Should Christians build for the Future?

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First published at All Along the Watchtower.

My thoughts here are of genuine conversation, there will be little history and little theology. I hope the thought I share will foster a conversation about Christianity going forward in our Western Culture and hopefully the prosperity of both.

My family on my wife’s side is split between Catholics and Confessional Lutherans. During the Christmas season, I am surrounded by as many Lutherans as Catholics, and of course, because we’re all practicing our particular forms of Christianity, we discuss topics of the Church at the dinner table. The particular topic between my wife’s cousin and myself is how Christians, in light of the rise of the supremacy of the secular West, should look more to their commonalities than their differences. I told my relative, “I have a great many conversations with a great many different Christians and as far as I can see at this moment and during our lifetime there will be theological disagreements. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate being Christian and come together in the face of the rising cynicism and unbelief that dominates our dying culture.”

One of the assertions my relative made was that Christianity is dying because we’re not building new Churches–especially in Europe. Now, there are Europeans who inhabit this blog, so I wonder how much weight of truth is there to my relative’s assertion. He believes that for centuries people have walked past what are now nothing more than old buildings and now they have naturally grown an apathy to something that has always been there. In many ways, humans respond this way to other particular in the world; for example, the scenery becomes nothing more than a background of where we live, and often we stop looking at beauty for what it is because we get use to it. I’ve lived all my life in the Midwest of the United States, which is basically the grain belt of the country, so it is very flat. I’ve always dreamed of living by the sea and/or the mountains. One summer during college, my college girlfriend visited my own, she wasn’t from around the area, and when she was there, she experienced a good Midwestern thunderstorm. She kept going on and on about how wondrous and magnificent was the lighting show on display on the prairie. She said that were she from it was too mountain-ness to see a lightning storm, and I was a bit shocked how I have seemed to have taken for granted such a spectacle.

I think there is wisdom to what my relative has surmised in Western Culture. I am reminded of the Ken Follet book “Pillars of the Earth.” The story centered around the building of a great Cathedral and the generations of lives it took to build such a magnificent building, it became an affair of the family and generations. When our church decided to build on to our existing Parish, the parish, of course, had a meeting about the finances. During the meeting, a woman stood up and declared from some sort of statistics that the parish membership was in decline, and we should just build a cost-effective building. I stood up and rejected her thoughts on the matter. I reminded her that money is temporal and that our goal was not to hoard it. I even invoked the reasoning of Kevin Costner, “If you build it, they will come.” A faith that builds is an active faith, a faith that preserves, often times burns slowly like a candle and eventually time will extinguish it.

I believe these are the feelings of my relative in the relationship of people of Western Culture to their churches—and perhaps there is some truth to it. I have a particular devotion to Pope St. John Paul II, and I am reminded of the Soviets purposely building a city called Nowa Huta in Poland for steel manufacturing which included no church “a first in the millennium long history of Poland.”[1] In fact, as Pope John Paul II biographer George Weigel writes, “Over the next four decades the exhaust from Nowa Huta’s steel mills would, literally, eat away at the fabric of Krakow.”[2]

The Ark Church would be consecrated by the future Pope John Paul II in May of 1977 in Nowa Huta after receiving a permit to finally build a church in 1967. Weigel articulates, “The Ark Church is a striking architectural metaphor: the people of the Church, gathered in a boat reminiscent of Noah’s ark and the fishing craft sailed by the apostles on the Sea of Galilee, are carried through the tempests of history.”[3]

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There’s another beautiful church built in the area THE CHURCH OF OUR LADY OF CZĘSTOCHOWA. The construction of this particular church began in 1984 and it’s architecture blends both modern and classic themes in a sanctuary that reminds the faithful of both the sacred and the profane. [4]

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It’s interesting how slow secularism has crept into Poland after an onslaught of both Nazism and Soviet powers. Perhaps, the blood of martyrs seeded the ground of Poland, but the newly seeded ground did have to rebuild either physical churches or their spiritualism. After all, arguably the most devout diocese in Europe resides in Poland—Tarnow.[5]

[1] George Weigel, City of Saints: A Pilgrimage to John Paul II’s Krakow (New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2015), 220.

[2] Ibid, 12.

[3] Ibid, 221-222.

[4] http://www.szklanedomy.cystersi.pl/our-lady-of-czestochowa-parish-krakow-poland/

[5] http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Item/4901/in_vibrantly_catholic_poland_growing_secularism_produces_new_challenges.aspx

Living Water

First Published at All Along the Watchtower.

