Monday, December 23, 2013

The St. Nicholas Cantata

St. Nicholas
270 - 343 AD
Recently, my eleven year old son was fortunate enough to participate in the children’s choir for a presentation of the St. Nicholas Cantata written by Benjamin Britten (text by Eric Crozier).

Cantata means "sung" and is derived from the Italian word "cantare”; it’s a vocal composition with an instrumental accompaniment, typically in several movements, often involving a choir. This particular performance involved a full orchestra, adult choir, children’s choir and a tenor.

This was not billed as a Christmas or Holiday concert and it was not sponsored by any church or other religious organization. It came from a state college/community music organization (DuPage Chorale) preforming in the theater of a private secular liberal arts college (North Central College).

I found it both curious and uplifting to see a secular musical ensemble loudly and shamelessly singing praises to God, and all of it happening in a secular environment.

I wanted to share some of the insightful music lyrics from the part of St. Nicholas; they read like biblical psalms. I don’t know if these are actual quotes from the saint, but I thought I’d share them nonetheless, since they seem as true today as they must have been in his time.

“Poor man! I found him solitary, racked
By doubt: born, bred, doomed to die
In everlasting fear of everlasting death:
The foolish toy of time, the darling of decay—
Hopeless, faithless, defying God.”

“O God! We are all weak sinful, foolish men.
We pray from fear and from necessity at death, in sickness or
private loss. Without the prick of fear our conscience sleeps,
forgetful of Thy Grace.
Help us, O God! to see more clearly.
Tame our stubborn hearts.
Teach us to ask for less and offer more in gratitude to Thee.
Pity our simplicity, for we are truly pitiable in Thy sight.”

Here is something to remind us of the gift of Christ at Christmas

“O man! The world is set for you as for a king!
Paradise is yours in loveliness.
The stars shine down for you, for you the angels sing,
Yet you prefer your wilderness.
You hug the rack of self,
Embrace the lash of sin,
Pour your treasures out to bribe distress.
You build your temples fair without and foul within:
You cultivate your wilderness.
Yet Christ is yours. Yours!
For you He lived and died.”
God in mercy gave His son to bless you all
To bring you life…”

If all this wasn't amazing enough for a secular event, the congregation was encouraged to sing along with the following hymn…and they did!

“All people that on earth do dwell
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice!
Him serve with fear
His praise forth tell,
come ye before Him and rejoice.

O enter then His gates with praise
Approach with joy His courts unto,
Praise, laud and bless His name always,
For it is seemly so to do.

For why? The Lord our God is good:
His mercy is for ever sure;
His truth at all times firmly stood,
And shall from age to age endure. Amen.”

The whole thing brightened my holiday season; hope it adds to yours as well, and Merry Christmas from “all of us” at Two Catholic Men and a Blog!

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Cosmos Knows Nothing

Last month, many of the daily scripture readings were from the book of Daniel. One verse in particular caught my attention because, even today, we spend much of our energy in pursuit of things which have no intelligence.


“you have rebelled against the Lord of heaven…and you praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone, that neither see nor hear nor have intelligence. But the God in whose hand is your very breath and the whole course of your life, you did not glorify.” (Daniel 5:23)
Some proudly go along living their lives with the premise that we come from nothing, are going back to nothing, all for the purpose of nothing. More simply put, we come from nothing intelligent for no intended purpose. Since intention implies intelligence, our being must be unplanned. It is curious that many of these same people are fascinated by science, and science fiction, that are full of speculations about making contact with intelligent cosmic dwellers – if only our instruments could be delicate enough or set in the right direction. We are reluctant to accept our loneliness in the universe.

Foolish humans!!!

Many atheists and agnostics can gladly agree that the known universe began some 13.7 billion years ago and they will also generally agree with the premise that every effect must have a cause, so if there was a big-bang there must also be a “big-banger”. They may even go so far as to agree that the big banger (whatever caused the big bang) must be something outside the known universe. Further still, they may consent to the metaphysical logic that demands the necessity of a “first cause”, sometimes called an uncaused cause, or prime mover, or unconditioned reality.

