All posts by techdecisions

Atheism

Getting Rid of Bad Attitudes

Norman Vincent Peale, who wrote The Power of Positive Thinking, once said, “The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.” It’s hard to honestly face criticism, but it’s the only way we can grow as human beings, since we are notoriously good at deceiving ourselves about our own competence and knowledge.

That is why I hope theists will consider shedding attitudes we might unknowingly possess that can hinder productive dialogue.

Let’s start with three bad attitudes people who believe in God sometimes exhibit.

Bad Theistic Attitude #1: “No rational person can be an atheist! Do you think we just came from monkeys or something?”

In his book Introduction to Christianity, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict XVI) writes, “Just as the believer is choked by the salt water of doubt constantly washed into his mouth by the ocean of uncertainty, so the non-believer is troubled by doubts about his unbelief, about the real totality of the world which he has made up his mind to explain as a self-contained whole.”

Theists do their cause a great disservice by ridiculing atheists or saying that it is obvious atheism is false. If atheism were simply irrational, then why would believers have to guard against being “drowned” by unbelief? Likewise, atheists should know that many people have wrestled and struggled with the question of God’s ex- istence before they converted to religious faith. Both sides should accept each other’s doubts and journey toward the truth together in a spirit of mutual humility.

In regard to the theory of evolution, atheists will probably find an origin from monkeys to be more likely than an origin from God—because at least we have seen monkeys and know they exist. Even if a theist doesn’t believe in the theory of evolution, if he can create a case for God’s existence that does not come across as anti-science, most atheists will find that position to be more reasonable.

Indeed, scientific ignorance—real or perceived—only reinforces the negative stereotypes that atheists have about Christians. St. Augustine worried about this kind of attitude in the fourth century when he wrote:

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world. . . . Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation.

There’s no need to insult someone’s intelligence just because he does not believe in God. In a debate at Cambridge University on the subject “Is God a Delusion?”,William Lane Craig said,

“[Atheists] recognize that the existence of God is a difficult question on which rational opinion can vary. Peter and I haven’t indicted our opponents tonight as being deluded. We think they’re mistaken, but we wouldn’t say they’re deluded. Why can’t they return the favor? People can disagree without calling each other names.”

Sensible atheists also have this agreeable attitude. Scott Aiken and Robert Talisse write in their book Reasonable Atheism: A Moral Case for Respectful Disbelief:

“We think that religious beliefs are false and that religious believers are mistaken in their religious beliefs. We do not “respect” religious beliefs. We do, however, respect religious believers. We hold that religious believers can be intelligent, rational, and responsible, despite the falsity of their religious beliefs; in short, we hold that religious believers can be reasonable.”

Bad Theistic Attitude #2: “Atheists are immoral.”

Once when I was taking questions from an audience after one of my presentations, a gentleman asked me, “Why would anyone ever be an atheist? Don’t they know that Hitler and Stalin were atheists?” I told this man that saying someone is like Hitler usually starts a conversation off on the wrong foot, but there was an even more fundamental problem with this attitude. Whether Hitler was an atheist is unclear, but even if he was, so what? Maybe Hitler liked kittens and sunsets, too, but that doesn’t make those things evil by association. The immoral, even heinous, lives of some atheists do not invalidate the truth of atheism any more than the lives of immoral Christians invalidate theism. Any religion or belief system can have immoral people who hold to it. This does nothing to prove whether its beliefs are true or false.

Some theists say that if God does not exist, then what reasons would an atheist have to be good, since there is no life beyond the grave? But atheists have many practical reasons to be moral and would be offended by the idea that they are, as a whole, not morally good people. An atheist might cite her desire to make the human community more stable, or her need to follow her own conscience, or her belief in a principle like the Golden Rule as a reason to be moral. In any case, the real question we should ask is not why individual atheists would be moral, but why objective moral truths exist if God does not.

Bad Theistic Attitude #3: Failing to empathize with atheists

In her 2012 book Why Are You Atheists So Angry?, Greta Christina catalogues nearly 100 grievances atheists have against the followers of various religions. Christina’s complaints can be grouped under a few common themes:

-Atheists are compelled by the state to endorse or practice religion against their will (such as being forced to participate in public prayer).

-The state endorses a particular set of religious beliefs (like the teaching of creationism in public schools or prohibitions on marriage between people of the same sex).

-Religious people have ridiculous beliefs that cause them to hurt or dehumanize other people through acts like medical malpractice, bullying, social rejection, and even murder.

-Religious people believe things for stupid reasons.

In one example, Christina writes,“I’m angry at preachers who tell women in their flock to submit to their husbands because it’s the will of God, even when their husbands are beating them within an inch of their lives.”

Some theists will reply defensively that such examples don’t reflect their religion, or that their religion is being misrepresented as being unreasonable. But sometimes atheists don’t want to know if your religion is reasonable.

Sometimes they just want to know if you are reasonable. Aren’t you at least angry at Christians who use religion as an excuse to bully children? Wouldn’t you agree that laws related to marriage or abortion should be based on reason and not religion? Isn’t it okay to be angry when religious hypocrites hurt others? If atheists think theists are just “out to get them” and aren’t concerned by these injustices like they are, then there can be little hope for theistic beliefs to get a fair hearing among non-believers.

Likewise, atheists should realize that although theists and Christians are a majority in the United States, there are many particular places where they are the minority and can be pushed around. According to the Social Science Research Council, while only about one in five people think the Bible is a book of fables and myths, nearly three out of four professors at elite universities hold that view.

Instead of bullying, both sides of this debate should protect each other’s right to discuss and disagree without the fear of violence or persecution.”

