Category Archives: Theology

True vs False Freedom

false_freedom

As I struggle with my own temptations/passions, it is very helpful to remind myself of the below.  🙂  Grace is NOT burdensome!! Hardly. IT IS true freedom!  ASK FOR IT!!  Pray for it!!  Beg for it. Totally worth it!!! Totally!!! True freedom. True.

-by Nicene Guy

What makes us free? There are, on the whole, three true types of freedom and one false one. Among the three true types, one is beyond our control, one is ultimately determined by conditions in the larger society, and one is largely under our own control.

The false type of freedom, what might be called a fool’s freedom, is largely mistaken as the real meaning of freedom. It is freedom, of a sort, and as the philosopher Mortimer J. Adler notes, we all possess it to some extent: it is the freedom to do (or attempt to do) whatever we want. Note that I have qualified this notion of freedom—we all possess it to some extent. There are, of course, some limits to it…

Nor is this type of freedom a freedom from consequences [1]. I can enjoy fine dining, but it will cost most of my earnings if I make that my nightly meal. I can enjoy a pint or two with friends, but if I drink too much or too quickly, I can expect to feel tipsy (or worse!). I can leap into the air with hopes of flying, but I must be prepared for the disappointment of a quick landing. This false freedom can be enjoyed if it is rightly ordered—more on this later—but if not rightly ordered it can quickly master and enslave us…

I do not mean here that the freedom to do whatever we want is always bad, but rather that it can lead to bad philosophy of life—hedonism and its attendant philosophical errors—which in turn leads to a bad end. The freedom to do whatever we want leads to the consequence of being enslaved by our passions—these passions together are a cruel mistress. See City of God, Book IX, Chapter 3-6 (especially 3 and 6).

The Platonist Apuleius taught that demons were subject to “every faucet of human emotion,” and that since they lacked self control and any other virtues, they were “tossed about on the stormy seas of their imaginations.” Saint Augustine takes up this theme in his City of God, writing that Aupuleius was arguing that the demons lacked the condition necessary for happiness, but that they were wretched, because:

“Their mind…far from being steeped in virtue and thus protected against any surrender to irrational passions of the soul, was itself in some measure liable to disturbances, agitations, and storms of passion, the normal condition of foolish minds…”

“It is not any of the lower part of the souls of demons that Aupuleius describes as agitated as if by raging seas and storms of passion; it is their mind, the faculty that makes them rational beings. And therefore they are not worthy of comparison with wise men who, even under the conditions of their present life, offer the resistance of an undisturbed mind to those disturbances of the soul from which human weakness cannot be exempt… It is the foolish and lawless among mortals that these demons resemble, not in their bodies but in their characters” City of God, IX.3).

His is a fitting description of those who pursue this false freedom of “doing whatever I want,” namely, that such men are “foolish and lawless.” Worse, by pursuing the desires of the moment, they find wretchedness rather than satisfaction and misery rather than felicity—and that’s in this life. They are like the demons, slaves to their passions. Of the demons, and thus of the hedonistic men who follow them, Saint Augustine concludes that “their mind is subdued under the oppressive tyranny of vicious passions, and employs for seduction and deception all the rational power that it has by nature” [4]. The freedom which inexorably leads to such oppression is a fool’s freedom indeed.”

Love,
Matthew

—-Footnotes—-
[1] Freedom from consequences is an even more foolish form of false freedom than “the ability to do whatever I want.”
[2] See the discussion of the characteristics of the resurrected body http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12792a.htm in the Catholic Encyclopedia. The resurrected body possesses impassibility, brightness/glory, agility, and subtility.
[4] City of God IX.6. Saint Augustine also writes that “Demons are at the mercy of the passions…the mind of demons in in subjection to the passions of desire, of fear, of anger, and the rest,” and that no part of their mind is left for wisdom, or virtue.

The Argument from Desire

-by Fr Robert Barron

“One of the classical demonstrations of God’s existence is the so-called argument from desire. It can be stated in a very succinct manner as follows. Every innate or natural desire corresponds to some objective state of affairs that fulfills it. Now we all have an innate or natural desire for ultimate fulfillment, ultimate joy, which nothing in this world can possibly satisfy. Therefore there must exist objectively a supernatural condition that grounds perfect fulfillment and happiness, which people generally refer to as “God.”

I have found in my work as an apologist and evangelist that this demonstration, even more than the cosmological arguments, tends to be dismissed out of hand by skeptics. They observe, mockingly, that wishing something doesn’t make it so, and they are eager to specify that remark with examples: I may want to have a billion dollars, but the wish doesn’t make the money appear; I wish I could fly, but my desire doesn’t prove that I have wings, etc.

This rather cavalier rejection of a venerable demonstration is a consequence, I believe, of the pervasive influence of Ludwig Feuerbach and Sigmund Freud, both of whom opined that religion amounts to a pathetic project of wish-fulfillment. Since we want perfect justice and wisdom so badly, and since the world cannot possibly provide those goods, we invent a fantasy world in which they obtain.

Both Feuerbach and Freud accordingly felt that it was high time that the human race shake off these infantile illusions and come to grips with reality as it is. In Feuerbach’s famous phrase: “The no to God is the yes to man.” The same idea is contained implicitly in the aphorism of Feuerbach’s best-known disciple, Karl Marx: “Religion is the opiate of the masses.”