No matter how far causes are traced back, and no matter how much consensus there is, the consensus seems to crumble at the point of “intelligence”. For some, the universe needs to be “dumbly” there in order for it to suit their worldview. The cosmos is certainly intelligible, but there must be no intelligence behind it all. The first cause, whatever it is, can be mysterious, powerful, beautiful and mind-boggling, but it MUST also be completely mindless.
I find it superbly ironic that an intelligent discussion will diverge at the point of “intelligence”. C.S. Lewis said it intelligently (pun intended) in his book The Case for Christianity:
"Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It's like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. But if I can't trust my own thinking, of course I can't trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God."
Mindlessness does not beget mindfulness.The cosmos as cosmos knows nothing. There is a first intelligence, and it does not come from a mindless universe.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Immaculate Deception?

Here is some Catholic trivia for the feast of the Immaculate Conception. What saint wrote that the Mary was conceived WITH original sin? The answer is St. Thomas Aquinas. I did a double-take myself when I first stumbled upon it in the Compendium to Suma Theologica, chapter 224:

 “Likewise, if Mary had been conceived without original sin, she would not have had to be redeemed by Christ, and so Christ would not be the universal redeemer of men, which detracts from His dignity. Accordingly we must hold that she was conceived with original sin, but was cleansed from it in some special way.”

Could this be the beginning of a new scandal in the Church that has its roots way back in the 13th century? Is the Immaculate Conception really the Immaculate Deception? Should Catholics be mortified, crushed and shaken to their very core of their faith? No, not at all; why not? Because when someone is declared a saint, it does not mean everything he or she did, said or wrote is infallible.

How then, can we know true Christian dogma? What is the foundation for truth? Where do we turn? What do we do? We can start with the Bible, but the Bible will direct us elsewhere; it directs us to “…God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” (1Timothy 3:15 is a verse every Catholic should memorize)

The Immaculate Conception was dogmatically defined by “God’s Household” in 1854 and is one of those “thorny” teachings that non-Catholic Christians object to, and I’ll bet some Catholics object to it too. This is the teaching that Mary was spared from original sin by God. An analogy is that we all fell in a mud puddle, and God cleaned us up afterward through baptism. In Mary’s case, God saved her by not letting her enter the mud puddle to begin with. Some may say this teaching is not only unbiblical, but actually contradicts the Word of God. After all, the Bible is clear, “all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God;” (Romans 3:23), but what is clarity without perspective, and what is perspective without context.

We can't really be clear about something until it is understood in its proper context. Suppose someone said they have beheld the most beautiful eyes on a woman and then proceeded to show you her eyes in a box, would you be entranced by their beauty or be horrified? Her eyes are beautiful in the proper context of her face, not in a box.

Another way to better understand a thing is to compare it to other similar things in a similar context. Consider temperature in degrees kelvin. If I told you it is 250°K outside, what would you wear to go out? You may have no clue unless you had a relevant basis of comparison. 250°K is about -23°C, or about -10°F; not exactly flip-flop weather.
To what can we compare Romans 3:23 to get a better understanding?

How about this verse? “In Adam all have died…” (1 Cor. 15:22). In the Old Testament Enoch and Elijah did not die; they were taken up to heaven. Does this mean Paul contradicts scripture? No, this shows how “all” does not mean “every single one.” Also, if Christ never sinned, once again “all” does not really mean all. It reminds me of other generalizations like, “Everybody loves pizza”. I bet you can find at least one human on earth that does not like pizza.

Paul also says that “death came to all men, inasmuch as all sinned” in Romans 5:12. Again, this proves that “all” does not mean “every single one” because death did not spread to all men as we have already seen with Enoch and Elijah.

Here’s a doozy; “as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one;’” (Romans 3:10). Some may use this verse to show how all human beings are sinful including Mary, but the basis for the verse comes from Psalm 14:3 or Psalm 53:4. These psalms are not talking about all people being sinful. They note that among the wicked, all are sinful.