Love,
Matthew

“Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they?” -C.S. Lewis

“C.S. Lewis, the author of Mere Christianity and The Chronicles of Narnia, was not Catholic but he did believe in the existence of purgatory. He knew dying does not change our sinful hearts, so God must do something to us after death in order to make us fit to spend eternal life with him. Lewis said, “Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they?”

1 John 5:17 says, “All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal.” The Church accordingly refers to mortal sins as our freely chosen, gravely evil acts that destroy God’s love in our hearts. These sins forfeit our hope of eternal life with God unless we ask God to forgive them through the sacrament of reconciliation (confession).

Unlike mortal sins, venial sins hurt the soul but do not kill God’s grace within it. These are sins that people commit in their day-to-day life that do not completely separate them from God but do hurt their relationship with him. Catholics don’t have to confess these sins to a priest (but they can if they wish), and the Eucharist also cleanses us of these sins. But what happens to people who don’t seek the sacraments and die in an unclean state of venial sin?

Since these people died in a state of grace and friendship with God, there is no possibility they will go to hell. But Revelation 21:27 says that nothing unclean will be in heaven. It logically follows, therefore, that these saved souls will be purged of their sins prior to spending eternity with God. According to the Catechism, “The Church gives the name purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned” (CCC 1031).

Purgatory is not an alternative to heaven and hell nor is it a “second chance” to choose God. All souls that go to purgatory belong to people who died in God’s friendship. Purgatory isn’t a place as much as it is a state of existence after death, where we will be purified from sin. C.S. Lewis understood that because God loves us so much he won’t let us stay attached to any kind of sin, including minor ones, for all eternity.

It is natural for humans to want to make up for the wrong they have done, but no amount of work on our part can make up for the wrong caused by our sins against an infinitely holy God. (Only Christ’s sacrifice can do that.) We can, however, make up for the temporal or earthly consequences of our sins.

Here’s a way to understand the difference.

If my five-year-old son recklessly breaks a neighbor’s window, I will pay for the window because he cannot. If my son is sorry for what he did then I will forgive him, but I will also ask him to perform extra chores to make up for his bad behavior. This satisfies his conscience’s desire to make amends and also helps him learn a valuable lesson.

We might think discipline is the opposite of love, but if you’ve ever been around a spoiled child you see that the lack of discipline can make a person angry, frustrated, selfish, and just plain miserable. Since God is our loving father, he also graciously corrects us, or as the Bible says, “The Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Heb. 12:6)

If Christ’s sacrifice is perfect and infinitely atones for sin, then why is purgatory even necessary? It’s necessary because Christ’s perfect sacrifice must be applied to each individual in different ways.

Those who reject Christ’s offer of salvation, for example, won’t have the saving effects of Christ’s sacrifice applied to them. Believers who are attached to sin in this life will have the effects of Christ’s sacrifice applied to them after death in purgatory.

Theologians like Pope Benedict XVI have even speculated that the cleansing fire of purgatory is none other than Christ Himself. He writes:

“Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ Himself, the Judge and Savior. The encounter with Him is the decisive act of judgment. Before His gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with Him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allows us to become truly ourselves.”

Purgatory doesn’t take away from Christ’s work, but rather it is Christ’s work. It is not something the Church created in order to force people to work their way into heaven. Purgatory is instead something God created so that the grace His Son obtained for us on the cross could make us “holy and blameless and irreproachable before Him” (Col. 1:22-23), free from the pain and penalty of sin, and ready to enter into eternal glory with Christ our Lord.”

Love,
Matthew

God’s goodness…

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – O my God, You alone are good; deign to clothe me with Your goodness!

MEDITATION

When Moses asked God to show him His glory, God replied: “I will show thee all good” (cf Exodus 33:19 [Douay-Rheims]), as if to say that His glory is infinite goodness, the good that He possesses in such plenitude that all good is in Him and no good exists independently of Him. God possesses good, not because He has received it from anyone, but because He Himself is, by His nature, the sovereign good, because His Being is infinite goodness. If creatures are good, they are so, only because God has communicated to them a little of His goodness. Of itself, the creature cannot even exist, therefore it cannot possess any good of its own. That is why Jesus said to the young man who had called Him “Good Master,” “Why callest thou Me good? None is good but one, that is God” (Mark 10:18). Not even Jesus, as man, possessed goodness as His own; but He possessed it only because the divine nature, which was hypostatically united to His human nature, communicated it to Him. Only of God can it be said that He is good, in the sense that He is goodness itself, that goodness belongs to Him by nature, as divinity belongs to Him by nature; and just as it is impossible for His divinity to be lessened, so it is impossible for His goodness to be lessened. Heaven, earth, and the ages will pass away, but the goodness of God will never pass away. Man’s wickedness may accumulate sin upon sin, evil upon evil, but over all, God’s goodness will remain unchangeable. The shadow of evil will not mar it; instead, God who is always benevolent, will bend over the evil to change it into good, and to draw a greater good from it. Thus infinite Goodness stooped over man, the sinner, and made an immensely superior good come from Adam’s fall: the redemption of the world through the Incarnation of His only-begotten Son. This is the distinctive character of God’s goodness: to will the good, only the good, even to the point of drawing good from evil.

COLLOQUY

“If a soul understood Your goodness, O God, it would be moved to work with all its strength to correspond to it; it would run quickly to meet You who are pursuing it and entreating, ‘Open to Me, My friend!’

