (Mat 5:48 & Lev 19:2). If you think I’m OK and your OK, just read what comes after the beatitudes for a terrifying examination of conscience (Mat 5:21-48). But what practical steps can an imperfect person hope to take to ever be “holy”?

Ø  Formation: Study your faith!!! Read Two Catholic Men and a Blog.
You will NOT love a God you do not know, and you will NOT serve a God you do not love.

Ø  Sacraments: Frequent confession and reception of the Eucharist. Sin blocks God’s Grace. Even small sins begin to block the pipes through which Grace flows. Confession clears the pipes for an unhindered flow of Grace. You will receive more Grace at your next communion after confession, which will in turn allow you to make a better confession next time, which makes a better communion, which makes a better confession, and on and on. It’s an upward spiral to holiness.
Ø  Works: This is reaching out to others, evangelizing, teaching & helping. Scripture is clear; faith without works is dead (James 2:26).
Ø  Prayer: Simply put, prayer is directing one’s life toward God. Our Lady asks us to pray the Rosary daily as a way to do this.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE: This is nothing new. The early Christians were doing the four things listed above (Acts 2:42-47). Also, check out the four main sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and see how well they match.

Point #4
Consecration to Jesus through Mary. To be consecrated means to be “set apart” for a holy purpose, but why be consecrated through Mary? Prayerfully consider the following…

Ø  Mary is “full of Grace” (Luke 1:28). If the solution to our problem is Grace and Mary is full of Grace, we can deduce that Mary would be most helpful in solving our problem.
Ø  Mary’s soul magnifies the Lord (Luke 1:46). Think of a magnifying glass placed in the sun. What happens? The rays of the sun that go through the glass are concentrated and the heat & light is greatly magnified. How many ants discover this at the hands of mischievous little boys? Mary acts as the “magnifier” of God’s Grace and, once again, God’s grace is our solution. Magnifiers also work both ways. Mary will magnify our feeble efforts before God as well, if we go through her.
Ø  Jesus went through Mary as the way to reach Man. Man can go through Mary as the way to reach Jesus. The God of the universe entrusted himself to the care of Mary and Joseph. Why can’t we? What examples can you find where God can trust someone that we cannot?
Ø  Mary is the new Ark of the Covenant. Maybe someday we’ll have a separate post on the many ways the ark in the Old Testament foreshadows Mary in the New Testament, but for now, we’ll look at one way which relates to a kind of battle plan for world peace.

In coming to the promise land, the ancient Israelites were told by God to conquer the walled city of Jericho. How was this done? What was the divine battle plan? They were told by God to simply march around the city in silence for seven days with the ark. On the seventh day they were to blow their trumpets, shout aloud, and the walls would fall… that’s it. This required an audacious hope in God and the walls of Jericho did indeed fall. God wanted them to use the ark; this foreshadows how God wants us to use today’s new ark (Mary) to win world peace.

“Jericho-type” events involving Mary as the new Ark of the Covenant:
Ø  In 1984 Pope JP2 consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Within seven years the Berlin wall fell, the iron curtain collapsed, the Soviet Union dissolved and on Dec 25 1991, the Christian Russian flag was raised above the Kremlin. Not a single shot was fired!
Ø  On October 31 1942, Pope Pius XII entrusted the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary during WWII. From then on, Hitler’s army’s began suffering a series of crushing defeats on liturgical feast days.

v  Victory at Stalingrad: Feb 2, 1943 – Feast of the Presentation
v  Sicily taken: August 15, 1943 – Feast of the Assumption
v  Italy to the Allied side: September 8, 1943 – Feast of Mary’s birth
v  Allies land at Toulon: August 15, 1944 – Feast of the Assumption
v  Japan’s initial surrender ending WWII: August 15, 1945 – Feast of the Assumption (formal surrender was September 2)
What’s so special about Fatima? The Miracle of the Sun:
Ø  The Miracle of the Sun on October 13, 1917 was the greatest public miracle since the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Ø  It was foretold to happen at a specific time and place.
Ø  There were 70,000 eye witnesses.
Ø  It was documented by an atheistic press. The government in Portugal in 1917 was communist and the press was sent to show the world how nothing would happen, and how stupid the people were that stood there in the pouring rain waiting for a miracle. After the events, members of the atheistic press were among the eye witnesses.
Ø  As in the Bible, miracles are meant to get our attention and always point to a greater message. Cardinal Mario Luigi Ciappi, papal theologian for five popes, concludes that The Miracle of the Sun points to a most significant message from heaven for our time.
Mary warned in 1917 that if people continued to offend God, a war would come even worse than WWI which was already raging, and it would be preceded by “a night of unknown light”. On January 25-26, 1938 a remarkable display of light, like an aurora borealis, was visible across all of Europe and the eastern part of the United Sates.