In the wake of this criticism, can the argument from desire still stand?

I think it can, but we have to probe a bit behind its deceptively simple surface if we are to grasp its cogency. The first premise of the demonstration hinges on a distinction between natural or innate desires and desires of a more artificial or contrived variety. Examples of the first type include the desire for food, for sex, for companionship, for beauty, and for knowledge; while examples of second type include the longing for a fashionable suit of clothes, for a fast car, for Shangri-La, or to fly through the air like a bird. Precisely because desires of the second category are externally motivated or psychologically contrived, they don’t prove anything regarding the objective existence of their objects: some of them exist and some of them don’t.

But desires of the first type do indeed correspond to, and infallibly indicate, the existence of the states of affairs that will fulfill them: hunger points to the objective existence of food, thirst to the objective existence of drink, sexual longing to the objective existence of the sexual act, etc. And this is much more than a set of correspondences that simply happen to be the case; the correlation is born of the real participation of the desire in its object. The phenomenon of hunger is unthinkable apart from food, since the stomach is “built” for food; the phenomenon of sexual desire is unthinkable apart from the reality of sex, since the dynamics of that desire are ordered toward the sexual act. By its very structure, the mind already participates in truth.

So what kind of desire is the desire for perfect fulfillment? Since it cannot be met by any value within the world, it must be a longing for truth, goodness, beauty, and being in their properly unconditioned form. But the unconditioned, by definition, must transcend any limit that we might set to it. It cannot, therefore, be merely subjective, for such a characterization would render it not truly unconditioned. And this gives the lie to any attempt—Feuerbachian, Freudian, Marxist or otherwise—to write off the object of this desire as a wish-fulfilling fantasy, as a projection of subjectivity. In a word, the longing for God participates in God, much as hunger participates in food. And thus, precisely in the measure that the desire under consideration is an innate and natural desire, it does indeed prove the existence of its proper object.

One of the best proponents of this argument in the last century was C.S. Lewis. In point of fact, Lewis made it the cornerstone of his religious philosophy and the still-point around which much of his fiction turned. What particularly intrigued Lewis was the sweetly awful quality of this desire for something that can never find its fulfillment in any worldly reality, a desire that, at the same time, frustrates and fascinates us.

This unique ache of the soul he called “joy.” In the Narnia stories, Aslan the lion stands for the object of this desire for the unconditioned. When the good mare Hwin confronts the lion for the first time, she says, “Please, you are so beautiful. You may eat me if you like. I would sooner be eaten by you than fed by anyone else.” To understand the meaning of that utterance is to grasp the point of the argument from desire.”

Love,
Matthew

The Heresy of Deism, the Enlightenment, & the Trinity

Official_Presidential_portrait_of_Thomas_Jefferson_(by_Rembrandt_Peale,_1800)

-“Thomas Jefferson”, by Rembrandt Peale, 1800, official Presidential portrait, my favorite image of the sage of Monticello

“The hocus-pocus phantasm of a God like another Cerberus, with one body and three heads, had its birth and growth in the blood of thousands and thousands of martyrs… In fact, the Athanasian paradox that one is three, and three but one, is so incomprehensible to the human mind, that no candid man can say he has any idea of it, and how can he believe what presents no idea? He who thinks he does, only deceives himself. He proves, also, that man, once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without a rudder, is the sport of every wind. With such persons, gullibility which they call faith, takes the helm from the hand of reason, and the mind becomes a wreck.”
-letter to James Smith discussing Jefferson’s hate of the doctrine of the Christian trinity, December 8 1822

As an alumnus of the University of Virginia, I am torn as a Catholic when it comes to its founder’s theology.  I really do not like Mr. Jefferson’s, as he is called on grounds, theology.  It does not ring true for me, nor many others, I confidently suspect, but it is a bellwether of Enlightenment thinking in which the USA was founded, for woe or weal, and does serve as an excellent example of Deism.

Deism/Theism

Deism combines the rejection of revelation and authority as a source of religious knowledge with the conclusion that reason and observation of the natural world are sufficient to determine the existence of a single creator of the universe.  The Trinity is only known through Scriptural revelation, hence the Deist’s denial of this divinely revealed truth.

Deism holds that God does not intervene with the functioning of the natural world but rather allows it to function according to the laws of nature.

Fides et Ratio

Catholic “Fides et Ratio”, Faith and Reason, holds that both faith, natural and revealed, should not contradict reason.  If there is an apparent contradiction, there is a requirement to go deeper in our theology or our science to more profoundly understand, and that the two systems of thought will come into alignment and congruity once again, for a time, until another apparent contradiction offers us the opportunity to go further still.

Truth is known through a combination of faith and reason. The absence of either one will diminish man’s ability to know himself, the world and God. Human reason seeks the truth, but the ultimate truth about the meaning of life cannot be found by reason alone.

To the Deist/Theist, only reason may or need be applied, the over-emphasis of reason over every other consideration.  The motivation was to move beyond the perceived “superstitious” Middle Ages.  Revelation is not a primary font, nor is historical Christianity, hence, heresy.

