Thursday, October 30, 2008

The "Fire" of Hell?

To fully appreciate this post, you really need to have read the one just prior (or "below it," in the world of blogs). That said, I'm jumping in.

Several years ago, I heard Dr. Scott Hahn speculate on the fire of hell; and while this isn't what you'd call de fide doctrine, I think many people might benefit from his thoughts. Hahn branched off from what we've already looked at concerning the "fire of purgatory," that it is a transformative encounter with God Himself (Hebrews 12:29, 1 Cor.3:12-15) - the touch of God burning away whatever sin and imperfection keeps us from full participation in His Divine Life. We ourselves are set aflame with this Divine Life; we dwell in the All Consuming Fire, and He dwells in us! Hahn asks if the Fire of Hell could be the same Fire, God - but as He is experienced by a person who refuses Him entry, refuses to be taken up into Divine Life? Keeping God only at the "surface" of their being, they experience Him as "Fire," but refuse the transformative nature of His embrace.

You see, each of us, at every moment, are held in existence by nothing but God's will. That's the corollary truth to having been called into existence from nothing; if we ever ceased to be part of God's will, we would simply unravel. (Wow - that makes sitting on the couch and watching the tube seem pretty spiritual - never mind something as glorious as Bridget cramming that whole White Castle into her mouth). Every being has to be held in existence by Him - there can't be a being who is completely free of His "touch," not even the devil himself. But for one who refuses to be in relationship with Him, this touch would be agonizing. It's like the child, absolutely starving, who stubbornly refuses every bite of food his mother puts before him. He screams and protests, "It's not the food I want," refusing his mother's attempts to explain that it's what his constitution needs. Unwilling to violate her child, she won't shove her fist down his throat and deposit the food in his gullet. Her love for him forces her to let him be, to writhe and protest - becoming ever more angered by her looks of concern.

No one "goes" to hell by accident. It's a choice; a stubborn refusal to accept our place in God's Family. Instead of living within the parameters our Father established for us - established because He created us, and knows what we need far better than we do - we dig in our heels and choose what is incompatible with Divine Life. St. Paul gives a list of such behaviors, 1 Corinthians 6:9. If we choose these over God, and refuse to reorient ourselves, God will not force us to receive Him. He respects our freedom so much that He allows us to keep Him at bay, to create our own experience of hell.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Fire of "Twilight"

Well, the fourth book in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight- series actually, Breaking Dawn. That’s right, I too partook of the forbidden fruit (note the cover art). I really enjoyed reading these books, and there’s a lot that could be said from the faith-angle; but tonight I’m sticking with the themes of fire and the resurrection/glorified body.

SPOILERS ABOUND – you have been warned.
In book four, Bella finally became the bloodsucker she’d always hoped to be. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill, B-movie bloodsuckers though. The vampires of Twilight, while being blood-drinkers, are creatures of light. That’s right – in sunlight they become luminous; like a diamond, their skin refracts light. But I digress. The agent of Bella’s transformation was venom from the teeth of her beloved, very-pretty-yet-masculine-vampire Edward.
What I found so fascinating was the way the venom worked: it coursed through Bella’s body, an unseen, transforming fire. She felt as if she had been taken out of time; nothing existed but the fire. Her weakness and imperfections were re-cast as the fire methodically worked its way through her, the flames finally drawing in to focus upon her heart. And then she awoke, as if seeing reality for the first time.

That’s purgatory – an encounter with “God, [Who] is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). It can take place completely in this life, or it can be finished after our death; it all depends on how much we cooperate in the process. Two blogs back, I referenced 1 Peter 1:7, where we’re given the image of God refining us like gold in fire. He visits us in trials, allowing them to bring imperfections to the surface. And then with God’s grace we deal with them. We allow the Holy Spirit, often imaged by fire, to purify and transform us. God has to “pry us open” and deal with what we keep hidden in the depths of our souls. Jesus was adamant that “from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man” (Mark 7:21-23). When we shed our bodies at death do the impurities, the imperfections in our capacity to love, just disappear? If they are in the heart, and we take that with us, then no – and thus the need for an encounter with the fire of God’s Love after death. The Apostle Paul spoke of such a purification accompanying our judgment, “the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

And this brings me to my next point – Bella’s new vampiric life as an image of resurrection and the glorification of the body. I was struck by how similar this “new” Bella was to the risen Jesus. First, there’s the subtlety of the body – to think is to move; there’s no more friction between mind (spirit) and matter. Bella’s senses are sharpened and integrated by a new mental agility – she recognizes beauty even in whirling specks of dust. The speed with which she moves reminds me of Jesus, appearing and disappearing as He chose. And then there’s Bella’s changed appearance – even her own father needed reassurance that it was really her. We see something similar in the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection. He appeared and spoke with people who had known Him in his former life; but they didn’t recognize Him, until He desired them to (Luke 24:16; John 20:14). The prior form is there, but it has been changed. The beauty of the soul, and the beauty of God within the human soul, must show through the body in a new way. The ability to disclose ourselves to another must become dependent on something more than our appearance registering with their ocular nerve and cerebral cortex. (There’s mystery here to be sure – can’t wait to discover the answer!)

