Category Archives: Theology

Oct 13 2014 – Synod on the Family, The Law of Gradualness

http://opeast.org/2014/10/14/st-john-paul-ii-and-the-law-of-gradualness/

http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/gradualness-a-solution-for-the-synod

-by Fr Dominic D.F. Legge, OP, J.D., Ph.L., M.Div./S.T.B., S.T.L., S.T.D.

“What John Paul called “the law of gradualness” does not refer to a “gradual” turning away from sin, but to the perennial Christian doctrine that we are not yet perfect in the first moment of our conversion. When we receive a grace of conversion, we break definitively from evil and then gradually advance in holiness. We may even fall back into grave sin, but, helped by grace, we repent and start anew. Here, the sacrament of Penance has an important role to play: it calls us to renounce our sins definitively with a firm purpose of amendment. In effect, he who will not yet repent, will not yet accept God’s mercy, and so is not forgiven. (CCC no. 1451; DH 1676.)”

“According to an official Vatican press briefing on Tuesday, Oct. 7, the discussion at the Synod over proposals for communion for divorced and remarried persons has shifted to “gradualness.” It seems that some are now arguing from the principle of gradualness that those who are not yet able to live according to the Church’s teachings could still receive Holy Communion as a step on the way towards a more perfect conversion.

For moral theologians, this is a case of déjà vu: the 1980 Synod on the Family already had this debate, and it was resolved by Pope John Paul II in his post-synodal exhortation, Familiaris Consortio.

In 1980, some voices had claimed that, in difficult cases, one could commit to “gradually” relinquishing a gravely sinful practice (like contracepting) and return immediately to the sacraments, even while intending to continue committing individual sinful acts in some (diminishing) measure. John Paul II clearly rejected this argument. Married couples, he wrote, “cannot . . . look on the law as merely an ideal to be achieved in the future: they must consider it as a command of Christ the Lord to overcome difficulties with constancy. ‘And so what is known as ‘the law of gradualness’ or step-by-step advance cannot be identified with ‘gradualness of the law,’ as if there were different degrees or forms of precept in God’s law for different individuals and situations.” (Familiaris Consortio no. 34.)

What John Paul called “the law of gradualness” does not refer to a “gradual” turning away from sin, but to the perennial Christian doctrine that we are not yet perfect in the first moment of our conversion. When we receive a grace of conversion, we break definitively from evil and then gradually advance in holiness. We may even fall back into grave sin, but, helped by grace, we repent and start anew. Here, the sacrament of Penance has an important role to play: it calls us to renounce our sins definitively with a firm purpose of amendment. In effect, he who will not yet repent, will not yet accept God’s mercy, and so is not forgiven. (CCC no. 1451; DH 1676.)

As St. John Paul says, the “law of gradualness” presupposes this turning-away from evil, so that one can begin to walk “step-by-step” on the upward – that is, gradually ascending – path of good. “What is needed is a continuous, permanent conversion which, while requiring an interior detachment from every evil and an adherence to good in its fullness, is brought about concretely in steps which lead us ever forward.” (Familiaris Consortio no. 9.) The ascent is gradual, but the renunciation of sin cannot be.

The Eucharist is living bread for those on the way. One need not yet be perfect to receive it – indeed, among Christians, who is? (Answer: Our Lady.) But one does need to break from evil in order to have communion with Christ: “If we say we have communion with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth.” (1 Jn 1:6.) We can expect the Synod to affirm nothing less.”

Love,
Matthew

Judging the Angels

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-Stefan Lochner, Last Judgement, c. 1435. Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne.

-by Br Alan Piper, OP

“Today in the reading at Mass, in the course of chastising the Corinthians for bringing their petty disputes before the judgment of nonbelievers, St. Paul suddenly averts to the end of time and asks, “Do you not know that we will judge angels?” (1 Cor 6:3).

“No, St. Paul, I did not know that,” is a response, I imagine, many Christians today would give. As for the Corinthians, the prerogative seems to have slipped their minds. But Paul had not forgotten. He saw mundane matters in light of the angels—in this case, in light of the angels dwelling in darkness. St. John Chrysostom teaches that the angels Paul is referring to are the angels that are also called demons, the fallen angels, about whom St. Peter said, “God . . . cast them into hell and committed them to pits of deepest darkness to be kept until the judgment” (2 Pet 2:4).