What about the words of Jesus himself? In Luke 18:19 Jesus says, “No one is good but God alone.” But then in Matthew 12:35, Jesus also says “A good person brings forth good…” So Jesus says no one is good but God, and then calls another person good. Is Jesus also contracting himself? I think not.

How do we know what’s true? The saints, as they lived on earth, were fallible humans just like you and I. The Bible alone leads to confusion alone (30,000 different Christian denominations & counting). Conscience alone leads to relativism alone. It is the spirit of truth that guides us to all truth (see John 16:13), but we cannot know the stages of guidance. Whatever the case or whatever the stage, remember to stick with God’s Household, which is the Church of the living God, and have a happy feast day!

You're kinda lost without it...

Friday, November 29, 2013

Happy Black Friday

Don’t forget to save...treasure in heaven this Christmas shopping season.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Waking Up Is Hard to Do

If you were to stumble across a motionless human body, you could determine if the body was alive via signs, like a heartbeat or breathing. Observing these signs, one could say the body is alive, but only alive in a minimal sense.  A human fully alive would have many more signs of life like dancing, playing, working, loving, learning, etc.

The same is true for waking-up. Upon observing signs like siting, walking, talking, etc. one could say a person is awake, but perhaps not fully awake, like the person not fully alive. We might experience a waking up process every morning feeling tired, slow and groggy at first, but energetic after a baptism of sorts in a hot shower.

Of course the signs are never the destination. Signs always point to something else, so the signs of being fully alive or awake point to perfect being itself. If God is perfect being itself, then the glory of God is seen in a person fully alive.

Why all this talk about waking up? I recently read Waking Up Catholic by Chad Torgerson from Assisi Media. The book is geared toward those converts, reverts, or anyone just waking up Catholic, perhaps still groggy with blurred vision under the towering sky of Catholic light. The author brings his perspective based on personal experience being first an atheist, then a non-denominational Christian and then finally waking up Catholic.

I’ve heard it said that theology is the highest science. Catholic theology is bright & beautiful, but like any high science, challenging to understand, and like any bright light, difficult to see. It’s all too easy to just turn way from a bright light or to simply mock what we do not understand. Chad’s book presents a very readable overview of the aspects of Catholicism that are thorny to non-Catholic Christians or just unknown to anyone unfamiliar with the faith.

On Sacred Tradition: Learn about tradition with a capital “T” that ultimately comes from God (not men). How important is it to understand this correctly? Well, it’s only the major dividing factor between Catholics and other Christians. Although Christ’s revelation is complete, our understanding of it continues to grow and mature through the centuries and this is where Sacred Tradition comes into play.

Examples are most helpful:
How does the Word of God come to us? How did Adam & Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac & Jacob pass on the Word of God? They had no scriptures (no Torah). It was via tradition. How did the early Christians pass on the Word of God before the New Testament was written; at Bible study? No, it was via tradition. Even today, how does the canon of the Bible come to us? It comes from Sacred Tradition. How do we know that? We know that because the Bible itself does not attest to its own canon.
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How does the teaching of the Trinity come to us? The Bible? No, it comes from Sacred Tradition. The word “Trinity” is not found in the Bible and there are verses that imply Jesus is not God. Additionally, the Holy Spirit can easily be interpreted as an allegory for the power of God, not an actual third person.

How does the teaching of marriage as one man and one woman come to us? The Bible? No, once again it comes from Sacred Tradition. There is nothing in scripture that says a man cannot have more than one wife.

On the Guardians of the Faith: Learn the truth about ministerial priesthood and other religious orders that preach and teach the gospel and serve the needy. No other Church has the rich history and long standing teachings of the Catholic Church. The gates of Hell have not prevailed thanks to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If we are the body of the Church, the guardians are surly the backbone!

On Mary and the Saints: The Catholic teachings on Mary and the saints are just as true as any other Sacred Tradition mentioned above. Learn the difference between worshiping and venerating and learn why this doesn’t need to be such a deep & complicated point of division.