The other thing that strikes me is how Bella’s metamorphosis allows her to interact with Edward on a completely different level. It wasn’t until Bella was transformed that she could really engage Edward physically. They had married, and they had consummated that union; but Edward was always having to hold back, unable to unleash the full force of his passion because Bella was simply too fragile to handle it. There’s something to be said there about our relationship with God. In the beginning, He may seem to treat us with kid gloves. But as we progress, as we begin to mature, He begins calling us to embrace more and more of the Cross – for virtue to grow and be solidified through trial. When we read the saints, we catch glimpses of how each step on the road to Heaven brought deeper, more intense experiences of God’s presence. Like Bella, they found themselves bruised at times – but they “hardened” (becoming, in fact, more and more tender) and able to engage God as slightly more mature children. Their vision is sharpened, and they see the world a bit more clearly – sharing the gaze of its Maker. Don’t you get the feeling that when Mother Teresa looked at a street in Calcutta, she saw something there that escapes you and I? Rest assured, now that her transformation is complete, she sees even more.

By our being fused to the humanity of Jesus, we "participate in the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4) ! Saints have used the image of a piece of iron, plunged into a fire: even though it remains iron, it takes on the "nature," the characteristics and properties of the fire - its heat and color. Jesus has opened up a new way of being human. Listen to how St. Paul describes Jesus' Church, His Spouse; she is "the fullness of Him Who fills the universe" (Ephesians 1:23). The Church, joined eternally to Jesus, is "Christ come to full stature" (Ephesians 4:13). In Jesus, we will be engulfed in God's Fiery Love, in God Himself! "Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Jesus appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:2).

Now, still to consider: Why does our agnostic vampire, Edward, have such strong convictions about right and wrong, virtue and vice?

NOTE: A slightly adapted form of this post appeared on Catholic Exchange, Dec.26th, 2009.

Talk About the Wonder of Creation!

Earlier tonight, I witnessed my co-worker Bridget stuff an entire White Castle into her mouth. It was glorious...and I am renewed.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


"Behold this Heart, which has loved men so much..."
-Jesus, in an apparition to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1675)

I've thought about Jesus' Heart quite a bit over the past year and a half, but I never really looked at it - thus the name of this post.

I finally did while praying the Rosary (the Sorrowful mysteries) on the way to work. I saw It in my mind's eye as a real human heart, bearing the wounds of the Passion: the bleeding gouge from the spear, the crown of thorns encircling and digging into it, and the Cross "planted" in its center. But I knew that this heart continued to beat, and was
on Fire, with Divine Love.

This heart beats - like yours, like mine. Suffering is not the last word - "Love" is. Suffering just brings It into stark relief.

"How Far We've Come"

What a great song:
"I believe the world is burning to the ground
Oh well I guess we're gonna find out
Let's see how far we've come (right now)
Let's see how far we've come
Well I, believe, it all, is coming to an end
Oh well, I guess, we're gonna pretend,
Let's see how far we've come (oh yeah)
Let's see how far we've come"

It's truly apocalyptic; it's about "revealing," about pulling back the curtain to see what's really taking place. And that's what we Christians get with suffering. (No, I'm not done with that theme yet.) God is all about using the things that go wrong in this world, to the benefit of His Beloved. It's when things fall apart, when we're stripped bare, that we found out who we really are. Do you keep your kind tone with the kids when you're head is throbbing? Do you fight to overturn Roe vs. Wade, even when it means electing someone who might cripple your family budget even more? Do you still love and desire good for your spouse (angry and hurt as you might be) when they demand a "no fault" divorce? Is God still an "Awesome God" when your body is riddled with cancer?

It's easy to have Faith when everything is going well -but Faith is proved, and reinforced, and deepened when we live it in the midst of suffering. To be real, it has to be lived! And living it gives a union with God, even now, that carries us through. Give these verses a couple of minutes:

Jesus in John 16:33, "In this world YOU WILL HAVE TROUBLE. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

1 Peter 1:6-9, "For a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith - of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire - may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls."

James 1:2-5, "Consider it pure joy my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him."

Friday, October 24, 2008

E.R. Stat !

Kickin' it old school in the picture department. It really struck me that for a Christian suffering can be like open heart surgery. Like a rib spreader, it can be God's way of opening us up, making us take a look and address what we've turned a blind eye to.
Like Emeril with a "BAM!" the Old Testament's Book of Sirach just puts it out there, the fact that we WILL suffer: "My son, when you come to serve the LORD, prepare yourself for trials...Cling to him, forsake him not; thus will your future be great. Accept whatever befalls you, in crushing misfortune be patient. For in fire gold is tested, and worthy men in the crucible of humiliation. Trust God and he will help you; make straight your ways and hope in him" (Sirach 2:1-6).

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Hitting the Jackpot

I went to Confession a while back, and I had what I can only describe as an awesome time preparing for it. I KNOW - I never have that experience either!