When thinking about the greatness of the angels, I often recall St. Ignatius of Loyola’s notion of the two standards, from The Spiritual Exercises. Ignatius instructs his audience:

Consider how Christ calls and desires all persons to come under his standard, and how Lucifer in opposition calls them under his . . . . [I]magine a great plain in the region of Jerusalem, where the supreme commander of the good people is Christ our Lord; then another plain in the region of Babylon, where the leader of the enemy is Lucifer. . . . He is seated on a throne of fire and smoke, in aspect horrible and terrifying. . . . Consider how he summons uncountable devils, disperses some to one city and others to another, and thus reaches the whole world.

The passage resembles an ancient anecdote about a monk named Moses [Ed:  St Moses the Black, of very recent note!] who struggled with temptations to fornication. Moses ran for help to an elder monk named Abba Isidore, who took him up to the roof of his house, hoping that the younger monk might gain some perspective on his problem. Looking east, Moses spied a vast multitude of holy angels “resounding with glory,” and to the west he saw an uproarious horde of demons without number.

According to Chrysostom, it’s precisely these demons without number, Loyola’s “uncountable devils,” that Christians can expect to judge. But do we think of ourselves as set to pass sentence on these terrible spirits? Do we see ourselves, as St. Paul did, reigning with Christ, mastering these mighty and hateful hordes?

Going to heaven is a greater thing than a mere interview with special people or a reunion with a dead dog. It’s greater than the things we usually think are great—greater than anything we have ever known or could even imagine. To think that Christians will judge the angels is to be reminded that God has prepared things that are quite beyond our native capacity and come only with added endowments.

And yet we can participate in heaven before heaven — in fact, we have to if we ever want to get there. But how do we do so? A learned nun once told me that we judge the angels even now by our acts of charity. No wonder they make it their aim to destroy the charity in our hearts.”

Love,
Matthew

The Life of Grace

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-by Amette Ley, Issue #30.1, The Sower Review

‘The relationship between the Christian message and human experience… springs from the very end of catechesis, which seeks to put the human person in communion with Jesus Christ. In His earthly life He lived His humanity fully: Therefore, “Christ enables us to live in Him all that He Himself lived, and He lives it in us”. Catechesis operates through this identity of human experience between Jesus the Master and His disciple and teaches us to think like Him, to act like Him, to love like Him. To live in communion with Christ is to experience the new life of grace.’ (General Directory for Catechesis 116) … Bringing people to understand this(the Catholic understanding of the life of grace) is, of course, at the very core of what catechesis must achieve.

Avoiding the Extremes  

(Ed note:  the Church predictably, historically, regularly, habitually avoids the extremes of any issue.  It has done so throughout its two millenia.  This is one of the ways we know and can come to understand the truth of a matter and the True Faith & teaching of the Church.  If it is an extreme position, in any/either direction, the Church will avoid these in her teaching, and seek a middle ground where it has found and believes always exists the Truth of a matter; not because it is a middle ground, but because the middle ground is where the Truth has historically been found by her.)

In her teaching on grace, the Church avoids two extreme positions. On the one hand, she avoids over-emphasising the weakness of human nature. She accepts that human nature is, of course, limited, corrupted and flawed. But she does believe that what is broken may be mended. God can repair the damage. In avoiding this extreme, the Catholic Church is avoiding the position of some Protestant communities.

On the other hand, the Church also avoids the opposite extreme, that places too much emphasis on the goodness of human nature, that underestimates the harm done to humanity by the Fall. That would lead to the view that salvation is possible though one’s own efforts.

All catechesis on the life of grace has to avoid these two positions. It has to accept that human nature is flawed and wounded by sin, but not fatally so. By doing so it accepts that we can and must participate in our own salvation by our own efforts, but that we cannot achieve it without being joined in communion to the incarnate Word of God, who then enables our weakened nature to begin living His new life.

Pope John Paul II summed up the Catholic understanding in his letter written on the threshold of the new millennium. He said that our catechesis must always reflect that ‘essential principle of the Christian view of life: the primacy of grace…God of course asks us really to cooperate with His grace, and therefore invites us to invest all our resources of intelligence and energy in serving the cause of the Kingdom. But it is fatal to forget that ‘without Christ we can do nothing’ (Novo Millennio Ineunte 38)

What is the life of grace?

We must avoid the extremes. What, then, must we teach? We teach that the life of grace is communion with God. It is a life in union with Him made possible by the Incarnation. Jesus Christ, who is God the Son, united himself with our humanity so that we could have this union with God. St Paul described it as becoming adopted children of God and true heirs of all the love he wishes to give us (Rom 8:15-17). In Roman times, an adopted son gained all the rights and privileges of a natural son, losing all that belonged to his former life. He became a true member of the family into which he was adopted, and was a real co-heir with other sons of his father’s estates, and any debts form his former life were cancelled. The life of grace, then, is life as true members of God’s Trinitarian family.