Trinity

“God is love.” (Jn 3:16)  It is antithetical, we know, that (the Father’s) love should remain unreciprocated.  So we know there must be a beloved (the Son).  Because there is this great love between the divine lover and the divine beloved, it is so great, it is so intense, another person is “generated” (the Holy Spirit), hence the Trinity, known from Revelation, not from reason.  Sounds like a family to me.

“My Venerable Brother Bishops, Health and the Apostolic Blessing. Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth — in a word, to know himself — so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves (cf. Ex 33:18; Ps 27:8-9; 63:2-3; Jn 14:8; 1 Jn 3:2).” –JPII, Fides et Ratio

Pope St John Paul II
Crossing the Threshold of Hope

“In prayer, then, the true protagonist is God. The protagonist is Christ, who constantly frees creation from slavery to corruption and leads it toward liberty, for the glory of the children of God. The protagonist is the Holy Spirit, who “comes to the aid of our weakness.” We begin to pray, believing that it is our own initiative that compels us to do so. Instead, we learn that it is always God’s initiative within us, just as Saint Paul has written. This initiative restores in us our true humanity; it restores in us our unique dignity. Yes, we are brought into the higher dignity of the children of God, the children of God who are the hope of all creation.

One can and must pray in many different ways, as the Bible teaches through a multitude of examples. The Book of Psalms is irreplaceable. We must pray with “inexpressible groanings” in order to enter into rhythm with the Spirit’s own entreaties. To obtain forgiveness one must implore, becoming part of the loud cries of Christ the Redeemer (cf. Heb 5:7). Through all of this one must proclaim glory. Prayer is always an opus gloriae (a work, a labor, of glory). Man is the priest of all creation. Christ conferred upon him this dignity and vocation. Creation completes its opus gloriae both by being what it is and by its duty to become what should be.”

Love,
Matthew

Grace & Catholicism – #nuffsaid

grace (2)

FredNoltie
-by Fred Noltie

“It is not news to say that many Protestants claim that the Catholic Church teaches a form of salvation by merit in contrast to their own belief in salvation by grace. This claim about the Church’s teaching is of course false, as we have observed many times at this blog. A long time ago I wrote on the same subject, and it seems like a good idea to rehearse the main points I made at that time (along with, perhaps, some additions).

That about covers the gamut, I think, but it is hardly the last word from the Church on the subject. The much-maligned Council of Trent has a thing or two to say as well. By way of summary: “…it is necessary to believe that sins neither are remitted, nor ever were remitted save gratuitously by the mercy of God for Christ’s sake” (Decree on Justification, chapter IX). Furthermore, the entire seventh chapter (see previous link) of the Decree enumerates the various causes of our justification. As anyone can see, none of them are human efforts; all of them are divine.

This hardly seems necessary since Protestants have been resorting to the “legalism” canard since the sixteenth century, but for the sake of completeness it’s worth observing that the Church today still affirms salvation by grace alone.

Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God. (CCC 1996)

And: “Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him” (CCC 153).

And: “Believing is possible only by grace and the interior helps of the Holy Spirit” (CCC 154).

Our Protestant brothers’ claim is obviously based upon a deficit of information about the actual facts, which makes the claim invalid.”

Love,
Matthew

Concupiscence

concupiscence

NicoleCoxHeadshot-620x350

-by Nicole Cox

“As a mom of a two year old girl, I’ve become aware of the struggles of “normal” toddler behavior. One of the more frustrating aspects of the toddler psychological profile is the tendency to heed the parent’s command for a brief two seconds before recommencing the undesirable behavior. It’s a little game to them, though they don’t even know it. Listen to Mommy. But wait, it’s more fun to do what she asked me not to do. I’ll do that instead. Now I’m in trouble. Listen to Mommy. Rinse and repeat. Obviously, it’s a game they win. I mean, not that the parents don’t try to win, but almost any adult who’s interacted with a young toddler knows that a battle of the wills doesn’t get anyone anywhere. So we try, again and again to stop the naughtiness, only to have it rear its ugly head the moment we turn our backs (or not; the toddler knows no shame).

I realized, while pushing down the anger and frustration over my daughter’s inability to control herself once again this weekend, that spiritually speaking, I’m very much like a toddler.

“That’s wrong. It will hurt you,” says God.

“Ok, I’ll stop,” I reply.

Two hours, two minutes, or two days later…guess what? There I go again. The same sin, the same struggle, the same lack of self-control. And I’m an adult, fully rational, and very well-formed. My daughter is still learning to correctly identify primary colors. I’m fairly certain that God doesn’t rant and rave or even huff in disgust when I (again) do what He’s expressly asked me not to do, for my own good. And at the same time, He doesn’t lower the standards just because I’m not exactly meeting them.

I can read parenting advice books and blogs until the cows come home, but there’s a pretty great blueprint of how to discipline that’s been around since the world began. I can find it in the grace of Christ’s forgiveness in the confessional, and in the story of redemption played out over and over in the Bible. Hopefully, I can remember it better the next time my toddler scratches the baby, throws food on the floor, and so forth. The path to perfection is a gentle slope, and we’re all a bit like toddlers, stumbling our way up it to the merciful Father.”

