Category Archives: Theology

Sin, Tears, Forgiveness, Conversion

mary washing jesus feet

When was the last time you heard a worthy, edifying homily on sin in a Catholic Church?  Really.  Seriously.  I don’t think I’ve ever.  I did hear, from a Jesuit homilist, once, the Catholic Church does believe in Hell.  That was once in forty-nine years.  The paucity of these mentions stand out simply for their paucity, not for any fascination with the subject on my part.

Or, when the prophets of old are thundering condemnation, why is it always the smallest lector, with the softest/tinest voice, who can neither see nor be seen over the ambo, does the reading?  Part of the New Evangelization should definitely be the training of lectors to read for appropriate dramatic effect given the text, imho.  Politics over proclamation?  🙁  (I’m not much of a liturgist.  I’m very Roman in this regard, plain and simple, with as little affectation as possible.  Thank you, Charlemagne.  I am also fond of plain, white, stripped New England Congregationalist churches.)

Given the prevalence of sin, its universal and universally disastrous effects in our lives and the world, and it being the reason for the Incarnation, you would think you would, logically, hear more of it on Sundays?  I understand the hesitance to address difficult topics, however, our fears are insufficient reason not to proclaim the truth.

I find it difficult to comprehend the glory of my redemption if I first do not contemplate the depths of the depraved state to which I have fallen, (see Ignatian Spiritual Exercises.  Holla! to all my SJs!) and rise from, in the glory of my own Resurrection, thanks to His mercy and salvific effect.

-by Rev Donald J Goergen, OP, PhD, STM

“The reality of sin and the forgiveness of sin, we can never let go of either side of the coin in that regard. So let us first ask is sin real? And what does it mean? Often we have defined it as offending God, or an offense against God, but can God be offended? It is an offense against love, against covenant love, against the covenant that God has made with us and that we have made with God. Many texts from the New Testament exemplify the human struggle with falling short of what God has created us to be.

A classic text is Romans chapter 7:15-20, in which Paul says, “I do not understand my own actions for I do not do what I want but I do the very thing I hate. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells in me. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do, is what I do.” In other words, Paul is very much aware here of the un-freedom within which he lives, that he is not free. He’s not able to will what he really wants to will.

And then also there is that text from the Gospel of John to which Pope St John Paul II referred and on which he commented extensively in his own encyclical on the Holy Spirit. That text from the Gospel of John 16:8, “…and when He comes. That is –The Advocate, the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, when He comes, He will convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”  What does it mean to convince the world concerning sin in that text from the 16th chapter of the Gospel of John?

There is in John, in Paul, and elsewhere, of course, in the Scriptures, this awareness that yes we can offend God. That God is love and we might find our lives not aligned with God. I’d referred earlier on another occasion, to Rudolf Steiner in one of his works, again, not an Orthodox Christian, or Catholic thinker, but nevertheless one in touch in many ways with spiritual aspects of our lives, he said, “Nevertheless, whether we are aware of them are not, we must realize that forces hostile to life exist.”

This is part of the struggle in our modern world, the tendency, in a way, to disbelieve in the devil or in demonic forces or the demonic. Cardinal Newman in his Apologia Pro Vita Sua about his own life gave a great text on one occasion in which he speaks about considering the world and its length and breadth its various histories and then the ways in which we don’t live up to what God expects of us and what we expect.

It’s like looking in the mirror and not seeing our own face. And so it is for him the awareness in some ways that the world is out of joint. Yes, sin is real. Sometimes you may use other words to talk about the reality of the struggle with the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Robert Johnson, the Jungian psychologist, again speaks more about the shadow, the un-chosen side of our lives that cause us trouble or he might speak about the disowned, the need to reconnect with the shadow, the dark side of ourselves.

Whatever language we use, there is in our lives, the reality of sin as well as the reality of the forgiveness of sin. For Christians, for Catholics, this has often has been discussed in the context of the capital sins, just as we might speak about the virtues.  St John Cassian and in the East, spoke of eight principal vices following a classification of Evagrius before him. In the West, Gregory the Great reduced this list to seven what we think of as the seven capital sins. If we mention the eight, they were gluttony, lust, avarice, anger, despondency or sadness, achadia or spiritual wariness or sloth, vainglory and pride.  These are mentioned in the fifth conference of St John Cassian as well, as in the Institute.

So there is this reality of the garbage, to use that image again, that lies there within each of us that comes to the surface of which we need to be more aware as we live contemplatively. All of this is a part of who we are.  In some ways, I suppose, it’s acknowledging a fraud, that each of us in some ways attempts to present ourselves publicly as being other than we are. And that we need to come to grips with our own sinfulness and that this is the question then of awakening, of conversion, of repentance.

Conversion, am I open to conversion? I suppose if I’m honest, I’d have to say much of the time no, I’m not. Conversion requires a radical reorientation of one’s life. A restructuring of one’s self, it’s asks us the question, is God enough for us? Is God enough? And as much as we might want to say yes, most often, probably, we in fact, through our behavior, at least, are saying no. Conversion is a continuing process. It’s not just a once and for all kind of thing.

There may be that powerful conversion experience, in other words, it may be dramatic, but it can also be gradual, and most often conversion is both.  Those events, experiences, in which we are turned around, but then that continuing conversion whereby we have to live out of that new awareness, consciousness, or experience and we can talk about conversion of heart, as well as of mind, or of affective conversion, intellectual conversion, moral conversion, and spiritual conversion.  As it settles in, it takes place, transforms at varied levels of our being, conversion of will, conversion of mind.