“What advantage does a soul receive from understanding Your goodness? The advantage of being clothed with Your goodness. Oh! if we would only open our eyes and see how great it is! But sometimes we are blind and do not see. The precious Blood of Christ is the only remedy which can open, not only our eyes, but also our heart, and make our soul understand the immensity of God’s goodness…. O my God, You reveal Your infinite goodness to me as a great river flowing over the earth, into whose waters all creatures are immersed and nourished like the fish in the sea. I am absorbed in the contemplation of this great river; but when I look around and see human malice so opposed to Your goodness, I grieve exceedingly. O infinite Goodness, my soul desires to honor You in two ways; first by praise—recounting Your splendors, thanking You, blessing You unceasingly for all the gifts and graces You are always bestowing, and narrating all Your grandeurs; and then by my works—not spoiling Your image in me, but keeping it pure and spotless as You created it from the beginning” (cf. St. Mary Magdalen dei Pazzi).

“O Lord, I want to trust always in Your goodness which is greater than all the evil we can do. When, with full knowledge of ourselves, we desire to return to friendship with You, You remember neither our ingratitude nor our misuse of the favors You have granted us. You might well chastise us for these sins, but You make use of them only to forgive us the more readily, just as You would forgive those who have been members of Your household, and who, as they say, have eaten of Your bread. See what You have done for me, who wearied of offending You before You ceased forgiving me. You are never weary of giving and never can Your mercies be exhausted: let us not grow weary of receiving” (Teresa of Jesus, Life, 19).

Love, grateful for His goodness,
Matthew

Why we go to Mass

A few years ago some friends of ours bought a homemade donut machine. You just poured batter into it and in one minute a bunch mini-doughnuts rolled off its little conveyor belt. When they told their five-year-old son about it his eyes lit up and he exclaimed, “That’s amazing! Now we don’t have to go Church anymore!”

Like this little boy, some people go to church for the “donuts.” They might be literal donuts, but usually the “donuts” are some other nonreligious reason that gets them up earlier than usual on Sunday. They may feel the need to please a family member or spouse. Or they might go because that’s just what their family always did. As they get older they might only keep that tradition going for major holidays like Easter and Christmas. But for many people, the “donuts” stop being worth it and they no longer go to Church. They might say:

  • “Catholic services are boring. I don’t feel like I’m getting anything out of it.”
  • “They’re always asking for money.”
  • “The music is dreadful and the homily is even worse.”

When people ask me why I go to church every Sunday I tell them it’s because no matter how boring the homily, no matter how terrible the music, no matter what else is happening, the bread and wine on the altar at every Catholic Mass becomes the body and blood of our savior Jesus Christ. I go because that bread and wine don’t just symbolize Jesus; they actually become His body, blood, soul, and divinity. Jesus is there, not just every Sunday, but every day, ready to be received by the faithful so they can have eternal life.

The New Passover

The first time I visited a Catholic Church, the person who invited me explained that the services are called “Mass” because the name comes from the Latin word misa, which means “to send forth.” Catholics attend Mass so they can be equipped and “sent forth” to share the Gospel with the entire world. When that friend told me about the “sacrifice of the Mass,” however, I stopped a few feet from the church entrance.

“Sacrifice? You’re not going to kill a goat up there on the altar, are you? Because I’m not sure I’m ready for that.”

He laughed and said that the sacrifice would be the bread and wine brought up to the altar, called the Eucharist, which comes from a Greek word that means “thanksgiving.” The Catechism says, “For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch” (CCC 1324).

Pasch means Passover and is a reference to an event the Jewish people still celebrate. When they were enslaved in Egypt, God told his people to kill a lamb without blemish so that the angel of death that was sent to punish the Egyptians would “pass over” their homes (Exod. 12:43-51). Christians also have a lamb who was sacrificed so that spiritual death would pass over them: Jesus Christ.

John the Baptist said that Jesus was “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29), and St. Paul said, “Christ, our Paschal Lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7). The Passover lamb in the Old Testament had to be a male, without blemish, and his legs could not be broken (Exod. 12:5,46). Christ, our Passover lamb, is male, without sin (Heb. 4:15), and during the Crucifixion his legs were not broken (John 19:33). Finally, the Passover was not complete until the lamb was eaten, and so the “Passover” that Christians still celebrate must be completed in the same way.

Food Indeed, Drink Indeed

Since Jesus did not want us to be cannibals, He gave us His body and blood to consume under the miraculous form of bread and wine. He said:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you; he who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me will live because of Me. (John 6:53-57).

The original Greek in this passage communicates an even more powerful message than what we read in English. Earlier in John 6, Jesus uses phago, a generic word for eating, but in these verses he switches to trogo, which means “to gnaw or chew.” Likewise, Jesus uses the word sarx, which means the soft, fleshy substance that covers our bones, and not soma, which just means “body.” Jesus’ word choice, as rendered in the Greek, shows that he is talking about real, physical chewing and eating of his very flesh.

My flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed—John 6:55

After His Resurrection Jesus appeared to two of His followers on a road to the city of Emmaus. He hid His identity from them until after He blessed and broke bread for them to eat. Jesus made it clear that after His Resurrection all of His disciples would not see Him in a human form, but that He would instead be “known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35).

When I told one of my non-Catholic friends that I went to Mass he scoffed. “Don’t you think it’s weird that Catholics believe they’re eating Jesus’ actual flesh and blood?” I then showed him John 6:53-57 and asked him what he thought Jesus meant when He said, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” My friend read the passage, closed the Bible, and while shrugging his shoulders said, “It’s just a metaphor.”

But that explanation didn’t sit well with me.”