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Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron calls this particular event of the Samaritan woman at the well in the Gospel of John a master’s course in Evangelization. What is the good Bishop getting at when making such an assertion? Let’s examine the facts: the woman goes to the well at high noon, Jesus is already present at the well, Jesus initiates a conversation, the conversation is initiated without condemnation, Jesus offers to quench her thirst of the affliction of her soul by revealing to the woman what he knows about her.

Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. ¶ The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. 10 ¶ Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water?[1]

As one notices by the woman and Jesus’ conversational exchange is that the woman believes Jesus to be talking about literal water, but this, of course, is not what Jesus is talking about to her.  So, Jesus further explains to her the meaning of his words:

13 Jesus said to her, “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, 14 ¶ but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 ¶ The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.”

Scholars and Theologians have determined that this woman going to the well during this period of the day would mark her undoubtedly as an outcast. Jesus, himself, as the event begins to unfold eventually brings forth the condition of the woman and why she looks to avoid social interaction by drawing water from the well during the extreme heat of the Middle Eastern day.

16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 ¶ for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20[2]

It’s important to notice here that before Jesus attempts to correct her or acknowledge her sins, Jesus offers her an invitation to obtain a living spring within herself. Of course, as Christians, we must refrain from thinking that this living spring in which Jesus speaks of doesn’t mean to just live by the rules of the Christian God and be subject to him in fear of damnation, but rather the desire want to praise him and glorify him–for our own benefit– by doing good works in the world.

For example, just this last Sunday prior to hearing this Gospel reading at Mass, I was walking downtown nearby my diocese’s Cathedral and at a distance, I saw a homeless man. As I used this story to explain to my PSR students, I will certainly explain to any reader as I explained to them, that I did something that was not in my personality to do by approaching the man. I asked him his story and what was going on with his life. I won’t go into the detail of what said exactly and what I did to aid him, but I can tell you certainly that after many months of digging the well of my own prayer life—in the words of St. Teresa of Avila—I was drinking living water. I truly felt the presence of Christ with me because he was acting through me. I finally understood what St. Paul meant when he said, “20 ¶ I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.[3]

After this encounter, I walked the rest of the way to the church and entered the Cathedral. When I arrived at the pew and knelt before God, I took off my glasses, put my hands over my face to hold back tears as my thoughts were lifted up toward God. All I can say is how strange and beautiful the paradox to be both Jesus and meet him at the well. After retelling the event to my PSR students, I explained to them that they can be Jesus at the well and stir forth springs of living water in their classmates, teachers, and parents. I told them that if they are to come across another kid at their school is may not be the “cool” kid go and eat lunch and play with them. If they are the one being bullied at school and the bully demands their pencil offer a piece of paper as well.

The students were perplexed by the last option, so I explained through the gifts of the Holy Spirit we can stir forth our neighbors living water so that they might believe in Jesus even the worst of situations. I offered them the idea that if a robber demanded my cell phone, I would freely give them the phone and more. At this point, a young lady jerked back and said, “Why would you just give in?” I told her “If I give them the phone freely then they are not stealing, and therefore, not a robber.”

I reminded them that at the heart of breaking forth a living spring is one of the core ideas of the Sermon on the Mount:

39 ¶ But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; 40 and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; 41 and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.

The Holy Bible. (2006). (Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition, Mt 5:39–42). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

[1] The Holy Bible. (2006). (Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition, Jn 4:7–11). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

[2] The Holy Bible. (2006). (Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition, Jn 4:13–20). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

[3] The Holy Bible. (2006). (Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition, Ga 2:20). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

The Gospel of Matthew and the Fulfillment of Prophecy.

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Edward Sri, associate professor of Scripture and Theology at the Augustine Institute, thoroughly examines in chapter ten of his book Dawn of the Messiah: The Coming of Christ in Scripture the Gospel of Matthew and how Matthew connects his audience to the scripture of the Old Testament with the coming Messiah. The Gospel of Matthew, as Sri highlights, examines the connections between the old Jewish scriptures and the story of Jesus’ birth in his gospel “with the precision of a Swiss watch.”[1] Matthew being highly educated, as a tax collector, would have been familiar with writing skills to illustrate a story as Sri examines for “an audience with a strong Jewish background.”[2]

Many would assume that Matthew is writing for a primarily Greek audience according to how he frames his narrative of Jesus fulfilling the messianic prophecy with  “clear, explicit connections to Old Testament passages.”[3]However, as Sri examines this is simply the most glaring method that Matthew employs while writing his gospel.[4]
Exploring the clear and explicit connections to the Old Testament; Sri highlights a passage from the Book of Isaiah and how it relates to prophecy being fulfilled in the Gospel of Matthew. In the Book of Isaiah 7:14, the Lord spoke to Ahaz saying, “the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”[5] Sri connects this to a prophecy being fulfilled in the first chapter of Matthew.[6] As Sri explains, Matthew makes the connection to Isaiah by writing, “ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel.”[7]