John Paul II again in that encyclical on the Holy Spirit wrote conversion requires convincing of sin, and of course this goes back to that text also from the Gospel of John, but conversion requires convincing us of sin. That’s the tough step, convincing, especially the modern person of the reality of sin. Conversion requires convincing of sin, he writes, and he goes on, “It includes the interior judgment of the conscience and this being a proof of the action of the Spirit of Truth in our inmost being, becoming at the same time a new beginning of the bestowal of grace and love.”  “Receive the Holy Spirit…” he writes, in this convincing concerning sin; we discover a double gift, the gift of the truth of conscience, and the gift of the certainty of redemption.

Conscience, reality of sin, redemption, forgiveness of sin, and he continues in order to convince/convict us of the forgiveness of sin, of the reality of grace, of the awareness of God as mercy, of the fact of redemption. In other words, emphasizing its twofold dimension to conversion. Convincing concerning sin, and convincing concerning its forgiveness, hence the conversion of the human heart, clearly Pope John Paul II here has a very good grasp of this reality.

And how we can have an emphasis on one without the other? We can so emphasize the reality of sin that we neglect and forget the reality of grace, mercy, forgiveness, or we can so talk about the forgiveness of sin that we in a way just take the reality of sin for granted as not to be taken seriously. But the two needs to come together less our own contemplative in Christian lives become distorted.

Sri Aurobindo, a mystic of modern India, perhaps in one way the greatest mystical philosopher of modern India, died in 1950, not a Christian, in a great book called the Synthesis of Yoga, speaks about conversion in his own way.   And just to take a couple expressions from his own thinking, he says, “The acceptance of a new spiritual orientation and illumination, a turning or conversion seized on by the will and the heart’s aspiration, this is the momentous act which contains, as in a seed, all that is to come.” In other words, we cannot over emphasize the importance of this conversion, awakening, illumination; it’s an aspiration that contains as a seed everything that’s to come. And he writes a truly spiritual conversion does not consist in the change of one’s mental beliefs, but in the acceptance of a new spirit, a spiritual force, life in the spirit, a decisive turning we could say from business-as-usual.

And, therefore, there is, for him, in this process of conversion, first an aspiration, a yearning for the Divine.  Again, Augustine:  “Our hearts are restless…”, a yearning for the Divine, an aspiration from the mind as well as the heart. It’s not yet conversion, but aspiration.  Then the second is following the aspiration, the desire, the yearning comes in a twofold conversion and consecration. Consecration means making sacred and offering of one’s actions and interior movements to the Divine, consecrating one’s life to the divine.

A conversion is a more spontaneous movement of the consciousness, but then the consecration as the deliberate process that grounds it, the conversion may be sudden but the consecration takes time. The consecration makes the conversion last so the process begins with that reality of aspiration followed by then the twofold conversion and consecration. The consecration being required for the persistence striving steadily, effort, perseverance, and of course for us this is all the result of grace.

But we can also think of consecration as a religious consecration: the consecrated life, the Act of Consecration to the Sacred Heart, St Louis de Montfort’s total consecration to Jesus through Mary;  varied forms of, but consecration is essential if conversion is going to be carried through. This then entails the awakening of one’s innermost self, something is awakened within us. One wakes up and this culminates in the gradual transformation of who we are, our whole being:  the physical, the affective, the mental, the spiritual, it’s a turning of our whole self towards God.  The transformation of consciousness from egoic or false consciousness to a more pure consciousness, purity of heart, conversion the different stages or facets of conversion, all of it of course, grounded in the moral life.

We referred in our last conference to the moral virtues. We didn’t speak at any length about them. But in every religious tradition there’s this emphasis on the moral dimension. In Buddhism they speak about the five precepts, to refrain from killing or physical violence.  To refrain from taking that which is not offered or from stealing, to refrain from misuse of our sexual power or energy, to refrain from lying or harsh or idle speech, to refrain from taking intoxicants that clouds the mind. These are clearly a moral foundation for the Buddhist way of life.

Likewise for us, the moral foundation can be put in different ways but the Ten Commandments is foundational. I recall an example someone once had given that there are those today who want to practice meditation or live a life of contemplation, but are not so preoccupied with a basic moral living, with basic morality, and the analogy was used, it’s like someone’s wanting to row a boat while leaving it tied to the dock.  If we do not have a solid moral foundation on which to build its like remaining tied to the dock and the boat isn’t going to go anywhere.

In other words, the contemplative life builds on the moral life and in fact they cannot be separated, they are all part of a whole.   Spiritual theology is not something totally separate from moral theology, moral theology from doctrinal theology, it’s as a whole.  But for this conversion to take hold of us, for this awakening to happen, for this consecration to take place that enables us to persevere, requires repentance, repentance. In the Gospel of Mark 1:15, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent and believe in the Gospel!”

Again, Catholic teaching gives us an unfolding of stages of repentance, or aspects from sorrow for sin, contrition, you could say, to a firm purpose of amendment. That purpose, almost like a consecration, to doing penance, finally, to confession, frequent confession. More frequent than perhaps many of us might feel drawn towards.

St John Chrysostom spoke about five paths of repentance.  He said “Would you like me to list the paths of repentance? They are numerous and quite varied. In other words, different forms or ways of repentance all lead to Heaven. A first path of repentance is the condemnation of your own sins that then is one very good path. Another, and no less valuable is to put out of our minds the harm done us by our enemies in order to master our anger and to forgive others, then our own sins against the Lord will be for a given.  Do you want to know a third path? It consists of prayer that is fervent. It comes from the heart. If you want a fourth path, I will mention almsgiving, whose power is great and far-reaching. If forever a man lives a modest, humble life, that no less than the other things I’ve mention, takes sin away, too. Thus I’ve shown you five paths of repentance, 1) condemnation of your sins, 2) forgiveness of your neighbors sins, 3) prayer, 4) almsgiving, 5) humility; repentance, the foundation.”

