Friday, June 13, 2014

Answering a Sweeping Question with Dr.Kreeft

I recently ran across this comment on another blog:
“I’d like to learn more about this God. Are you suggesting that I read the Bible and follow the teachings of the Catholic Church in order to accomplish this? If so, why?”

It’s a sweeping question. Based on other comments from this person the question may have been posed more in sarcasm than sincerity, but whatever the case it certainly cuts to the chase. The question reminded me of a good answer from a book I read called “Jacobs ladder: 10 Steps to Truth” by Dr. Peter Kreeft.
Unlike aspects of this blog that tend to lead with the head in hopes that the heart will follow, Dr. Kreeft’s book seems to lead more with the heart, and the answer does not start with the Bible or the Catholic Church.  I thought I would share some notes and thoughts on this 10-step logic path in hopes that it can assist anyone with the sometimes difficult journey from the the heart to the head.

STEP 1: Passion
This is the first rung of the ladder. Humans get passionate about transcendent things like “the good”, “the beautiful” and “the true” and we all know the difference between true passion and just “interest”.

Many are passionate about morals or justice (the good). Others have their passion in art, literature (blogging?), music, dance, theater, athleticism or nature (the beautiful). Still others have a passion for technology, science, math, problem solving or discovery (the true). This is also how we know we are different than animals. Not even our closest animal relatives show evidence for having passion for “the good”, “the beautiful” and “the true”.
But passion alone can ignite anything it touches. It’s like blind power. This is why it is very dangerous to stop at step one. Adolf Hitler had passion. Imagine if his passion was driven by love instead of hate. Maybe we would be calling him Saint Hitler today.

STEP 2: Truth
If you are truly passionate, it’s not a big step to get to the second rung of the ladder and accept objective truth as something real. Holding truths to be self-evident, as the founders of this nation wrote, is different than a personal belief or opinion. If you are passionate in holding the truth that genocide is wrong, you will not accept relativistic terms like “it’s wrong for me” or “it’s wrong in our culture”. No, it is wrong…period. Just like a physical law, genocide being wrong is something universal and unchangeable.

STEP 3: Meaning
Once we consent to the existence of at least some objective truth, the acceptance of some meaning or purpose behind it all is not a far leap either. All people desire lasting happiness and the truths that we hold are meant to lead us to happiness. We use our heads and our hearts in the pursuit of that happiness that will ultimately lead us to the meaning of life.
STEP 4: Love
If we are only physical beings, then it stands to reason that only physical things are needed to keep us happy. Outward abundance and physical pleasure should satisfy us fully and bring lasting happiness, but they don’t. We seek more; we seek love and love is not the same as “good feelings”. If it were, we could say that taking drugs, which result in good feelings, is what true love is all about.

So what kind of love are we looking for? It’s unconditional, unselfish and sacrificial love. This kind of love involves more than feelings. It requires willing the good of the other, so it requires an act of the will or a choice. So love comes from an act of the will and it brings lasting happiness to everyone and is thus the meaning of life.

“If you find the meaning of life, you’ve found something more precious than the little time it took you to find it, because you’ve found the meaning of ALL your times.”
― Dr. Peter Kreeft
STEP 5: Principles (law)
Humans live in organized societies which are guided according to certain principles and those principles are reflected in the laws. If love is the meaning of life that will bring lasting happiness, then the law should be love’s servant, not love’s masters; love’s ally, not love’s enemy. Good laws would support and be consistent with the natural law of love. Bad laws would undermine love and thus be unnatural.

STEP 6: God
If there is sunlight, there must be a sun. There are always the traditional proofs for the existence of God, like how the creation proves the Creator or the design proves the Designer, but in the context of these steps God is not a far leap of faith after step 5. If one has accepted objective truth or morals that are not sourced from human opinion (step 2), then there must be a truth giver of some sort. If love is from the will and is the meaning of life (steps 3&4) there must be a first lover and a first “willer”. If there is a natural law (step 5) there must be a natural law giver.
“…they told you that love is just down here, under the clouds; so when you climb up high enough, beyond the clouds, to places you can’t see from down here, you won’t find love but something else.”
― Dr. Peter Kreeft

STEP 7: The Jews
Why doesn’t this God revel himself publicly? Well, He did, and in a big way. God revealed himself publicly to both believers and non-believers when establishing the nation of Israel. The Hebrew people were few and weak, but broke out of bondage and survived for thousands of years even with many powerful nations wanting to destroy them. They received and passed on the greatest moral code in history (10 commandments) which the world still lives by today.

They taught us that God is one, a person, a creator, eternal, perfect, faithful and loving. This notion of god or gods did not come from the Egyptians, Romans, Greeks or anyone else in history. They taught us that God loves us and wants us to love Him and each other in return. This fits with the meaning of life we concluded in step 4.

STEP 8: Christ
The Jews were expecting a savior as can be read about in the Old Testament. Other religious figures like Buddha or Mohammad were not anticipated ahead of their birth and certainly did not make the radical claims or do the radical things that Jesus did. God went public once again in the person of Jesus through many public miracles and a public resurrection with many witnesses.

Although many Jews were expecting a political savior, a savior that can free us from sin through sacrificial love makes more sense in the logic of life we are following. Sin is what separates us from God which means we are separated from the source of love. Since we are saying love is the meaning of life (step 4), it makes sense that we need to be freed from sin to travel properly from passion (step 1) all the way up to God (step 6).

STEP 9: Catholic Church
Jesus was concrete. He was historical, visible and authoritative, so it stands to reason that His Church would also be concrete, historical, visible and authoritative. He didn’t wait for us to invent a church of our own. Jesus authorized His Apostles and they in turn authorized their own successors. The two big reasons for believing the Catholic Church is to be sure to get Jesus right and to be sure to get the Bible right. Jesus founded a Church, not a book.

