Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Got Just 3 Words for You

There is much talk about Jesus during Holy week and the Easter season that follows, even from secular sources. All the homilies & sermons, all the writings & scripture and even all the movies & television shows about Jesus can be distilled down into three basic elements expressed by these words – Way, Truth and Life, and these three words describe what mankind has lost just as precisely as a key fits a lock.

A most curious point is how Jesus describes himself as the way, the truth and the life using the curious phrase “I am”. If someone were to say I have or I know the way, the truth and the life, we must study what they have or what they know if we want to obtain it. Who that person actually is would be of secondary importance if any importance at all. Consider an ordinary teacher; the knowledge he or she is trying to covey in class is our primary concern. The person teaching is not the focus and a substitute teacher is possible to find. If someone were to say, however, I am the way, the truth and the life, then we must study who that person IS. “I am” relates to “who” as knowing or having relates to “what”. Christ does not simply give us the way, the truth and the life and then leave us to follow as best we can. He gives us Himself, for He is all three and there is no substitute.

There is a problem. The way is closed. There is a chasm. We live in a fallen world. We cannot see God face to face as we are. Jesus is the bridge that reaches across the chasm between God and man. Think of the way as a road to salvation that was closed, but is now open for everyone to travel on. Of course, if one holds that there is no way or the way it is not relevant, then for them, it is as if the way were still closed.

Once the way is open, how do we navigate it? Once a road is open we don’t just wander around it like lost sheep hoping to get somewhere eventually. A road always has a direction and a way of traveling upon it. There are lines and boundaries; there are signs and lights to obey. There are other travelers to consider. We cannot understand the road if we do not understand the rules of the road. We need truth to guide us on the journey. So how can we know the truth as we travel? How about the Bible? That’s a good start, but not a good end. The Bible will ultimately point to something else. “…the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth.” (1 Tim 3:15) Of course this begs the question “Which church?”, since there are so many and they all have different road rules, but this is a question for other posts. See HERE and HERE.

If Jesus is the life, and we wish to live, then He must live in us. The strength of man alone is not enough to walk the way. Imagine you were to travel to Mars just as you are. Not only would you never be able to live on Mars, but you would not even survive the journey. The long journey to Mars would require many special systems, equipment & supplies to sustain your physical life. In the same way our souls cannot travel back to God unaided. We need a supernatural life.
  • Baptism is the birth or beginning point of the supernatural life.
  • We can receive daily nourishment for the journey via the Eucharist, which is none other than the Lord himself as our food.
  • Just like the body needs healing from sickness & injury on a long and difficult journey, our souls need healing from sin on our supernatural journey, so the Lord gives us the sacrament of Reconciliation.
  • The Journey is long. We need to grow and mature while we travel, so we are equipped with the Grace given at Confirmation.
  • As we grow and mature in our supernatural life, we are responsible to help others along on this challenging voyage. Our vocation helps us to advance the entire Kingdom of God forward.
  • There is even a special Grace near the end of our journey to help us finish well. The anointing of the Sick.

 “In three words Way, Truth, Life, Our Lord sums up what He is. In the same three words we may summarize what He did. He opened to men the way of salvation, gave them the truth by which that might know the way, and the life by which they might travel it.”
- Frank Sheed from Theology and Sanity.

Much in this post was inspired by lay apologist Frank Sheed. We all need some Sheed!!

Frank Sheed 1897 - 1982

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Cabin from Nothing

The argument from design can be an intriguing argument for the existence of God, but it’s also an intriguing way to explain unbiased reasoning.

Imagine you were walking in a deep forest with a friend when you both stumbled upon a log cabin. You would naturally assume that something with intelligence created it (presumably a person or a group of people), even if there was no empirical evidence of a builder other than the cabin itself. Unless you had more evidence, you will NOT presume a specific builder by name, but the assumption of intelligence will become a base premise that is non-negotiable.
Now suppose your traveling companion said the cabin is just a result of the random forces of nature, matter and energy coming together over time to form the cabin. You would not only disagree, but perhaps also steer your friend toward some psychiatric help. Even if your friend could recite astonishing details about the forces of nature, matter and energy to prove his sanity, you might then conclude that he is so smart, he has become stupid. To accept your friend’s conclusion would be not only unreasonable, but also irresponsible.
  • Now, just begin to increase the physical size of the cabin. Suppose it was the size of a mountain. You would have the same conclusion about “intelligence”. You will not presume the builder must specifically be Paul Bunyan, but the same impartial assumption about an intellect remains.
  • Now, increase the size of the cabin to the size of planet earth…same conclusion about intelligence, although you might drop the part about the source of it being human.
  • Now, keep increasing the size of the cabin to the size of the universe…same conclusion.
  • Now consider our minds, our bodies, our planet and the finely tuned universe we live in that are all much more complex than a log cabin… same conclusion. Intellectual honesty tells us that it’s all beyond what random mindlessness can do for itself.

