Category Archives: Atheism

Why faith AND reason? Faith is reasonable? St Augustine says, “Yes!”

Faith-Reason-Sign

Olson_Carl
-by Carl Olson, Carl grew up in a Fundamentalist Protestant home and attended Briercrest Bible College, an Evangelical school in Saskatchewan, Canada. He and his wife, Heather, were married in 1994 and entered the Catholic Church together in 1997. Their conversion story appears in the book, Surprised By Truth 3 (Sophia Institute Press, 2002).

“Pope Benedict XVI dramatically underscored the importance of St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) recently. In a series of general audiences dedicated to the Church fathers, Benedict devoted one or two audiences to luminaries such as St. Justin Martyr, St. Basil, and St. Jerome, while dedicating five to Augustine.

One of the greatest theologians and Doctors of the Church, Augustine’s influence on Pope Benedict is manifest. “When I read Saint Augustine’s writings,” the Holy Father stated in the second of those five audiences (January 16, 2008), “I do not get the impression that he is a man who died more or less 1,600 years ago; I feel he is like a man of today: a friend, a contemporary who speaks to me, who speaks to us with his fresh and timely faith.”

The relationship between faith and reason has a significant place in Augustine’s vast corpus. It has been discussed often by Benedict, who identifies it as a central concern for our time and presents Augustine as a guide to apprehending and appreciating more deeply the nature of the relationship. Augustine’s “entire intellectual and spiritual development,” Benedict stated in his third audience on the African Doctor (January 30, 2008), “is also a valid model today in the relationship between faith and reason, a subject not only for believers but for every person who seeks the truth, a central theme for the balance and destiny of all men.”

This is a key issue and theme in Augustine’s Confessions, his profound and influential account of his search for meaning and conversion to Christianity. Augustine testifies to how reason puts man on the road toward God and how it is faith that informs and elevates reason, taking it beyond its natural limitations while never being tyrannical or confining in any way. He summarized this seemingly paradoxical fact in the famous dictum, “I believe, in order to understand; and I understand, the better to believe” (Sermo 43:9).

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Falsehoods about Faith

There are, as we all know, many distorted and shallow concepts of faith, reason, and the differences between the two. For self-described “brights” and other skeptics, reason is objective, scientific, and verifiable, while faith is subjective, personal, and irrational, even bordering on mania or madness. But if we believe that reason is indeed reasonable, it should be admitted this is a belief in itself, and thus requires some sort of faith. There is a certain step of faith required in putting all of one’s intellectual weight on the pedestal of reason. “Secularism,” posits philosopher Edward Feser in The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism,

“…can never truly rest on reason, but only “faith,” as secularists themselves understand that term (or rather misunderstand it, as we shall see): an unshakeable commitment grounded not in reason but rather in sheer willfulness, a deeply ingrained desire to want things to be a certain way regardless of whether the evidence shows they are that way.” (6)

For many people today the source of reason and object of faith is their own intellectual power. To look outside, or beyond, themselves for a greater source and object of faith is often dismissed as “irrational” or “superstitious.” As the Confessions readily document, Augustine had walked with sheer willfulness (to borrow Feser’s excellent descriptive) down this dark intellectual alleyway in his own life and found it to be a dead end. He discovered that belief is only as worthwhile as its object and as strong as its source. For Augustine—a man who had pursued philosophical arguments with intense fervor—both the object and source of faith is God.

“Belief, in fact” the Thomistic philosopher Etienne Gilson remarked inThe Christian Philosophy of Saint Augustine, “is simply thought accompanied by assent” (27). There is not and cannot be tension or conflict between reason and faith; they both flow from the same divine source. Reason should and must, therefore, play a central role in a man’s beliefs about ultimate things. In fact, it is by reason that we come to know and understand what faith and belief are. Reason is the vehicle, which, if driven correctly, takes us to the door of faith. As Augustine observed:

“My greatest certainty was that “the invisible things of Thine from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even Thy eternal power and Godhead.” For when I inquired how it was that I could appreciate the beauty of bodies, both celestial and terrestrial; and what it was that supported me in making correct judgments about things mutable; and when I concluded, “This ought to be thus; this ought not”—then when I inquired how it was that I could make such judgments (since I did, in fact, make them), I realized that I had found the unchangeable and true eternity of Truth above my changeable mind.” (Confessions 7:17)

Getting through the door/portal of faith, porta fidei

However, while reason brings us to the threshold of faith, it seems, at least, implausible that ALL of Creation is a random incident/accident, and the fact that we are ignorant of how it comes to be is insufficient and irrational reasoning to deny the existence of the Divine, whereas accepting the proposal of the existence of the Divine seems rational, and refusal to do so due to ignorance, or what “fits” under a microscope, or can be understood by finite human reason —and even informs us that faith is a coherent and logical option—it cannot take us through the door. Part of the problem is that reason has been wounded by the Fall and dimmed by the effects of sin – human limitation, if you prefer. Reason is, to some degree or another, distorted, limited, and hindered; it is often pulled off the road by our whims, emotions, and passions.

