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...