Category Archives: Theology

Words of Love and Creation

My friends Joe & Victoria got hitched on Friday!  Congrats you two!  Joe,
DO NOT try the below @home!    I have complete confidence!    Rather,
“Yes, ma’am!” seems to keep the peace for me!  
-By Br. Raymond Snyder, O.P.
“If you are like me and grew up attending religious education classes of
some sort (CCD = Confraternity of Christian Doctrine), you may have come
across the line, “If God stopped thinking about you at any instant, you
would immediately disappear; you would cease to exist.” What a terrifying
thought to offer the inquisitive mind of a child! The suggestion seems to
be that, on occasion, either through forgetfulness or malice, God
annihilates some unfortunate person or persons. But this is not true; God
doesn’t even annihilate demons or the damned – although some may wish,
much less unsuspecting third graders.
Of course, the remark is well meant, and, properly understood, it is a
vivid reminder of a profound metaphysical truth, namely, that we all
depend on God for both our coming to be and our preservation in being.  
Indeed, meditating on this truth can help us to grow in wisdom and
humility, whether we are third graders or thirty-somethings.  For some
reason, it seems easy for people to accept the notion that they have their
origin in God, but the fact that they are preserved in existence by God at
every moment never crosses their minds. The key idea here is that God’s
act of creation is not a one-time event, but rather extends through time.  
Since God is universal cause of all things, anything that exists not only
has its origin in God, but also its conservation in being. God alone
exists necessarily; God alone cannot not exist. All other beings exist
contingently; they might not have existed, and they depend upon God, the
Necessary Being, for their continuance in existence.
The popular notion, which runs completely contrary to this, is that, once
we come into being, we exist independently of God; we are on our own and
autonomous. Worse yet, some seem to believe—and perhaps we all sometimes
act as if we believed—that we are the cause of our own existence. As if we
could ever pat ourselves on the back and say, “Good job, self, I am glad
you decided to exist! What a great idea it was to come into being!” No,
however much we may fool ourselves, our existence is a gift, and it is a
gift that continues as long as we continue. “What have you that you have
not received?” asks St. Paul. And, of course, the appropriate response is,
“Nothing. Not even myself.”
There is something utterly foundational about this truth. Prior to the
fact that we are able to act as genuine causes, or the fact that we can be
perfected by the grace of God, there is the fact that we depend on God for
our very being. The most intimate words that Our Lord spoke to St.
Catherine of Siena, O.P. express this same truth:  “You are she who is
not; I am He Who is.” This is not the type of romantic language that we
usually associate with a mystic. In fact, it might seem like quite an insult. The
Bridegroom does not tell his mystical bride, “I love you,” but rather,
“You are nothing.” In reality, however, these words are right and just.  
Humility consists in knowing what one truly is in relation to God, and St.
Catherine was blessed to receive this knowledge directly from our Lord. Far 
from being an insult, these were the intimate words of the divine Spouse.”
Love,
Matthew

Virtue

-“Allegory of Virtue”, Corregio
File:Efez Celsus Library 2 RB.JPG
-classical virtue, Ephesus
-“Virtue coming to the aid of Christian Faith”, Titian

-traditional Chinese symbols for virtue

“A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions.” 


-Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1803



For I agree with you that there is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents.
-Thomas Jefferson, to John Adams from Monticello, Oct. 28, 1813


Satan’s tools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I raise my eyes toward the mountains. From whence will my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth.”  Ps 121:1-2

Love,
Matthew

The Pope & condoms

OK.  Where angels fear to tread, and always attempting to seek reason and clarity in the midst of every argument, as a certified catechist in the Archdiocese, and in training to be a catechetical leader, I certainly am no expert on Humanae Vitae, Theology of the Body, or the biology/pathology of HIV/AIDS.  Is that enough of a disclaimer, or does that convince you of the uselessness of reading any further.