But this is not why natural reason, ultimately, cannot open the door to faith. It is because faith is a gift from the Creator, Who is Himself inscrutable. In Augustine’s intense quest for God he asked: Can God be understood and known by reason alone? The answer is a clear, “No.” “If you understood Him,” Augustine declares, “it would not be God” (Sermo52:6, Sermo 117:3). The insufficiency of reason in the face of God and true doctrine is also addressed in the Confessions. Writing of an immature Christian who was ill-informed about doctrine, the bishop of Hippo noted:

“When I hear of a Christian brother, ignorant of these things, or in error concerning them, I can tolerate his uninformed opinion; and I do not see that any lack of knowledge as to the form or nature of this material creation can do him much harm, as long as he does not hold a belief in anything which is unworthy of Thee, O Lord, the Creator of all. But if he thinks that his secular knowledge pertains to the essence of the doctrine of piety, or ventures to assert dogmatic opinions in matters in which he is ignorant—there lies the injury.” (Confessions 5:5)

Augustine’s high view of reason rested on his belief that God is the author of all truth and reason. The Incarnate God-man, the second Person of the Trinity, appeals to man’s reason and invites him to seek more deeply, to reflect more thoroughly, and to thirst more intensely for the “eternal Truth”:

“Why is this, I ask of thee, O Lord my God? I see it after a fashion, but I do not know how to express it, unless I say that everything that begins to be and then ceases to be begins and ceases when it is known in Thy eternal reason that it ought to begin or cease—in Thy eternal reason where nothing begins or ceases. And this is Thy Word, which is also “the Beginning,” because it also speaks to us. Thus, in the Gospel, He spoke through the flesh; and this sounded in the outward ears of men so that it might be believed and sought for within, and so that it might be found in the eternal Truth, in which the good and only Master teacheth all his disciples. There, O Lord, I hear Thy voice, the voice of One speaking to me, since He Who teacheth us speaketh to us. (Confessions11:8)

Another example of Augustine’s high regard for reason and for its central place in his theological convictions is found in his experience with the teachings of Mani. As Augustine learned about the Manichaean view of the physical world, he became increasingly exasperated with its lack of logic and irrational nature. The breaking point came when he was ordered to believe teachings about the heavenly bodies that were in clear contradiction to logic and mathematics: “But still I was ordered to believe, even where the ideas did not correspond with—even when they contradicted—the rational theories established by mathematics and my own eyes, but were very different” (Confessions 5:3). And so Augustine left Manichaeanism in search of a reasonable, intellectually cogent faith.

Know the Limits

Reason, based in man’s finitude, cannot comprehend the infinite mysteries of faith, even while pointing towards them, however indistinctly. For Augustine this was especially true when it came to understanding Scripture. Early in his life, reading the Bible had frustrated and irritated him; later, graced with the eyes of faith, he was able to comprehend and embrace its riches:

“Thus, since we are too weak by unaided reason to find out truth, and since, because of this, we need the authority of the holy writings, I had now begun to believe that thou wouldst not, under any circumstances, have given such eminent authority to those Scriptures throughout all lands if it had not been that through them thy will may be believed in and that thou might be sought. For, as to those passages in the Scripture which had heretofore appeared incongruous and offensive to me, now that I had heard several of them expounded reasonably, I could see that they were to be resolved by the mysteries of spiritual interpretation. The authority of Scripture seemed to me all the more revered and worthy of devout belief because, although it was visible for all to read, it reserved the full majesty of its secret wisdom within its spiritual profundity.” (Confessions 6:5)

The contrast between reading Scripture before and after faith is one Augustine returned to often, for it demonstrated how reason, for all of its goodness and worth, can only comprehend a certain circumscribed amount. While reason is a wonderful and even powerful tool, it is a natural tool providing limited results.

Man, the rational animal, is meant for divine communion, and therefore requires an infusion of divine life and aptitude. Grace, the divine life of God, fills man and gifts him with faith, hope, and love. Faith, then, is first and foremost a gift from God. It is not a natural virtue, but a theological virtue. Its goal is theosis —that is, participation in the divine nature (see CCC 460; 2 Pt 1:4). The Christian, reborn as a divinized being, lives by faith and not by sight, a phrase from St. Paul that Augustine repeated: “But even so, we still live by faith and not by sight, for we are saved by hope; but hope that is seen is not hope” (Confessions 13:13).