The reality of sin, the forgiveness of sin, sorrow for our own sin, firm purpose of amendment, doing penance, confession, consecration, and perseverance; but many of our spiritual ancestors spoke about two conversions, that of water and that of tears, and the gift of tears. That of water, of course, involving baptism, and in that sense also baptism of the adult.  St John Cassian was the first to have given us a classification of tears in his ninth conference, and he spoke about five sorts of tears.

The relationship between compunction or sorrow for sin and fiery prayer, the ecstatic contemporary prayer, is something of which he spoke, and he spoke about the remembrance of our sins, producing tears, followed by ineffable joy. That again, I mention earlier, the joy of repentance, tears followed by joy, as one enters into this new way of life. For Cassian, tears was most common form of spiritual experience encompassing both sorrow and joy and the experience of grace.

Pope St Gregory the Great, in the West, is known as the Great Doctor of Compunction, or the Western Doctor of Tears. He outlined four kinds of compunction or tears. In the East, Simeon the New Theologian was known as the Theologian of Tears. St Catherine of Siena, OP, later spoke about five kinds of tears. Four kinds, and then about those who desire to weep and are unable to do so, is a very special kind. A kind of spiritual tear where there is no physical tear. She speaks about God, responding that there is a weeping of fire that is a longing for God so intense that she writes, “Such a soul would like to dissolve her very life in weeping, but these souls cannot shed physical tears. They rather shed tears of fire, the source being a heart full of fire, or an ardent longing for God.” She also writes, “This is how the Holy Spirit weeps.  The Holy Spirit weeps in the person of every one of my servants, Christ says, who offers me the fragrance of holy desire and humble prayer.”

So she speaks about these as spiritual tears or tears of the heart or the inner the weeping of the Holy Spirit. If you wish, go to her Dialogue, chapters 88 to 97, to read more where she talks about five kinds of tears, but really the first four being more common and then this is kind is weeping of fire. This spiritual tear where we do not physically weep, but indeed our hearts are manifesting its both sorrow and joy before the Lord. We think here even of the prophet Ezekiel, when he speaks about our hearts of stone in the hearts of flesh. And says, “A new heart I will give you and a new spirit I will put within you and I will take out of your flesh, the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”

So here we are getting to the basics, the basis, and the foundation of the contemplative life. That we can look to the heights of, we can desire to infused, we want to open ourselves. But again, it’s almost as if that’s what that “dark night” was all about, needing to let go of our way of controlling our spiritual journey and to come back to simply compunction. Sorrow for sin, contrition, repentance, conversion, to not know myself as sinner will be to never know God as mercy.

If we yearn to know God and if knowing God is to know God as mercy, then we must come to grips with the reality of who I am as sinner. Always keeping in mind what Pope St John Paul II said, “The two sides, the reality of sin and the reality of its forgiveness, never one without the other.”

This time as a closing prayer I would like to take some verses from Psalm 51, the Miserere, a great Psalm acknowledging who we are as sinners. Let us pray, “Have mercy on me God in your goodness in your abundance of compassion, blot out my offense, wash away all my guilt, from sin, cleanse me. For I know my offense, my sin is always before me. Against you alone have I sinned, cleanse me with hyssop that I may be pure, wash me, wash me, Lord. Amen.”

Love,
Matthew

Reward & Merit

Vatican beautiful

-Roma Aeterna

Imho, the differences in some Protestant objections to Catholicism, as I have tried to plumb them, and Catholic rantings about Protestant ones, are often very minor nuances of terms? 🙁  I feel this is MORE tragic than if the contrast and the chasm were more stark, gross, and grievous. 🙁  Ut unum sint.  Jn 17:21. And the devil giggles. 🙁

-from http://www.catholic.com/tracts/reward-and-merit

“Paul tells us: “For [God] will reward every man according to his works: to those who by perseverance in working good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. There will be . . . glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality” (Rom. 2:6–11; cf. Gal. 6:6–10).

In the second century, the technical Latin term for “merit” was introduced as a synonym for the Greek word for “reward.” Thus merit and reward are two sides of the same coin.

Protestants often misunderstand the Catholic teaching on merit, thinking that Catholics believe that one must do good works to come to God and be saved. This is exactly the opposite of what the Church teaches. The Council of Trent stressed: “[N]one of those things which precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace of justification; for if it is by grace, it is not now by works; otherwise, as the Apostle [Paul] says, grace is no more grace” (Decree on Justification 8, citing Rom. 11:6).

The Catholic Church teaches only Christ is capable of meriting in the strict sense—mere man cannot (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2007). The most merit humans can have is condign—when, under the impetus of God’s grace, they perform acts which please Him and which He has promised to reward (Rom. 2:6–11, Gal. 6:6–10). Thus God’s grace and His promise form the foundation for all human merit (CCC 2008).

Virtually all of this is agreed to by Protestants, who recognize that, under the impetus of God’s grace, Christians do perform acts which are pleasing to God and which God has promised to reward, meaning that they fit the definition of merit. When faced with this, Protestants are forced to admit the truth of the Catholic position—although, contrary to Paul’s command (2 Tim. 2:14), they may still dispute the terminology.

Thus the Lutheran Book of Concord admits: “We are not putting forward an empty quibble about the term ‘reward.’ . . . We grant that eternal life is a reward because it is something that is owed—not because of our merits [in the strict sense] but because of the promise [of God]. We have shown above that justification is strictly a gift of God; it is a thing promised. To this gift the promise of eternal life has been added” (p. 162).