We begin by teaching that point. Then we can move on to consider something further. We needed to be redeemed from the weakness and corruption caused by the Fall and the presence of sin in the world. For this, the Son of God’s uniting humanity to Himself at the Incarnation was necessary. But more was needed. The Son of God, in His human body, then subjected Himself to death for our sake, and in doing so He actually destroyed death, which could take no hold on Him as He is Life itself. We recall this just after the Consecration at Mass when we say, ‘Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life.’ Through his death, Jesus destroyed death for us, and through his resurrection he made sharing in his life possible. In the sacrament of Baptism, we are joined to him. We are made part of his body the Church and so death is destroyed in us also. Our life is a new one.

It is this twofold aspect of salvation which can be lost in explanation at times. God the Son not only redeems us from death, but also enables us to live as adopted sons and daughters of God. And He does all this through His union with us in the flesh.

Purpose, Balance, & Means

What we have, I think, are three teaching points which we will want to cover in our presentation on the life of grace.

Purpose

Firstly, then, we need to be clear about the nature and purpose of the life of grace, which is communion with Christ, and through Christ with the Father and the Holy Spirit. We have seen that by grace, the free gift of God, we are given a share in his own life, the Trinitarian and familial communion of Father, Son and Spirit. We share in this life in the way proper to our created nature – an adopted way rather than a natural way. The grace given to us for this is supernatural. In other words, we are being given more than is due to our nature – even without considering the sinfulness of it. There would have been no way for us to gain this life without the Incarnation – and given our sinfulness, no way for death to have been destroyed without Life Himself subjecting Himself to it, which broke it to pieces and allowed us to share His own life.

But what can be sometimes overlooked is that, although we need this life of grace here and now to enable us to live in the world with integrity and honor, we need it much more to live in the presence of God at the end of this life. Without growth in grace here and now, we shall find it impossible to tolerate being in the presence of Love and Goodness Himself in the hereafter, let alone find pleasure and fulfillment. ‘It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’ (Heb 10:31). Jesus warns us of the dangers of failure to grow in grace in the parable of the talents (Matt 25:14-30). To live in communion with Christ is to experience the life of grace He gives us – and conversely, to break communion with Christ is to lose it.

Balance

Secondly, we ensure that in our catechesis a balance is kept so that we maintain a Catholic understanding of grace. Humanity is unable to redeem itself, but our human nature is not damaged beyond the point of no return. We are truly enabled to respond to God’s love in communion with Christ; what we do, and say and even think is of true significance when it is done in Christ, contributing to his redemptive work in the world.

Means

Thirdly, the sacraments of the Church are our normal means of keeping open the channels of grace in us – the life of grace is nourished and strengthened in us by this means and we are actually enabled to cooperate with Christ in his work of salvation…The whole understanding of how the gift of grace is transmitted to us through Christ’s and the Spirit’s work in the normal sacramental actions of the Church, and its reality in enabling us to cooperate with God, had not been handed on to her. She needed to hear that the Blessed Trinity has given us a share in their life of grace precisely though the sacrament of the Son and the sacramentality of His Church’s actions; this is the means God chooses to be one with us.

‘The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of His own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it. It is the sanctifying or deifying grace received in Baptism. It is in us the source of the work of sanctification.’ (CCC 1999)”

I believe in grace.  I do.  God help me, I do.  I have FELT it!  I, the least of His.  Praise Him!

How consoling!  How nourishing!  How fulfilling!  How strengthening!  Place ALL your trust in Him!  Do it!  And LIVE!!!!

Love,
Matthew

The Devil’s Martyrs (another great name for a band? no? :)

“Those who follow the devil have to bear his cross, and there are many who become martyrs for the devil, too.”

-(pg. 267), http://www.ignatius.com/Products/CASI-P/catherine-of-siena.aspx

-by Br Michael Mary Weibley, OP

“Sin is something altogether mysterious and awful: a turning away from God and a turning to the changeable good. As broken human persons, we create for ourselves a myriad of excuses for the sins we commit. It seems that our changeable and too easily distracted mind can hardly conceive of the idea of the Supreme Good (God) and still less hold It as the object of its preference over and above all else. In every sin, therefore, there is some element of error, a mistaken judgment.

The very possibility of sin even remains a mystery. We can point to our free will in the face of good and evil, but if God is the Supreme Good, why are we so little attracted? And for those of us who have been graced with even a little bit of the knowledge of the goodness of God, should not that little bit be enough to captivate our hearts and convince us of the absurdity of sin? We outrage the Supreme Good, we offend God, we sin against God – these are terrifying and awful thoughts; but why and how such actions are really possible is beyond our power of explanation.