The night of unknown light was witnessed by Adolf Hitler. Part of The Message of Hope shows an interview with Hans Dieter, Hitler’s’ personal Assistant at the time. He describes Hitler’s crazed reaction to the lights and quotes him as saying, “It means blood, blood, blood and again blood! Destruction and terrible suffering! Blood and again blood! If it has to be, then let it be now!”; soon after he started WWII. (Austria annexed into the German Third Reich March 12, 1938).

Few heeded the message in 1917 and the result was “blood and again blood”, but the Message of Hope remains. If enough people follow the 4-point plan, enough Grace will flow into the world to usher in an era of peace.
It’s not too late. The efforts of a consecrated few will offset the sins of the many

The entire Message of Hope video given by Michael O’Rourke, member of the Apostolate for Family Consecration, can be viewed HERE. Scroll down to "(3) Message of Hope video".

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A World Class Spiritual Vacation

What are you saying?!?!
A Catholic family planning a summer vacation may wonder where to go to Mass or what shrine they could visit while gone. What if your whole family vacation was something spiritual? What if you could vacation in a kingdom of sorts, but NOT a certain Magic Kingdom that may come to mind?

It’s been said that a main theme of all the teachings of Jesus is the proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom is where the King is. Jesus came to Earth to touch us, heal us and save us. The Church continues His work today in His kingdom on Earth, through graces and the sacramental life.

But what might the loyal subjects in the kingdom be like or act like. I suspect they would be EXACTLY like what you’d find at a Holy Family Fest at Catholic Familyland in Bloomingdale, OH, which is part of the Apostolate for Family Consecration. A family “camping” vacation with swimming, hiking, horseback riding, etc, but also inclusive with:

Ø  Mass available each morning in a huge auditorium with jumbo-tron screens no less!

Ø  Inspiring and encouraging talks by professional speakers after Mass for adults while the kids are out doing age appropriate activities.
Ø  EVERYTHING stops at 3pm for the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Those swimming at the pool need to stop and sit on the edge. Even the St. John the Baptist water slide shuts down!

Ø Rosary every evening at 7pm.

Ø Eucharist adoration made regularly available.

Ø  Outdoor confessions available all afternoon at Holy Family Park. Several priests sit under shady umbrellas hearing confessions for hours.
The Apostolate is dedicated to the renewal of the Church and the world through the renewal of the family. It’s a fruit of the apparitions at Fatima in 1917 and the Marian spirituality of Blessed Pope John Paul II with the goal of consecrating as many families as possible to Jesus, through Mary, in union with St. Joseph.

Yay for World Peace!
They have an audacious message of hope that is a formula for what every beauty pageant contestant seems to want,…World Peace. I’ll share my notes from this “message of hope” in my next post which elaborates about a specific problem and specific solution based on the message of Fatima. For now, I wanted to let Catholics know about this holy place.

An interesting thing happened too…
Our family was there for the June Fest. As about 500 people gathered to pray the rosary in front of a large bonfire one evening, ominous rain clouds began to gather with us. The priest leading the rosary over a PA system asked the Queen of Heaven to command her angels to hold back the rain so we could offer our beautiful evening Rosary. The clouds kept coming as we began to pray. The priest paused after the first decade, and once again asked Mary to send her angels to hold back the rain. Now small drops of rain began to fall. During the second decade the rain slowly intensified.

At this point it was decided to continue the rosary under a very large pavilion not too far away. Once we were safely under roof, the rain came down much harder. The end of the rosary completed the day’s activities and we headed back to our cottage as the rain began to slow down. Ironically, the rain did eventually stop and the sky completely cleared, but only AFTER we finished the rosary and NOT BEFORE as we had requested of Our Lady.

Shortly after we arrived at the cottage, the sky began to clear and a stunning double rainbow appeared (and there was much rejoicing). The dominant one was a full rainbow and may have been the brightest I’ve ever seen. The photos below are pale in comparison to the live view. You’ll need to imagine the center of the rainbow of course; the camera could not zoom out enough.

I saw the rainbow as a reminder from Mary to always persevere in our prayer because God wins in the end. We tend to cease praising God or are deterred in prayer because we are not answered in the way we requested. The rainbow was a reminder to me not to link our prayers to our own selfishness.