On the Eucharist: Learn how this is a standing or falling point (see John 6:60 & 66). See how the author woke up to an amazing truth instead of turning away from it forever.

On Confession: Dig into the Biblical roots of Jesus passing on his authority to forgive sins on to mere men and how the earliest Christians confessed their sins to one another. Beyond this, the scriptures are clear about mortal sins (or deadly sins) and those that are not deadly. Even for those who hold tight to Bible alone theology, there is no denying the distinctions in sin and that some cannot be simply “prayed away” (see 1 John 5:16-17).

On Action: Get tips on who should evangelize, why evangelize and how to evangelize. The clergy shepherd the flock, but it’s our job to help it grow. Just as someone once planted a seed in you, you should plant a seed (or two) in others. Why? The author summed it up well. “The world is crumbing underneath the weight of selfish desires and sinful lifestyles. Now more than ever, society needs to re-embrace Christ as her Savior.”

I'm often surprised how many Catholics don't know that the word Catholic comes from the Greek word “katholikos”, which means universal, and what an appropriate word that is. To wake up Catholic is to find yourself in a universal Church that was founded for everyone. Universal, not in the sense of accepting everything, but to understand everything as God reveals it to be; to wake up to the fullness of faith; a worldwide light so bright that it reveals the grains of truth contained in everything else.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Actually, We're Not OK

We often go along and get along in our faith journeys with the “I’m OK, you’re OK" attitude,  but it benefits us now and then to pause and reflect upon things “not OK”, lest we become too comfortable. We can breakdown this “OK” and “Not OK” thing in terms of four quadrants.

Quadrant I
I’m OK, you’re OK:
This relates to the sin of presumption. God loves us just the way we are, therefore our salvation is assured, regardless of any sins or non-sins. Just do whatever you feel is right.

Quadrant II
I’m not OK, you’re OK:
This relates to false humility. True humility is submitting to the Truth. False humility involves putting oneself down. Thinking yourself stupid, worthless or beyond hope is not proper for a child of God and it offends Him, so stop it!

Quadrant III
I’m OK, you’re not OK:
This is pride mixed in with presumption; the self-defeating attitude of “everybody’s stupid, but me”.

Quadrant IV
I’m not OK, you’re not OK:
When we compare ourselves directly to the holiness of God, quadrant IV is where we encounter reality. We are all sinners.

Although we know we are not perfect, we may hear from time to time about how "good" we are. Most of us tend to follow the ten commandants, more or less, and we throw in The Golden Rule, now and then. We try to make the world a better place when it’s convenient. We volunteer, we donate to charities, we’re kind to animals, we recycle and we even practice safe-sex! If you think we’re good people who don’t do anything "bad" (we’re OK), one needs only to ponder what comes after The Sermon on the Mount in Mathew 5 to begin a terrifying examination of conscience.

If you are angry with someone, you are liable to the fires of Hell (Mat 5:22).
If you look at a woman lustfully, you have committed adultery (Mat 5:28).
Be perfect as God is perfect (Mat 5:37). To me, this verse reads more as a command than a suggestion.

Do you still think you’re in pretty good shape? I once ran across a reflection that practically sent me running off to the confessional. See if some of these might apply to you or anyone you know.

With the sin of pride we scheme to push ourselves forward with white lies, showiness, sarcasm, passive aggressiveness and exaggerations intended to show that we know more than we really do, to make us look good and others look bad. We refuse to admit our own faults; we’re stubborn and impatient with harshness of words and judgment. We have no use for human creatures that won’t or can’t see things the way we do.

Sloth relates to our negligence, gluttony, weakness of will, jealousy, discouragement, resistance to grace, omission of the good we should be doing, and an undisciplined imagination that daydreams, allowing for voluntary anxiety. We allow our imaginations to “stew”. We review again and again all that arouses our anger, sadness and melancholy. We exaggerate things in our mind in order to make our own fantasy world of misery. We make tragedy where there is none, allowing our emotions to be extreme and uncontrolled. To sum it up, we act like the spoiled children of God. We are monstrous.