There was one thing that I wasn't sure how to get out, and after mentally trying various ways to phrase the sin, the thought came to me, "Ask the Holy Spirit how He wants you to say it." So I did...and then a brief, honest way to confess the sin took shape in my head. My anxiety evaporated. And when I hopped in the shower and started to get ready to go, I found myself talking to the Lord and thinking about the things that were going on in my life.

There's a whole lot that I don't talk about in this blog; objectively speaking I'm probably going through the most difficult struggle of my life. Something I never dreamed could happen, suddenly is; and the outcome is completely beyond my control. The thing is though, I'm not being crushed by it. I say this as someone who has struggled with clinical depression before; it seems like I should be coming apart emotionally, but I'm not. It bowled me over to realize how gracious and generous God had been, how much He had to be doing in my soul to keep me together. As bad as things have gotten on the outside, a calmness - a joy even - is there in my center. I have moments, periods, of sadness and anger. I'm not in denial about anything; but there isn't the depression I would expect.

When I talked with my confessor, sharing my sins as well as the struggle I'm passing through right now, he too had the same sense - that God is just being so incredibly loving and faithful. If feelings of sadness or anger catch up with me, then God will let it happen when I'm able to turn and deal with them. I'm writing about this, because chances are that you need to know that there is nothing that God won't stand with you - no, IN you - as you pass through it. I've always doubted those infomercials where someone comes on and says, "If it worked for me, it can work for anyone;" but from the bottom of my heart, I'm saying it now.

Every bad thing that happens to us will one day be reversed. I know that. Keeping that in mind, the only true tragedy is to go through this life without God's friendship. And I've got that - all of us can have that. And it's enough - way, way more than enough. It's Everything. And it can never be taken away from us, only surrendered.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Slap in the Face!

What else can you call it? He left without a word. Personally, I think it's pretty freakin' cool.

Those were my thoughts while praying the Rosary and meditating on Jesus' resurrection. I wanted to picture Him strolling through the door of the tomb victorious, but that isn't what the Gospels give us. No, the women were there to anoint His Body, the angel rolled away the stone...and nothing. It's like Death and the Grave weren't worthy enough foes to waste a second of His time gloating. Jesus was just gone - going about business (actually pronounced BID-nis) .

I remember listening to a sermon when I was a teenager. Our parish priest had visited the Holy Sepulcher years before, the church built over the site of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. He had gone expecting to "find the Lord" there, only to be bitterly disappointed. He bent down to gaze into the tomb...but felt nothing. And then the truth hit him - that tomb is the one place you won't find Him!

Note: No person was actually slapped in the writing of this blog, it was simply the goofiest pic I could find.

On the Altar

Right after speaking to that class on Sunday, I found myself at Mass. When our priest accepted the gifts at the offertory, placing them on the altar, I placed myself there with them, asking the Father to transform me too into Jesus' Body and Blood. St. Paul had told the early Church, "Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, for this is your spiritual worship" (Romans 12:1). The image that came to my mind though, in response my prayer, surprised me: I saw Jesus at the altar, holding me up above His head to His Father, saying, "This is My Body, this is My Blood." And it really made sense to me, how our lives, our sufferings, are a living, current participation in Jesus' Cross.

Ah, the Possibilities!

I was speaking to a group of people studying to enter the Catholic Church this past Sunday. I had been asked to speak about the Incarnation, God the Son becoming human. I love focusing upon the Lord's humanity. He's not a Hercules (a half god, half man), but a Person who is simultaneously 100% God, and 100% man. The two aren't melded together. His divinity doesn't swallow up His humanity, or allow Him to take any shortcuts. He grew and passed through all of the same stages as you and I. The ONLY, and I mean single, solitary difference between Him and every other one of us, is that His soul didn't know the brokeness of sin. John Paul II was fond of saying that Jesus shows us what it means to be human.

Consider what that means: His heart, soul, mind, and will were only human - filled with the Holy Spirit, but human - like yours and mine. So when we see Jesus loving and expending Himself in the Gospels, those are human actions that we are witnessing! Oh, they are elevated by Grace and enflamed by the Holy Spirit to be sure, and there's no deformity or tainting from sin - but they're performed in His human nature.

Salvation is to be caught up into the HUMANITY of Jesus Christ - for our brokeness to find healing in His wholeness. The Holy Spirit is meant to flow through our souls, breaking forth in actions and words, just as they did in Jesus. In Jesus, through Baptism and the other Sacraments, our human souls "partake in the divine nature."

I was struck this past weekend by the beauty of devotion to Jesus' Sacred Heart. It is His human heart that we are reverencing. His human heart - the perfect conduit of the fiery, Divine Love. And we are called to share in, to participate in, His Sacred Heart! This is what we see in the saints - Maximilian Kolbe giving his life in exchange for another prisoner's, Mother Teresa working away in the slums of Calcutta, and Gianna Molla's love for her patients and children. Those words Jesus spoke at the Last Supper are just waiting to be lived out, "Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father" (John 14:12).

Friday, October 3, 2008

My Stint in the Can

Alright, my co-workers saw my post, "I'm Not Going to Jail," and decided that had I been incarcerated, the picture at right would be a fair representation of me. Maybe, maybe not. (Personally, I think I have better eyes.)