This painful problem deepens into a darker mystery when viewed in light of the Incarnation and Redemption. How is it that the Word-of-God-made-man should have died upon the cross to destroy sin, and yet that sin should be so little destroyed – that sin should be still so much alive within us: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Rom. 7:19)? This is a profound mystery. Yet as incomprehensible as it is, the fact remains that sin is really an outrage against God and we must strive to convince our minds of the awful reality of that outrage.

For those, however, who cannot see their moral failings within the context of God – those who only see shortcomings within their own little bubble of reality – the concept of an offense before God makes no sense whatsoever. Recognition of sin presupposes a recognition of God. The sad case of those who pursue the nothingness of sin, as if it were their highest good in our broken world, walk their own via crucis. None here on earth can escape suffering and sin – our own or the effects of others – but the pursuit of nothingness brings its own bitterness for the soul, exasperating the problem of sin all the more.

This is all too common in the world today. In everything from rapacious greed, to the exploitation, abuse, and injury of others, the devil has his followers. And even if we are striving to follow God but fall out of weakness, when we sin we are taking steps on the road to being one of the devil’s martyrs, because the very definition of sin is to turn from God: “If I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells in me” (Rom. 7:20).

These reflections lead us to the inevitable conclusion that we must hold fast to the simple truth that contrition – true sorrow for sin – is supernatural. Through the revelation of God, we attain to the idea of the Supreme Good. Faith teaches us that it profits us nothing to gain the whole world if we lose the Supreme Good. What can heal this sickness is recourse to the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, as the source and motivation of contrition. We cannot have contrition if we separate from the Passion the idea of sin which is its cause, and if, in the Person of the suffering Christ, we do not see the God whom sin offends and the Supreme Good from which sin turns us away.

Contrition, therefore, involves a proper knowledge of the goodness of God. The good news is that Goodness itself is always calling us. The very first line of the Catechism assures us of this: “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in Himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in His own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man.” Even when we fall and it seems like the devil is taking us down his dark road, the God of the universe beckons us to Himself. True contrition acknowledges the mistaken judgment made in sin, and with a firmness of will, we can turn back to God who is always drawing us. In the end it matters not so much that we sin; that is a rather typical outcome of our fallen human nature. What matters more is what we do with this new understanding of our sin: Will we depart from evil?”

Love,
Matthew

Sin, Temptation & Grace

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Introduction

“One of the most painful ordeals that God-fearing and virtuous souls are made to undergo is that of being tried by temptations. Temptations meet them at every turn and assail them from within and from without.

There is scarcely a day on which they do not experience the full truth of the words penned by St. Paul: “I do not the good that I will [i. e., that I desire to do]; but the evil which I hate, that I do. . . . To will [to do good] is present with me; but to accomplish that which is good I find not. For the good which I will, I do not; but the evil which I will not, that I do. . . . I am delighted with the law of God according to the inward man; but I see another law in my members fighting against the law of my mind, and captivating me in the law of sin that is in my members.” [Rom 7:15, 18-19, 22-23]

From this passage we can see that temptations assail the saint as well as the sinner. No man is exempt from their molestation. They follow us all through life like our very shadow, and they will not cease to trouble us until we have closed our eyes to this world in the hour of death.

Now, the mere fact of being tempted is in itself a heavy cross to those who are resolved to love God to the utmost capacity of their soul and are determined to keep themselves free from the stain of sin.  Sometimes they are assailed only at intervals for a short time; then again for long periods and almost continuously; sometimes only with moderate violence; at other times so vehemently and insistently that they seem to be driven to the verge of defeat and surrender. And this cross, heavy as it is in itself, is made still more so by the fact that often, when the conflict is over, they find it impossible to decide whether they have come out of it victorious and are still in the state of grace, or have gone down in defeat, rendered themselves guilty of sin and thus lost the love and friendship of God.

Not only this: two other factors often contribute to increase their disquietude and unhappiness. First, it may happen that because of a lack of proper instruction, they consider it actually sinful to be tempted; [Ed:  it’s NOT!] and second, they may consider the feelings and sensations that certain temptations, especially those of an impure nature, produce in the body as evidence and proof of willful and deliberate consent to these temptations.

From this it can easily be seen that temptations may become the source of an agonizing martyrdom to those who are poorly instructed in the subject.

And what is often the final outcome of this mistaken idea of the nature of temptations? Nothing less than this: it may lead to failure in the spiritual life. Mistaking their temptations for actual sins, and finding that in spite of their strongest resolutions they cannot keep from being tempted, many lose courage and say, “What is the use of trying any longer? I cannot keep from committing sin, do what I will; I might as well give up.” Thus, lack of proper knowledge induces a fatal discouragement and makes them relax their efforts to avoid sin. In the end, they yield easily to temptations and possibly contract the habit of sin, which may prove fatal to their eternal salvation.