Love & prayers. Pray for me & mine, please.
Matthew

Jesuit emotion…

-by Professor Yasmin Haskell

“Jorge Mario Bergoglio has chosen the papal name ‘Francis’, which will suggest to most Catholics the founder of the Franciscan order, Francis of Assisi. Pope Francis’ gentle and unassuming style, his poverty – if catching the bus and cooking one’s own meals really qualifies as poverty in the Latin American context … – point to the medieval Italian saint who preached to the common people, and legendarily, to the birds. But Francis was also half the name of one of the Jesuits’ earliest saints, Francis-Xavier (1506-1552), the fervent and restless ‘Apostle to the Indes’, who took Catholic Christianity to India, Japan, and the East Indes in the early modern period, dying of a fever just fourteen kilometres from the shore of mainland China. Perhaps Pope Francis quietly gestures to this sixteenth-century Jesuit missionary, too, who has come to represent the global reach of the Catholic Church, and embodies the evangelical zeal for ‘harvesting souls’ which fired so many members of his order in the early modern period.

So who were the Jesuits? The Society or Company of Jesus was a Catholic Reformation order founded in 1540 by Basque nobleman and former soldier, Ignatius of Loyola, and a bunch of his student friends (among them Francis-Xavier). They quickly earned a formidable and paradoxical reputation. The Pope’s crack troops were deployed from Messina to Macao, Paris to Paraguay, recruiting converts, fighting the spread of Protestantism, and educating the élites of Catholic Europe and her New World colonies. They conducted diplomatic business and scientific research, composed music and poetry, and shocked and awed audiences with theatre and pyrotechnics, art and architecture. Jesuits were prepared to die for their beliefs in faraway missions, but they were also accused of being slippery and self-serving. They championed native Indian rights, but enslaved Africans. In their ranks were to be found hard-nosed heretic hunters, as well as defenders of the rights of ‘witches’, and believers in ‘natural magic’. Renowned for their chameleon-like ability to adapt to local circumstances – dressing as mandarins in China or brahmins in India – the proud and powerful ‘black robes’ couldn’t help but stand out on Catholic home turf. Victims of their own success, the Jesuits were hounded out of France, Spain, Portugal, and the New World. The ‘Old’ Society of Jesus was shut down by the Pope in 1773.

The Society of Jesus was restored in 1814 and has regrown to become the single largest order of the Catholic Church. The ‘New’ Society has produced its fair share of arch-conservatives, but also Nazi-resisters, freedom-fighters, and liberation theologians. It retains its former reputation for education and intellectual sophistication: the profile of a twentieth-century polymath such as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (philosopher, mathematician, palaeontologist, and evolutionary biologist) would not look out of place alongside those of Athanasius Kircher (speculative vulcanologist, biologist, orientalist …) or Roger Boscovich (poet, physicist, astronomer, diplomat …) in Carlos Sommervogel’s great bio-bibliographical dictionary of the Old Society (Bibliothèque de la Compagnie de Jésus).

But the heart has always been just as if not more important than the head in Jesuit theology. Much of the order’s thinking, historically, has gone into questions of how to rouse, channel and discipline the emotions. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises remains to this day the beating heart of the Society of Jesus, anticipating some of the techniques of modern psychotherapy in its guided visualisations; its call for attention to and daily written reckoning of our desires and defects; its rules for ‘discernment of spirits’ (in effect, how to listen to our emotions before making important life choices). In conjuring up in detail the agonies of the Passion, however, not to mention a sense-by-sense experience of the torments of Hell, Ignatius is a world away from modern secular philosophers of emotional well-being and intelligence, and from mental health regimes that seek to eliminate anxiety and depression from our lives. The exercitant of the Spiritual Exercises moves inevitably between states of ‘consolation’ and ‘desolation’ with no more human control over this process than that of preparing him/herself in advance for the next turn of the wheel.”

Love,
Matthew

Faith is an intellectual virtue…

2/6/14
-by David G Bonagura, Jr., teaches at St. Joseph’s Seminary, New York.

“I don’t feel anything when I pray.” “I am bored at Mass.” “When I talk to God, I do not sense that someone is listening.” These laments, experienced at one time or another by both the pious and the lost, rise from the very heart of Christian praxis. They express the natural human desire for vibrant emotion and feeling in prayer, a reality that many often lack, especially as the faith is lived over the years.

Emotion, as a reality of the human experience, has a role within the life of faith. The Scriptures themselves express the full pantheon of human sentiment: joy and sorrow, gratitude and jealousy, trust and doubt, hope and fear, love and hate are all part of the divine economy of salvation because they, in their different ways, bring us into contact with God. But it is critical for believers to understand their emotions as one aspect within the broader context of their faith and their relationship with God – not as constitutive of their faith.

Because of the prevalence and power of sentiment, there has always existed a temptation, often well intentioned, to reduce faith to emotion and experience. In the nineteenth century, Friedrich Schleiermacher declared, “faith is nothing other than the incipient experience of a satisfaction of that spiritual need by Christ.” Today “youth Masses” attempt to make Schleiermacher’s definition a reality among young people through excited cheering and contemporary music. Other Masses border on sentimentality with overly sappy hymns such as “Here I am Lord” and “You Are Mine.” We are then supposed to feel the presence of Christ and respond to Him in faith.

These personal experiences and feelings can indeed kindle faith, but they cannot be the sole pillars of our spiritual lives, because emotions are not the essence of faith. Rather faith rests upon a loving God Who is not the product of our subjective longings, but a real independent Being Who calls us into union with Him through the revelation of His Son. Faith requires us to acknowledge and accept revelation. The response we make to God may be spurred and accompanied by an array of sentiments, but it is with the intellect that we assent to God and His will.

For this reason St. Thomas Aquinas classified faith as an intellectual virtue: “[T]o believe is an act of the intellect assenting to the truth at the command of the will.” The intellect has priority because it accepts what comes from God, yet it does so at the insistence of the will, which can be moved by the power of religious experiences. These experiences, when properly integrated within the contours of faith, can contribute to the further development of our relationship with God.