The text may indicate that the constructed prose is for a Greek audience as the typology between the Old Testament and New Testament would appear to have been self-evident to a Jewish audience. However, Sri explains that Matthew is “connecting the dots” for his audience as “one does not need to know a lot about the Old Testament to realize that prophecy is coming to fulfillment.”[8]However, Matthew is attempting to reaffirm Christ’s case for being the Messiah to a Jewish audience who may doubt his status as the “anointed one.”

Another example of Matthew connecting the dots to another prophecy is the one given in Micah 5:1-4.[9] Chapter five of Micah begins, “But you, Bethlehem-Ephrathah , too small to be among the clans of Judah, From you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; Whose origin is from of old, from ancient times. Therefore, the Lord will give them up, until the time when she who is to give birth has borne, and the rest of his brethren shall return to the children of Israel. He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the Lord, in the majestic name of the Lord, his God; and they shall remain, for now his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth he shall be peace.”[10]Again, Matthew connects the Old Testament prophecy with the birth of Christ by having the chief priest confirm with Herod the prophecy stating, “For thus it has been written through the prophet: ‘And you Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.”[11]

[1] Edward Sri, Dawn of the Messiah: The Coming of Christ in Scripture (Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2005), 138.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Isa. 7:14 NAB

[6] Sri, 139.

[7] Matt. 1:22-23 NAB

[8] Sri, 139.

[9] Ibid, 140.

[10] Mic. 5:1-4 NAB

[11] Matt 2:5-6 NAB

Religious freedom in medicine at stake in 2016, Catholic docs say

By Dennis Sadowski

November 5, 2016

WASHINGTON – A pair of Catholic physicians argue that changes in the way health care is paid for, and stronger relationships between doctors and their patients, will do more to improve people’s health and uphold the sanctity of life than bureaucratic government-run programs and expensive insurance policies.

Dr. Marguerite Duane, adjunct associate professor of family medicine at Georgetown University, and Dr. Lester Ruppersberger, president of the Catholic Medical Association, also maintain that control over health care must be in the hands of patients and their families rather than any bureaucracy.

Both physicians offered their views during an hour-long discussion Nov. 2 in Washington sponsored by Christ Medicus Foundation at the Catholic Information Center called “The Changing Face of Health Care and the 2016 Election.”
The program took place just days ahead of the Nov. 8 election. Each of the four participants said that the next presidential administration and the new Congress will influence how the U.S. health care system evolves.

The panelists expressed concern over the erosion of conscience protections for hospitals and health care workers and the rights of individuals to choose a doctor who aligns with their religious beliefs and to purchase insurance without paying for health services that they morally oppose.

“People have to realize that Americans of all stripes, regardless of their religious affiliation, that we are losing our religious freedom … at amazing speed,” said Louis Brown, foundation director.

 

 

Readmore via Religious freedom in medicine at stake in 2016, Catholic docs say

BISHOP JAMES D. CONLEY, STL-What Every Evangelist Needs to Know – Crisis Magazine

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“Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of resting on the fruit of what good Catholics before us have built. We cannot be a Church of maintenance, as George Weigel reminds us in Evangelical Catholicism. We are a Church “permanently in mission.” God will judge each one of us on whether we have become his disciples, and whether we have made disciples of all nations, as Jesus commanded. We are each called to become the saints the world needs now.

Pope St. John Paul II taught that saints step forward, into a world needing the Gospel, when no one else will. That’s what Edward Creighton, along with his wife Mary and his brother John, did.

We are each called to step forward, as missionary disciples to the time and place in which we live…

The Culture We Are Living In Today
I have said before that today’s America is becoming defined by a kind of utilitarian, technocratic gnosticism.

That sounds complicated, but the idea is simple, and I’ll explain it:

The moral compass of our political and cultural leaders seems mostly governed by a set of false ideas: That we can define reality according to our preferences. That we can remake every human relationship according to the power of our wills. That we have the unconditional right to use technology or wealth to overcome the limitations of our humanity, or achieve whatever we think will make us happy.”

Readmore via What Every Evangelist Needs to Know – Crisis Magazine

The History of God and the Resurrection: A Conversation of Struggle

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Below is taken from emails and pieced together from a conversation with a family member, note that many of the ideas can be fleshed out in far greater detail: 

The problem with pain is not a unique attack on God, but rather a clever one that acknowledges an existence but attacks His character as if His character could be assessed in the same manner as any human. The problem with this common assertion is often the focus on God; for example, why do we blame God for evil rather than humanity? There are many who have supplied refutations to this objection such as C.S Lewis, Fulton Sheen, Joseph Ratzinger, etc.