His Grace is THE answer!!!  Pray for it!  Wait for it!  Ask for it!  Beg for it!  It will, it does come.  I have felt it, and been suddenly surprised at growing strength to resist temptation.  Strength I did not, do not possess, without Him (Jn 15:5).  I promise.  I do.

Love,
Matthew

Will & Passion

Jean_II_Restout_-_Pentecôte

-Pentecost, by Jean Resout II, 1732, oil on canvas,183” x 306 ¼”, formerly in the refectory of the Abbey of Saint-Denis, outside Paris, now since 1944 at the Musee du Louvre (please click on the image for more detail)

This Holy Spirit, I have always felt, is the MOST DANGEROUS of the persons of the Trinity!!!  REALLY!!  The Holy Spirit transforms a dozen vain, stupid, illiterate, timid, bumbling “Keystone Cops” into spiritual commandos, to literally change the world, to what still appears to be lasting effect.  All but one would go on to suffer martyrdom across the world, and so would their disciples; and that one would be exiled to Patmos…and write!!!  This same Spirit can transform us, too, if we but invite.  Do we dare?  Do we love Him enough?  Is He enough for us?  Careful!! 🙂  Can you handle the AWESOMENESS??  You CAN with the Holy Spirit!!

-by Erin Cain

“There is a difference between willpower and passion. You can learn all the rules of basketball and put all your effort into being the best on the court, but if you don’t truly love the sport, you’ll only go so far before burning out. You can memorize scales and learn all the rules of music theory, but that alone does not make you a musician. You have to play with passion—music is something that comes from deep within the soul, and it is much more than technical skill. Knowledge and effort are both necessary to perform well, but they grow naturally when you develop a genuine love for what you do. Willpower alone will only take you so far. And sometimes, even when you know all the notes, you might freeze up at the recital. If, when the moment comes for you to perform, you find yourself paralyzed with fear, you have much in common with Jesus’s apostles as they waited in the upper room.

After Jesus ascended into Heaven, His apostles retreated into an upper room, away from the crowds of the city and from everyone who was asking them questions about Jesus. They weren’t ready to face these people, to spread Jesus’s word, to undergo persecution in His name. Jesus had told them to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15). They believed in the truth of His death and resurrection and knew the importance of sharing it with others. They wanted to follow His commands—but they couldn’t bring themselves to step outside. (Ed. they had seen the RESURRECTION, after all!!  Good grief, Charlie Brown!!  What more do you want, you blockhead?) Their faith lacked action and passion; they were overcome by human weakness and fear.

Sometimes, when I am faced with a challenge in following the Christian life or when I am inspired to do something to share the faith, I become paralyzed by a spiritual inertia before I can even begin. I get caught up in the details, frightened by the possibilities of what some people might say if I follow through, ever aware that I am not worthy or capable of carrying out any sort of grand plans. But God does not promise us that we will be comfortable and safe in this life if we follow His will—rather, He tells us the opposite: “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). And He does not call the equipped; He equips the called. We have to step out in faith, away from our comfortable hiding places and out into the world.

What happened to transform the cowering disciples in the upper room into the brave, powerful martyrs who carry out such amazing miracles in the Acts of the Apostles? What gave them the strength they so lacked before, the resolve to follow through in performing God’s commands? What gave them the faith to take seriously what Jesus had told them, when they had such trouble earlier to internalize His teachings and instructions? The Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the only difference between hiding away in a small, dark room and speaking in tongues to all the nations. The Holy Spirit equips us with the graces we lack, at the time we need them to carry out God’s will in our lives; He fills us with the strength to forget our mortal constraints and trust that God will fill in our weaknesses. God wants to use us as His instruments, imperfect though we are, and the Holy Spirit acts as the channel for this to occur. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can do hard things.

But there is a gap between the Ascension and Pentecost. We must wait for the Holy Spirit to come to us, and we must have faith that God will send the Spirit to us when the time comes. Until that time, we are reminded of our own human weakness, so that we know that whatever we do to further His Kingdom comes from the Spirit and not from us. This can be a hard truth to accept when we are trapped in the upper room, waiting for help to arrive—that we cannot do it ourselves, that we need an Advocate. But the Advocate is coming for all of us; He will come when we need Him if only we invoke His name.

God has entrusted us with a mission to fulfill, to be His hands in the world. Instead of being fearful of making mistakes, we can step out in confidence, knowing that God will cover our imperfections. We can focus on doing what we are called to do instead of worrying about the obstacles we will encounter in the process. The Holy Spirit fills us with the “perfect love [that] casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). We can’t force feelings of love, but we can turn to God and ask Him to provide us what we need. He can set a fire in our soul that will fuel everything we do.

V.  Come, Holy Spirit! Fill the hearts of Your faithful and kindle in them the fire of Your love.

R.  Send forth Your Spirit and they shall be created, and You shall renew the face of the earth.”

“In our labor, rest most sweet;
Grateful coolness in the heat;
Solace in the midst of woe.

Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away:

Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.”
-Veni, Sancte Spiritus

Love & the fire of the Holy Spirit to you!
Matthew

The Meaning of Life

-from the New Saint Thomas Institute blog:
May 19, 2015 at 6:16 am #11981
marius

Marius L
Member

Hi all,
Someone close to me has expressed to me a few times over the years that they don’t know the meaning and purpose of life. I have no idea how to answer this. I have an intuition the answer is linked to the religious life, or christian life particularly, but since I don’t struggle personally to find meaning or purpose in life, I find it hard to give an answer to this question. It is a real head scratcher.
I’m a bit concerned that the person who told me this are slowly becoming more depressed over time as a result. Not good.
Any ideas how to answer such a question?