Recognize Rightful Authority

Humble receptivity to faith requires recognizing true and rightful authority. “For, just as among the authorities in human society, the greater authority is obeyed before the lesser, so also must God be above all” (Confessions 3:8). What Augustine could not find in Mani, he discovered in the person of Jesus Christ, His Church, and the Church’s teachings. All three are in evidence in the opening chords of theConfessions:

But “how shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? Or how shall they believe without a preacher?” Now, “they shall praise the Lord who seek Him,” for “those who seek shall find Him,” and, finding Him, shall praise Him. I will seek Thee, O Lord, and call upon Thee. I call upon Thee, O Lord, in my faith which Thou hast given me, which Thou hast inspired in me through the humanity of Thy Son, and through the ministry of Thy preacher. (1:1)

For Augustine, there is no conflict between Christ, His Body, and His Word. Christ, through His Body, demonstrates the truthfulness of His Word, as Augustine readily admitted: “But I would not believe in the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church already moved me” (Contra epistolam Manichaei 5:6; see also Confessions 7:7). Holy Scripture, the Word of God put to paper by men inspired by the Holy Spirit, possesses a certitude and authority coming directly from its divine Author and protected by the Church:

Now whom but Thee, our God, didst make for us that firmament of the authority of Thy divine Scripture to be over us? For “the heaven shall be folded up like a scroll”; but now it is stretched over us like a skin. Thy divine Scripture is of more sublime authority now that those mortal men through whom Thou didst dispense it to us have departed this life. (Confessions13:15)

Humility and Harmony

“The harmony between faith and reason,” wrote Benedict XVI in his third audience on Augustine, “means above all that God is not remote; He is not far from our reason and life; He is close to every human being, close to our hearts and to our reason, if we truly set out on the journey.” Augustine’s life is a dramatic and inspiring witness to this tremendous truth, and it is why his Confessions continue to challenge and move readers today, 16 centuries after being written.

The young Augustine pursued reason, prestige, and pleasure with tremendous energy and refined focus, but could not find peace or satisfaction. It was when he followed reason to the door of faith, humbled himself before God, and gave himself over to Christ that he found Whom he was made by and for. “In its essence,” Gilson wrote, “Augustinian faith is both an adherence of the mind to supernatural truth and a humble surrender of the whole man to the grace of Christ” (The Christian Philosophy 31).

The Church Teaches

“Believing is possible only by grace and the interior helps of the Holy Spirit. But it is no less true that believing is an authentically human act. Trusting in God and cleaving to the truths He has revealed is contrary neither to human freedom nor to human reason.”
Catechism of the Catholic Church 154

faith&reason

Love, Faith, and Hope,
Matthew

Creation to Catholicism

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Q. Patrick, I loved From Creation to Catholicism. How did the idea for this project come about?

Patrick: I don’t remember who began the process, but I do know Trent and I “flow” well as guest and host, and he’s very sharp on a wide range of topics. We began strategizing a few months ago about producing some really great audio that didn’t involve one person basically giving a lecture. We settled on a simple Q&A format in which I play the gadfly and Trent plays resident guru. We scripted it only in the loosest sense of knowing where we wanted the conversation to end up. It’s very interesting that those conversations naturally fell into a three-act structure, as all good stories do.

Q. It seems that a significant number of resources that deal with atheism have been released over the last couple of years in the Catholic market. I know both of you have books and audio and visual products on the topic, and we’ve seen other high-profile releases by Jennifer Fulwiler, Fr. Robert Spitzer, Patrick Madrid, and a number of others. Given that, do you think we’re making any ground against the prevalence of atheistic thought in our society? What more can we do?

Trent: I think we are making significant gains in giving young people good answers to the questions atheists used to think were unanswerable. Indeed, on my radio show Why Are You an Atheist I’m surprised by the number of atheists who can’t articulate one single good argument for the existence of God they disagree with. They’ve simply ignored the evidence but are increasingly having to confront it when informed Christians arm themselves with the arguments people like myself and other apologists make.

Patrick: I’m not sure what measure we would use to chart “progress” in debating atheism and agnosticism. The numbers are harder to come by than, say, anecdotal evidence, which is much easier to find. I will say that open-minded atheists tend to appreciate our willingness to step into the ring with them, so to speak, as opposed to protest them or to “pray away” the problem. And there’s always more to do, because new arguments come along. Same with new advancements in science. No single approach will reach atheists, just as no one “way” of arriving at atheism will attract adherents. This is an effective imitation of the greatest evangelist of them all, St. Paul, who wrote, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22).

Q. It seems like atheism has been on the rise for quite a while now. How do you account for this?

Patrick: Many factors overlap and amplify one another. One factor is the crisis of fatherhood. Former atheist psychologist Dr. Paul Vitz wrote an insightful book about this titled Faith of the Fatherless. The sexual revolution has provided a distorted lens through which to view women and the relationship between men and women with respect to sexual behavior and family. A kind of social chaos has appeared, which makes it harder to see God in the disorder. The Internet has also enabled whatever atheists are out there to find a forum to share their beliefs—or, rather, their lack of beliefs.