Ignorance of the true nature of temptation paralyzes many a soul and exposes it to the imminent danger of eternal punishment, even though it had been destined to do great things for God and reach a high degree of eternal glory in Heaven. These considerations have prompted the writing of this treatise. It is intended to serve as a guide especially for souls who are tried by the fiery ordeal of temptations, and to point out how these can be turned into the means of greater love of God, increase of grace and merit here and endless glory hereafter.”

-Remler, CM, Rev. Francis J. (1874-1962), (2013-12-10). How to Resist Temptation (Kindle Locations 22-50). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

I believe in grace.

Love,
Matthew

Death: God’s Greatest Gift

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-by Br Bonaventure Chapman, OP (Prior to joining the Order, Br Bonaventure received an M.Th. in Applied Theology from Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University, where he studied for the Anglican priesthood.)

“There is no point in being a Christian unless we regard death as God’s greatest gift to us.”

— Fr. Edward T. Oakes, SJ (1948 – 2013)

What did he say? Death is a gift, even God’s greatest? Death is no stranger to superlatives, but they usually come in the negative form: death is the most terrible reality; death is the final enemy; death is the worst defeat. Because of this, death avoidance becomes a wellspring of activity in modern society: nursing homes and hospitals keep it at a safe distance from the home, and euphemisms are commonly deployed in its description. Is not the euthanasia movement an extreme form of this avoidance in its attempt to master death through free choice? If death must happen, I will decide exactly when and how it happens! Of course the avoidance of death is not limited to the modern condition. In his famous study, The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker writes of its universal quality:

“The idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else; it is a mainspring of human activity – activity designed largely to avoid the fatality of death, to overcome it by denying in some way that it is the final destiny for man.”

Surely Fr. Oakes must be morbidly misinformed or manifestly mistaken, mustn’t he?

Well no, actually, although a distinction is desirable. It is not any old death that is the greatest gift, but a Christian death, a death given by God, which is the greatest gift. Why? Because in a Christian death one does not die alone; one dies with Christ. The Catechism puts it succinctly: “To rise with Christ, we must die with Christ” (1005). To be united with Christ fully, one must be united with Him in His death, and therefore in our own deaths. Death has a new dimension, a new character, thanks to Christ’s death. The Catechism goes on to quote St. Paul in this new definition of death:

“Because of Christ, Christian death has a positive meaning: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21).“The saying is sure: if we have died with Him, we will also live with Him” (2 Tm 2:11). What is essentially new about Christian death is this: through Baptism, the Christian has already “died with Christ” sacramentally, in order to live a new life; and if we die in Christ’s grace, physical death completes this “dying with Christ” and so completes our incorporation into Him in his redeeming act. (1010)”

This Summer I have had the privilege of spending a month with the Dominican Sisters at Rosary Hill Home in Hawthorne, NY. The sisters here, part of a congregation founded by Rose Hawthorne (Mother Mary Alphonsa), the daughter of American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, work day and night to assist cancer patients in just such a “dying with Christ.” Unlike many hospices that offer a kind of palliative care that involves the refusal of suffering and the denial of death, the sisters here offer truly passionate care: the suffering-with of compassion and the acceptance of death with Christ through his passion.

Death is not covered up or ignored at Hawthorne; patients are here to die well, to die with and in Christ. It is an incredible grace and truly a gift to die with the sisters; I can attest to this because of my experiences with both patients and their families. As one family member said: “This place is the closest thing to heaven on earth.” Those gifted enough to come to Rosary Hill are taught to die well, to die with Christ, to die with love and grace. Truly what a gift!

Unfortunately, not everyone can die in the care of the Hawthorne Dominicans (Young ladies, you can change this: vocations). And yet we all face death, the final enemy and proper punishment for our sins. Thankfully, like the patients at Rosary Hill, the Church has not left us alone in this serious task of dying well; she gives us daily numerous ways of preparing well. One way is to ask for a holy death every time we see a crucifix in our house (You don’t have one? Why not?) or Church. There are also excellent works dedicated to living well by thinking about dying well, both traditional (Dominican and Jesuit) as well as contemporary (written by a friend of mine). And of course we pray for such a holy death, through the intercession of Mary, at least fifty times a day in the rosary (You don’t pray the rosary every day? Really?). The Church encourages us to prepare ourselves for the hour of death (CCC 1114). After all, if this life is to be a sequela Christi, a following of Christ, one must follow Him to death and through death. Christ’s call to each disciple “to deny himself and take up his cross daily” (Lk 9:23) finds new meaning and resonance in this daily reflection and preparation for death.