 

May 19, 2015 at 7:32 am #11984

mattmp

Matthew M

Member

Marius, excellent question. No quick, simple answer, however, the Baltimore Catechism #1 gives us this in Question 6:


6. Q. Why did God make you?

A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven.

While this is a simplistic answer meant for children, many Catholics, of all possible verses in the Baltimore Catechism, have memorized this one. Simple, yet beautiful, and correct. For more meaningful, deeper answers, one must go deeper. That is ALWAYS the invitation from the Lord when BIG questions arise. Jesus and the Church WANT us to ask questions, even if the questions are brought about by suffering, maybe most especially.

This takes time and presence. Presence at Mass. Presence and availability to the Scriptures. Presence and availability to Him, so that He can speak to the human heart and answer this question in, and through, His love.

The answer, His Love, is the most wonderful answer in life. It is worth the cost. It is most definitely worth pursuing. Hope that helps. God bless.

Love,
Matthew

Divine Providence

the-triumph-of-divine-providence-1639

-“Triumph of Divine Providence”, Pietro da Cortona, 1633-1639, Baroque fresco, Palazzo Barberini, Rome, Italy (please click on the image to see greater detail)

Hopefully, Divine Providence is not a passe’ or outdated Christian concept, although we don’t really hear a lot about it these days, do we?  Dare I?  Even at Mass?  As much as we should?  Rather, “My will be done, my kingdoms come!” is more the mantra?

In my experience, listening to the spiritual experience of others, never ever intending to prematurely infer one is more positive than another, this is THE realm of the Holy Spirit after all, I can’t help but notice there “seems” to be more “intentionality”, or effort, in what they are doing?  Particularly the younger the seeker?  Now, never to judge, but it seems easier the way it happens for me?  I feel like I am in a state of perpetual prayer?  He is always with me?  Weird.  Very weird.  I am at peace, usually.  I am.

I do intentionally pray, always, please don’t get me wrong, but mostly it seems, at most usually like I have to give Him a knowing look?  He has been SO good to me!  More than I could ever imagine or wish.

I mean, He already knows, right?  Everything?  What I need, all of us need?  Before we know we need it?  More what we actually need, even if that is a cross, than the shallow happy-happy we keep fantasizing we need?  Or, think we want?

I keep hearing others say, “Carve out twenty-five minutes of prayer a day!”, or some such, and I would never debate the necessity of intentional or actual time set aside, and prayer is life breath for me.  Without it, life would be impossible.

But, is there a lack of trust here?  On my part?  On the part of others?  I love to ask other Christian seekers, “What was Adam/Eve’s sin?”  I expect the answer will be, “They ate the apple!”  When I explain the game I am playing I say I am more fascinated by our progenitor’s duplicity in wanting to pervert the natural order, and be gods, or God’s peer, or closer to that end.  It is my humble understanding and belief this is THE root of all sin; to pervert, to invert the relationship between the Divine and ourselves.  God gives and takes life, we should not, etc.

And so, I have come to the beneficial approach that every problem, every tragedy, every question must begin, and I use these words exactly, “You are God, I am not.”, and I approach the situation, gently, like that, having faith that the indescribable power of the Divine can and will do far more about the situation than any mere creature that I am might ever rationally hope to effect.  It is this fundamental perspective that brings me great peace.  This attempt at, in the most laughable  of ways, of undoing that first temptation to not recognize the reality of our relationship and proportion with the Divine?

I am also aware, from my training, that God has a positive will, that which He actually does and intends; and a permissive will, that which He allows…for our good.

“The heavens declare the glory of God;
the firmament proclaims the works of His hands.” -Ps 19:2

Have mercy, Lord, on this ant of a creature of Yours!  Mercy!

wilfrid

– from “The Will and Providence of God” | Fr. Wilfrid Stinissen, O Carm | From Chapter One, “Accepting God’s Will”, of Into Your Hands, Father: Abandoning Ourselves to the God Who Loves Us

“A problem many people have today is that they no longer recognize God’s will in everything that happens. They no longer believe in a Providence that allows all that takes place to work for the good of those who love God (Rom 8:28). They say all too easily and superficially: “But it is not God’s will that there are wars or that people starve or are persecuted….” No, it is not God’s will that human beings fight with each other. He wills that we love one another. But when evil people (Ed. having chosen evil, through free will) who are opposed to His will hate and murder others, He allows this to become a part of His plan for them. We must distinguish between the actual deed of someone who, for example, slanders us and the situation that comes to us as a result of the deed, which was not God’s will. God did not will the sinful act, but from all eternity He has taken into account the consequences of it in our lives. He wills that we grow through those very things that others do to us that are difficult and painful.