Q. I notice a number of projects you’ve done in the past have been aimed at atheists. Why is that? Do you hold a special place in your heart for this ever-growing segment of our society?

Patrick: I do, yes. The number of atheist organizations, books, and websites represents a challenge to Christians, but more so an opportunity to confront their questions, engage them with intelligence and wit and—this is key—heavy doses of charity. Atheists and agnostics are not necessarily expecting answers from us that are rooted in science, philosophy, and logic. One of the ironies in the debate is that atheism can often be a form of fundamentalist faith.

Q. God has made covenants throughout history with his people, Christ being the most recent as the New Covenant. Why do you think God interacted with his people using this covenantal model?

Trent: God understands that human beings seek kin or familial relationships. Orphans, as well as children who don’t know one of their parents or siblings, seek a relationship with the missing family member. God does not call us solely as individuals but invites to be a part of his divine family, to become his children by adoption (see Romans 8:15) so that we might be siblings of one another in Christ (see Romans 14:10).

Q. Scripture puts it best: “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.” Would that suggest that no matter what factual evidence you put before someone, no change will occur in that person before they have a conversion of heart?

Patrick: A very good question. Certainly, no argument, no matter how elegant and valid, will convert someone without the action of grace. This is a mysterious thing, the interplay of disposition, bias, temperament, sinfulness, openness, and so on. Some atheists have dramatic, seemingly unbidden conversions to Christ. Others remain unimpressed with our arguments. The best strategy is to overlay every word we speak with as much kindness as we can. We need to show that our faith makes a concrete difference to everything about us.

Trent: Ultimately it is the Holy Spirit who convinces people of their need for God’s grace. Stephen rebuked the Jewish leaders for being stiff-necked people who resisted the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51), so anyone, regardless of the evidence given to them, can still find a way, however implausible it might be, to resist it. That’s because they don’t want it to be true. Therefore, along with reasons we present for the Faith, we must always pray that those who disagree will have open hearts and be willing to reconsider their worldview at the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

Love,
Matthew

What is Love? It is more than a feeling.

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In my brief and very limited study of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, I learned that Hebrew, being such an ancient language is like a dixie cup of water in terms of the volume of words in its vocabulary.  English is like a large drinking glass.  Greek is like a pitcher.  In English, we only have ONE word for love, a distinct and serious limitation of the language, for all the senses that word must capture, inarticulately, ultimately and at best.  As you will read below, Greek has four.

-by Dr. Peter Kreeft, Dr. Kreeft was raised a Calvinist, Kreeft regarded the Catholic Church “with the utmost suspicion.” A key turning point was when he was asked by a Calvinist professor to investigate the claims of the Catholic Church that it traced itself to the early Church. He said that on his own, he “discovered in the early Church such Catholic elements as the centrality of the Eucharist, the Real Presence, prayers to saints, devotion to Mary, an insistence on visible unity, and apostolic succession.” The Church fathers such as Augustine and Jerome were clearly Catholic and not Protestant, he stated.

The “central and deciding” factor for his conversion was “the Church’s claim to be the one Church historically founded by Christ.” For he applies C. S. Lewis’s trilemma—either Jesus is a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord to the Church: “either that this is the most arrogant, blasphemous and wicked claim imaginable, if it is not true, or else that He is just what He claims to be.”

On the Bible issue, he refers to the church preaching that forms the basis for writing the Bible and the approval needed from the church to ascertain the contents of the Bible. To this he applied the axiom: “a cause can never be less than its effect. You can’t give what you don’t have. If the Church has no divine inspiration and no infallibility, no divine authority, then neither can the New Testament.”

His conversion took place as he asked God for help, praying that “God would decide for me, for I am good at thinking but bad at acting, like Hamlet.” It was then that he says he “seemed to sense” the call of saints and his favorite heroes, to which he assented.

from http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=9375

…in “C. S. Lewis’s unpretentious little masterpiece The Four Loves. In it, Lewis clearly distinguishes supernatural love, agape (ah-gah-pay), the kind of love Christ is and lived and taught, from the natural loves: storge (natural affection or liking), eros (natural sexual desire), and philia (natural human friendship). All natural loves are good; but supernatural love, the love that God is, agape, is the greatest thing in the world. And part of the Gospel, the “good news,” is that it is available to us; that Christ is the plug that connects us to the infinite supply of divine love-electricity.

The old word for agape in English was ‘charity.’ Unfortunately, that word now means to most people simply handouts to beggars, or to the United Fund. But the word ‘love’ won’t do as an accurate translation of agape. For ‘love’ means to most people either sexual love (eros) or a feeling of affection (storge), or a vague love-in general. (Interestingly, we no longer usually classify friendship as one of the loves. That is probably why we seldom write great tributes to it, as the ancients did.)