The following passages illustrate what the Church Fathers had to say on the relationship between merit and grace.

Ignatius of Antioch

“Be pleasing to him whose soldiers you are, and whose pay you receive. May none of you be found to be a deserter. Let your baptism be your armament, your faith your helmet, your love your spear, your endurance your full suit of armor. Let your works be as your deposited withholdings, so that you may receive the back-pay which has accrued to you” (Letter to Polycarp 6:2 [A.D. 110]).

Justin Martyr

“We have learned from the prophets and we hold it as true that punishments and chastisements and good rewards are distributed according to the merit of each man’s actions. Were this not the case, and were all things to happen according to the decree of fate, there would be nothing at all in our power. If fate decrees that this man is to be good and that one wicked, then neither is the former to be praised nor the latter to be blamed” (First Apology 43 [A.D. 151]).

Tatian the Syrian

“[T]he wicked man is justly punished, having become depraved of himself; and the just man is worthy of praise for his honest deeds, since it was in his free choice that he did not transgress the will of God” (Address to the Greeks 7 [A.D. 170]).

Athenagoras

“And we shall make no mistake in saying, that the [goal] of an intelligent life and rational judgment, is to be occupied uninterruptedly with those objects to which the natural reason is chiefly and primarily adapted, and to delight unceasingly in the contemplation of Him Who Is, and of his decrees, notwithstanding that the majority of men, because they are affected too passionately and too violently by things below, pass through life without attaining this object. For . . . the examination relates to individuals, and the reward or punishment of lives ill or well spent is proportioned to the merit of each” (The Resurrection of the Dead 25 [A.D. 178]).

Theophilus of Antioch

“He who gave the mouth for speech and formed the ears for hearing and made eyes for seeing will examine everything and will judge justly, granting recompense to each according to merit. To those who seek immortality by the patient exercise of good works [Rom. 2:7], he will give everlasting life, joy, peace, rest, and all good things, which neither eye has seen nor ear has heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man [1 Cor. 2:9]. For the unbelievers and the contemptuous and for those who do not submit to the truth but assent to iniquity . . . there will be wrath and indignation [Rom. 2:8]” (To Autolycus 1:14 [A.D. 181]).

Irenaeus

“[Paul], an able wrestler, urges us on in the struggle for immortality, so that we may receive a crown and so that we may regard as a precious crown that which we acquire by our own struggle and which does not grow upon us spontaneously. . . . Those things which come to us spontaneously are not loved as much as those which are obtained by anxious care” (Against Heresies4:37:7 [A.D. 189]).

Tertullian

“Again, we [Christians] affirm that a judgment has been ordained by God according to the merits of every man” (To the Nations 19 [A.D. 195]).

“In former times the Jews enjoyed much of God’s favor, when the fathers of their race were noted for their righteousness and faith. So it was that as a people they flourished greatly, and their kingdom attained to a lofty eminence; and so highly blessed were they, that for their instruction God spoke to them in special revelations, pointing out to them beforehand how they should merit his favor and avoid his displeasure” (Apology 21 [A.D. 197]).

“A good deed has God for its debtor [cf. Prov. 19:17], just as also an evil one; for a judge is the rewarder in every case [cf. Rom. 13:3–4]” (Repentance 2:11 [A.D. 203]).

Hippolytus

“Standing before [Christ’s] judgment, all of them, men, angels, and demons, crying out in one voice, shall say: ‘Just is your judgment,’ and the justice of that cry will be apparent in the recompense made to each. To those who have done well, everlasting enjoyment shall be given; while to lovers of evil shall be given eternal punishment” (Against the Greeks 3 [A.D. 212]).

Cyprian of Carthage

“The Lord denounces [Christian evildoers], and says, ‘Many shall say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name, and in your name have cast out devils, and in your name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you who work iniquity’ [Matt. 7:21–23]. There is need of righteousness, that one may deserve well of God the Judge; we must obey his precepts and warnings, that our merits may receive their reward” (The Unity of the Catholic Church 15, 1st ed. [A.D. 251]).

“[Y]ou who are a matron rich and wealthy, anoint not your eyes with the antimony of the devil, but with the collyrium of Christ, so that you may at last come to see God, when you have merited before God both by your works and by your manner of living” (Works and Almsgivings 14 [A.D. 253]).

Lactantius

“Let every one train himself to righteousness, mold himself to self-restraint, prepare himself for the contest, equip himself for virtue . . . [and] in his uprightness acknowledge the true and only God, may cast away pleasures, by the attractions of which the lofty soul is depressed to the earth, may hold fast innocence, may be of service to as many as possible, may gain for himself incorruptible treasures by good works, that he may be able, with God for his judge, to gain for the merits of his virtue either the crown of faith, or the reward of immortality” (Epitome of the Divine Institutes 73 [A.D. 317]).

Cyril of Jerusalem

“The root of every good work is the hope of the resurrection, for the expectation of a reward nerves the soul to good work. Every laborer is prepared to endure the toils if he looks forward to the reward of these toils” (Catechetical Lectures 18:1 [A.D. 350]).

Jerome

“It is our task, according to our different virtues, to prepare for ourselves different rewards. . . . If we were all going to be equal in heaven it would be useless for us to humble ourselves here in order to have a greater place there. . . . Why should virgins persevere? Why should widows toil? Why should married women be content? Let us all sin, and after we repent we shall be the same as the apostles are!” (Against Jovinian 2:32 [A.D. 393]).

Augustine

“We are commanded to live righteously, and the reward is set before us of our meriting to live happily in eternity. But who is able to live righteously and do good works unless he has been justified by faith?” (Various Questions to Simplician 1:2:21 [A.D. 396]).