There is a deeply rooted tendency in human beings to look at others and their failings. In doing this, we miss what is most essential: to accept and assent to God’s will in our lives, a will that is largely formed by the opposition of others to God’s will. We need only look at Jesus. It was not the Father’s will that His Son be killed, nor did he inspire anyone to kill Him. He did will, however, that Jesus would freely be the sacrifice for the sins of mankind. He willed that Jesus would let Himself be put to death. Jesus did not say, as we often hear today: “But this is not God’s will, this cannot be God’s will.” He said: “Abba, Father, all things are possible to You; remove this chalice from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will” (Mk 14:36). For everyone of us there is a chalice that the Father offers us to drink. We have difficulty recognizing it as coming from Him, since a great deal of its contents comes from other people. Nevertheless, it is the Father Who asks us to drink the bitter cup. It was so for Jesus, and it is the same for us.

“Your Providence, O Father, Guides!” (cf. Wis 14:3)

God has everything in His hand. Nothing exists outside the sphere of His influence. Nothing can upset His plans. Augustine formulates this very radically: “Nothing happens that the Almighty does not will should happen, either by permitting it or by Himself doing it.” [1] To let something happen is also a decision of God.

That God allows so much to happen is a great stumbling block for us. Why is he so passive? Why does he not intervene? How is Auschwitz possible and the torture chamber and the threat of a horrible nuclear war if God is concerned with us? These questions torment us and are not easy to answer. In chapter 2, I will return to this and try to show why God endowed human beings with free will, though He knew that this very freedom would pave the way for terrible catastrophes.

Let us limit ourselves for now to the undeniable fact that the Father did not prevent the painful death of His only-begotten Son. This fact is a kind of archetype, which shows us two things very clearly. The first is that suffering and even total ruin do not signify a lack of love on the part of the Father. The second is that suffering is not in vain; it bears fruit and has redeeming power. Since Jesus has gone through it, suffering has become an instrument of salvation. This applies not only to suffering that is borne generously and heroically. Who knows how we would react in the torture chamber? It is enough that we try as best we can to accept suffering or that we merely allow whatever comes our way to happen. The Church regards the Holy Innocents as martyrs, even though they never consciously or willingly consented to their violent deaths.

God makes use of evil in such a superb way and with such skill that the result is better than if there had never been evil. For those of us who find ourselves in the midst of evil, this is not easy to swallow. We think that the price to be paid for these good results is far too high. But Saint Paul rejoices when he ponders the “mystery”, God’s magnificent plan, “hidden for ages in God” (Eph 3:9), where evil and sin also have their place. “God has consigned all men to disobedience, that He may have mercy upon all” (Rom 11:32). In this daring passage, which, strictly speaking, seems somewhat questionable, since it seems to place the initiative of sin on God, Saint Paul assures us that even the greatest catastrophe, namely, sin, contributes to the revelation of love. Nothing falls outside of God’s plan. That is why the tragedy of the world, despite all its terror, has no definitive character. All the absurdity of which mankind’s foolishness and blindness are capable is caught up in God’s loving omnipotence. He is able to fit even the absurd into His plan of salvation and thereby give it meaning.

In his stories about Hasidism, Martin Buber writes: “On the evening before Yom Kippur, the great day of atonement, Rabbi Susa once heard the cantor singing in the synagogue in a wonderful way: ‘and it is forgiven.’ He then called out to God: ‘Lord of the universe, this song could never have resounded in Your presence had Israel not sinned.’ ” [2]

“There is indeed much done against God’s will by evil men,” Augustine writes, “but His wisdom and power are so great that everything seemingly contrary to it, in reality, works toward the good outcome or end that He has preordained.” [3] In other words: “God accomplishes His good will through the evil will of others. In this way the Father’s loving plan was realized … and Jesus suffered death for our sake.” [4]

There is no need to distinguish carefully between what God positively wills and what He merely permits. What He permits is also a part of His universal, all-embracing will. He has foreseen it from the beginning and decided how He will use it. Everything that happens has a purpose in God’s plan. He is so good that all that comes in contact with Him becomes in some way good. God’s goodness is contagious and even gives evil something of its own goodness. “God is so good”, Augustine says, “that in His hand, even evil brings about good. He would never have permitted evil to occur if He had not, thanks to His perfect goodness, been able to use it.” [5] Who can dare to speak of chance? “Nothing in our lives happens haphazardly…. Everything that takes place against our will can only come from God’s will, His Providence, the order He has created, the permission He gives, and the laws He has established.” [6]

The distinction between what God wills and what He merely permits is extremely important on the theological level. When it has to do with real life, however, with unavoidable events and our reaction to them, we might wonder if speculation about the difference is not often a subtle form of escapism. If God does not will the evil that befalls me, I do not need to accept it. Then I may in good conscience rebel against it.

Job is not interested in such distinctions. The evil that afflicts him comes directly from the devil. Nevertheless, Job says: “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD!” (Job 1:21). Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade (1675-1751) writes to Sister Marie-Henriette de Bousmard: “Be profoundly persuaded that nothing takes place in this world either spiritually or physically, that God does not will, or at least, permit; therefore we ought no less to submit to the permissions of God in things that do not depend on us, than to His absolute will.” [7]

Love,
Matthew

ENDNOTES:

[1] Enchiridion de fide, spe et caritate, no. 24.

[2] Die Erzählungen der Chassidim (Zurich: Manesse Verlag, 1949), p. 387.

[3] De civitate Dei 22, 2, I.