There are two things to understand. The world because of humanity’s original sin is – profane and not holy-and not the end. Therefore, God’s greatest concern is for the sanctity of our souls. If God allows pain by allowing free will to exist and by allowing natural disasters, we can be comfortable to answer that He does so to allow us to use these opportunities to ease the suffering on earth for the healing of our souls. Suffering is allowed to exist so that a greater good can occur for those in the City of Man to become sanctified.

Many will object to this answer, but I ask them, “What if it’s the truth, what would be your reaction if you knew it to be true?”

So, recently, I’ve been asked How can I know? Where does my faith come from? If I am to answer myself, especially when looking at our current world, I would say that my faith flows from the spring of Truth. When I look at the world, I see a finely tuned creation. A creation that has objective moral truths, natural rights, and natural laws, so from this foundation, I call it God. My observations of the world have allowed me to conclude that relativism is false, and if there are objective truths, what is the source? However, as I have arrived at this conclusion, I ask, is there anything I can know about God? Historically, because I’ve come to the conclusion that God exists, I look to the Apostles and the Gospels. Many modern Atheists will reject the Gospels as evidence, but this is simply not an action of the scholarly. For example, the Gospels quite easily fall in the genre of Ancient Biography, and prior to my degree in history, I was a Classics major and read my fair share of Ancient Biographies to know that just because an Ancient account has miracles doesn’t dismiss its historical content. For example, as I studied Alexander the Great in my youth with a great zeal, I know that modern scholars do not dismiss historical accounts of Alexander by Plutarch, Arrian, and Diodorus even though they have unexplainable events within the texts such as prophecies from oracles and fathers who are deities.

So let’s recap, I have concluded by observing the natural world with philosophy that God exists, and I am searching if there is anything I can know about this God? Now, just like I would as Classic student, examining the ancient accounts without consideration of miracles, what do the accounts tell me? One of the things that it tells me is that the Apostles were all scared and fled for their lives when their leader—Christ–was arrested and executed. After some time, something changed, and those men were not afraid. In fact, all became so courageous that only John was not a martyr. Not one cried out to escape their fates, “I am fraud.”

Now, it’s true, in our modern age of skepticism, there are those who doubt that Jesus of Nazareth was even a historical figure. I cannot stress this enough that this is a position of anti-intellectualism on their part. The historical record, aside from the Gospels, supports the existence of the man. Here is an account from a pagan Roman Historian by the name of Tacitus (55-115 A.D.):

Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, and the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. (Annals XV:44)

 Of course, there is other evidence from Josephus, Suetonius, and others, but many modern skeptics attempt to force Christians into a pigeonhole reading of these accounts in a minimalist perspective rather than maximalist– a viewpoint one is accorded with other Ancient Biographies—mainly because there is so much more at stake with the Gospels.

From this evidence, I have concluded that there is a God, I have concluded from the Gospels that Christ claimed to be God, and I have concluded that he died and his Apostles were inspired by something that occurred after his death to meet their own deaths. Ultimately, I have concluded that Christ rose from the dead. If Christ did indeed die and rose again to conquer sin, I gather that God does care about us and is benevolent rather than malevolent because He chose to become a lowly man, and suffered a lowly scandalous death.

Furthermore, with the revelation of this truth, God can’t be a narcissist, as militant modern atheists now claim, for obligating worship in the respect that narcissism is a human disorder for it is not possible that a human can be perfect. A perfect being who is truly great cannot, by definition, be a narcissist. The being of God is one that is truly perfect who requires worship not necessarily for His glory–because what could our worship aid in the divine?–but rather for the benefit of our eternal soul and sanctification because this is the ultimate plan of God for his creation.

So remember, when we see pain in the world, The most powerful action is turning to God for assistance because ultimately the pain was brought into the world by humanity because of our betrayal of God. We can do this by prayer and compassionate action to our fellow human. Let us, tell God here on earth that we choose to serve him rather than ourselves.

Worship God like Daniel: Being a PSR Catechist

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It has been some time since I have last posted on this blog, I have been very busy and very tired with my new job. I have been working six days a week since July and what little time I have had to myself I have either been keeping up with my praying, reading and studying the faith, and I have been volunteering at my local parish as a PSR Catechist.