God’s light shows us the many blemishes of our conduct and we get the ominous feeling that there are many more yet to be discovered. Once we see this, we no longer seek to depend upon ourselves; we seek dependence on God, but the journey is not easy.

Jesus' response to the question of salvation in Luke 13:23-24 is also sobering. “Strive to enter through the narrow gate…" He describes the gate into heaven as narrow. This means it is not easy. In order to get through a narrow gate one must be deliberate in purpose and focused. It would seem NOT to happen just by accident. He also says "...many...will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough." What does He mean by “strong enough”?  Don’t we only need to believe? I need to worry about strength? I’d rather hear the stuff about the burden being easy and the yoke being light.

All this sounds pretty discouraging; we cannot be perfect; we are not God. How can we be “strong enough”? The answer is God’s grace, and here is a plug for more frequent confession.

The sacrament of reconciliation is a channel of God’s grace in the world. Sin blocks God’s grace; even “small” sins begin to block the pipes through which grace flows. All the little sins accumulate and the clog gets worse and worse and soon you’re dried up. Confession clears the pipes and the precept of going once per year is not enough for a smooth, continuous flow. 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!

This is how we can be “strong enough”. Grace can be the grease that will help get us through the narrow gate. It gives us the strength so the burden seems easy, the yoke seems light. With grace we can begin to obey the command of Jesus to be more than just OK, we can “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”.

Go to confession!

Monday, October 28, 2013


When I hear the word fame I often think of that lyric from the 80’s Fame TV series. You remember it, “Fame, I’m gonna live forever”. There are also lyrics that speak of making it to heaven and a plea to “remember my name”. Other parts of the song just repeat the word “remember” over and over and over.

The desire for fame seems to stem from the desire for “unity”, connecting with others, wanting to be remembered and wanting to remember others, not to mention the desire for eternal life, but the logic of worldly fame rests on a fallacy. It is a very strange idea indeed that our fulfillment depends on the thoughts, opinions and applause of others. What an odd desire to want to live always in imagination of others, as if that were the only place one could at last be real.

The phenomenon of reality TV seems to be a good example of the human desire for fame gone wild. It is one of those peculiar ways in which humans are different than animals, and it isn't just a matter of spectrum. Just like “religion” and “the arts” and even wearing clothes, some things are uniquely human and separate us from animals. Consider the animal closest to us. About 96% of a chimps DNA is genetically similar to ours, but they share 0% our religions, 0% of art & music and 0% of our clothes. I wouldn't necessarily expect a 96% match in these areas, but if all we essentially are is a self-running DNA code, I would expect greater than a 0% similarity. No primitive religious rituals or sacrifices, no primeval drum beats or structured dance, no basic cave drawings or banana sculptures, not so much as a fig leaf to cover their shame, and of course, no evidence of desiring “fame”.

Desires that are uniquely human can relate to the principle that every innate desire reveals the existence of its desired object. For example, hunger indicates the existence of food, thirst indicates the existence of water, and curiosity indicates knowledge. Similarly, the desire for perfect unity, living forever and being remembered forever, indicate the real existence of such things, even the desire to worship something above nature points to the existence of something supernatural worthy of worship.

Even false religion points to the existence of true religion; consider how the existence of counterfeit money suggests the existence of real money, even if one had never seen real money.

In the self-centered attempt to make a name for ourselves, we echo the sin of the Babel Tower Builders in Genesis 11:4. They said, "Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name…" Instead of trying to make a name for yourselves, let God make your names great and “rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven." (Luke 10:20). “…and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” (Gen 12:2)

Fame allows one to be remembered after this life as a way to “live-on” indefinitely. We all want to be remembered and to remember others. It reminds me of a homily I once heard about an elderly man married for many years. He would regularly visit his wife in a nursing home. She had a severe case of advanced Alzheimer’s disease and she had no idea who he even was, but we would still come to see her anyway. Some said to the husband, “She doesn't even remember you. Why do you bother to visit her so often?” The husband answered in protest, “Because I remember her!!!”

