Monday, June 30, 2014

Everything is Awesome

This is a song from the popular LEGO movie. It is just in video stores now. It is a good movie. I blogged about it before. The song is played for a joke. The powers that be want to convince you that everything is awesome so they put out a catchy song and make everyone believe it. As another line from the movie says, "If it rhymes it must be true."

Yet is it true? In a real way it is. As Catholics we believe that God created the world. That all the beauty and wisdom of God is manifest in how he created it. So it is true to say that every created thing is awesome. 

He created every human person. He designed us all individually. He loves us. He made us in His image. He chose to die rather than live without us. So it is true to say every person is awesome. 

God is also acting in human history. No event is absent from His grace. He works good in bad circumstances. He works good in good circumstances. So it is true to say everything that happens is awesome.

Yet something else is true. Catholics would add another verse saying Everything is Fallen. We know it. We want to believe Everything is Awesome. We do. We know it should be true. Yet we know it is not. We believe it was and it will be again but right now we are in a fallen state.

That is very important to realize. For on thing, it means you cannot look at how things are to determine how they should be. If humans normally lie that does not mean they should be liars. We are fallen. We see the awesomeness of truth telling yet we fall short. 

We know that well enough about lying but we are forgetting it in other areas. Mostly we have forgotten it when it comes to sex. How people are is assumed to be how they should be. The awesomeness of one man and one woman in free, total, faithful and fruitful love is forgotten. So anything people can think of is declared to be good enough. 

The reality is there is still enough of that awesomeness around. Enough that it really isn't that plausible to think it is all an accident. That is really the only other choice. It is either all pregnant with potential awesomeness or it just is what it is. 

There really is not that much room for middle ground. You can say that truth-telling is obviously something we should strive for because it is embedded awesomeness. If you do, does it then make sense to say sex just is what it is and there is no awesomeness to strive for there? Lots of people go there but does it really make sense? Either something or Someone is injecting awesomeness into everything and everyone or not. If not then nobody and nothing is worth getting excited about.

Thomas Howard goes into this in his book Chance or Dance. He says either the whole world is a dance between us and God or the whole world is mere chance. We need to choose which to believe and embrace it fully. He sees most religion and even most secularism as playing it half way. Assuming there is a God some of the time and assuming there is not on other issues. It makes little sense. If we assume something was designed into the environment that obligates us to protect it then why would we not also assume something was designed into marriage that obligates us to protect it. We pick and choose based on what answer we want. Only Catholicism consistently sees God in history, in humanity, in nature and in Jesus. 

Atheism? One could imagine a consistent atheism. Really very few who call themselves atheists come close. I say that their credit. Some will argue that there is no  reason to prefer kindness over cruelty. Most won't go there. 

Faith Like A Child

At that time Jesus exclaimed: “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,for although you have hidden these thingsfrom the wise and the learnedyou have revealed them to little ones.Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father,and no one knows the Father except the Sonand anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”
A little slow with this. Life gets busy.  A couple of thoughts from this weeks readings. Jesus starts by talking about how we get to know God. It is sometimes called the scandal of faith. The reason is that we want more evidence. We want to know God the way we know the physical world. Yet God does not go there. Not completely. He gives us just enough evidence to convince those that want to be convinced but not enough to convince those that don't. 

It can actually make intelligence work against you. You get so good at knowing things through reason that you can't make the adjustment and accept that the things of God need to approached with faith. Reason still has a role yet there are times when the smartest guy in the room is going to need to let himself be taught by a child. That can be hard for some to swallow. It has been for me many times.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

St Peter and St Paul

The feast of St Peter and St Paul puts us in touch with the early witness for Christianity. Peter is the leader of the disciples, an eye witness of the resurrection, the first pope, the first member of the new church to do a miracle in the name of Jesus, the first to be arrested, the one to pronounce the first excommunication, etc.