Being a PSR Catechist has been challenging, as I was hoping to get older students to be able to discuss deeper theological matters; however, I was given the assignment of 4th graders, an age group (or younger) as a teacher I always avoided teaching. It has been a rewarding challenge that has allowed me to grow deeper in my own faith. The few classes have been duds on my part. At first, I attempted to teach the course material in a lecture format and hoping the students would engage in questions for explanations , but often times the students just looked bored or made comments that were not on topic. For Example, we discussed matters of creation, I was hoping the students would object to the lesson having read a CNA article that claimed that students around the age of ten lost their faith in God because of “science,” but, of course, they did not object to much of anything.

One of the next classes was on the topic of the Holy Trinity. I attempted to explain the Athanasian Creed and discussed elements of St. Patrick and Dante’s Divine Comedy, again, to bored faces. Another time we discussed the two parts of the mass and I used language from John’s Gospel to discuss “The Word” who was with God in the beginning and the mystical miracle of being present for Christ’s sacrifice over 2000 years ago. So again, I was faced with blank stares, no questions, and off topic comments.

I asked myself, “How on earth do I reach these 4th graders?” I attempted to change my lessons a bit every week, but with little to no success. I used the Smart Board and attempted to use bribery with no success. Finally, I came to the topic of my latest class which was the Ten Commandments with a special focus on the first three commandments. At this point, I was at a loss on how to articulate and get them to remember any sort of lesson. Finally, after some prayer and reading, a thought crossed my mind as I had just watched a show on the Book of Daniel; remembering as a child how I always enjoyed great storytelling, I decided to employ Daniel’s story into a lesson on the Commandments I began the lesson with the book work and going over the Ten Commandments. It appeared to be another boring lesson as we then began to focus on the first three Commandments.

After going over in detail the first three Commandments, I told them it reminded of a story in the Bible about a man who could interpret dreams named Daniel. In a dramatic flare, I began to tell them the story about how Daniel and his friends were put under the control of the Babylonians and Nebuchadnezzar. One day Nebuchadnezzar told Daniel and his friends that they must worship a statue and Daniel’s friends resisted because of their love for God. Nebuchadnezzar angry at their disobedience ordered them to be BURNED! The kids bored faces melted into worried faces. I told them Nebuchadnezzar threw them into the fire and for some reason they did not burn because God (rewarding their faith) protected them from any harm. I told them that in our world today a great many people will demand us to worship false gods and we must resist them, no matter the consequences. I warned them by resisting there would be consequences for these actions, but God would reward us for our faith. By doing this, we would be fulfilling God’s first commandment. So I told the class, “I am Nebuchadnezzar, worship my statue!” The kids shouted with great enthusiasm, “No!” I repeated myself and they responded even louder, “No!”

During the story, I told them the rulers that oppressed the Hebrews changed and that Cyrus now ruled the Hebrews. After some time Cyrus was convinced to outlaw praying for 30 days by members of the court attempting to rid Daniel, as he was favored by Cyrus. I told them that Daniel could not follow this law because of his love for God, and he disobeyed Cyrus. Cyrus, as ruler, could not tolerate this disobedience from one of his subjects so he sentenced Daniel to death! I told them with a great roar that Daniel was thrown into a den of hungry lions–the kids sat at the edge of their seats–Daniel prayed to God for protection, and again, because of the faith of Daniel, the lions did not touch him. Cyrus was moved by this revelations and finally Daniel was set free. I explained to them that there have been laws in the past, such as in Nazi Germany; Soviet Russia; Soviet-controlled Poland; modern day places in the Middle East and Mexico, that prevented people from worshipping God. It is our duty no matter the cost to resist these people and pray as Daniel. I told them it is possible that we could rounded up or that our Priests could be pulled from the altar during and shoot them in the middle of the street. We must continue to have faith like Daniel and doing so we would keep the third commandment.

After class, I teach the class with a Deacon and he came up to me and said, “What a class!”

I replied, “I don’t know what came over me.”

He said, “The kids have never been so enthralled, I know what came over you, the Holy Spirit.”

Dante and The Spiritual but Not Religious

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First published on newsforcatholics.info 

I am currently writing either a short story or what may be a full-length book. During my long working days, I’ve been listening to audio books, and the titles that I have been attempting to choose are Catholic Classics. Two of the titles that I have listened to during the past couple of weeks are commonly known by most folks: The Divine Comedy by Dante and Utopia by Thomas More. The titles have inspired me to combine the two elements of the story to form a modern update for our own period. I will be using the guided journey model of the Divine Comedy with the satire model from Thomas More explaining the beliefs of the Utopians. Of course, my version will be the product of our modern secular world, which at times isn’t far off from More’s satire warning. I am continually researching aspects of scripture, the books mentioned, and scientific advancements to include into the title. It appears my story will fall into the dystopia genre, although modeled after Utopia.