Our desire for fame (union, eternal life, remembrance) is wasted on trying to live on in the imagination of others, but can be realized in union with God and the Eucharist can offer us the source and summit of these desires. We go to communion and think about what the word communion means; unity, intimacy, closeness. The imagery of the vine & the branches show the kind of living closeness we are talking about. Remain in Him and He will remain in you (see John 15:4-5). We all want to live forever and that is what we are offered in the Eucharist. His body and His blood as real food and real drink; real nourishment for the journey to eternal life (see John 6:53-55).

Let’s not forget about remembrance. The Eucharist is all about remembering. “Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19) We have remembered Jesus for nearly 2000 years, but we also want to be remembered and remembered forever. Instead of trying to live-on in the imagination of strangers in the fallacy of worldly fame, let’s remember His promise to remember us…“I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Mathew 28:20) Let us remember too His name as Emmanuel, God is with us. Amen.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Gregorian Chants vs. Secular Rants

It stands to reason that any secular music that openly and proudly sings the praises of mortal sin (or any sin) is something to be avoided entirely, but what of popular music whose lyrics and rhythms are seemingly harmless?

I recently finished The Seven Story Mountain by Thomas Merton; a fascinating autobiography of a man that went from Atheist to Trappist in the first half of the 20th century. The book made a brief mention of music that gave me pause. The author described the austere warmth of Gregorian Chant. He describes it as something glowing, like a living flame which draws you within yourself. Here you are lulled into a peace and recollection and where you find God. This is why some never grow tired of it. Perhaps this is also why some can’t stand it.

In sharp contrast, Merton described other types of music that seem to do the opposite. They wear you out by making cheap demands on your sensibilities, toying with your soul so to speak. Once your feelings are drawn-out in the open, the devil, together with the vulgarity of your own corrupt nature & imagination, can get at you with their blades and cut you to pieces.

Thomas Merton
Trappist Monk
1915 - 1968
This is about where I paused in the book and recalled certain songs or types of popular music that may contain nothing objectively wrong, but somehow drew me out of myself in a bad way, to a place where peace is disturbed and God is forgotten. Impetuous rhythms can take up residence in the mind without any conscious effort on our part. Vulgar or perhaps just senseless lyrics repeat in our heads over and over. This makes it all the easier to lose God, and if God is lost, what will boogie-on-in to fill the void?

Is that what a fox says? Really?
Prayer, simply put, is directing one’s life toward God and I’ve heard it said that he who sings “well” prays twice. If this is the case, perhaps he who sings “badly” directs his life away from God twice as fast as he who does not sing at all. Certainly, listening to morally neutral music is not objectively wrong, but maybe having ear buds in your head all day long is. Just like eating candy, moderation and temperance is in order with an awareness of its effects. Perhaps with music, just like with anything else, we should ask ourselves now and then, “Is this bringing me closer to union with God or further away?”

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Weedbed of Sin

I attended a Mass given by a Franciscan friar, Fr Gregory, this weekend.  His homily gave birth to this post in my head.

In my earlier post, The Flowering of Evangelization, I drew the comparison between flowers and the virtues of Faith, Hope and Love.  Faith is the root, Hope is the stem and Love is the flower.   I asserted that Faith, like a flowering plant, is reproduced in others in the flower itself.  Not via the Hope in the stem, nor in the root Faith, but via the beauty and attractiveness of the flower on top.

Fr Gregory described his encounter with a weed in an otherwise lovely garden of bushes and flowers.  The weed had the tuft of white seedlings in full bloom, ready to be scattered.  The leaves below had sharp, spiky ends that would cut if handled.   The root was a long tapper that had bored deeply into the soil.

Knowing that this weed would spread and choke out all the other plants if left untended, he reached to pull it out.  Taking hold at the top, he simply shook the spore free, causing the seeds to spread.  This would eventually cause the weed to proliferate even faster.   Taking hold at the level of the leaves, he cut his hand on the sharp spikes that surrounded the stalk.  It was very painful.  He eventually reached as far down the stalk as possible to grasp the weed at the root.  He slowly and deliberately pulled the root out of the ground, careful to not break off the least part or else it would simply grow back.

