Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Rethinking WWJD

Not everything Jesus said and did was all “lovey-dovey”. Here is a different take on WWJD. It should remind us of a vice called presumption.

“Fear and hope ought never to be without one another, since fear without hope is despair and hope without fear is presumption.”
- St. Francis de Sales

Thursday, July 24, 2014

What Do You Have in Common with a French Prince?

I recently came across this story from a book called 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens. The story is about the son of King Louis XVI and was presented in the context of how having positive paradigms can bring out the best in us. The story should also remind us about why we should strive for holiness.

Born to Be King

King Louis had been taken from his throne and imprisoned. His young son, the prince, was taken by those who dethroned the king. They thought that inasmuch as the king’s son was heir to the throne, if they could destroy him morally, he would never realize the great and grand destiny that life had bestowed upon him.

They took him to a community far away, and there they exposed the lad to every filthy and vile thing that life could offer. They exposed him to foods the richness of which would quickly make him a slave to appetite. They used vile language around him constantly. They exposed him to lewd and lusting women. They exposed him to dishonor and distrust. He was surrounded 24 hours a day by everything that could drag the soul of a man as low as one could slip.

For over six months he had this treatment—but not once did the young lad buckle under pressure. Finally, after intensive temptation, they questioned him. Why had he not submitted himself to these things—why had he not partaken? These things would provide pleasure, satisfy his lusts, and were desirable; they were all his. The boy said, “I cannot do what you ask for I was born to be a king.”

One is reminded of the story of Joseph in Genesis. You’ll recall that Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers and taken to Egypt by foreigners. Still, the Lord was with Joseph and he retained his dedication to high principles through many difficult trails. As a result, he became second in command in the household of Potiphar, second only to Potiphar himself.

When Potiphar was away from his home, his wife, who lusted after Joseph, approached him and said, “Lie with me.” Joseph refused and said to her, “How, then, could I do this great wrong and sin against God?” It’s the reaction of someone who knows who he is, the son of a King (see Gen 39:7-9). Joseph continued to trust God, his King, and used his gift of interpreting dreams in a straightforward and truthful manner. He prevailed against every trail and eventually became the most powerful person in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh.

Both of these stories should remind us that we too are the children of the King of kings and should behave as such. Instead, with the demise of human character we ask, “What can I get away with?” It relates to the plague of minimalism which can affect every aspect of our lives, including our faith. It holds a premise in the form of a question, “What’s the least I need to do to get by?”

Minimalism is enemy of holiness and the first step to failure. We are 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 (see Mat 5:48 & Lev 19:2). It is no easy task because it needs to be a challenge fitting for a child of a King.

"Heavenly Father, give me the courage to strive for the highest goals, to flee every temptation to be mediocre"
- Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

Stand Tall

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Temptations with Christ and Bishop Sheen

Bishop Fulton Sheen
1895 - 1979
Bishop Sheen has an illuminating way of presenting the temptations of Christ in his book A Brief Life of Christ. Here it is…in brief of course.

Each of the three temptations from Satan is related to one of three stages of a man’s life. They can surly apply to woman’s life as well, but men may relate better (just my opinion, judge for yourself).

The 1st Temptation:
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” He said in reply, “It is written: ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:1-4).

This first temptation parallels the first stage of a man’s life; his youth. I’ve heard it said (in this book, pg 55) that the portion of the brain responsible for suppressing impulses does not fully mature until the mid-twenties. In other words, the difference between a twenty-year-old and a thirty-year-old is not just ten years’ experience. The brain is physically different. If you are over thirty, think back on your own life in this light.

If cognitive reasoning skills are underdeveloped, temptations involving the flesh or physical gratification are more difficult to resist; think of a baby or small child. If you have an itch, scratch it. Why resist what comes naturally? “Just do it!” “Obey your thirst!”

It is in our youth that we must learn that our passions are not necessarily wrong, but “eating bread” without God will harm us, meaning that we should reject passions outside of God’s will, even if we must go “hungry”.

The 2nd Temptation:
Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you’ and ‘with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’” (Matthew 4:5-7)

This is a temptation of pride and egotism. The miracles of Jesus always foreshadowed greater spiritual realities and had a point. Jesus was not just showing off.  In the second temptation, it’s as if Satan is tempting Christ to clothe himself in wonders. Mankind will not accept or understand the sacrifice of a crucified God. Stick with the miracles. Fly off the temple and float around the city for a while. That will get their attention. People are bored, so be a magician. You’ll really make a name for yourself then.

And so it goes for the second stage of a man’s life. We wish to make a name for ourselves. Power and prestige set in to tempt a man to the point of narcissism. This can be seen in anything from climbing the corporate ladder to trying to impress others in church ministry, or just spending inordinate amounts of time working on “six-pack abs”. If we were somewhat successful at resisting the temptations of the flesh in our youth, Satan may say to us, “Very well, if you really trust God do something heroic. Be amazing! Make a name for yourself!”

No matter how well someone can quote scripture in a particular situation, it does not mean that he or she speaks in the spirit of Truth. Satan himself will gladly use the Word of God.

The 3rd Temptation:
Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’” (Matthew 4:8-10)

In the autumn of our lives we are drawn to possessions and the security of worldly things. We are not so comfortable with John 21:18 “…when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”

We may have avoided the traps of the flesh in youth and the snares of pride in middle age, but it’s hard to let go completely and be “lead where we do not want to go”. Excessive hording of earthly goods and money as economic security gives the illusion of control. This preoccupation will distract us from our treasure in heaven and this happens at the worst time possible, the very end of our lives.

Few believe in the devil today, and that must be just fine by him. I’d imagine he is happy to hear the news of his death. If God is existence itself and calls Himself “I am who am”, then the devil is the father of lies and must be quite happy to remain in hiding and call himself "I am who am NOT".





Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Steps to Truth Continued

The last post on this blog spoke of 10 steps to Truth, from human passion (step 1) to Catholicism (step 10). It leads with the heart in hopes that the Truth can find its way on the sometimes long & difficult journey to the head. In this post I offer 7 steps as questions to the same conclusion, but this time starting with the head, in hopes that the Truth can somehow travel to the heart.

It represents my own line of reasoning from when I started back on the journey home about 20 years ago. Although I had some sense of these steps even before that time, I could not articulate them back then, not even to myself. I can do a better job now.

Step 1: Is there a God?
All of reality can be described in terms of two parts. There are physical or material realities and there are spiritual or immaterial realities.

The Physical
It can be proven through metaphysical logic that any physical reality must trace back to a “first cause” or one unconditioned reality; one thing that needs absolutely nothing else for its own existence, not even space or time. See a formal logic proof HERE. Unless someone can show a more rational proof that shows differently, the existence of one unconditioned reality remains the most reasonable conclusion.

If you knew people who denied the existence of physical reality, you would likely note that they do not live as if they actually believe what they claim (if they are sane), which implies they don’t really believe it.
The Spiritual
For the strict materialist to be consistent in his position, he must hold that we come from nothing for the purpose of nothing. More specifically, we come from nothing intelligent for no intended purpose. The universe and everything in it is a mindless accident that happens by itself (we are “dumbly” here). It must also follow that immaterial things like morality, human rights, justice, goodness, meaning, beauty and love cannot exist objectively. The rest of us get the sense that these things exists. For instance, moral law (right vs. wrong) is real. Consider rape as a specific example. Rape is objectively wrong regardless of ANY social construct or human opinion to the contrary.

How can one “sense” something immaterial like moral law? Physical laws can help us to understand. A child playing catch with a ball can sense the existence and certainty of physical laws without any understanding of physics or any kind of science. In a parallel way we sense the existence and certainty of moral law even if we have no training in ethics, philosophy or theology. If there is a moral law that transcends us, there must be a “first cause” for it or a moral law giver. A moral law giver reasonably implies a loving personality with intelligence.

Put this idea together with the physical “first cause” above and we are close to what Catholics call God.

If you knew people who denied the existence of spiritual reality, you will likely note that they do not live as if they actually believed what they claim (if they are sane), which implies that they don’t really believe it.

Step 2: Are we separated from God?
We do not see God plainly or face to face. Catholic teaching holds that sin is what separates us from God, but this is a simple step to reason through without any special catholic teaching. If we have concluded that God must exist in step 1, observation clearly shows us that we are separated from Him somehow. We also sense that the world is not as it should be.

Step 3: Does God care?
Creators tend to care about their creations, but we might ask why God would be concerned about any separation from man and his pitiful little world. Why would He care about our needs, our sins or our non-sins? Oddly, we project negative human characteristics of pettiness, arrogance and aloofness onto God. We thus imagine Him as a consciousness that will not embrace the whole.

God has reached out to man and revealed himself publicly to both believers and non-believers when establishing the nation of Israel (The Jews). Much could be said here about covenant theology, but simply put, God reaching out to bond with man over and over again via covenants certainly implies “caring”.

Step 4: Is there a particular way back to God?
Particular problems tend to have particular solutions. I deal with analytical problem solving for a global 500 company. There is often more than one solution to a problem; more than one way to skin a cat, but when faced with a serious global problem we standardize one global solution intended for everyone experiencing the problem. It stands to reason that God would also provide a global solution intended for everyone.

Step 5: Can we know the way?
There is no point in having a way if it cannot be known. The alternative is to say there is no certainty with God.

The Jews were expecting a savior to “make things right” and God went public once again in the person of Jesus. Jesus claimed to not only know the way, but to actually be “The Way” by making himself equal to God. No other religious figure in history was so anticipated before their birth and made such radical claims of authority with the action to back it up, through many public miracles and a public resurrection with many eye witnesses. Much more could be said on this topic as it relates to salvation history. Click HERE for more.

Step 6: Did Jesus establish any particular church to guide us?
Many Christians may object to this step and say there is only the Bible to guide us, but Jesus founded a Church, not a book. The Bible is subject to human interpretation and requires a teaching authority to go with it. Jesus didn’t wait for us to invent a church of our own. Ironically for other Christians, it is the authority of the Catholic Church that certifies the authority of the Bible.


Step 7: What would His Church look like?
Jesus was concrete, historical, visible and authoritative, so it stands to reason that His Church would be the same way, and let’s not forget about four more things…

ONE: The Church is one, undivided in belief and worship. For both Catholics and non-Catholics who disagree…you believe & worship the way you want; the Church will continue to believe & worship the way God wants.

HOLY: The Church is holy because it flows from the holiness of Christ, not from the holiness of any individual members at any point in history.

CATHOLIC: The Church is catholic by its nature since catholic means universal. It is a global solution. The Church is for everyone in every nation. It would be strange if it were otherwise.

APOSTOLIC: The Church is descendent from the original apostles. Jesus authorized His apostles and they in turn authorized their own successors and this still goes on today.

It is the exception, not the rule, to find a strict materialist as described in step 1. Most people believe in a higher power of some kind, like “The Force”, but it is often a faith that is devoid of reason, which results in blind superstition. This quote I once ran across sums it all up pretty well:

“There is a widespread idea today that it does not matter what our conception of God is like; how vague it is, how confused, even how distorted. “We all worship the same God” has become almost a shrug of the shoulders, dismissing the responsibility of knowing God as he reveals himself to be, as if to know truly is no difference to us.”
– Caryll Houselander

 Click HERE for a PDF version of the flow chart below for a visual that goes with the flow above.