The science of the past took reason seriously with a premise like this, “We know the creator is intelligent, so we must go forward assuming the universe is intelligible.” This is similar to our approach about the cabin. If you desired to learn more about the construction details, you would do so under the assertion that there is “thinking” behind it all. Today, many hold the backwards, upside down and non-negotiable premise of, “We know the universe is intelligible, so we must go forward assuming there is NO intelligence behind it.”
“It is truly glorious for a religion to have such unreasonable men as enemies.”
- Blaise Pascal

All this might sound very similar to Paley’s watchmaker analogy, which may in turn remind some of the rebuttals offered by philosopher David Hume. For example, very complex self-order is observed in nature regularly, such as the process of snowflake generation from water molecules. This is true, but assuming intelligence behind it is still reasonable. Observing an application running on a computer may give the appearance that the computer is a self-ordered thing, but we know there is a programmer, not to mention a host of other precise, intelligent conditions needed for a computer to run.
Here is another; who designed the designer? If a well-ordered natural world requires a special designer, then this great designer requires an even greater designer and so on and so on ad infinitum. If we can accept a mysteriously self-ordered intelligence as an explanation for the natural world, why not just accept a mysteriously self-ordered natural world by itself?

The problem is the reality we observe in the natural world; the data and the logic. Nothing in the natural world is really self-ordered. The order everything has is contingent upon the order of something else that came before it, until you trace back to some final reality that requires no other condition for its order. Why the need for a final reality? Why not just keep tracing conditions back to infinity? The reason is that an infinite succession of past conditions presents us with a contradiction.
  • Premise #1:Infinity as applied to an accumulating succession is always more than can be ever achieved. It is unachievable.
  • Premise #2: For something to exists, all the conditions needed for its existence must be achieved.
  • Conclusion: Anything that exists cannot come from an infinite succession of conditions because it would depend upon an unachievable number of past conditions being fulfilled. To say it can is like saying the unachievable has been achieved, which is a contradiction. This is true for an infinite succession of intelligent designers as much as anything else.
(see formal proof for an unconditioned reality).

An unconditioned intelligent “something” that transcends the natural world is the reasonable and responsible position to hold using reason alone, and we would all do well to ponder what a curious “something” that would be. Nothing in this post definitively proves all the Catholic theology there is about God, but to say the universe and everything in it, from the stars in the sky to the love in your heart, is a mindless accident that magically happens by itself is truly wishful thinking for the non-believer who wishes to avoid the reality of things. In terms of believing in fairytales, never was the shoe so firmly on the other foot.
“Man does not explain himself to himself without the odd suspicion that he is missing something.”
 - James V. Schall, S.J.



Friday, April 4, 2014

Illusion of the Day

This is not a GIF file. Nothing is moving. The more your eyes wander, the worse it gets. Remain calm! It helps to keep your eyes focused on one point; then everything starts to slow down.

NOTE: The illusion may not be so effective on a small screen like on a smart phone.

Rotating Snakes Illusion by Kitaoka Akiyoshi
The graphic is called "rotating snakes" and it can be a symbol for the spiritual life. Note the snake-like tongues. How well does Lucifer keep us distracted (fools us) with things that are NOT real. Stay focused on one point, the light of Christ, and see the reality that does not change.

There's a Faith & Reason lesson in there somewhere; I know it.

• Don’t always trust what you see… Yes, but more than that.

• Perception is not reality. Perception informs your response to reality… That’s better.

• Growth in faith is growth in the right perception of all reality… THAT'S IT!!!
- Thomas Keating

See also “The Medieval Wheel of Fortune” post as it also relates to a focus point via a Christ centered life.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Joke of the Day

Not to confuse or offend anyone, but this is fun. An evangelization technique like this would only make sense on a day like today…

One of the great things about being Catholic is that not only do we get to worship statues, but even our statues get to worship statues!!!

April Fools'!