This is a lesson for us when dealing with our sins.  Unlike evangelization, eradicating sin works from the bottom up.  Simply letting the sin alone will allow the sin to take deep root in us and will proliferate at its own pace.  Even worse is to take notice of it casually and half-heartedly pull at the top (why be radical?  everyone's got a little sin, right?).  This just scatters the seeds into other areas, accelerating its spread.

We may think to take a big swipe at it all at once and grab it in the middle to pull it out.  We immediately snatch our hand away from the sin.  It's too painful!  I'm not about to do THAT again!  Better to leave it alone.

No, the best approach is to get to the root of the sin. Here, speed is the enemy and may cause the root to snap making us think we have won when there is still more to be found, later to sprout.  Dig deep and get it all!

Lessons learned:

  1. Don't ignore the sin.  It will lead to more sin.
  2. Don't play with sin.  Rationalizing that it's okay will simply spread it faster.
  3. Don't think you can quickly end sin.  It can be painful to attack it, leaving you unwilling to try again.
  4. Go for the root!  Discover the need in you that is driving the sin.  Uncover your own motivations.  How does this sin have a hold on you?  What rationalizations do you make to protect it?  Work it out slowly and carefully.
  5. Fill the empty hole.  Plant a virtue where the empty hole was.  Otherwise, a new sin will find the soil already softened and ready.

This last lesson is very important.  Once a habitual sin is defeated, it is never permanently gone.  In times of boredom or temptation, it will seek to return.  Seeds are everywhere.  You must seek to fill that time with virtuous activity.  You must always remember that you never want that sin back in your life.  You must recall the work and self-denial you put yourself through to rid your life of it.

Make sure there's no bare earth in which to grow.  Plant yourself a garden of virtues!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Not by Reason Alone

Have you ever read the following verse in the Bible? “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). It might be shocking to many non-Catholic Christians, but an informed Catholic should be able to take it in stride and place it in its proper context. It is interesting to note however, that the ONLY time the words “faith” and “alone” appear together in the Bible is in that one verse from James. That being that said, reason alone is also not enough.

Faith is something personal, this is why Jesus first asked his disciples, “Who do others say I am?” All kinds of reasons were given with all kinds of reasoning, but then the real point of the dialog comes in when he asked, “Who do YOU say I am?” This makes it personal and God wants it personal.

This makes sense to me as a father myself. I want my kids to have personal faith in me, not because they have evidence combined with the calculating logic of reason, but just because I’m their father. Obviously this would not be about faith in my existence, but let’s use faith in my judgment as an example.

Dad: You need to trust my judgment.
Kid: There is no evidence that your judgment is better than mine.

Dad: I’ve lived a lot longer than you.
Kid: That is only evidence that you are older.

Dad: I gave you life and everything you have.
Kid: That is only evidence that you have money and you know The Stork.

Dad: What about all the other times I’ve been right?
Kid: Your astonishing random good luck is self-evident.

Dad: Mom and everyone else in the family trust my judgment.
Kid: That is evidence that they do not demand evidence.

Dad: You need to trust me.
Kid:  Sorry, you need to provide evidence that you are worthy of my trust, and not just any evidence. It must be evidence that satisfies me.

So, at this point would a good father obey the child and provide whatever specific evidence the child demands? I think not. The father may just let the child suffer the natural consequences of not trusting in order to learn how to trust in the first place. In fact, I could even see a good father intentionally hiding evidence so that the child would have no choice but to trust. This is the only way a healthy parent-child relationship can work. Often times I feel quite certain that God made children as stubborn as they are in order to show us grown-ups how we act towards Him!

Trust is key for any good relationship and same is true for our relationship with God. It won’t work without trust. This is demonstrated throughout all of salvation history. If you know the people and the Bible stories, you know when there was trust and when there was not. Think about Adam & Eve, then Noah, then Abraham, then Moses, then the Israelites, then the Kings of Israel, then Mary & Joseph, all the way up to Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Think about who trusted and who didn't and how did it turn out?

