Mark 9:24

Posts Tagged ‘Religion and Spirituality’

Frustrating the natural end

In Lay Meditations on August 30, 2012 at 11:41 pm

In writing a “Kantian” defense of Catholic sexual teaching some time ago, I accepted the artificial restraint of not mentioning God. This effectively takes a partial view of Catholic moral teaching. It is as if a general practitioner only looked at your skeleton during an annual check-up, indifferent to your beating heart. I began by mentioning several ways to fend off the inevitable; let us finally face the inevitable.

Christians do not hope for the end of Creation; we expect it and should be prepared.

If the death of the universe were to come, there would still be no problem with the Church’s teaching, though the answer comes from an unexpected quarter: God has a plan, and we live this out by discerning our particular vocation. This is no cop-out. Vocations are part of complete Catholic teaching, as inseparable as the Mass. We cannot single out “what if we all behaved like Catholics sexually” to impugn the Church because “behaving like Catholics sexually” does not mean we behave like Catholics in other matters.

With this in mind, suppose we Catholics found our resources completely exhausted; that we really did have nowhere else to turn; that billions and billions years from now the universe finally dies, slowly, coldly of heat death — we may find that our vocations may have prayerfully become some flavor of religious or secular continence. But suppose that God does not call us to continence, for not even continence will prevent the end of things.  If our universal vocation becomes at this point not just holiness but holiness in what we call matrimony, perhaps the best use of the last bit of energy in the universe would be conceiving the last new life our Cosmos ever produced.

Just imagine: One lonely spermatozoon racing from the final stillness which would bring Creation to a final winter, this cell only just ahead of the collapsing cosmos. Finally, then at once, it meets its final end — and, in another sense, we meet ours — in the last mother’s last ovum. In bold defiance of the lord of this world, in bold obedience to the Lord of All, the last act of life is new life. One last act emulating the cross: From death, life; by the will of God.

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Ira pro nobis

In Dramatic Retellings on May 6, 2012 at 4:15 am

There is little on Earth so glorious as a Solemn High Mass, for it is as near we have to Heaven and as close as we’ll get to Calvary. Still, someone thought he could improve it.

As the litanies closing off the 40 Hours Devotion tapered off into the Introibo ad Altare Dei of a Blessed Sacrament votive Mass, a moment of silence opened up. Into this, a man who sounded unbalanced filled it with some extemporaneous blather.

There is something deep, wide, mysterious, solid, and true at Mass.

“Is it all right if I say a prayer?”

He went on for a bit, in forgotten forgettable words, and followed it up with Amen. A burly bass voice, probably that of the heckler’s confrère, replied jovially.

Beyond a solitary shush, everyone near me stayed silent, as if to pity the men for not recognizing a sacred place. Once the choirster pre-emptively kicked off the Kyrie — Lord have mercy, indeed — only infants in their innocence would disrupt Mass. Very small children, you see, are not culpable for stink and noise.

Seeing this kind of prayer so close to a most reverently celebrated High Mass makes parody of presuming parity. Prayers which are so much less than Mass are hardly prayer. In one kind, selfish-seeming men focused on externals and adulation from a crowd utter meaningless noises, conspiring on an occult script so as to elicit an emotional response. The other, and the opposite, is a High Mass.

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Samaritan, the mountain pass

In Faith and Reason on March 3, 2012 at 10:13 pm

When truth is such an uphill climb, how many men remain in the valleys; how praiseworthy are they who even make the attempt upward.

Among those approaching us at our mountaintop siesta, hopping on the left foot, are the anti-metaphysicians, those materialists who deny even philosophy. Closely behind them, hopping on the right foot, are the apostasists, encumbered by their fathers’ ecclesial fallacies.

We must stand men we cannot stand, for they cannot stand at all.

Where materialists and amaterialists hop, wobble, fall, convicted in belief, Catholics must be the Good Samaritan. Why would we worry? Our faith is the true footing.

Anti-metaphysicians have both faith and reason, lauding the latter to distraction. Denying the metaphysical as much as possible, they prefer a bare minimum faith in one’s senses; not just irrefutable things but inevitable things are their dogmas. True things must be obvious, say they, and so they bind themselves to nothing but that which is already bound. In practice, these materialists test the binding by breaking out of it, at which point it becomes rebellion and willfulness.