STEP 10: Authority
We need the authority of the Church when reason isn’t enough. Things like the Trinity or the cannon of scripture cannot come from reason alone and certainly cannot come from the Bible alone. All Church creeds are basically answers to heresies of the past.

If you reject step 10, you must water-down or completely reject step 9 and so on with the other steps, all the way back to rejecting step1,  which leaves you nowhere, and that’s where many people are today.

It is inconsistent to have…
  • Authority without a Church…or a Church without authority
  • The Church without Christ…or Christ without a Church
  • Christ without Jews…or Jews without a Christ
  • Jews without God…or God without Jews
  • God without laws…or laws without God
  • Law without love…or love without law
  • Love without meaning…or meaning without love
  • Meaning without truth…or truth without meaning
  • Truth without passion…or passion without truth

Please take the time to read and explore the 10 Steps to Truth in their totality!



Monday, June 9, 2014

Catholic Evangelization

I recently read Dr Scott Hahn's new book Evangelizing Catholics: A Mission Manual for the New Evangelization and was again swept away with his clear and accessible prose, and again by the scope of his vision.

This book describes how the Kerygmatic movement of the 1950's began a change in the Church that gained momentum in Vatican II and began to sprout through Pope St John Paul II.  The heart of this movement (as indicated by the word kerygma) is evangelization, or the proclamation of the Gospel.

Dr Hahn goes on to describe just how evangelization is carried out, both in word and in deed, emphasizing that, while a silent witness can be effective, this in no way frees Catholics from the obligation of using speech.

We are reminded that evangelization is often associated with the work of Protestant Christians, but that all Christians are expected to take part in bringing others to Christ.

This is where he brings out how Catholic evangelization differs from Protestant evangelization.  Catholic evangelization is Eucharistic.  He unpacks statements by Pope St John Paul II and Francis Cardinal George that Catholic evangelizers proclaim a "Eucharistic Christ."  In short, the simplest street corner or coffee table evangelism to bring a person to Christ is in four parts:

  1. God loves us
  2. We have sinned
  3. Christ has died and risen to save us
  4. We have to respond with faith

That may be where evangelism in practice ends.  In Protestant thought, that person is "saved" and cannot be un-saved.

Catholic evangelism, in order to be Eucharistic, must go further.  How?  This kind of evangelism is more of an ongoing and deepening relationship with Jesus.  Dr Hahn likens this process to the three-part movement towards marriage.

  1. Courtship.  In this movement, a person is introduced to the other and begins to get to know the other.  Interests are piqued and time is spent together enjoying each other's company. This is analogous to the initial evangelization where a person learns about Jesus and how Jesus wants to be part of his or her life.  The person is evangelized.
  2. Engagement.  In this movement, the person takes a step forward and declares a certain conditional exclusivity to the other.  He or she is thinking about making a commitment and really focuses on whether the other is the person with whom he or she will spend the rest of their life.  This is analogous to an RCIA program where tough questions are asked and a full understanding of the obligations and perhaps quirks of the relationship are revealed.  The person is catechized.
  3. Marriage.  In this movement, the person makes a commitment to non-conditional exclusivity with the other.  For better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death us do part.  This commitment until death is one where each person lives self-sacrificially for the other.  Every day an effort must be made to deepen the understanding, trust, and mutual availability for the other.  A natural consequence of this mutual love and intimacy is the production of new life though children.  This is analogous to being sacramentally brought into the Church and sustained via the sacraments.  A natural consequence of this deepening relationship of trust of and intimacy with Jesus is evangelization.  The person is sacramentalized.

Note that the final movement is not a once-and-done event.  It is ongoing. This is how evangelization is Eucharistic, it is sacramental in that it culminates (but does not end) with the creation of a new family and new life.  This is what sacraments DO!

In a related way, the concept of this book that grabbed me by the lapels and got in my face was something that I am sure I knew, but heard so differently here. It is what it means to be "saved." The question "have you been saved?" is one many of us have been asked and is an entrée to street evangelization. This phrase is where it hit: "Salvation is more than about being forgiven."

If we are fallen people, guilty of sin and going to hell because of it, we need forgiveness. Forgiveness is the washing away of our guilt, giving us entrance into heaven, right?  Not quite. How would being forgiven give us entrance to heaven?

Dr Hahn uses an analogy. Suppose my car breaks down and my mechanic finds two problems and agrees to fix them.  Now when I go to pick up the car, I find that only one problem had been fixed. If I then go back and complain, the mechanic will apologize for the mistake and I will forgive him. However, I will NOT take him home and write him into my will and make him a part of my family!!

Salvation is nothing less than sacramental adoption into God's family.  This means that not ONLY am I forgiven, I am made an heir. (Rom 8:17)  All that God has is mine and I am unconditionally loved.  Heaven is a state where I am living as a child of God.  Where can this happen?  After I am dead?  Nope! God has ordained that this happens here on earth in his Church.  At Mass, in the Eucharist, we are taken to heaven, joined in worship and at a meal with the rest of our family, the saints living and dead. The marriage supper of the Lamb is OUR wedding feast, because it is sacramental, it is Eucharistic! 

Let the feast begin!  And bring your friends!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Let the Fire Fall!

As today is Pentecost, I thought it would be a good idea to recall the post on the Holy Spirit that I wrote last summer.   The Holy Spirit's character is viewed through the lens of "availability" as understood by theologian Khaled Anatolios.  

Take a look back here and may you have a blessed and fruitful Pentecost!