[4] Enchiridion, no. 26.

[5] Opus imperf. contra Julianum, lib. 5, no. 60.

[6] Enarrationes in Ps I 18, v. 12.

[7] Rev. Jean-Pierre de Caussade, S.J., Letters, in Abandonment to Divine Providence (Exeter: Sidney Lee, Catholic Records Press, 1921), p. 127.

The Grace of Final Perseverance

joseph7

A little preamble is in order here.  Protestant understanding of grace and Catholic understanding of grace are very different.  This distinction is often overlooked and generally misunderstood, yet it is perhaps the singularly most significant separating difference between Protestantism and Catholicism.

Generalizing across Protestant denominations, mea culpa, “sola fides”, or the doctrine of “by faith alone” implies once one is “saved” by turning from sin and accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in faith, that is all that is required.  “Once saved, always saved”, as the saying goes.

Martin Luther was a preacher and author of strong hyperbole.  He is often misquoted, or quoted out of context saying “Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong”, or “sin all the more” once saved.  Protestant theology is NOT recommending sin here, but rather implying no sin is stronger than the saving power of Christ.  True.

However, Catholics believe the grace of salvation, too, is freely given and unmerited.  However, Catholicism does put a bit more emphasis on free will, and while grace is a free, unmerited gift, through free will we have the power to reject His love subsequent to our initial acceptance and baptism through our actions and choices.

Think of how a human relationship works, which I have ALWAYS found to be an excellent metaphor for relating to God, and you can see more clearly the Catholic perspective.  God loves us too much to rescind the divine authority He has given us in free will.  There is no authentic love, human or divine, without free will, according to Catholicism.  Hence, the need, as Catholicism states, for the “Grace of Final Perseverance”.

“Mortal sin” is called mortal because the sin is so grave and intentional, again through free will, that it “kills”/destroys the life of grace within us.  It is the life of grace within us which is the relationship with God.  God didn’t change His mind.  We did, and proved it through our choices and actions in free will.

http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/

“Faith of our fathers, holy faith, we will be true to thee till death…”

-by Nicholas Hardesty, author PHAT Catholic Apologetics

Final perseverance is that last grace which confirms us in the Lord at the moment of death. It is a free gift of God that preserves or maintains the state of grace in our souls so that we can die in that state. You are in a state of grace when your soul is in righteous standing before God. This gift preserves that state by enabling our will to cooperate with the various means of receiving grace, namely prayer and the sacraments.

The grace of final perseverance also implies that death comes when we are in that state of grace, and not in a state of mortal sin. By that I mean, when a person prays for the grace of final perseverance, he is also praying that death will come in a timely manner, when his soul is in righteous standing before God.

According to Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, final perseverance is basically God practicing his stewardship or loving care over our souls. It is, “an ever watchful superintendence of us on the part of our All-Merciful Lord, removing temptations which He sees will be fatal to us, comforting us at those times when we are in particular peril, whether from our negligence or other cause, and ordering the course of our life so that we may die at a time when He sees that we are in the state of grace.”

Final perseverance can be seen as a single gift of grace, or as the body or collection of graces we have received throughout our whole lives, all coming together to affect our final end. As a single gift, we are reminded of the Good Thief crucified alongside Jesus, who, after living a life of sin, was compelled to convert in his final hour after witnessing the example of Jesus. The grace of final perseverance made that possible.

As a body of graces, we think of the life-long Catholic who sticks ever closer to the sacraments and is evermore devoted to prayer as his age advances and his health deteriorates. And then, when death is surely near, he calls upon the priest to make his last Confession, to receive Viaticum, and to be Anointed. In this case, the grace of final perseverance was actually working throughout his whole life, compelling him to perform the various pious practices that brought him now, in his final hour, to death in the state of grace.

What an extraordinary gift this would be to receive! Extraordinary … and necessary, since we cannot go to heaven without dying in a state of grace. What’s more, this gift only comes by way of God’s merciful response to our entreating Him for it in prayer. This is basically what we’re doing when we say in the Our Father, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (cf. CCC nos. 2849, 2854), and in the Hail Mary, “Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” We are praying for the gift of final perseverance.

Scripture mentions final perseverance in several places:

Ezek 18:24-28 But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity and does the same abominable things that the wicked man does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds which he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, he shall die. 25 “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? 26 When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he shall die for it; for the iniquity which he has committed he shall die. 27 Again, when a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is lawful and right, he shall save his life. 28 Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions which he had committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.

Wis 4:10-15 There was one who pleased God and was loved by him, and while living among sinners he was taken up. 11 He was caught up lest evil change his understanding or guile deceive his soul. 12 For the fascination of wickedness obscures what is good, and roving desire perverts the innocent mind. 13 Being perfected in a short time, he fulfilled long years; 14 for his soul was pleasing to the Lord, therefore he took him quickly from the midst of wickedness. 15 Yet the peoples saw and did not understand, nor take such a thing to heart, that God’s grace and mercy are with his elect, and he watches over his holy ones.

Mt 10:22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.

Jn 17:11 And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.

Rom 11:22-23 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off. 23 And even the others, if they do not persist in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again.

Rom 14:4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Master is able to make him stand.

1 Cor 15:1-2 Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, 2 by which you are saved, if you hold it fast—unless you believed in vain.