Apostasists represent manhandling little truths, unreasonably forcing facts to fit faith. As with all rationalization, all true things bound their way are distorted, a shield against things bound against them. In this way, convenient truths and inconvenient truths are likewise bound to their will. Apostasism is the reverse of the anti-metaphysicians, and it is the same — it becomes rebellion and willfulness. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctors of the Church

In Armchair Apologetics on February 21, 2012 at 1:28 am

Place yourself in the shoes of a pagan who knows little about Christianity, but who has taken the first step of accepting that Christ has authority and Christ is God. Our convert also knows about sin, and has the sense he is missing something. To wit, he’s sick and he knows it.

Some particular man may find walking around his fellows while sick helps. Perhaps the fresh air, or the camaraderie, rejuvenates him.

As if living a virtuous life were not already difficult enough we have to discern it, too.

But this takes too low a view of his illness, which is always terminal. It undermines the clear objection that some sick man be dissuaded of his diagnosis by meeting our wanderer, and vice versa; we also forget the effort may kill him. This also ignores our others, so ill that a brisk walk would always kill them. Hospitals, with doctors and nurses and somewhat controlled conditions, make natural sense.

I write this because Christianity presents, broadly, two choices:

  1. Merchant square, or
  2. Hospital for sinners.

If you make the case that God wants the merchant square model, you have a unique argument to hawk.

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Truth even in desecration

In On Atheism on July 27, 2011 at 7:22 am

Looking again at PZ Myers’ desecration of the Eucharist, we here more, albeit smaller, nuggets of truth:

By the way, I didn’t want to single out just the cracker, so I nailed it to a few ripped-out pages from the Qur’an and The God Delusion. They are just paper. Nothing must be held sacred. Question everything. God is not great, Jesus is not your lord, you are not disciples of any charismatic prophet.

Without faith --- trust --- in even one particular other, we marvel only at our distorted self-image.

Regarding the comments about a cracker, we should respond as Peter Kreeft:

Our enemies are not anti-Catholic bigots who want to crucify us. They are the ones we’re trying to save. They are our patients, not our disease. Our word for them is Christ’s: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We say this of the Chinese communist totalitarians who imprison and persecute Catholics, and to the Sudanese Muslim terrorists who enslave and murder Catholics. They are not our enemies, they are our patients. We are Christ’s nurses. The patients think the nurses are their enemies, but the nurses know better.

Kreeft is at times too snarky and polemical for my taste, but in this he hit the nail on the head. Again, there is at least a little truth everywhere.

Myers, for his part, is right to say that The God Delusion certainly must not be held sacred, and not for the reasons an atheist might think I mean.

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Idols of horsemen

In On Atheism on July 19, 2011 at 5:40 am

Among atheists most follow the pattern Kreeft notes: “If we do not worship God, we will worship idols, for we are by nature worshipers.” I’ve seen intellect, sensation and an abstract subjective happiness. Some, perhaps like men who very shallowly read Asimov, instead have faith in identifying the vague progress of science as a science of universal progress. They transpose the proper utility of science in the material and use it as a weapon, aiming at the immaterial. They ignore the simple fact that we recognize metaphysics because Aristotle knew physics answers only hows and is useless toward whys.

What is founded on the world does not reach very high beyond it, and will shudder with the earth.

Read Asimov a little deeper, though, and we see he realizes that science cannot correct what is wrong with men. It does not take much knowledge of the deterioration of the Spacers, or of the Empire, or even of the Foundation to disassociate Asimov from utopianism. However clever Hari Seldon, his psychohistory fails. As Lewis notes in his explanation of original sin:

That is the key to history. Terrific energy is expended — civilizations are built up — excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong. Some fatal flaw always brings the selfish and cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin.

We also see some elite condescension in atheist circles which, although it has a parallel in certain prelates who disdained drumming in St. Peter’s when the African bishops were scheduled for Rome, has no parallel in the man who said, “the more African, the better.” Some atheists, observably not despairing of anything but Christians, have a kind of pride we find in every heresy — even the Gnostics thought they were bearers of a secret immortal truth available to an elite few, and they believed that the deluded Christians should be dissuaded with absurdities. We see it in the state endorsement of Arianism, in the mockeries of the Manichees and throughout materialist scientism.

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Everywhere, at least a little truth

In Pursue Truth on July 17, 2011 at 2:59 pm

Even as atheist blogger PZ Myers desecrated the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ, there are specific points of wisdom in which Myers might as well be Aquinas, though we must take care to rope off his modern chauvinism.

You are all human beings who must make your way through your life by thinking and learning, and you have the job of advancing humanity’s knowledge by winnowing out the errors of past generations and finding deeper understanding of reality.

The Temptation of St. Thomas Aquinas, by Diego Velazquez. St. Thomas here shows us his virtue, but it is not his intelligence. Intelligence, though good, is not a virtue.