“He bestowed forgiveness; the crown he will pay out. Of forgiveness he is the donor; of the crown, he is the debtor. Why debtor? Did he receive something? . . . The Lord made himself a debtor not by receiving something but by promising something. One does not say to him, ‘Pay for what you received,’ but ‘Pay what you promised’” (Explanations of the Psalms 83:16 [A.D. 405]).

“What merits of his own has the saved to boast of when, if he were dealt with according to his merits, he would be nothing if not damned? Have the just then no merits at all? Of course they do, for they are the just. But they had no merits by which they were made just” (Letters 194:3:6 [A.D. 412]).

“What merit, then, does a man have before grace, by which he might receive grace, when our every good merit is produced in us only by grace and when God, crowning our merits, crowns nothing else but his own gifts to us?” (ibid., 194:5:19).

Prosper of Aquitaine

“Indeed, a man who has been justified, that is, who from impious has been made pious, since he had no antecedent good merit, receives a gift, by which gift he may also acquire merit. Thus, what was begun in him by Christ’s grace can also be augmented by the industry of his free choice, but never in the absence of God’s help, without which no one is able either to progress or to continue in doing good” (Responses on Behalf of Augustine 6 [A.D. 431]).

Sechnall of Ireland

“Hear, all you who love God, the holy merits of Patrick the bishop, a man blessed in Christ; how, for his good deeds, he is likened unto the angels, and, for his perfect life, he is comparable to the apostles” (Hymn in Praise of St. Patrick 1 [A.D. 444]).

Council of Orange II

“[G]race is preceded by no merits. A reward is due to good works, if they are performed, but grace, which is not due, precedes [good works], that they may be done” (Canons on grace 19 [A.D. 529]).

NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors.
Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004
IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted.
+Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004″

Love,
Matthew

The Wheel of Fortune – Rota Fortuna & Freedom

wheelof1

-the wheel of fortune from the Burana Codex; The figures are labelled “Regno, Regnavi, Sum sine regno, Regnabo”: “I reign, I reigned, my reign is finished, I shall reign.”

I_rule1

-the Rota Fortuna, a modern interpretation

The modern, or current idea of Freedom is much different than it has been.  The idea of Freedom in the current age is the freedom from any constraint, hence the freedom to do whatever I want.  Sometimes called the freedom of indifference, from Ockham, focusing solely on the will, with no spiritual dimension.

This is dramatically different from the traditional Christian concept of Freedom.  Traditionally, the Christian ideal of freedom was the freedom from attachment, or inordinate desire, from the goods of this world, this life, and hence, the Freedom for Excellence.

The Freedom for Excellence, which we receive as a gift from our loving God, is a freedom from attachments to accomplishments, possessions, competitiveness, and odious comparisons between ourselves. It is a freedom arising from gazing at God as He presents Himself to us, and loving God intently. God gives us this freedom as a gift. He is the origin and the end of this excellence, to which we are all called.  It is the power to act freely with excellence and perfection; proceeding from reason and will, therefore rooted in inclinations to truth and goodness.  The Freedom for Excellence is rooted in the soul’s spontaneous inclinations to the good and the true, natural human disposition toward beatitude, and the perfection of the good.

God made us and he calls us back to Himself. This is excellence at its core. He asks only that we attend to Him, with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our strength, and with all our minds. He wants us to look at Him, and love Him.  At the center of the Rota Fortuna is often depicted Christ Himself, the message being:  detach yourself from the desires for things of this life, for they do not last and cannot satisfy.  Focus on Christ, for He alone is our salvation, our everything, our every satisfaction.  He alone can satisfy human desire, the human heart.

The Rota Fortuna, the Wheel of Fortune, was commonly used in middle ages and originally belonged to the Roman goddess Fortuna, and hence, the reason the zodiac is a wheel . The Rota Fortuna also appears as a card in a deck of tarot cards.  The goddess Fortuna is sometimes depicted as spinning the wheel, with a blindfold over her eyes.  This wheel is painted in many medieval Swedish churches as well.

Edward Burne-Jones: The Wheel of Fortune.

-The Wheel of Fortune, by Edward Burne-Jones, 1875-1883,  Musée d’Orsay

The wheel traditionally depicts a young, happy-go-lucky character that, in the prime of his youth, jumps onto the wheel.  Besides this aspirant are, traditionally, the word, “Regnabo”, I shall reign.  At the top of the wheel sits a king crowned, the pinnacle of success, the summit of powers, even referring to our bodily powers of youth, which wane quickly with the onset of middle age, a prelude of the total, complete disability and corruption to come, even if health remains ruddy, due solely to age.  The word next to the reigning monarch is “Regno”, “I reign”.  Next, at 3 PM, is a former king falling off the wheel, deposed in fortune and power, with the word “Regnavi”, “I reigned”.  And, finally, at the bottom is the completely destitute beggar, with the words, “Sum sine regno”, “I reign no more”, the climax of life.

In the modern interpretation above, the doves by his side representing his innocence. Flanking him in the image is a picture of the rising sun, symbolizing the early morning stages of life. Written beside him is the text “I will rule”. In the older versions of the wheel the latin text “Regnabo” was written which means “I shall reign”.

In the modern interpretation above, to the above left of the subject is the greek letter ALPHA. This is the first letter of the Greek alphabet and this also signifies the beginning. On the top right is the Greek letter OMEGA. This is the last letter in the Greek alphabet. Alpha and Omega comes from the phrase “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” from the book of Revelations. This is a reference to the nature of the wheel- it brings the young rookie from the Alpha point towards the Omega point. The Omega point being the place of one’s death.