To solve this translation problem, it may be necessary to insist on using the Greek word agape instead of any of the misleading English translations, even at the risk of sounding snobbish or scholarly, so that we do not confuse this most important thing in the world with something else in our minds, and consequently risk missing it in our lives. There is enormous misunderstanding and confusion about it today. In fact, there are at least six common misunderstandings.

(1) THE FIRST AND MOST usual misunderstanding of agape is to confuse it with a feeling. Our feelings are precious, but agape is infinitely more precious, because our feelings are not infinite but agape is. Feelings come from us, but agape comes from God as its ultimate source. Feelings also come to us, passively. They are “passions.” Agape comes from God and is accepted actively by our free choice. St. Thomas Aquinas defines it as “willing the good of the other” — the simplest definition of love I’ve ever seen. Agape is an act of the will, not the feelings. That is why we are responsible for it, and commanded to do it, to choose it. We are not responsible for our feelings. Only an idiot would command us (That’s why sexual feelings and desires, whether heterosexual or homosexual, are not sins in and of themselves. Feelings can be “disordered,” but sins can come from acting on them.) We are responsible for our agape or lack of it, for agape comes from our free will, our deliberate choice, while feelings come from wind, weather, hormones, advertisements, and digestion. “Luv” comes from spring breezes; real love (agape) comes from the center of the soul, which Scripture calls the ‘heart’ (another word we have sentimentalized and reduced to feeling). Liking is a feeling. But love (agape) is more than strong liking. God does not merely like us; He saves us, He dies for us. Agape is a deed. Love is “the works of love.”

Jesus had different feelings toward different people. But he loved them all equally and absolutely.

But how can we love someone if we don’t like him? Easy — we do it to ourselves all the time. We don’t always have tender, sweet, comfortable feelings about ourselves; sometimes we feel foolish, stupid, asinine, or wicked. But we always love ourselves: we always seek our own good. Indeed, the only reason why we feel dislike toward ourselves and berate ourselves is precisely because we do love ourselves! We care about our good, so we are impatient with our bad.

We fall in love but we do not fall in agape. We rise in agape.

Since God is agape and agape is not feeling, God is not feeling. That does not make Him (or agape) cold. Coldness is a feeling just as much as heat (passion) is. That also does not make Him abstract: a principle or an ideal rather than a Three-Person. Agape is not a feeling, not because it is less than a feeling but because it is so much more. God is agape itself, the essence of love, while feeling is only the little dribbles of love, little echoes of love, received into the medium of our emotions, our passions, our passivity. Love “overcomes” us or “comes over us,” but nothing can overcome or come over God. God cannot fall in love for the same reason water cannot get wet: it is wet. It is wetness itself. Love Itself cannot receive love as a passivity. It can only spread it as an activity. God is love-in-action, not love-in-dreams. (Remember that great line of Dostoyevski’s: “love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams” — Dorothy Day’s favorite line. (Ed.  What may it ask of us?)) Feelings are like dreams: easy, passive, spontaneous. Agape is hard and precious like a diamond.

(2) THIS BRINGS US TO A second and related misunderstanding. Agape’s object is always the concrete individual, not some abstraction called humanity. Love of humanity is easy because humanity does not surprise you with inconvenient demands. You never find humanity on your doorstep, stinking and begging. Humanity never has the 20 wrong political opinions. Humanity is an idea, not a person. When five men and six women are in a room, there are only 11 people there, not 12. Humanity never occupies a room, only a mind.

Jesus commands us to love not humanity but our neighbor, all our neighbors: the real individuals we meet, just as He did. He died for me and for you, not for “humanity.” The Cross has our names written on it, not the name humanity. When the nails pierced His hands, the blood spelled out “John” and “Peter” and “Mary,” not “humanity.” When Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd, He said He “calls His own sheep by name” (John 10:3). The Gospel comes to you not in a newspaper with a Xeroxed label that reads, “Dear Occupant,” but in a handwritten envelope personally addressed to you, as a love letter from God. It is written to you alone. One of the saints says that Jesus would have done everything He did and suffered everything He suffered even if you were the only person who had sinned. He would have done all that just for you. More than that, He did. This is no “if” ; this is fact. His loving eyes saw you from the Cross. Each of His five wounds were lips.

(3) A THIRD MISUNDERstanding about love is to confuse it with kindness, which is only one of its usual attributes. Kindness is the sympathy with and the desire to relieve another’s suffering. But love (agape) is the willing of another’s good. A father can spank his child out of love. And God is a father.

It is painfully obvious that God is not mere kindness, for He does not remove all suffering, though He has the power to do so. Indeed, this very fact — that the God who is omnipotent and can at any instant miraculously erase all suffering from this world deliberately chooses not to do so is the commonest argument unbelievers use against Him. The number one argument for atheism stems from the confusion between love and kindness.