Notwithstanding, I wanted to talk about an early part of the Divine Comedy in the Inferno, or I should say prior to entering the gates of Hell. I believe it to resonate with many in our current society and how they view their own culture and morality.

Prior to when Dante and Virgil enter Hell, they encounter the spiritually neutral in Inferno Canto III: 22-69.

“Here sighs, complaints, and deep groans, sounded through the starless air, so that it made me weep at first. Many tongues, a terrible crying, words of sadness, accents of anger, voices deep and hoarse, with sounds of hands amongst them, making a turbulence that turns forever, in that air, stained, eternally, like sand spiraling in a whirlwind. And I, my head surrounded by horror, said: ‘Master, what is this I hear, and what race are these, that seem so overcome by suffering?’

And he to me: ‘This is the miserable mode in which those exist, who lived without praise, without blame. They are mixed in with the despised choir of angels, those not rebellious, not faithful to God, but for themselves. Heaven drove them out, to maintain its beauty, and deep Hell does not accept them, lest the evil have glory over them.’[1]

The audio account that I had listened to was a broadcast reproduction of sorts, and it gave a specific name to these race of souls. I imagine it to be something of the nature of “outlanders” or “outliers,” but no longer remember. I was very much struck by this part of the narrative because I felt it explained many in our current society. Many of us have heard the phrase, for instance, “I am spiritual, but not religious.” Of course what this means is that they have been convinced by the ideology that religious institutions such as churches are antiquated, to say the least.

Part of this ideology has been birthed by the so-called “enlightenment” and the philosophy of Classical Liberalism formed around the same period to govern. Many historians and popular culture for that matter have found it necessary to promote the myth of scientific revolution of leading us out of the Dark Ages of Christianity into an Enlightened state of “thinking for oneself.” Of course, this is the message that one who takes the middle road of saying, “I’m spiritual, but not religious,” and these folks would be included with those who Dante writes about in the Inferno.

People feel the need to liberated from institutions that are cast in a negative light by popular histories, and people feel the need to be liberated from institutions who promote a morality that is contrary to the mainstream hedonistic culture. Addressing the first issue, the best thing that Catholic, or any Christian can do is call out false narratives for what they are…false. Rodney Stark, a Lutheran, and professor at Baylor, writes about these false narratives in his book Bearing False Witness that continue to be retold about the Catholic Church, the Dark Ages, the Inquisition, the Enlightenment, and Protestant modernity. For example, Stark writes, “Incredibly, not only was there no “fall into “Dark Ages,” this was “one of the great innovative eras of mankind,” as technology was developed and put to into use’ one a scale no civilization had previously known.”[2]

The second point is addressed by today’s Gospel reading, Luke 12: 49-52:

Jesus said to his disciples:

“I have come to set the earth on fire,
and how I wish it were already blazing!
There is a baptism with which I must be baptized,
and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!
Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?
No, I tell you, but rather division.
From now on a household of five will be divided,
three against two and two against three;
a father will be divided against his son
and a son against his father,
a mother against her daughter
and a daughter against her mother,
a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

Although I prefer Matthew’s version, Mt. 10: 34-39:

34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;36 and a man’s foes will be those of his own household. 37 He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.

By accepting the authority of Christ’s bride, the Church, we do become religious and we are required to be religious to be spiritual. By declaring our faith in Christ and submitting to the authority of his Bride, the Church, we will certainly create divisions amongst our fellow modern friends and relatives by honoring the morality that has been dictated by God, and rejecting the relative morality of our current society.
Fr. Dwight Longenecker has wrote on the topic, writing:

“Spiritual but not Religious?” This just means the person is too lazy to look beyond their adolescent bias. They are too lazy to learn what it means to be truly religious. They are too smug and shallow and immature to ever regard anything greater than themselves as greater than themselves.

Spiritual but not Religious”? They have dismissed religion before they have even seriously considered it or studied it, and even if they have had a chance to consider it, what kind of religion have they been offered to consider? The state of Christianity in the United States is so dire, I’m not surprised any kid with half a brain rejects it. The culture encourages passivity and being a spectator. No wonder they reject religion for religion requires commitment and hard work and wonder and fear and self sacrifice and guts.”[3]

Furthermore, Fr. Longenecker is right to equate this philosophy to the age old enemy of Christianity, Manichaeism. A Christian cannot be spiritual and not religious without falling into an age old heresy of the Church. Many feel that it is an ‘evolved’ state of being for modern man when in reality It falls into the realm of Gnosticism that always denied the physical aspects of the Church, its sacraments, and the words of Christ to St. Peter.