But because faith is the province of the intellect, we need not worry or doubt when emotion and religious sentiment ebb or even disappear from our lives, as they inevitably do. Spiritual aridity – the absence of feeling from the life of faith – is a normal occurrence in the spiritual life, and it can be temporary or prolonged. The saints, many of whom endured painful spiritual aridity for decades, teach us that the absence of religious feelings is God’s way of purifying our faith, which rests ultimately not on emotion, but on our trust in the authority of God’s word.

Often faith is stirred within us due to some profound experience that propels us forward joyfully in our relationship with God. But as the power of these experiences wanes over time, we are forced to trust that we remain in communion with God even as His presence seemingly vanishes. Our situation is akin to that of the apostles: for three years they experienced directly the presence of Christ, and the attendant joy and security that came with it. But after His death and resurrection, they learned, courtesy of Thomas, that it is not feeling but raw trust that constitutes faith. “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” (John 20:29)

Because God is real and not the product of our emotions, we know He hears our prayers and is present to us even if we do not “feel” Him. Our restless hearts must continue to reach toward God, knowing that He alone is their end and fulfillment.

Contrasts are often drawn between Catholics’ more stoic worship with the energy of certain Protestant services. The different styles are pathways to faith; religious feeling of itself neither constitutes nor measures the faith present within the community or the individual. Faith’s true vibrancy depends on the degree to which we trust in God and assent to His revelation. When our trust and assent is strong enough that we give ourselves wholly to God, then we have the love of God in our hearts. And love is not merely sentiment: it is action and commitment as well.

Carmelite Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen writes that “the enkindling of love does not consist in the joy the soul may experience, but rather in the firm determination of the will to give itself entirely to God.” Faith puts us in union with the love of God. We need not fret over lack of religious emotion in our lives, and we need not think our preferred religious experience should be shared by everyone else. True love withstands the flux of all emotions because it is anchored in the certain hope of the God who made us for Himself.”

Love,
Matthew

Reason & emotion

-by David Nolan

“The Scottish philosopher David Hume famously claimed, “Reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions.” In recent years, growing public awareness of the centrality of the emotions and desires to the human experience has superseded an earlier emphasis on emotional restraint. From psychoanalytical therapy to the emergence of a therapeutic direction in our justice system, the effects of this revolution in thinking are hard to overestimate. In many ways the changes are positive. Empathy, mutual understanding, and self-reflection now receive a healthy emphasis. Our culture encourages us to tolerate others and see alternative points of view as we try to appreciate each person’s background and emotional experiences. However, there is a major problem in the usual application of this ethos. Desires, we have come to believe, justify themselves. When asked why we do something, we say, “Because it feels good;” when asked what our opinions are on a political matter, we reply, “I feel…” Yet we need only to look at the example of emotionally motivated murder to realize desires are not self-justifying. St Thomas Aquinas, writing nearly 800 years ago, built upon Aristotelian notions of the passions and the appetites to develop a corrective picture of the human psyche. He demonstrates why desires cannot be self-justified and how we can positively proceed, neither denigrating human emotion below its rightful place nor exalting it to heights that can only precede a fall.

Aquinas’s passiones animae, translated as “emotions,” do not only refer to passions in the modern sense of overwhelming and perhaps incapacitating feelings. Instead, they refer to our reaction to the nature of every object or situation. He thinks we react in two ways, either to the object itself or to the difficulty we face in trying to obtain or avoid the object. For example, as a child I desired a dog. Dogs are naturally lovable, so I loved them and desired one for myself. This is the first type of emotion— what Aquinas calls concupiscible emotions—which entails having an emotional response to an object because of that object’s inherent nature. My parents, on the other hand, were not so amenable to my idea, and prevented me from fulfilling my desire for an adorable dog. Frustrated, I courageously fought for a puppy but eventually gave up hope and despaired of ever having one. Because my parents had stopped me from obtaining my goal, I was angry with them. Anger, courage, hope, despair—these are all emotions of the second sort, the irascible emotions; they describe our reaction to our perceived ability to obtain an object of desire. Aquinas thinks that both types of emotions have a close relationship with reason. In fact, he thinks our reason in a way rules our emotions, “not by a ‘despotic supremacy,’ which is that of a master over his slave; but by a “politic and royal supremacy,’ whereby the free are governed who are not wholly subject to command.” Eventually, I realized that a lasting anger at my parents was unreasonable and that I should probably encourage my anger to subside— and it eventually did.

Reason and emotions, then, enforce each other day by day. Aquinas grounds his understanding of emotions in the infinitude of little impulses that arise spontaneously throughout our normal experience. Focusing too heavily on extreme cases has largely skewed popular culture’s conversation on the relationship of emotions to reason. Usually, the impulses of our sensory appetite (emotions and passions) align quite closely with our reasoning abilities and our intellectual apprehensions. For example, in a given day, we desire to eat food, we want to complete tasks, and we try to care for our friends. While there are cases of overwhelming emotions, most of our life is more accurately described in little impulses of joy or sorrow, hope or despair, that we can encourage or check with our intellect and reason. The question remains, however: what impulses ought we to encourage?

Well, passions must be appropriate to their objects. In order for this to be true, apprehension must precede desire: we must know what something is before we want it. For example, I must know about cake before I can want cake. Once I have apprehended that the cake is sweet and delicious, I will then desire it. If I thought it was a pile of mud rather than chocolate cake, I would believe it to be distasteful and undesirable. Clearly, correct apprehension leads us to experience passions appropriate to the object. Only in light of the ‘appropriate’ can we understand the greater value and purpose of passions.