The more we love someone, the more our love goes beyond kindness. We are merely kind to pets, and therefore we consent that our pets be put to death “to put them out of their misery” when they are suffering. There is increasing pressure in America to legalize euthanasia. So far only Nazi Germany has ever legalized euthanasia. This evil too stems from the confusion between love and kindness. We are kind to strangers but demanding of those we love. If a stranger informed you that he was a drug addict, you would probably try to reason with him in a kind and gentle way; but if your son or daughter said that to you, you would probably do a lot of shouting and screaming.

Grandfathers are kind; fathers are loving. Grandfathers say, “Run along and have a good time.” Fathers say, “But don’t do this or that.” Grandfathers are compassionate, fathers are passionate. God is never once called our grandfather, much as we would prefer that to the inconveniently close, demanding, intimate father who loves us. The most frequently heard saying in our lives is precisely the philosophy of a grandfather: “Have a nice day.” Many priests even sanctify this philosophy by ending the Mass with it, though the Mass is supposed to be the worship of the Father, not the Grandfather.

(4) A FOURTH MISUNDERstanding about love is the confusion between “God is love” and “love is God.” The worship of love instead of the worship of God involves two deadly mistakes. First it uses the word God only as another word for love. God is thought of as a force or energy rather than as a person. Second, it divinizes the love we already know, instead of showing us a love we don’t know. To understand this point, consider that “A is B” does not mean the same as “A equals B.” “That house is wood” does not mean “wood is that house.” “An angel is spirit” does not mean the same as “spirit is an angel.” When we say “A is B” we begin with a subject, A, that we assume our hearer already knows, and then we add a new predicate to it. “Mother is sick” means “You know mother well, let me tell you something you don’t know about her: she’s sick.” So “God is love” means “Let me tell you something new about the God you know: He is essential love, made of love, through and through.” But “Love is God” means “Let me tell you something about the love you already know, your own human love: that is God. That is the ultimate reality. That is as far as anything can ever go. Seek no further for God.” In other words, “God is love” is the most profound thing we have ever heard. But “love is God” is deadly nonsense.

(5) A FIFTH MISUNDERstanding about love is the idea that you can be in love with love. No, you cannot, any more than you can have faith in faith, or hope in hope, or see sight. Love is an act, a force, or an energy, but persons are more than – that. What we love with agape can only be a person, the most real thing there is, because a person is the image of God, who is ultimate reality, and God’s name is “I Am” — the name for a person. If anyone says they are in love with love, that love is not agape but a feeling.

(6) A SIXTH MISUNDERstanding about love is the idea that “God is love” is unrelated to dogmatic theology, especially to the doctrine of the Trinity. Everyone can agree that “God is love” it seems, but the Trinity is a tangled dogma for an esoteric elite, isn’t it? No. If God is not a Trinity, God is not love. For love requires three things: a lover, a beloved, and a relationship between them. If God were only one person, He could be a lover, but not love itself. The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father, and the Spirit is the love proceeding from both, from all eternity. If that were not so, then God would need us, would be incomplete without us, without someone to love. Then His creating us would not be wholly unselfish, but selfish, from His own need.

Love is a flower, and hope is its stem. Salvation is the whole plant. God’s grace, God’s own life, comes into us by faith, like water through a tree’s roots. It rises in us by hope, like sap through the trunk. And it flowers from our branches, like fruit for our neighbor’s use. Faith is like an anchor. That’s why it must be conservative, even a stick-in-the-mud, like an anchor. Faith must be faithful. Hope is like a compass or a navigator. It gives us direction, and it takes its bearings from the stars. That’s why it must be progressive and forward-looking. Love is like the sail, spread to the wind. It is the actual energy of our journey. That’s why it must be liberal, open to the Spirit’s wind, generous.

Agape is totally defenseless against an objection like Freud’s: “But not all men are worthy of love.” No, they are not. Love goes beyond worth, beyond justice, beyond reason. Reasons are always given from above downward, and there is nothing above love, for God is love. When he was six, my son asked me, “Daddy, why do you love me?” I began to give the wrong answers, the answers I thought he was looking for: “You’re a great kid. You’re good and smart and strong.” Then, seeing his disappointment, I decided to be honest:

“Aw, I just love you because you’re mine.” I got a smile of relief and a hug: “Thanks, Daddy.” A student once asked me in class, “Why does God love us so much?” I replied that that was the greatest of all mysteries, and she should come back to me in a year to see whether I had solved it. One year later to the day, there she was. She was serious. She really wanted an answer. I had to explain that this one thing, at least, just could not be explained.