To die with Christ is truly a gift, a gift that may be the greatest because it is the way to unite ourselves with Christ. Christ offers us the gift of His death and we offer ourselves united to Him through our own deaths as our final thanksgiving for all He has done. While not all of us will have the gift of dying with the Hawthorne Dominicans, we can all experience a hint of their charism with the help of the Church. And of course our death is not the final word, for the gift of death contains also the gift of the Resurrection.”

Good St Joseph!!  Patron of a Good Death, pray for us!!  Take us by the hand at that final moment and guide us to thy Divine Foster-Son!!  That we may rejoice with the Blessed forever!!!

Love,
Matthew

Who is God?

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-by Br Humbert Kilanowski, OP (Br Humbert earned his PhD in mathematics at Ohio State University before joining the Order.)

“Speaking about God, or even thinking of Him, is perhaps the most difficult and lofty task that man can undertake. While God made us in His image, endowing us with minds and free choice, the capabilities to know and love Him, we naturally fall short of understanding Who, or even what, God is. Because of these natural limitations and the effects of sin, we have a tendency to remake God in our image.

Some faulty attempts to understand God, while based in truth to certain extent, can be exaggerated to the point that they drive people away from Him, leading many to reject Him or even deny that He exists. Let’s examine some of them more closely, and look at how speaking of what God is not sheds light on Who He is.

The Cosmic Clockmaker: In trying to understand the mystery of creation, we try to picture God in terms of things we already know and can see on earth. One idea, most popular in the 18th century, is that of an Intelligence who crafts the universe according to deterministic physical laws. The problem with this idea is that it reduces creation to an isolated event in the distant past and disregards God’s action in the world today. God does not ignore His works, but rather, in His loving providence, draws all things back to Himself, and even acts in our own free choices when we cooperate with His grace.

The God of the Gaps: Our scientific understanding of the world has increased to a level unforeseen to the pagans of ages past, who posited deities in charge of every aspect of nature. If any natural event escaped human knowledge, it was attributed to a divine cause. The problem then is relegating God to only the unknown, which makes his role shrink as our knowledge of science expands, leaving no gaps. Some conclude, then, that the world has no need for God, with some contemporary physicists even claiming that the universe can create itself from nothing. However, God is not the natural cause that they seem to look for. Rather, just as the act of creation transcends the order within creation, God is the supernatural First Cause that sustains us all in existence, and instead of ruling out God’s existence, modern science has merely proven the (true) conclusion that God is not part of nature.

The Divine Dictator: This one concerns the transmission of Sacred Scripture. We hear that the Bible is divinely inspired, and we conjure up pictures of winged cherubs whispering in the authors’ ears, telling them precisely what to write down, as it comes straight from the mind of God. In fact, other notable belief traditions have just this theory of inspiration. This can also cause trouble and doubt: if the Scriptures are a download from the mind of God, what do we think of passages that appear to contradict one another, or do not pass scientific or historical muster? But the Catholic tradition understands biblical inspiration in a radically different way. Biblical revelation operates on an incarnational principle: God does not simply dictate, but writes through human instruments, acting as the principal cause in the people who write the sacred texts, compile and edit them, or who ratify them by using them in worship of God. Each human author is partially conditioned to a specific place, time, culture and level of understanding, and we can even notice how the writers’ conceptualizations of God mature over time, evolving from a seemingly anthropomorphic deity among many national gods to the unique Creator who is totally Other from the universe. Despite the human character in which biblical revelation is offered to us, the Sacred Scriptures offer us objective truth that transcends any one historical period, indeed truth essential for our salvation. The process of revelation occurs throughout the Old Testament period and reaches its culmination in the Incarnation of the Son in Jesus Christ.

The Man Upstairs: Speaking of anthropomorphism, this common idea tries to picture God as having human attributes (including a long, white beard), sitting on a throne on high, and ready to smite us whenever we break one of his laws and ignite his wrath. One can readily see how this notion, which describes the thunderbolt-wielding Zeus more closely than the God of Scripture, drives seekers away and even disposes believers to rebel against God. However, God is not subject to human emotions; rather in his providential plan, He wills the salvation of the whole human race through our free cooperation. It is not God, but human beings who typically wield thunderbolts, human beings who sin by breaking the bond of friendship with God.

All of these ideas of God have a basis in truth, but are warped as our frail and finite minds try to comprehend the divine mystery. Rather than retreat from God when He turns out not to match our image of Him or when our conceptions of him become twisted and troubling, let us turn to Him, asking him for understanding. God is not, as John Lennon once said, “a concept by which we measure our pain,” but rather the source of our being and the only One who can satisfy our deepest search.”

Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam.”                  –St Anselm (1033-1109)

Love,
Matthew

The Mind of God

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways My ways—says the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are My ways higher than your ways,
My thoughts higher than your thoughts.”
-Is 55:8-9

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– by Br Thomas Davenport, OP, (Br Thomas graduated with a PhD in Physics from Stanford University before joining the Order.)

“When most people think of Albert Einstein’s contribution to physics, the theory of relativity is what comes to mind, and rightly so. What most don’t realize is that his Nobel Prize was actually awarded for explaining the photoelectric effect, a result which contradicted the classical understanding of light and helped lead to the development of Quantum Mechanics. Despite his major contributions to its development, Einstein was famously uncomfortable with the way randomness and uncertainty became so integral to the understanding of that new theory, often summed up in his quote, “God does not throw dice.”

This objection, however offhand it may seem, resonated with many physicists of the time. The glory of classical physics was how neat and tidy everything was. It offered the promise of determinism: if we could know perfectly the state of the universe at one moment and the laws that govern it, we could extrapolate forwards and backwards perfectly as far as we like. Despite the recognition that this ideal was well nigh impossible, there was comfort in the promise, and each step we took at least brought us closer to that perfection. The claim was that perfect knowledge of the natural world, the sort that is attributed to God, would ultimately be expressed in a deterministic mathematical formula.

The difficulty that Quantum Mechanics presented for Einstein and many others, physicists and non-physicists alike, is that the best picture of the physical world that it allows seems partial and incomplete. It implied that it is not just practically difficult but theoretically impossible to completely describe the current state of the world, let alone extrapolate forwards or backwards as we please. As bad as the loss of “perfect” knowledge of the world was for physicists, it further called into question the nature of God’s knowledge of the world. If some aspect of the natural order was inherently uncertain and unknowable what does this imply for God? Is God’s knowledge subject to this randomness, is he simply reacting to the whims of nature?

The image of God awaiting the results of a chance outcome is rightly viewed as absurd, but the solution was not a recovery of classical determinism. Even independent of the results of Quantum Mechanics, that view was philosophically flawed, and the attempt to understand God’s knowledge using it was even more so.

If physics could actually give us a complete description of the now and from that extrapolate forwards and backwards, then the past, present and future are logically the same and all equally “present.” In a sense, nothing “new” ever happens because everything is subject to absolute necessity. Every effect is completely defined by its cause, a picture of the world that is arguably static rather than dynamic, detracting from the very notion of time. There are a host of subtle problems this raises about necessity and contingency and what it even means to be a cause, but the most obvious difficulty with this view is that it leaves no room at all for free human activity.

Additionally, thinking of God’s knowledge in this way cripples the idea of His providence. If everything in nature simply happened necessarily based on what came before, it would seem reasonable to say that God’s knowledge is just the perfect working out of the complicated physics problem of the universe. As creator He knows how all things will work together and His providence simply becomes this human kind of foresight and His governance simply becomes setting things up to run perfectly. The danger inherent in this is to see God as the external Architect who only works on and understands the world on a natural level, more powerfully and perfectly than we ever could perhaps, but still on a natural level.

It took many years and much experimentation and calculation before the reality of the quantum world sunk in. Physicists eventually became comfortable with the success of Quantum Mechanics and settled into a new status quo that accepted a randomness and indeterminism underlying physics. Even those who sought alternative interpretations of Quantum Mechanics that might save determinism recognized that they had to bring in other phenomena that destroyed the crisp, clean classical worldview. Unfortunately, the damage done to the understanding of causality and of God’s providence by classical determinism remains.

Even if the natural world “throws dice” in its most fundamental interaction, this may simply be a physical manifestation of the inherent contingency of all material things. This idea would not have been so foreign to Aristotle and St. Thomas, who saw both necessary and contingent causes in the world around them. More importantly, this loss of absolute necessity does not threaten God’s absolute knowledge of the created order, for his knowledge is not limited to the particular mathematical and formal descriptions that we are able to develop in the sciences. God’s providence, His wise ordering of everything to its proper end, is above every natural cause. The certainty of God’s knowledge does not limit his power to create natural objects that can act in a truly contingent way. Einstein was right that “God does not throw dice,” but He knows perfectly the natural order that He created to do just that.”

Love,
Matthew

Love & Suffering

Being pope has two basic components: agendo et loquendo — acting and teaching; and orando et patendo — praying and suffering.