On top of the wheel there is a muscle man standing waving a gun defiantly in the air. He is strong and is in the prime of his life. Behind him the sun is at its highest point in the sky. He feels like an indestructible conqueror that nothing can stop. Behind him there is a text that says “I rule” making a reference to the old latin text “Regno” or “reign”, which accompanied this character.

Lastly an old man is being pulled towards his grave by a smiling devil. The night has come and life has started to fade in the last cycle of the wheel. The moon looks on as all this transpires. Written by his side is the text”I ruled” signifiying that his time is at an end. In the original wheels the latin text “Regnavi” or “I reigned” was written. Finally below the wheel a skeleton lies silently on the ground saying nothing while animals look on as the wheel keeps spinning.

O noble Peter, Cyprus’ lord and king,
Which Alexander won by mastery,
To many a heathen ruin did’st thou bring;
For this thy lords had so much jealousy,
That, for no crime save thy high chivalry,
All in thy bed they slew thee on a morrow.
And thus does Fortune’s wheel turn treacherously
And out of happiness bring men to sorrow.
~ Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, The Monk’s Tale

Makes me think of Ozymandias by Shelley.  Romans 13:11.

Love,
Matthew

Indulgences

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-by A. David Anders, PhD, David was raised in the Presbyterian Church of America. He and his wife completed their undergraduate degrees at Wheaton College in 1992. He subsequently earned an M.A. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 1995, and a Ph.D. from The University of Iowa in 2002, in Reformation history and historical theology. He wrote his dissertation on John Calvin. His dissertation is titled “Prophets from the ranks of shepherds: John Calvin and the challenge of popular religion (1532–1555).” He has taught history and religion in Iowa and Alabama. He was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. He currently resides in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife and five home-schooled children (ages 1-14). Dr. Anders is a principal author of “Called to Communion” a blog of 23 formerly Protestant authors and academics who have converted to Catholicism and seek to foster the dialogue of unity.  “We believe that genuine unity comes through truth and never by forsaking or compromising the truth.”

“Probably no part of the Catholic tradition has been more maligned than indulgences. The controversies of the sixteenth century have forever marred this tradition in the popular imagination. Most people cannot get over the hackneyed cliché that Catholics think they can buy their way into Heaven. But this is a gross distortion of Catholic teaching. The tradition of indulgences is venerable, ancient, biblical, and logical. To understand why is to go deeply into the most beautiful, gracious, and sublime teachings of our faith.

The roots of indulgences can be found in the biblical teaching on penance. Jesus instructed the disciples to exclude the impenitent from the fellowship of the Church, but to forgive those who seek forgiveness. (Matthew 18:15ff) St. Paul likewise told the Corinthians to expel the immoral brother, but to readmit him after due penance. (1 Corinthians 5; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11) Many other passages of Scripture command the Church to correct, admonish, and punish the immoral, the disobedient, and the factious. (2 Thess. 3:6, 14-15; Tit. 3:10; 1 Tim. 5:20; Galatians 6:1-2)

The ancient Church kept up this practice. Penance and absolution were a public affair, sometimes lasting for years. Disputes raged, however, over how long penance should last and under what circumstances it should be reduced. Would a quick “I’m sorry” do for a murderer, apostate, or adulterer? “Hard liners” (like Tertullian and Novatian) argued that some sins were so severe they should never be forgiven. (They appealed to Hebrews 6:4-8 in defense of their views.) Others, like Pope Calixtus (d. 222) were more lenient, and extended absolution to everyone.

Under St. Cyprian (210-258), the North African Church offered another perspective. Christians had long valued the intercession of the saints and martyrs. Through Christ, their merits and prayers were of extraordinary value. (James 5:16; Revelation 5:8; Revelation 7:14-15) What if those saints, martyrs, and confessors (those in prison for their faith or on their way to martyrdom), offered their sufferings on behalf of the penitent?

It’s very important to grasp what was being suggested. No one thought that Christ’s sufferings were insufficient. No one thought that the penitent or the martyrs could buy their way into heaven. They were concerned simply with the temporal punishments due to sin, not the eternal consequences of unremitted guilt. It was a matter of the disciplinary action of the Church, excluding and admitting from communion, and the conditions for that readmission. The question was whether the merits of the saints could be applied towards remitting only the temporal punishments.

This is where things get complicated for non-Catholic Christians. They are not accustomed to distinguishing between the guilt of sin and its temporal consequences. Nor are they used to thinking in terms of vicarious merit. And yet, both ideas are deeply biblical. 2 Samuel 12 and 2 Samuel 24 both teach that God demands satisfaction for sin even when the guilt has been previously remitted. Likewise, we find vicarious merit and suffering throughout Scripture. (Genesis 18:32; Colossians 1:24).

In Cyprian’s day, some of the confessors began handing out indulgences in their own names, or on their own authority. Sometimes, they gave them out as “blank checks” on which penitents could write their own names. St. Cyprian’s response was truly astonishing. He did not deny that these libellus (as they were called) had value. Rather, he demanded that the granting of indulgences should be subject to the authority of the bishop.

In Cyprian’s day, the Church recognized that sin has a temporal consequence, to which the Church’s authority and intercessions apply. The Church fathers also believed deeply in the communion of saints, and that the weaker members can share in the merits and gifts of the stronger. They applied this biblical logic to the problem of penances. It was a small step to apply it as well to the sufferings of those in purgatory.

The details of purgatory are beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say that the Church, following the Jewish practice, has always offered prayers for the dead. (2 Maccabees 12: 38-46) From this, and from what we know about penance, purity, and some suggestive scriptures (Matthew 5:25-26; 1 Cor. 3:11-15), the fathers inferred the doctrine of purgatory. The important thing to remember is that purgatory is a temporal punishment. As such, it is subject to the merits and intercessory prayers of the Church. These can be directed through the practice of indulgences.