Emotions and desires, as aspects of the everyday, carry moral weight. We can make judgments as to the appropriateness, the goodness or badness, of our emotions. Aquinas writes, “in so far as they are voluntary, [passions can] be called morally good or evil. And they are said to be voluntary either from being commanded by the will, or from not being checked by the will.” Before competing in a race or a game, we can voluntarily work up positive emotions; in response to someone cutting us off while we drive, we can discourage our anger and try to remain levelheaded. Emotions are both reactive and willed, and their origin need not necessarily describe how we then respond to them.

Measures of good or bad can refer only to voluntary impulses. But when, if ever, are emotions voluntary? Our lives are a history of partially voluntary actions and reactions. Humans learn many things through experience, and as an essential part of this experience, the emotions help develop our habits. Even our instinctual drives, like the drive for food, can become more and more voluntary as we get older. Not only do we learn to like a broader range of foods (I learned to like onions only as an older teenager), but we also learn to have “will-power” in to restrain our consumption of some foods. As one of Aquinas’s commentators has said, by deciding which impulses we encourage and discourage, which emotions we try to check, we “tell our life story.” The choices we make now both reveal our current preferences, and encourage specific future preferences and future choices. Thus, it is impossible to be sure that an emotion is voluntary or otherwise in the moment: we have to understand ourselves as beings progressing through time. We do know, however, that emotions can be scrutinized according to moral standards.

If we can judge our emotions, how should we do this? We judge emotions based upon their relation to the person about which they arise and in relation to their object. Our emotional response must be appropriate to the context in order for it to be good. By our will, which we inform with our reason, our desires, and our emotion, we plan our path of action. Reason informs us when our path is contradictory— when our plan will not bring us to the goal that we willed. For example, competitive sports highly prize the quality of being a good loser. An overreaction to a loss comes off as immature. On the other hand, athletes who are apathetic to winning not only are less likely to succeed, but do not have enough emotion invested in the sport. Our reason must balance these many impulses, neither neglecting self-control nor suppressing a healthy passion. Over time, reasoned responses discourage inappropriate emotions and encourage appropriate ones. Eventually, I might not even have to really focus to keep my temper—it may start to come naturally. The joy of competition does not contradict a healthy appreciation for sportsmanship. Reason can balance our particular goals with our particular situation.

But there is a more fundamental way that the will, the reason, and desire all work together. One particular desire underlies all our other impulses: the desire for the good, for happiness. We cannot help to desire to be happy— it is our nature. If we ask ourselves why we wish to be happy, there is no answer other than “because.” Nothing transient, passing, or temporal can actually fulfill this most fundamental of desires. When we plan paths of action with our will, we are trying to fulfill this desire. Our will, as it aims at the universal good, ideally aligns the sensitive appetite (the source of desires and emotions) with the larger goal.

Aquinas recognizes the universal Good in the Incarnation— God is the ultimate object of desire, the source of happiness, and the greatest good. Our nature, to use modern terms, is programmed towards God, and in so far as we either pursue or reject God, we expand or limit our opportunity for real fulfillment in this world and the next. Against the measure of the ultimate good, our desires and emotions begin to fall into place. Slowly, through the building of good habits, we can desire objects and guide emotions appropriately. This is not to deny the many layers of emotional complexity. Emotional complication is part of growing up in the world, but through a growing awareness of self, we can begin to understand our emotional impulses. Through the practice of self control combined with the contemplation of God, our highest desire, we can hope to develop a greater internal unity. Our goal is to desire particular goods as the goods themselves deserve, and through the practice of virtue we begin to experience intense love and joy and desire towards objects that actually deserve that intensity of feeling.

Emotions are incredibly valuable, and the therapeutic insight of self-discovery through the examination of emotions is helpful. But as we understand ourselves and see extreme emotions in the light of many everyday impulses, we need to cultivate emotions that align with our intellect, reason, and that most fundamental desire, the desire that God implemented within us for Himself.”

Love,
Matthew

Nov 8 – St Elizabeth of the Trinity, OCD, (1880-1906) – Religious, “Mystic of Dijon”, Religious Writer

The Church celebrates St. Elizabeth of the Trinity — canonized Oct. 16, 2016 — on her feast day of Nov. 8, often election day in the US. Her spiritual mission is to help us pass through the difficulties of our time with a certain greatness of soul. Feel me?

In her own words, “We must be mindful of how God is in us in the most intimate way and go about everything with Him. Then life is never banal. Even in ordinary tasks, because you do not live for these things, you will go beyond them.”

On Nov. 9, 1906, at the age of 26, she succumbed to the final stages of Addison’s disease, an adrenal disorder which, at the time, was incurable. Her death came amid great social uncertainty for the Church and her Carmelite community in Dijon, France. Earlier that spring, the French government turned against the Church, by advancing a more aggressive secularism. The local Church was already racked with scandal, the local bishop having been removed from office by the Holy See. The state was taking legal action to confiscate Church property and put the Carmelites in exile. Anxiety over social concerns affected daily life for many — except for, perhaps, St. Elizabeth, her Carmel and those to whom she wrote.

When everything seemed to be falling down around her, St. Elizabeth of the Trinity witnessed to the power of the presence of God to establish deep peace in souls. In every lucid moment before her death, even if it was just for a moment, she did everything she could to encourage those she loved. Whether in whispered conversations or responding to letters she received, her messages were tender and filled with compassion. She managed to write a retreat for her sister, a young mother, a second retreat for her Carmelite community and numerous letters.

In the midst of their own questions and concerns, Elizabeth helped her friends discover the mysterious and transforming ways God discloses himself even surrounded by distress. As she explained, “Everything is a sacrament that gives us God.”