God & the World

During his years as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, well-known Vatican prelate Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger has given three in-depth interviews. The first two interviews have become best selling books: The Ratzinger Report and Salt of the Earth. Because of the tremendous reception those books received, the Cardinal agreed to do another interview with journalist Peter Seewald, who had done the very popular Salt of the Earth interview. This third in-depth interview addresses deep questions of faith and the living of that faith in the modern world.

The interview took place over three full days spent at the Benedictine Abbey of Monte Cassino in a setting of the silence, prayer, and hospitality of the monks. For this meeting with the highly regarded Churchman, theologian, and author, the seasoned journalist, who had fallen away from the faith but eventually returned to the Church, once again provided a very stimulating, well-prepared series of wide-ranging questions on profound issues. The Cardinal responds with candor, frankness and deep insight, giving answers that are sometimes surprising and always thought provoking.

“Pain is part of being human. Anyone who really wanted to get rid of suffering would have to get rid of love before anything else, because there can be no love without suffering, because it always demands an element of self-sacrifice, because, given temperamental differences and the drama of situations, it will always bring with it renunciation and pain.

When we know that the way of love — this exodus, this going out of oneself — is the true way by which man becomes human, then we also understand that suffering is the process through which we mature. Anyone who has inwardly accepted suffering becomes more mature and more understanding of others, becomes more human. Anyone who has consistently avoided suffering does not understand other people; he becomes hard and selfish.

Love itself is a passion, something we endure. In love I experience first a happiness, a general feeling of happiness. Yet, on the other hand, I am taken out of my comfortable tranquility and have to let myself be reshaped. If we say that suffering is the inner side of love, we then also understand why it is so important to learn how to suffer — and why, conversely, the avoidance of suffering renders someone unfit to cope with life. He would be left with an existential emptiness, which could then only be combined with bitterness, with rejection, and no longer with any inner acceptance or progress toward maturity.” –Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Love,
Matthew

The Divine Attributes – Immanence

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-by Br Peter Martyr Joseph Yungwirth, OP

“Sometimes it can feel like God is so far away.  Why?  Sure there is the obvious, “Well, I’m a sinner.”  But, sometimes God feels far away even when we’re in a state of grace.  (Editor’s note:  my mother ALWAYS asked her children, “Are you in the state of grace?”  If you don’t know what that means, get thee to a confessional!  The same woman who oft remarked in front of all who cared to listen, “If my children lose their faith, I have failed as a mother.”  No pressure.  Growing up Irish Catholic.  It’s a “little” different.  🙂 Why does He do this to us?

After all, in a solemn moment of self-revelation, God manifested Himself in a burning bush and gave Moses his name, “I AM WHO AM.” Then, while the Israelites were stuck in the desert, God did the unthinkable and came to dwell among them. Not in an Athenian temple or a Roman basilica but in the tabernacle of a movable tent. There, God was close to His people, remaining with them and guiding them by night and by day.

And if this wasn’t enough, God desired an even greater proximity to His people. So “the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us” (Jn 1:14). In the Incarnation, Jesus showed us just how close God was willing to come to be with His people. No longer was His presence in the tabernacle good enough. Now God desired to take on flesh, to be joined to humanity, and to make a virgin His new tabernacle. God became so close to His people that He literally walked among them.

That was all thousands of years ago, but what about now? Just as Moses relied on God’s support, just as the nation of Israel followed the cloud and the pillar of fire through the desert, and just as the apostles walked and talked with the Incarnate God, so too wouldn’t it be helpful if God were present with us to guide us on the way? After all, thanks to Jesus’ ascension to heaven, hasn’t God left us without His presence again?

Not at all. Jesus said to us, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt 28:20). This is especially true when we consider the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, God has done something even more marvelous than speak from a burning bush or descend into a tabernacle in the wilderness. Now, God enters into us. For a short time, we become His tabernacle where He transforms us through the power of His grace, communicated to us via His eucharistic Body and Blood. Each and every day, God comes down on our altar where He continues to manifest His great love for His people and to show us just how near He really is.

Sometimes God might feel far away, but God is not a God who is transcendent in such a way that He won’t come near us. Rather, because of His divine immanence, He is simultaneously present to us. He was immanently present in a special way to the Israelites in the wilderness and to His people in the desert tabernacle. Now, on our Catholic altars and on our tongues, He is immanently present to us again. As in the Old Testament period and now in the more profound way of the Eucharist, God comes to be with His people and to guide us on the path to Heaven.”

(Catechetical note:  Roman Catholicism does not restrict Divine Immanence to solely the Eucharist, although this is the most visible & celebrated manifestation.  The Catholic understanding of Divine Immance includes His Presence always available, universally, immediately to us.)

Love,
Matthew