His call to thinking and learning parallels the affirmation by Thomas Aquinas that we should use, we should exercise our God-given faculties. While he cites glory of God and gratitude for His blessings, the effect is certainly to advance humanity’s knowledge, and this is a solemn duty for those capable. If we are free to dismiss this as him being a distant heir of Aquinas through his association with a university — Scholasticism being the immediate progenitor of the universities — we at least then see the incredible debt any sort of intelligentsia has to Christendom.

Moreover, atheists do winnow out the errors of the temporal Church Militant, the excesses and absurdities of unsophisticated fundamentalism as much as the greatest wickedness and sins of Catholics. For this service we owe them gratitude. No man can have too much humility.

He spoils it all with a final falsehood.

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Good without God?

In Armchair Apologetics on July 16, 2011 at 7:29 am

Men who say, “It is possible to be a good person without being a Christian,” speak the truth, but the error is in the thrust of this spearpoint and not in its hardiness. By this point, the speaker means to continue with the implication, unspoken, that it is pointless to be a Christian, a deposit of unnecessary effort, because to try to be a good person is all that is needed to enter any final reward the Christian posits. Let us separate the wheat from chaff in this fuzzy thinking. In short, the statement is true as far as it goes; the problem is that it doesn’t go far enough. We must know, if we know anything, that only being a good person is not the goal of Christianity.

Sloth

Mere goodness is not the goal.

Goodness as it is meant is not “living sinlessly” but instead “living without sinning too much.” This is inadequate, if not in works then certainly in temperament. To be a great person — holy, God-fearing and devout — is the goal, the requirement to enter the Kingdom of God. If we are not, it will be “like passing through fire.” Furthermore, we will not enter Heaven by aiming for Purgatory. We will only enter even Purgatory — the shower room for the eternal pool party with God — by aiming for Heaven. By Christian doctrine, we know that this kind of greatness happens as a gift of grace, that which comes only by Christ, the one mediator between God and man.

If it is possible for anyone outside the Church to nonetheless receive the grace of God — which it surely is if God freely gives and men freely accept such a gift, and Christians are not in the habit of limiting God in His omnipotence — it is not the ordinary means of receiving grace. It is, in an illustrative word, extraordinary.

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Augustine’s modernity

In Pursue Truth on July 16, 2011 at 6:49 am

Reading for the first time St. Augustine’s Confessions, I come to the startling realization that, despite the tack of modern secularists to reject all knowledge before Descartes — and even then to regard Descartes as something of a funny-smelling befuddled grandfather — people knew things back then anyway, and true things. In the first hundred pages of Confessions we have a forceful denunciation of throwing our lives away on a circus of sophistries, a sharp understanding of what moderns call early childhood development, and a keen insight into the chalk today’s Manichees falsely offer in the name of real food. Replace his contemporaries’ artifice with ours and we at each point have a strong portrait of the human condition today. Demonstrably eternal is the condition of man, and demonstrably great are those who break that cycle.

Augustine was a dramatic influence on fellow Doctor of the Church Thomas Aquinas.

Augustine’s early life is piercingly familiar, and he rings true on so many levels and in so many ways. Speaking from my life, it wasn’t long after hanging around adults that I realized what some call quirks and others vices are no less an influence upon us when we turn 18 years old than they were a decade earlier. In reading this book I found only the latest of many fine examples of occasions when after believing to have finally thought something both true and original I find this prized thought of mine was not only unoriginal but better understood in the fourth century.
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Look at the Body of Christ

In Lay Meditations on July 16, 2011 at 5:38 am

Pauline language which indicates believers are the Body of Christ only reaches its full meaning not when we represent it in abstractions and platitudes, but when we consider what the body of Christ looks like. Not on the boat or on the Mount or even before Pilate — but on the cross. Remember also: Even after the resurrection, Christ retains his wounds. And who put the wounds there? We did, by each of our sins.

Contrast this with a Google Image search for "Body of Christ."

If God allows our sins so that a greater good may come, it is only because that by the wounds of Christ doubting Thomas believes. And so we see even here the final evangelical mission of Christianity. We see even here the essential core of the truth that we are to proclaim truth not only among the pagans but especially those even worse off: the faithless, the disenfranchised, and all else who have repudiated their birthright in their brief, dark Sabbath.

We cannot merely kick the dust from our feet, or pass by on the other side, when the faith of our brother is stripped from him, when he falls among the adversary and so is beaten. We must first realize that just as the disciples felt between the apparent triumph of the adversary on Golgotha and moment they saw the real triumph of Christ, just so are unbelievers stuck in a brief, dark Sabbath in which they nonetheless see no end in sight. We must minister to him.

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