The gospel describes Peter and Jesus in probably the most intimate encounter anyone has with the risen Lord. Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Peter responds, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.” Something gets lost in translation. Jesus uses the word “agape” in his question. Peter responds with “phileo.” Agape is a much stronger word for love. Jesus is asking Peter if He has supernatural love. Peter is saying, “you know” referring to the incident where he denied Jesus 3 times. You know I have a brotherly love for you. You know I said I would die for you and I chickened out. You know I love you but you also know my love is not that supernatural love you deserve. My love is something less than that but it is something.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Evolution and Religion

My anonymous commenter is quite persistent. IT is a good thing. I enjoy the debates. This post is a response to one of his longer thoughts.
religion is widespread I agree, and A Darwinian faced with something which is ubiquitous in a species naturally starts to wonder, what is the Darwinian survival value of that thing , and so the fact that religion is universal in all cultures – not in all individuals but in all cultures – should lead us to ask that question. And I think there’s got to be, in some sense, an evolutionary advantage – although not necessarily to religion itself. We need to rephrase that question, as we often need to rephrase questions about Darwinian survival value. The question should be, “What is the Darwinian survival value of having the kind of brain which manifests itself in religion under some circumstances?” – under some cultural circumstances, in this case. A helpful analogy is moths flying into candle flames. [details moth analogy deleted]
This is a classic objection to atheism. Why do humans seem wired towards religion? Does it not at the very least prove religion has been good for the human species? Of course that does not prove it is true. It does make one wonder why any atheist would want to rid the world of religion. If that is the normal human way to be then why try and get people to stop being that way? If being religious is like having hair and being atheist is like shaving your head bald then it is OK to be bald. Still why go around insisting others should shave their hair?

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Corpus Christi

This week's gospel is Jesus' declaration that we need to eat His flesh and drink His blood. He is very emphatic. He knows we will find this hard to believe so He does everything He can to be clear. He repeats Himself. He uses strong language. He does so in the face of many objections and much ridicule. What more could He do?

St Paul talks about participating in the body and blood of Jesus. He does so in the context of sacrifice. The very next verses ask "are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar?" He says this in relation to sacrifices to idols but it would not connect very well if He did not think of the Eucharist as a sacrifice. We need the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross to be saved. This allows us to participate in that in a very personal way.

Jesus says, "This is the bread that came down from heaven." That is what we need. We are made for heaven but we can't get there on our own. Heaven comes to us. Heaven comes to us corporately in the person of Jesus. Yet heaven must come to us personally. Jesus didn't offer Himself for the sins of mankind. He offered Himself for your sin and for my sin. 

Someone once said that if you were the only one on earth Jesus would have come and died for you. In that case, you would be the one pounding the nails. It would not matter. He would do it because He loves you that much. That is what Jesus says to us when we go to mass. His death and resurrection is made present to us. It it made personal for us. It is made powerful in us. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Worst Possible Exegesis - Discussion

I received a long reply on a post I did a while back called The Worst Possible Exegesis. It is quite long so I will reply in a new post.
There are several theories that can account for why mankind can get "sidetracked" into evil. This issues as well as the origins of morality continue to be the one of the sticking points in the debate of whether religion is necessary in culture. However as easily as the idea of sin can account for people acting 'evil' or perhaps a less rhetorical adverb, selfishly, so too can a Darwinian explanation.
That is not what I asked you. I asked if man got sidetracked, how would we be able to tell? You say moral progress is happening. I can see moral change. Some of it seems good. Some of it seems not so good. You seem to think it is all good. Is that a falsifiable claim? Could society go in wrong direction? If it did, would you know?
However I don't want to go down that road. Id really like to explore more of some of the original questions I posed. Do you indeed think slavery is ok? Or will you assert that I am somehow interpreting those verses wrong? I think it would take nothing less than, as you called it "bad exegesis" or eisegesis, to interpret it any other way. 
It would not be bad exegesis. It would be what we call, interpreting in the tradition of the church. We take the references to slavery in the bible to be cultural and not an endorsement of the institution. We do it because the Holy Spirit has led His church in that direction over the centuries. Catholics believe God's word is made up of scripture, tradition, and the magisterium rather than of scripture alone. So we have the light of what the church has said about slavery to help us the the right interpretation.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Love and Death

Romeo and Juliet performed by the San Francisco Ballet
Have you wondered why Romeo and Juliet is taught in High School? I mean it is about two teenagers who commit suicide. Yet we see it not as an irrational response to teenage hormones. We see it as an amazing love story. There is something about love that needs to be ready to die. It happens in a lot of stories. A person falls in love with someone or some thing and dies for that love. It is a good way to die. It is sad but we know that if we have nothing to die for we have nothing to live for.