In the first chapter of John’s Gospel we read about the two disciples of John the Baptist following Jesus and then asking him “where are you staying?” He replied "Come, and you will see." So they went and they saw (see John 1:36-39). The same is true for us today. First you must ask, then you must “go”, and only then will you “see”. He who tries to be a mere observer experiences nothing. Only by entering the faith experiment in trust does one have an experience; only by cooperating does one ask at all, and only he who asks shall receive.

"I believe in God as I believe the sun had risen, not because I can see it, but because by way of it, I can see everything else."
- C.S. Lewis

Monday, September 23, 2013

What Evidence Do You Have?

Here's a practical thought about “evidence”, since I often hear Atheist talk about no observable evidence for the existence of God and I often deal with evidence (or a lack of) for a living.

I’m certified to teach (and use) a logic method in problem solving & decision making for a global 500 company. The problem solving part is all about finding the root cause of a deviation. It answers the question, “why did it happen?”  The decision making part is all about making a choice. It answers the question, “what should we do?”  One might say it is about finding “truth”, regardless of opinions or feelings, even regardless of some facts that seem relevant at first, but turn out to be distractions in the end. When a group of engineers or managers cannot solve a problem or wants to make a good decision, I’m sometimes asked to help with the logic process even if I’m not an expert in that particular product or system. I’m not trying to toot my own horn here; I’m getting to a point if you bear with me.

You may think our method is 100% about facts and evidence. IT IS NOT! Most often it is physically impossible for us obtain all the data we need to answer all the questions we have. In fact, I don’t remember a time when we had all the evidence we wanted at our disposal.

So what do we do? Do we give up and say there is no way to proceed with a decision? Do we report back to upper management that the root cause of a problem is “nothing”, or the cause is “random chance”, or a “spontaneous event”? No, these answers are not answers at all and they are unacceptable to explain ANY observed effect, including the existence of the universe or our own being.

Instead, we use a thinking process to navigate the gaps between what we know and what we don’t know. Part of the process involves carefully making and tracking assumptions and inferences that connect the facts we have. We then have a way to move toward what is more reasonable and step away from what is less reasonable given the available data. This is NOT done via experimentation, observation or trial & error because these kinds of activities tend to waste company resources. It’s all done “on paper”, at first, using the available facts & knowledge (thinking made visible). We must get buy-in that the company should spend the time and money based on the conclusion we come up with, even though we have no absolute proof that it is correct; we just show how it is the most reasonable.

(If you’re curious, the process is called KT Resolve. It contains aspects of Occam’s Razor and Toyota’s “5-Whys”, but is much more comprehensive.)
A Thinking Process
The main point is this; at the end of the process we make a decision or determine the most probable cause of a problem, but our conclusion comes with NO observable evidence that it is actually TRUE and we still expect people to accept it. Why? Because accepting some things without observable evidence is rational & responsible solely based on the reasoning. Rejecting those same things is irrational & irresponsible based on the same reasoning. If an engineer or technician at our company were to keep repeating, “I reject your conclusion because there is no observable evidence that it is actually true and I will continue to work as if it were not”, he or she would not be employed with us for long.

Of course, the most probable cause of a deviation is ultimately proved-out to see if it is in fact the TRUE cause. A decision will also prove itself out over time as a good or bad choice. In the spiritual life this proving-out or “moment of truth” relates to the point of death where the theological virtues of Faith and Hope are no longer needed for a soul in the presence of God. All that will remain is Love (see 1 Corinthians 13:13).

There is no question however, that reason alone is not enough to rest in God’s love, but it can start us on the adventure.  Like John the Baptist, reason cries out in the wilderness to prepare the way for faith, asking questions about life like “why did it happen?” & “what should we do?” Through reason, the winding roads of contradiction are straightened and the rough paths of muddled thinking become smooth to make way for something mightier, something that completes the often long and difficult journey from the head to the heart.