St. Elizabeth of the Trinity first discovered the transforming power of God’s presence through her parents and first holy Communion. Hailing from a military family and the elder of two sisters, she was born and baptized at a military camp in 1880. Afterward, the family moved to Dijon, where she grew up and entered a Carmelite monastery.

Joseph Catez, her father, a self-made decorated officer and former POW, died in 1887, when Elizabeth was still a child, but left her with a desire for heaven. Her mother, Marie Rolland, had a profound conversion before her marriage and deeply influenced her husband’s piety.

As a widow with two young girls, Marie moved to an affordable part of town, a few blocks from the parish church of Saint-Michel and across the street from the Carmel that Elizabeth would someday join. Together with her sister, Marguerite, piano, prayer and pilgrimages were important parts of Elizabeth’s upbringing. Also important were vacations with friends and family.

Young Elizabeth had a fiery temper. In a special way, her parent’s faith helped her gain a degree of self-mastery, and this was especially true at her first Communion. Witnesses testified to a profound change after Mass. The mystery of Christ’s presence drew her to prayer. In St. Elizabeth’s own words, she was no longer hungry because “God has fed me.”

Her deep prayerfulness impressed the nuns of her community even before she entered. As a teenager, she self-identified with Teresa of Avila’s descriptions of the prayer of union. She was also among the first to read an early version of Therese of Lisieux’s Story of a Soul. After reading this work, she resolved to be a Carmelite nun even over the objections of her mother. She had come to see herself as a bride of Christ.

This devotion to Christ moved her to be very involved with her parish before she entered Carmel. She catechized troubled children, first by befriending them and then by teaching them how to draw close to God in prayer. In Dijon, she is honored as much for this work as she is for her spiritual writings.

According to one of the former pastors of Saint-Michel, some of the descendants of the young people that she instructed helped to build a private school now named after her.

In her final days, Addison’s disease had emaciated Elizabeth, rendering her unable to eat or drink except for a few drops of water. Difficult thoughts sometimes tormented her as her whole body burned with pain. Yet, throughout everything, she remained devoted to Christ crucified and was completely focused on others. She promised that it would increase her joy in heaven if her friends asked for her help. She was convinced that her mission would be to help souls get out of self-occupation and enter into deep silence in order to encounter the Lord in a transformative way. To this end, she advocated faith in “the all-loving God dwelling in our souls.”

Elizabeth regarded the Trinity as the furnace of an excessive love. When her prayer evokes “My God, My Three,” she invites us to take personal possession of the Trinity. The Trinity is, for her, an interpersonal and dynamic mystery: the Father beholding the Son in the fire of the Holy Spirit. She insisted that, in silent stillness before God, the loving gaze of the Father shines within our hearts until God contemplates the likeness of His Son in the soul. Through the creative action of the Holy Spirit, the more the soul accepts the Father’s gaze of love, the more it is transformed into the likeness of the Word made flesh.

Tradition calls this loving awareness and silent surrender to the gaze of the Father mental prayer or contemplation. Elizabeth roots this in adoration and recollection and advocates its fruitfulness. Through this prayer, we gain access to our true home, the dwelling place of love for which we are created — and this is not in some future moment, but already in the present moment of time, which Elizabeth calls “eternity begun and still in progress.”

Such prayer not only sets the soul apart and makes it holy, but it glorifies the Father and even extends the saving work of Christ in the world. She called this “the praise of Glory” and understood this to be her great vocation.

By canonizing Elizabeth of the Trinity, the Church has not only validated her mission, but re-proposed the importance of silent prayer for our time. While she was not engaged in politics, St. Elizabeth was certainly concerned for her friends who were immersed in it. There is power in her prayer. Her community was never evicted or exiled, but moved years later only because it outgrew its original location. The Carmel remains a place of spiritual refreshment to this day.

Through the witness of St. Elizabeth, the Carmelites and her friends chose to allow God to establish them “immovable” in His presence. No political or cultural power deserves an absolute claim over our existence. If we call on St. Elizabeth, the Church affirms that the “Mystic of Dijon” can also help us become “the Praise of Glory,” a sign of hope for others even in the midst of social rancor.

Love,
Matthew

Living with the Trinity


“Trinity”, or “Angels at Mamre” icon, by Andrei Rublev, 1411 or 1425-27, Tempera, 142 cm × 114 cm (56 in × 45 in), Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. Please click on the image for greater detail.

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – O Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, take me into Your embrace and deign to admit me to intimacy with You.

MEDITATION

If we wish the great gift of the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity to bear its full fruit of intimate friendship with the three divine Persons, we must become accustomed to living with the Trinity, since it is impossible to have a real bond of friendship with someone if, after offering him the hospitality of our home, we immediately forget him. In order to live with the Trinity, it is not necessary to feel God’s presence within us; this is a grace which He may give or withhold. It is sufficient to be grounded in the faith by which we know with certitude that the three divine Persons are dwelling within us. By relying on this reality which we cannot see, feel, or understand, but which we know with certainty because it has been revealed by God, we can direct ourselves toward a life of true union with the Blessed Trinity.

First, we should consider the three divine Persons present within us, in Their indivisible unity. We already know that everything done by the Trinity “ad extra,” that is, outside the Godhead, is the work of all three divine Persons without distinction; hence, this applies to Their action in our soul. All Three dwell equally in us. They are there simultaneously and They all produce the same effects in us. All Three diffuse grace and love in us; They enlighten us, offer us Their friendship and love us with one and the same love. Still this does not prevent each of Them from being present in our soul with the characteristics proper to His Person: the Father is there as the source and origin of the divinity and of all being; the Word is present as the splendor of the Father, as light; the Holy Spirit, as the fruit of the love of the Father and of the Son. Each divine Person, then, loves us in His own personal way and offers us His special gift. The Father offers us His most sweet paternity; the Son clothes us with His shining light; the Holy Spirit penetrates us with His ardent love. And we, insignificant creatures, should try to realize that we have such great gifts, so that we may fully profit by them.