We don't all die. There is another way. We can love by giving our lives to our love one day at a time. There are two classic endings. One or both lovers die or the lovers gets married. They live happily ever after. Not really. They die eventually. They give themselves to the beloved by raising a family together. Not giving it all at once but giving more and more until there is nothing left to give. Then they get old and have trouble caring even for each other. Eventually one watches the other die.

Song of Solomon 8:6 says love is as strong as death. Do we really believe it? If love is a brain function then death is stronger. Death means the loss of all brain function. Is love worth dying for? The answer of Jesus is Yes. It is not just a Yes but it is a game changing Yes. Why? Because Jesus brings resurrection. Death is not the final word. That makes love make sense. Any price we pay for it is worth it because we get to die as lovers. Dying as lovers means we get to be raised as lovers. That is worth everything.

Monday, June 9, 2014

John 3:16

This Sunday's gospel includes this famous verse. Probably the most memorized verse in all scripture. 
16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 
The first point to make is that this is often used as a proof text for Sola Fide or Faith Alone. That is it talks about whosoever BELIEVES. That means faith. Or does it? Dave Armstrong is good for responding to these classic proof texts:
The word for "believe" is pistuo (Strong's #4100). It includes in its meaning obedience, not mere mental assent. Thus it is contrasted with disobedience (apitheo) in Jn 3:36, as if it were a synonym for obedience (cf. 1 Peter 2:7, using the same two Greek words). Thus, this would apply to classic evangelistic verses such as Jn 3:16, Rom 1:16, 4:24, 9:33, and 10:9. 
The English language does not really have a word that conveys this idea of belief and along with a reordering or your life around that belief. I sometimes use the word "embrace" to mean that but that brings to mind a physical picture not really present in pistuo. I wonder if it is more common today for people to sign on to a creed and not really change they way they live all that much. I suspect that when John wrote his gospel there was not much question of whether you would live what you believe. Being Christian was illegal so you didn't join just for appearances. 

This is not a complete misuse of the text. There is a definite emphasis on God as Savior rather than God as judge. Whether you are judged guilty or not is not what matters. What matters is whether you believe, in the broader sense that implies obedience, yet it is believing that matter. Salvation is not avoiding the wrath of God but having that wrath removed (Jn 3:36). This is said to a pharisee named Nicodemus. It blew his mind. 

The other thing that is in view here is baptism. Again, Jesus is not saying Salvation has nothing to do with baptism as some would suggest. Baptism is mentioned just a few verses later in Jn 3:22. More importantly, Jesus begins this thought with the idea of being "born again" or being "born of water and the spirit." They are all tied together. 

This brings us to what is supposed to be the main topic, the trinity. Sunday is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. They are all here. God the Father sent His only begotten son. The church understands that to be eternally begotten. There was no moment of begetting before which Jesus did not exist. 

The Holy Spirit is mentioned earlier and later in the chapter. Not sure why the gospel is only 3 verses this week. Still the Holy Spirit is compared to the wind. We become born of the spirit and we are able to live in the spirit. It is the love of God animating us on a whole new level. We had forgotten how to live that that way. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Sex And Anger

With the recent cases of violence against women we hear more talk about the way dating and sex are happening in our culture. There are a lot of theories about what is at the root of it all. Why do men behave badly? Why do they get so angry when women won't have sex with them? These murders are obviously an extreme example but this kind of anger is a thing. We are finding similar sentiments expressed in many ways. 

In recent times women have been trying to deal with promiscuous men by being promiscuous themselves. This is especially true in the modern college dating scene but has generally been the case over the past few decades. Feminism has pushed the idea that women's liberation means normalizing more sex with more partners and less commitment. The theory is that men do it so women should do it as well. 