Finally, there is the equally mind-boggling mystery of the paradox of agape: somehow in agape you give yourself away, not just your time or work or possessions or even your body. You put yourself in your own hands and hand it over to another. And when you do this unthinkable thing, another unthinkable thing happens: you find yourself in losing yourself. You begin to be when you give yourself away. You find that a new and more real self has somehow been given to you. When you are a donor you mysteriously find yourself a recipient of the very gift you gave away. “There is more: nothing else is really yours. Your health, your works, your intelligence, your possessions —these are not what they seem. They are all hostage to fortune, on loan, insubstantial. You discover that when you learn who God is. Face to face with God in prayer, (not just a proper concept of God), you find that you are nothing.  All the saints say this: you are nothing. The closer you get to God, the more you see this; the more you shrink in size. If you scorn God, you think you’re a big shot, a cannonball; if you know God, you know you’re not even buckshot. Those who scorn God think they’re Number One. Those who have the popular idea of God think they’re good people.” Those who have a merely mental orthodoxy know they’re real but finite creatures, made in God’s image but flawed by sin. Those who really begin to pray find that compared with God, they are motes of dust in the sun. Finally, the saints say they are nothing. Or else, in Saint Paul’s words, “the chief of sinners.” Sinners think they’re saints, and saints think they’re sinners.

Who’s right? How shall we evaluate this unless God is the Father of lies (the ultimate blasphemy)! The saints are right. Unless the closer you get to God the more wrong you are about yourself, the five groups in the preceding paragraph (from scorners to saints) form a hierarchy of insight. Nothing is ours by nature. Our very existence is sheer gift. Think for a moment about the fact that you were created, made out of nothing. If a sculptor gives a block of marble the gift of a fine shape, the shape is a gift, but the marble’s existence is not. That is the marble’s own. But nothing is our own because we were made out of nothing. Our very existence is a gift from God to no one, for we were not there before he created us. There is no receiver of the gift distinct from the gift itself. We are God’s gifts. So the saints are right. If I am nothing, nothing that is mine is anything. Nothing is mine by nature. But one thing is mine by my free choice: the self I giveaway in love. That is the thing even God cannot do for me. It is my choice. Everything I say is mine, is not. But everything I say is yours is mine.

When asked which of his many library books he thought he would have in heaven, C.S. Lewis replied, “Only the ones I gave away on earth and never got back.” The same is true of our very self. It is like a ball in a game of catch: throw it and it will come back to you; hold onto it and that ends the game.”

Love,
Matthew

Theodicy – The Problem of Evil

theodicy
-by Scipione Tadolini, “St Michael the Archangel”, 1865, Marble sculpture, Rotunda, Gasson Hall, Boston College.

“Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour.  Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings.  The God of all grace who called you to His eternal glory through Christ [Jesus] will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you after you have suffered a little.  To Him be dominion forever. Amen.”  1 Peter 5:8-11

The last thing the Enemy wishes is our despair.

Satan’s Tools

There is a story about Satan selling some of his tools at a garage sale he was giving. There on tables grouped by importance were his bright, shiny but deadly trinkets.

One could find tools that made it easy to tear others down.  And for those who had big egos, there were lenses for magnifying one’s own importance, but if you looked through them the other way, you could also use the lens to belittle others.

An unusual assortment of gardening implements stood together with a guarantee to help your pride grow by leaps and bounds.  Also in prominence was the rake of scorn, the shovel of jealousy for digging a pit for your neighbor, tools of gossip and backbiting, of selfishness and apathy.

All of these were pleasing to the eye and came complete with great promises and guarantees of prosperity.  The prices, of course, were steep but a sign declared “Free Credit Extended” to all.  “Take at least one home, use it.  You don’t have to pay until later!” old Satan cried rubbing his hands in glee.

One prospective buyer was looking at all the things offered when he noticed two well-worn, non-descript tools standing in one corner.    Not being nearly as tempting as the other items, he found it curious that these two tools had price tags higher than any other.

When he asked why, Satan just laughed and said, “Well, that’s because these two are more useful to me than the others.  I can pry open and get inside a person’s heart with these when I cannot get near them with my other tools. Once I get inside, I can make people do what I choose. They are badly worn because I use them on almost everyone, since very few people know that they belong to me.”

Satan pointed to the two tools, saying, “You see, I call that one Doubt and the other Discouragement. Those will work when nothing else will.”

Resist him, solid in your faith.  We used to call this Spiritual Warfare.  The Lord’s love is infinitely stronger than any evil.  He is God.  He cannot be defeated.  The Prince of Lies wishes us to believe he can defeat Him.  It is a lie.  Do not listen to him.  With the power of prayer and trust in the Lord, banish the Liar to the void of suffering from whence he came for his rebellion against God, to which he wishes to drag us all.  Resist him, solid in your faith.

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle;
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray:
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.
Amen.

By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Seraphim, may the Lord make us worthy to burn with the fire of perfect charity. Amen.

By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Cherubim, may the Lord grant us the grace to leave the ways of sin and run in the paths of Christian perfection. Amen.

By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Thrones, may the Lord infuse into our hearts a true and sincere spirit of humility. Amen.

By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Dominions, may the Lord give us grace to govern our senses and overcome any unruly passions. Amen.