COLLOQUY

“O my God, Trinity Whom I adore! Help me to become wholly forgetful of self, that I may be immovably rooted in Thee, as changeless and calm as though my soul were already in eternity. May nothing disturb my peace or draw me forth from Thee, O my unchanging Lord, but may I, at every moment, penetrate more deeply into the depths of Thy mystery!

“Establish my soul in peace; make it Thy heaven, Thy cherished abode, and the place of Thy rest. Let me never leave Thee alone, but remain ever there, all absorbed in Thee, in living faith, plunged in adoration, and wholly yielded up to Thy creative action!

“O my Christ Whom I love! Crucified for love! Would that I might be the bride of Thy heart! Would that I might cover Thee with glory and love Thee … even until I die of love! Yet I realize my weakness and beseech Thee to clothe me with Thyself, to identify my soul with all the movements of Thine own. Immerse me in Thyself; possess me wholly; substitute Thyself for me, that my life may be but a radiance of Thy life. Enter my soul as Adorer, as Restorer, as Savior!

“O eternal Word, Utterance of my God! I long to spend my life in listening to Thee, to become wholly ‘teachable,’ that I may learn all from Thee! Through all darkness, all privations, all helplessness, I yearn to keep my eyes ever upon Thee and to dwell beneath Thy great light. O my beloved Star! so fascinate me that I may be unable to withdraw myself from Thy rays!

“O consuming Fire, Spirit of Love! Come down into me and reproduce in me, as it were, an incarnation of the Word, that I may be to Him a super-added humanity, wherein He may renew all His mystery! And Thou, O Father, bend down toward Thy poor little creature and overshadow her, beholding in her none other than Thy beloved Son in Whom Thou art well pleased.

“O my ‘Three,’ my all, my beatitude, infinite solitude, immensity wherein I lose myself! I yield myself to Thee as Thy prey. Immerse Thyself in me that I may be immersed in Thee until I depart to contemplate in Thy light the abyss of Thy greatness!” (St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, Elevation to the Most Holy Trinity).

Love,
Matthew

Abiding in Christ

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – O Jesus, teach me not only how to live with You, but how to live in You, to abide in You.

MEDITATION

On the evening of the Last Supper Jesus said: “Abide in Me and I in you” (John 15:4) and shortly afterward He instituted the Eucharist, the Sacrament whose specific purpose is to nourish our life of union with Him. When Jesus comes to us, He does not depart without leaving on our soul “the impress of grace, like a seal pressed on hot wax … which leaves its impression after it has been removed. Thus the virtue of this sacrament, the warmth of divine charity, remains in the soul” (St. Catherine of Siena). Jesus said, “I am come to cast fire on the earth, and what will I but that it be kindled?” (Luke 12:49), and where will He light the fire of His love if not in the soul of the communicant who has the great privilege of giving Him hospitality? Each time we approach the Eucharistic table, Jesus, through the power of this Sacrament, rekindles in us the fire of His love and leaves the imprint of His grace; by this love and grace, we remain spiritually united to Him. Even if we do not think of it, this reality is accomplished and is, of itself, very precious. However, Jesus wishes us to be aware of it, that we may live our union with Him in its fullness. Note that in speaking of our union with Himself, Jesus always presupposes our action before His own: “He that eateth My Flesh … abideth in Me and I in Him,” “Abide in Me, and I in you” (John 6:57 – 15:4); not that our action is the more important—for Jesus always precedes us with His grace, without which any union with Him would be impossible—but He would have us understand that we shall be united to Him in proportion to our correspondence with grace. Each Communion, of itself, brings us a new grace of union with Christ and therefore offers us the possibility of greater intimacy with Him, but we will live this union only according to the measure of our good will and our interior dispositions.

COLLOQUY

“O Jesus, unite my heart to Yours, and consume everything in it that is displeasing to You; unite all that I am to all that You are, that You may supply for everything I lack. Unite my prayers and praises to those You address to Your Father from the Blessed Sacrament of the altar, so that Your prayer may supply for the deficiencies of mine.

In order to make myself like You, Who on the altar are obedient to every priest, good or bad, I will obey promptly and will put myself in the hands of my superiors as a victim to be immolated, so that dying to all my own wishes, inclinations, passions, and repugnances, I can be disposed of by my superiors as they see fit, without showing any repugnance. And as Your life in the Blessed Sacrament is completely hidden from the eyes of creatures, who see nothing but the poor appearance of the bread, so I shall strive, for love of You, to live so hidden that I shall always be veiled under the ashes of humility, loving to be despised, and rejoicing to appear the poorest and most abject of all.

In order to be like You, Who are always alone in the Blessed Sacrament, I shall love solitude and try to converse with You as much as possible. Grant that my mind may not seek to know anything but You, that my heart may have no longings or desires but to love You. When I am obliged to take some comfort, I shall take care to see that it be pleasing to Your Heart. In my conversations, O divine Word, I shall consecrate all my words to You so that You will not permit me to pronounce a single one which is not for Your glory…. When I am thirsty, I shall endure it in honor of the thirst You endured for the salvation of souls…. If by chance, I commit some fault, I shall humble myself, and then take the opposite virtue from Your Heart, offering it to the eternal Father in expiation for my failure. All this I intend to do, O Eucharistic Jesus, to unite myself to You in every action of the day” (cf. St. Margaret Mary).

Love,
Matthew