Please do not crucify me for this vain attempt at clarification.  A debate amongst friends prompting my amateurish attempt at it.  I am, however, by general inclination, the devil’s advocate, much to the woe and chagrin of those who know, and yes, perhaps even love me.  Had I found as simple or certainly simpler explanation online as I am attempting here from a certainly more authoritative source, I would have immediately referred you to it and saved myself the time and trouble.  However, I am still seeking such a resource.

This question is one of those many Catholic answers which do not lend themselves to sound bites.  Most Catholic answers do not lend themselves to sound bites.  The modern world operates on sound bites and cannot tolerate any explanation longer than fifteen seconds with lots of pictures, music, and fun, pleasing imagery.  If the Church is guilty of anything, it is guilty of brilliant theology, and lousy reduction of that brilliant theology into sound bites, as if that were even possible.  Hence, the joie de catechesis.  Seriously, can you think of a more thrilling challenge in the 21st century?  I can’t.  Hence, here I am, amateur though I may be.

This particular instance regarding the pope’s latest comments in Africa, in my amateur opinion, is one of those many exquisite and regular moments.  It really does depend on what your definition of “is” is, and understanding the milieu of either side to understand how either side could sincerely be saying what they are saying, and not merely being ideological.  Please let me attempt to explain.  

Being an amateur student of the Theology of the Body and having trained myself using Ascencion Press’ “Theology of the Body for Teens”, and having some experience in amateur reduction of brilliant theology into teen speak, I sally forth to my own destruction below.

Let us begin with the facts, the simplest first.  Always a solid and reasonable place to begin in debate.  AIDS is a horrific, terrible disease of which I know nothing.  Deo Gratias.  Secular and Catholic thought wants to prevent AIDS.  Laudable and understandable and commendable.  Agreed.  See that wasn’t so bad.  We can agree.  Secular thought assumes human beings are devoid of the ability to control themselves and that that is even a laughable suggestion; therefore, the next best suggestion is some mechanical device which allows the sexual act, but may prevent the spread of the disease.  I get it.

Catholic thought has such a radically different approach to sexual union than the secular world.  For the secular world, sexual gratification is utilitarian.  The individual gets something for themselves out of it.  Catholic thought sees the sexual union as giving of oneself to the other.  It is not intended at all or whatsoever for self-gratification, that is a side benefit, although the joy of the moment is God’s gift, too.  

Catholic thought is so poetic in terms of this mutual self-giving, and ultimate union of God and mankind, in a very theological and beautiful, and not scatological way, it is difficult for most people, if not all, to wrap their minds around these ideas, and they only begin to illuminate in the depths of reflection and contemplation on the Theology of the Body.  Children are the fruit of this union.  The union is so sacred and so reflective of the Divine union, that placing anything that might interrupt or impede this union between two persons of the opposite sex expressing sincere love for one another is anathema, hence the Church’s opposition to same sex unions, contraception, or perversion of any kind.  Notice, please, I did not say Catholics always live this ideal consistently, sinners that we are, but this is the ideal.

Besides the theological objections, the Holy Father would appear to have had in mind, forgive my boldness in assuming I know his intentions, the practical reality that the great majority of human beings over-simplify, and if offered a false panacea such as a condom and infected with HIV/AIDS, and lacking, potentially, the love and concern of the other, as Catholic thought would require, the infected person because they believe a condom is a rock solid preventative may resume sexual activity indiscriminately, as if they were not infected with HIV/AIDS.  Catholic thought would call to that individual to consider morally and conscientiously the implications of their continuing sexual activity and exercise love of the other manifested in self control, with the aid of grace.  What if it breaks?

It is these considerations which I understand led the Holy Father to suggest condoms may not be the ultimate preventative against the spread of HIV/AIDS, but rather, may lead to more infection than abstinence.  Did that make any sense?  I would really appreciate a professional Catholic moral theologian correcting my many mistakes I know are extant from my ignorance.

In Christian love,
Matthew