It has led to a race to the bottom. Men seem to want to be more sexual than women. If women are going to suggest sex by the third date then they will suggest it on the first date. When women move to the first date then men will move to the first conversation. Neither gender wants to put on the brakes. Women because of their commitment to feminism and men because they naturally want to initiate sex. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014


Pentecost is an amazing feast. My dad used to say that society has it backwards. We celebrate Christmas really big, Easter is a lot less, then Pentecost is just a whimper. His idea was that Pentecost should be the biggest feast. Easter should be next. Christmas should be minor by comparison. That is because the feasts build on each other. They build to a climax and that climax is reached when the Holy Spirit is poured out on a new church. 

The Catholic church is a bit different. It sees Easter as bigger than Christmas for sure. Pentecost is part of Easter. That feast lasts the whole 50 days and more. The Ascension and Pentecost are just the aftermath of the Easter victory. They make clear just how big a deal the resurrection was. Jesus not only breaks the power of sin and death. He also opens the door to heaven. Last week we saw that means we can go to heaven. This week we see that heaven can come to us. Mind boggling. All the power of God is available to us through the Holy Spirit. Jesus made it possible. Now the Holy Spirit makes it actual. 

The readings are interesting. There are 4 options for the first reading. Each one emphasizes something different about Pentecost. I shall just talk about one. That is the Tower of Babel. Scott Hahn explains a little of what is going on: 

From this bad line, came the nations who tried to build the Tower of Babel in order "to make a name [Hebrew = shem] for themselves" (Genesis 11:1-9). In other words, they were trying to build a kind of "counter-kingdom" to stand against the name of God. 
As an aside: it’s interesting to note that in Genesis there seems to be a connection between the "name" (shem) and a person’s relationship with God. The big sinners in Genesis - beginning with Adam and Eve who fall for Satan’s promise of being "like gods" - all seem to be trying to make a name for themselves, to exalt themselves, to live as if they don’t need God. 
Think back to Cain. When he builds a city, what does he do? He "names" it after his son, Enoch (see Genesis 4:17). That’s all the builders of the Tower of Babel were doing. Trying to glorify their name, their works. 
The righteous ones in Genesis don’t try to exalt their name. Instead, they rejoice in the blessings of God - they "call on the name of the Lord." While Cain is glorifying his name, his righteous brother Seth is hallowing the Lord’s name, seeking His blessing (see Genesis 4:26).
So what we see in the aftermath of the flood is the renewed people. What do they want to do with the new graces they have been given? They try and create something to compete with God. They build a city and a tower with its top to the sky. 

God looks and sees that man needs to have his wings clipped. He is to powerful and will not humble himself before God. It is a question of our technology getting ahead or our morality and our spirituality. As Spiderman says, "With great power comes great responsibility." They lacked the responsibility so God took away their power. The way He did it was by confusing their language. 

What happened at Babel because of a lesser grace is somewhat reversed at Pentecost when the greater grace of the Holy Spirit arrives. The languages are still confused but the Holy Spirit intervenes to make communication possible. Mankind can be united without being corrupted. 

We see a similar thing happening with some of the Jewish rituals. Thinks like being circumcised or not eating pork or not working on the Sabbath. They served to protect the Jewish people from the influence of gentiles. It was important under the old covenant. The new covenant was stronger. They no longer needed those walls to keep gentile thinking from overwhelming it. It was now strong enough to take on the gentile culture and win. That is what eventually happened with Constantine making the Roman Empire Christian.

This continues to happen. We see human power increasing. Technology allows humans to do things they never could before. We need the grace to be able to handle the power without destroying ourselves morally and spiritually. We seem to be struggling. Advances in genetic engineering and reproductive technologies allow us to do more good and more evil. Smart phones are great but they can enable your kids to watch porn on a playground. Knowledge of evolution and brain chemistry is fascinating but it can tempt a person towards atheism. We need the Holy Spirit to keep us growing in grace as we grow in technology.