Indulgences are not a “get out of hell free card.” They are not a license to sin. Rather, they are how the Church can direct the prayers and merits of the faithful to the spiritual benefit of poor souls. They are grounded in the biblical teaching on Church discipline and the communion of saints. They emerged in the earliest years of the Church with the approbation of her holiest doctors and saints. Rightly understood, they are a beautiful testament to the solidarity of all Christians, to our union in Christ.”

Myth 1: A person can buy his way out of hell with indulgences.

False. Repentance and sacramental confession—not indulgences—are the way to avoid going to hell when one has committed mortal sin. As we will see, indulgences remit only temporal penalties of sins that have already been forgiven, so they cannot stop an unrepentant, unforgiven person from going to hell. Once a person is in hell, no number of indulgences will get him out. The way to avoid hell is by appealing to and accepting God’s mercy while still alive. After death, one’s eternal fate is set (cf. Heb. 9:27).

Myth 2: A person can buy indulgences for sins not yet committed.

Again, false. The Church has always taught that indulgences do not apply to sins not yet committed. The Catholic Encyclopedia notes that an indulgence “is not a permission to commit sin, nor a pardon of future sin; neither could be granted by any power” (1910 ed., s.v. “Indulgences”).

Myth 3: A person can buy forgiveness with indulgences.

The definition of indulgences presupposes that forgiveness has already taken place: “An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven” (Indulgentiarum Doctrina, norm 1). Indulgences in no way forgive sins. They deal only with temporal consequences that may be left after sins have been forgiven.

Myth 4: Indulgences were invented to make money for the Church.

Indulgences developed from reflection on the sacrament of reconciliation. They are a way of encouraging spiritual growth and lessening the temporal consequences that may remain when sins are forgiven. The roots of the practice go back centuries before money-related problems appeared.

Myth 5: An indulgence will shorten one’s time in purgatory by a fixed number of days.

The Catholic Church does not teach anything about how long or short purgatory is. Indeed, from a temporal perspective, purgatory may be accomplished instantaneously, “in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:51–52). In such a case, indulgences could affect its intensity but not its temporal duration.

The origin of this myth is the fact that, in the past, a certain number of “days” were attached to many indulgences. These were not days off in purgatory. Instead, they expressed the value of an indulgence by analogizing it to the number of days’ penance one would have done on Earth under the penitential practices of the early Church. Moderns had lost touch with the ancient system, which made the reckoning of such “days” confusing. The practice was abolished in 1967 in Pope Paul VI’s constitution Indulgentiarum Doctrina.

Myth 6: A person formerly could buy indulgences.

One never could buy indulgences. The financial scandal surrounding indulgences involved alms-indulgences, in which the giving of alms to a charitable fund was used as the occasion to grant the indulgence. The practice was the same in principle as modern nonprofit organizations’ granting premium gifts in thank-yous for donations. That is not the same as selling. The purpose of granting indulgences was to encourage people to do good things and to grow spiritually. Only one kind of indulgence involved alms, and giving alms in itself is a good thing. The Catholic Encyclopedia notes in its article on indulgences: “Among the good works which might be encouraged by being made the condition of an indulgence, almsgiving would naturally hold a conspicuous place. . . . It is well to observe that in these purposes there is nothing essentially evil. To give money to God or to the poor is a praiseworthy act, and, when it is done from right motives, it will surely not go unrewarded.” The Council of Trent instituted major reforms in the practice of granting indulgences, and because of prior abuses, “in 1567 Pope Pius V canceled all grants of indulgences involving any fees or other financial transactions” (Catholic Encyclopedia, loc. cit.). This act proved the Church’s seriousness about removing abuses from indulgences.

Love,
Matthew

Degrees of Intimacy with God

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-by Br Timothy Danaher, OP

“Does God love some people more than others? On the surface it sort of seems like He does. Life is full of inequality, and it leaves us with a gut feeling that life is just unfair.

So is it God’s fault? Scholastic theology has a very interesting answer: God loves each of us with the same intensity of love, but he loves us each to a different degree.

That means that God’s love is the same for all people – it’s the same love which shone from the eyes of John Paul II and which little Johnny Fischer discovered at his First Communion in grade school. But it also means that God calls some people to a greater mission or greater degrees of intimacy, compared to, well… the rest of us.

St. Therese of Lisieux has a famous analogy to explain this: In heaven we will all be like cups – all of us different sizes, but full to the brim with God. This image, though, still allows us to compare our different sizes. So Therese offers another analogy: In this life we are all different flowers in God’s garden. We cannot compare ourselves for each of us is a different kind, making the garden glorious by such great variety. This passage earned Therese her nickname, the Little Flower, writing that she is happy to be the smallest of all God’s flowers.

I love Therese and her analogies, but sometimes it’s hard to think of myself as a cup or a flower. So I’ve tried to think up other analogies in which I can still stay human.

The first is Thanksgiving dinner and how it relates to heaven. As in the Gospel, a great feast is ready and all are invited, with more than enough food to go around. But none of us goes to a feast and spends the evening watching how much more everyone else is getting – we pay attention to the food! We are lost in the sight and smells of all the succulence before us, and we’re happy together, and we give thanks for the meal because each person (regardless the size of their appetite) gets their fill. Then, just like heaven, we “enter into our rest” as we find a couch to sleep on for the rest of the day – “Let the faithful exult in their glory, let them sing for joy on their couches” (Ps 149:5).