Pray for those who feel compelled to this philosophy for they will always be on the outside looking in as exemplified by Dante’s poem.

[1] Dante Alighieri. Trans. Kline, A.S. The Divine Comedy (Poetry in Translation) 2000, 18.

[2] Rodney Stark, Bearing False Witness ( West Conshohocken: Templeton Press) 2016, 76.

[3] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/standingonmyhead/2012/01/spiritual-but-not-religious.html

‘Recovering Catholics’ and the Flytes

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First Published on http://newsforcatholics.info/ : a great source for Catholic News, Commentary and general information on the faith

It was toward the end of a hot day. I was in the midst of a “small talk” conversation of sorts with an acquaintance and the topic of religion came to the surface. Of course, when pondering the conversation, I can’t help but think that it was a peculiar topic to randomly come up amongst two strangers. However, the topic did somehow naturally develop between acquaintances when my fellow conversationalist told me that he had gone to Catholic School. At this point, I thought perhaps I had stumbled upon a new friend of mutual lifestyles and my reply to his revelation was “Oh, I’m Catholic too.”

The response of my acquaintance was a bit deflating as he said, “Oh, I am a recovering Catholic.”

I’ve heard the phrase before, and I’ve always thought it odd. How do these folks perceive their recovery? Do they feel that they have been so indoctrinated as a child that the foundation that had been forged in their youth causes them to relapse from their newfound clarity back to Catholicism or is it an ongoing process to cleanse them from their attachment to Catholicism much like the doctrine of purgatory?

Regardless, I didn’t continue further with the conversation because I felt that there was little more that I could say on the matter. However, I’ve been reminded recently of two particular parts of Brideshead Revisited after the conversation. My current employment has been a blessing that I am able to listen to many audio books, and when seeing that Brideshead was narrated by Jeremy Irons I could not resist, but it has allowed for little to no time for blogging.

(Although I do try to keep up on reading and browsing my favorite blogs)

As I began listening to Irons read the timeless words of Waugh with the conversation fresh in my mind, I couldn’t help but focus on the particular passage in this great title:

“Bridey, you mustn’t be pious,” said Sebastian. “We’ve got an atheist with us.”

“Agnostic,” I said. (Charles Ryder)

“Really? Is there much of that at your college? There was a certain amount at Magdalen.” (Bridey)

“I really don’t know. I was one long before I went to Oxford.” (Ryder)

“It’s everywhere,” said Brideshead. (pg. 86 ebook Little Brown Book Company)

Prior to this clarification by Charles, Charles and Sebastian have a conversation on the topic of Sebastian’s Catholicism:

“Who was it used to pray, ‘O God, make me good, but not yet’?”

“I don’t know. You, I should think.”

“Why, yes, I do, every day. But it isn’t that.”

He turned back to the pages of the News of the World and said, “Another naughty scout-master.”

“I suppose they try and make you believe an awful lot of nonsense?”

“Is it nonsense? I wish it were. It sometimes sounds terribly sensible to me.”

“But my dear Sebastian, you can’t seriously believe it all.”

“Can’t I?”

“I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass.”

“Oh yes, I believe that. It’s a lovely idea.”

“But you can’t believe things because they’re a lovely idea.”

“But I do . That’s how I believe.” (p. 82)

As I was listening to these two scenes that are very near each other, I kept thinking in my mind “Recovering Catholic” over and over. I suppose it’s because in many ways both Julia and Sebastian attempted to be “recovering Catholics.” Charles, in a discussion with Julia about his love for her and her brother, commented on Sebastian being the “forerunner.” The two were so very much alike in many ways it’s not entirely surprising that Charles shared a love for both of them.

Our modern world questions the Catholic faithful much like Charles does of Sebastian’s faith especially when our Catholicism is counter to the prevailing wisdom of mainstream secular morals. When it comes to topics like the sacrament of marriage, unborn children, and rejection of material culture the world replies, “You can’t seriously believe it all?” Of course, when the faithful respond, “But I do. That’s how I believe.” The faithful will be mocked for being anti-science or anti –intellectual. In fact, when Julia is struggling with the realization of her own sins in the world, in a way, Charles mocks the idea in the narrative saying:

“Of course it’s a thing psychologists could explain; a preconditioning from childhood; feelings of guilt from the nonsense you were taught in the nursery. You do know at heart that it’s all bosh, don’t you?” (p. 272)

Julia’s replies: ““How I wish it was!”

“Sebastian once said almost the same thing to me.”