Gal 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Phil 1:6 And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Phil 4:7 And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Col 1:21-23 And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, 23 provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

1 Thes 5:23-24 May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

2 Tim 2:12 if we endure, we shall also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us;

1 Pet 5:10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you.

2 Pet 1:10 Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall;

In my mind, any passage that refers to the importance of enduring to the end, continuing in His kindness, standing fast, etc. is also a passage about this grace.”

Love,
Matthew

What Is the teaching of the Catholic Church on tattoos and body piercing?

clothed with strength and dignity

-www.cuf.org, Catholics United for Faith

Tattoos and acts of body piercing are not intrinsically evil. The Church offers principles by which Catholics can discern whether it is sinful to be tattooed or have one’s body pierced in particular situations.

WHAT SACRED SCRIPTURE HAS TO SAY

Some Protestant authors have argued that the Bible forbids tattoos and body piercing. They typically cite the following verse: “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh on account of the dead or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:28).

References to this verse are not present in important magisterial documents and in the principal writings of the Fathers of the Church. It is the consensus of Catholic biblical commentators that this prohibition is not part of the unchanging moral law, but part of the ritual law specific to the Old Testament. Many commentators believe that this prohibition was intended to separate Israel from its Canaanite neighbors; some believe that the cuttings in the flesh and tattoo marks to which the verse refers were part of idolatrous Canaanite worship. The context of the verse favors this interpretation. The preceding verse reads, “You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard” (Lev. 19:27)—this prohibition is certainly not applied to members of the Church.

The Church does not teach that Sacred Scripture forbids tattooing and body piercing, but the Church does offer principles by which to discern whether, in particular situations, it is sinful to be tattooed or have one’s body pierced.

RESPECT FOR HEALTH & BODILY INTEGRITY

The Fifth Commandment—”You shall not kill”—does not simply require respect for human life; it also compels Christians to respect the dignity of persons and to safeguard peace (see The Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 2258-2330). Respect for the dignity of persons includes, among other things, respect for the souls of others, for their health, and for their bodily integrity.

“Life and physical health,” the Church teaches, “are precious gifts entrusted to us by God. We must take reasonable care of them, taking into account the needs of others and the common good” (Catechism, no. 2288). Prudence dictates that persons considering tattoos or body piercing research any health risks that may be involved. If a particular act of tattooing or body piercing entails a likely risk to health, it would be more or less sinful depending upon the gravity of the risk. If a particular act involves mutilation—if the act renders a bodily organ unable to perform its function—the act is immoral (Catechism, no. 2297).

CHARITY AND RESPECT FOR THE SOULS OF OTHERS

Catholics must also consider the common good when they decide whether to be tattooed or have their bodies pierced. In certain instances—for example, in indigenous cultures in which tattooing is a rite of passage to adulthood—the common good practically demands that a person be tattooed.1

In the United States and other Western countries, however, considerations of the common good generally lead one away from being tattooed or having one’s body parts2 pierced (as they are commonly regarded as socially unacceptable.)

The question of whether an act of tattooing or body piercing hinders a Catholic’s evangelizing mission leads to the broader question of whether such an act harms the souls of others. Tattoos whose words and images celebrate the demonic, are unchaste, or otherwise offend against charity are immoral.

Even if a tattoo’s words and images are not uncharitable in themselves, the act of obtaining a tattoo can be rendered immoral if done so with an evil intention—for example, in order to spite one’s parents or society (cf. Catechism, no. 1752).

Persons considering body piercing should also be aware of the implicit messages that the particular act of piercing conveys in a particular time and place. Some acts of body piercing can imply approval for the immoral homosexual lifestyle. Other acts of body piercing can imply active participation in, or a desire to participate in, other unchaste acts. In such cases, the acts of body piercing are immoral because they appear to manifest an approval of sin and thus scandalize others (cf. Catechism, no. 1868, 2284).

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER

Persons considering getting tattoos or having their bodies pierced may want to reflect on the following questions:

    • Does this particular act of tattooing or body piercing involve a risk to my health?
    • Would this act mutilate me—that is, would it inhibit the proper functioning of my skin or another organ of my body?
    • Is the explicit message of my tattoo compatible with love of God and neighbor?
    • Is the implicit message of my tattoo compatible with love of God and neighbor? Does it convey an implicitly unchaste message?
    • Why do I want to get a tattoo or have my body pierced?
    • If I am under the authority of my parents, would this act be an act of disobedience that would violate the Fourth Commandment?
    • Would this particular act needlessly offend my family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues, and thus hinder my ability to lead others to Christ and His Church?
    • Can the expense involved be justified in light of the needs of my family, the Church, and the poor?

In most cultural contexts in the United States, a woman’s decision to have her ears pierced is compatible with respect for health and bodily integrity, charity, and respect for the souls of others. Other acts of piercing and tattooing are more open to question.

The criteria above can help one come to a prayerful and prudent decision in one’s particular circumstances.

Love,
Matthew

1 In People on the Move (December 2003, pp. 281-88),a publication of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, Fr. Mathias Bhuriya has written about the role of tattooing in the Adi-Vasi Bhalai nomadic Indian culture.

2 i.e., Obviously, not referring here to women’s pierced ears.