Another analogy is a football game. It’s a Saturday night face-off between two rivals. You’re cheering for the home team, the underdog, and the score is close, the atmosphere electric. To use sports rhetoric, both teams are “playing out of their minds” – which translates, they’re playing better than usual. Then in the final seconds, your team seals the deal with a final score. Everyone erupts, the joy is inarticulate – people are just screaming. That’s not exactly a moment where you turn and shout to your neighbor, “Gee, I wish I could enjoy this as much as you are!” Everyone is too busy celebrating – it’s contagious. But in fact, even though everyone is taken up in the joy of the moment, some fans are enjoying it more than others. Mr. Patrick Mansfield has followed the team avidly all year, but his wife Laura whom he brought along – even though she’s cheering too, and she really means it – isn’t “into” football as much as he is.

God’s love is something like that. We all share the same great feast, so no matter the different sizes of our appetites, we all end up happy and full, with no need to compare who got more. But it’s also like football, because even though we all watch the same touchdown and erupt together wild with joy, some fans are happier than others.

“Ok,” you might say, “Cool analogies about heaven, but what about this life?” And that’s a fair point. In life we’re surrounded by different people; we constantly compare ourselves with them. Now, not all comparisons are bad – they can even motivate us, or make us truly admire someone else. Michael Phelps is a faster swimmer than I am, and I’m ok with that. It makes me marvel at him. It also motivates me to exercise a bit more.

But even if we can see the positive side of it, the comparison game still seems to dominate us: we grow envious of other peoples’ accomplishments, their job, their beauty, clothing, intelligence, personality, social status, lucky breaks, just about anything thinkable! Even good things, like their patience or their kindness.

In this life, I only know of one “out” to the problem: Jesus. He is the “pearl of great price” (Mt 13:46). And that’s pearl, singular, for there is only one of Him. Should we even compare ourselves to the saints, we receive no different version of Him, no “less Jesus.” Because there is only the same Jesus, Who says to each of us, “There is only One of Me, and only one of you. You, come follow me.”

In this life we don’t know why some people are given better natural talents, are born into a better life situation, etc. These things will always be unequal. The only thing that can heal us, free us from a life of endless competition and constant comparison, is the love we find in Christ. We taste here something more valuable than everything else in life, so that we can let go of everything else in life – while two are left speaking, each to each.”

Love,
Matthew

What is Love? It is more than a feeling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,
Matthew

Redemptive Suffering

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“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church” -Col 1:24

Recently, in the news, there have been several stories of terminally ill people, even young, otherwise healthy people, very openly planning on taking their own lives, and being assisted to do so.   Terminally ill can live beyond the first or most grim predictions of life expectancy.

This euthanasia (“good death”) is anathema to faithful Catholic thinking.  Catholics should recoil in horror from this suggestion as they do from the subject of abortion.  The Church does not deny modern death can and often is a prolonged and may be a suffering existence.  However, there is no “enough is enough” in faithful Catholic thinking.  Life is God’s gift.  Any attempts, however “reasoned”, well-intentioned, or motivated to short circuit God’s gift are repugnant to the Catholic moral mind, regardless of what is involved.

The Church always urges the best medical care available.  It only requires reasonable measures to prolong life.  Extraordinary measures are not required.  The debate may now ensue as to that definition.  Discuss.

Catholics believe in free will with regards to committing sin.  Beyond the effects of original sin, which is removed in baptism, post baptismal sin 1)  deprives the soul of grace, due to the guilt of having committed sin.  In addition, 2)  there is a penalty due.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation removes the guilt (1) freely, without cost, or other requirement, through the freely given gift of God’s grace and love, and allows that grace to be restored, and thus the soul may aspire again to Heaven, but (2) remains.  You can begin to see why Catholics hold the importance of infant baptism, required for salvation.

Catholics are often misunderstood as trying to “earn” their way into Heaven; untrue and misunderstood.  Catholics do through prayer, fasting, almsgiving, other good works of charity, and through redemptive suffering remit (2) the penalty due to sin.

We have no way of knowing what the penalty for offending God would be, however, and please bear with me as I try to make this point:  think of throwing a tomato at a homeless person.  Horrible.  But, not likely to arouse the wrath of the police, not likely.  Now imagine throwing a tomato at the President of the United States.  That might invite the attention of the Secret Service.  The point being the same offense against a more dignified personage implies a heavier penalty/consequence.  So, since God is infinitely dignified, etc, etc, even the smallest of offenses against Him implies an infinite penalty, so the thinking goes.  We don’t, cannot keep score.  We trust in and believe in the mercy of God, but are also aware of His justice.  There is no love without justice.

Redemptive suffering is the belief that human suffering, such as in end-of-life, but not purely limited only to that, any suffering accepted during life, when accepted and offered up in union with the Passion of Jesus, can remit the just punishment (2) for one’s sins or for the sins of another, or for the other physical or spiritual needs of oneself or another. Like an indulgence, (yes, they still exist, are valid, but are no longer sold and no longer measured in time) redemptive suffering does not gain the individual forgiveness for their sin; forgiveness results from God’s grace, freely given through Christ, through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and CANNOT be earned. After one’s sins are forgiven, the individual’s suffering can reduce the penalty due for sin.  Redemptive suffering is only ever understood as that suffering in life unsought and which cannot be avoided.

Sometimes we see those who suffer beyond what a reasonable person would perceive as just from a loving God.  Their suffering is not wasted nor is it in vain.  It has deep meaning.  The merits of this suffering are retained, through the Communion of Saints, in the Treasury of Merit (Mt 6:20), to remit the penalty of sin due from others who have not fully paid their debt to God.  God is merciful and just.  Those unbaptized suffer to no end.  Theirs is pointless, dumb suffering.

There is a very good article on the detailed thinking of the Church’s mind on redemptive suffering here.

Love,
Matthew

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