So what does this mean for “recovering Catholics”? What does Waugh attempt to tell us in his passages to a man who during those particular points in the story speaks just like our modern world? Waugh attempts to tell us to recognize God’s Grace in action. I didn’t say anything to my acquaintance, mainly because I thought I would do more harm than good, but we have to remember the words of the Venerable Fulton Sheen, “Actually, there are only two philosophies of life: one is first the feast, then the headache; the other is first the fast then the feast.” And so according to the precepts of Christianity, it comes down to a choice between picking up one’s cross or not. Preparing one’s treasures in heaven or on earth. However, a “recovering Catholic” may yet have the tools necessary to choose to accept God’s Grace.

The Eschatological Traditions Pt. 2

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I welcome those who have either caught the first part of the two-part series or those who visiting for the first time. The Eschatological traditions of the Catholic faith can seem overwhelming at first glance; however, a fantastic place to begin to understand what Catholics believe is found in an explanation of the faith by Michael Pennock in his book This is Our Faith. Pennock goes over every single element of the end times and explains it in a manner that can be understood by the laity.

The Resurrection of the Body

Pennock explains, “At death our souls will separate from our bodies which will decay.” (p.155) Our souls will meet God, but when Christ returns on a cloud, God will “grant incorruptible life to our bodies by reuniting them with our souls.” (CCC 997) Pennock writes, “Our Christian belief in the resurrection of the body contrasts sharply with many other religions that teach some type of nebulous spiritual form of existence in the afterlife. Christians belief gold that the whole person—body and soul—will survive death.” (p. 155) Pennock reminds Catholics that the Resurrection of the Body doctrine is core to Christian belief of respecting the human body, especially the defenseless (like unborn babies). (Ibid)

Of course, a natural question is what will be the state of our bodies? Will some be children? Will some be old? Pennock reminds us that “The most important quality of the resurrected body is immortality; we will never die again…We will never feel pain. Our bodies will shine brightly, reflecting the glory of the beatific vision, that is, “seeing God.”—like Moses.

St. Paul allows the best insight on the topic in his first letter to the Corinthians, 1 Cor. 15:35-37, 42-44.

35 But some one will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 You foolish man! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain…

 42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.

The Second Coming

In the first paragraph of Pennock’s description of the Second Coming, he highlights the second to last verse in the Bible, Revelation 22:20, which reads “Come Lord Jesus.” (p.153) It’s plea that many Christians have forgotten in their prayers in this modern temporal world. As humans, we look at the hostility of war, politics, famine, etc., and believe that somehow if we just put aside our differences we can make a paradise here on earth. However, only Christ can do so, and before he comes, our world will only decay further into ruin. Christ will come again at the Parousia, a day that Christians do not fear, and a day that only the Father knows the hour. The second coming of Christ, explained by Pennock, “will mark the time when God’s reign will be fully established on earth.” (p. 154) As the Apostle’s Creed confesses that during Christ’s seconding “from Thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.

St. Paul gives a description of the event of the Second Coming and the Resurrection of Body in his letter to the Thessalonians; 1 Thes. 4:16-17 RSV:

16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; 17 then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. 

The Second Coming of Christ is intrinsically connected to both the Last Judgment and the Resurrection of the Body. In the CCC 1040 it declares, “The Last Judgment will come when Christ returns in glory. Only the Father knows the day and the hour; only he determines the moment of its coming. Then through his Son Jesus Christ he will pronounce the final word on all history.”

The Judgment

Our Judgment is broken into two judgments, the first being a particular judgment and the second being the general judgment, or also known as The Last Judgment. The Particular Judgment occurs immediately after our earthly death when we will appear before God. (p.152) During this judgment, God will decide whether we worthy of entering into Heaven. Pennock explains, “At death, our time of trial is over. The Particular Judgment will reveal us for what we are…either loving lives of service or lives of self-centeredness.” (Ibid) As noted by Pennock, If choose a life of love and service, this judgment is nothing fear, as there will be no surprise during the outcome of this judgment for we truly know in our hearts whether we have done God’s will or not. (p. 153)

The general judgment or the Final Judgment takes place during the end of time. God’s saving plan will be revealed to everyone who has every lived in the world. The Gospel of Matthew Chapter 25 gives a vivid account of this judgment where the Son of Man will separate the sheep from the goats. Pennock articulates that “The basis of this last or general judgment is simple: the love of God with our entire beings and our neighbor as ourselves.” (p, 153)

Mt. 25: 31-46 RSV

The Judgment of the Nations

31 “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left.34 Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? 38 And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? 39 And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’46 And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”