By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Powers, may the Lord protect our souls against the snares and temptations of the devil. Amen.

By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Virtues, may the Lord preserve us from evil and falling into temptation. Amen.

By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Principalities, may God fill our souls with a true spirit of obedience. Amen.

By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Archangels, may the Lord give us perseverance in faith and in all good works in order that we may attain the glory of Heaven. Amen.

By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Angels, may the Lord grant us to be protected by them in this mortal life and conducted in the life to come to Heaven. Amen.

O glorious prince St. Michael, chief and commander of the heavenly hosts, guardian of souls, vanquisher of rebel spirits, servant in the house of the Divine King and our admirable conductor, thou who dost shine with excellence and superhuman virtue deliver us from all evil, who turn to thee with confidence and enable us by your gracious protection to serve God more and more faithfully every day.

Pray for us, O glorious St. Michael, Prince of the Church of Jesus Christ, that we may be made worthy of His promises.

Almighty and Everlasting God, Who, by a prodigy of goodness and a merciful desire for the salvation of all men, has appointed the most glorious Archangel St. Michael, Prince of Thy Church, make us worthy, we beseech Thee, to be delivered from all our enemies, that none of them may harass us at the hour of death, but that we may be conducted by him into the August Presence of Thy Divine Majesty. This we beg through the merits of Jesus Christ Our Lord.

Amen.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodicy

hofer
-by Rev. Andrew Hofer, OP, teaches at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC. This article comes from the September 2011 issue of The Irish Rover, a newspaper produced by students at the University of Notre Dame.

“How do we reconcile God’s omnipresence with the existence and agency of the Devil and with the presence of sin and evil in general?”

A perennial problem in human thinking is the question of good and evil. How can we reconcile the presence of God and the presence of evil forces that we experience in the world? In Christianity, Gottfried Leibniz (d. 1716) was especially famous for framing the question of theodicy, that is, how to justify God when we face the problem of evil.

If God is infinitely good, all-powerful, omnipresent, and all-loving, how could there be evil forces at work in creation? Various approaches are taken to answer this today. One approach is to be silent in the face of the mystery of suffering.

For some of those who articulate an answer, it seems that God has too exalted a job description! They want to lessen God’s descriptions. God isn’t REALLY almighty, they say. He’s working out His salvation, and ours, in a complex cosmos.

An even more serious objection arising from the question of evil is that God simply doesn’t exist. This modern-sounding objection is, in fact, one that St. Thomas Aquinas considers when asking “Does God exist?” in SUMMA THEOLOGIAE Ia, q. 2, a. 3. The objection runs like this. It seems that God does not exist. If one of two contraries is infinite, the other would be totally destroyed. But this word “God” is understood to mean infinite goodness. If therefore God exists, evil couldn’t be found. But evil is found in the world. Therefore God does not exist.

Few people may go through this reasoning in a logical syllogism, but many people wonder along those lines when bad things happen. How could God let my friend suffer and die? Where was God in the September 11 attacks against America ten years ago? Individual painful experiences such as these can drive people to agnosticism or atheism.

For his part, St. Thomas answers the objection from evil concerning God’s existence with a quotation from St. Augustine: “Since God is the highest good, He would not allow any evil to exist in His works, unless His omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil.” St. Thomas continues to say that this is actually a part of God’s infinite goodness: He allows evil—and out of that evil produces good. In other words, God does not directly will evil, and when He declines to prevent it (see Job), He who made creation from nothing has a plan to make something very good out of the disorder of evil.

In responding to the question of evil, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “No quick answer will suffice…. THERE IS NOT A SINGLE ASPECT OF THE CHRISTIAN MESSAGE THAT IS NOT IN PART AN ANSWER TO THE PROBLEM OF EVIL” (309). In the world that we have, with its freedom and the misuse of freedom in sin, there are devils and sinners. God doesn’t obliterate devils after their fall, which was their irrevocable everlasting choice against God’s goodness. God created devils originally as good angels, and their own choice to turn away from Him does not cause God to destroy them. He also doesn’t obliterate us human sinners. Even when God’s own Son became man and was crucified by evil forces, by our sins, God did not obliterate His creation. He showed that the horror imposed upon Jesus could be used for our salvation. In fact, it is by “his wounds we are healed” (Isa 53:5). When we experience evil personally, when we suffer, it is an invitation to be united with Jesus, “to fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ” (Col 1:24).

For nearly 2,000 years, Christians have proclaimed to the world that “Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.” His Resurrection beckons us to live by the Holy Spirit and see how no evil, however horrible it is, can be a match for God’s almighty goodness. It doesn’t make everything easy in this world. But our faith in the Resurrection, where God triumphs over ALL evil forces, sustains us. The mystery of God’s triumph calls us both to silent prayer at the foot of the Cross, and to joyful preaching of the Good News.”

Love,
Matthew