Saturday, January 24, 2009

Science & Faith - No Conflict

Although I have always enjoyed it, these past few years, I've been reading even more on the "relationship" between science and faith. I guess I've been spurred on by the new wave of atheism that has made its way to bookstore shelves (think Richard Dawkins' God Delusion for starters). Just recently I read a great anecdote by the Brit, G.K. Chesterton:
I remember once arguing with an honest young atheist, who was very much shocked at my disputing some of the assumptions which were absolute sanctities to him...and he at length fell back upon this question, which he delivered with an honourable heat of defiance and indignation: "Well, can you tell me any man of intellect, great in science or philosophy, who accepted the miraculous?" I said, "With pleasure. Descartes, Dr. Johnson, Newton, Faraday, Newman, Gladstone, Pasteur, Browning, Brunetiere - as many more as you please." To which that admirable young man made this astonishing reply - "Oh, but of course they had to say that; they were Christians." First he challenged me to find a black swan, and then he ruled out all my swans because they were black. The fact that all these great intellects had come to the Christian view was somehow or other a proof either that they were not great intellectuals or that they had not really come to that view.

I took that quotation from Dale Ahlquist's Common Sense 101: Lessons From G.K. Chesterton. As my pal Kevin says, there was "plenty of grist there for my mill." (Readers, do yourselves a favor and visit Dr. Kevin Vost's website.) And while I'm at it, let me throw out a few more excellent reads on faith and science:

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


When I was praying the Rosary this evening I was really struck by the final mystery, the Coronation of Mary. Raised up to Heaven, as we all hope to be some day, she received her crown - "Well done good and faithful servant."

In a strict sense though, what had Mary done to warrant a crown? She did exactly what God had asked of her. But didn't she owe Him that, as a creature to her Creator? Yes, in strict justice she did. But this is where we see the abundant, and utterly gratuitous Love of God. He freely chose to raise up that humble creature, and to count her as his partner in redemption! And as a loving, cooperative partner and daughter, He lavishes honors upon her!

And that is what is awaiting us too! As Paul said, "Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing" (2 Timothy 4:8).

Freaking Me Out

So I came home today and flipped on the television. I start flipping channels and, hey - that's Jon Bon Jovi sitting next to Oprah. That I had to see. They were talking about the inauguration. Hey, there's Forest Whittaker too. I left the show on in the background as I started the computer and logged on to check my e-mail.

I heard them as they spoke about how our new president's attitude of hope and public displays of affection for his wife had already begun our country's "healing process." PDA and national healing? Jon, don't you go giving love a bad name! My next thought was, "People, you've got to put the brakes on. Your expectations are just too high; no man can live up to them." Just then I spotted an e-mail from my buddy Pete, directing me to the White House's site, where President Obama's team had laid out his social agenda:

Gay Rights
  • Support Full Civil Unions and Federal Rights for LGBT Couples...
  • Oppose a Constitutional Ban on Same-Sex Marriage: President Obama voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2006 which would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman and prevented judicial extension of marriage-like rights to same-sex or other unmarried couples.
  • Expand Adoption Rights: President Obama believes that we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation. He thinks that a child will benefit from a healthy and loving home, whether the parents are gay or not.
  • Promote AIDS Prevention: ...The President will support common sense approaches including age-appropriate sex education that includes information about contraception, combating infection within our prison population through education and contraception, and distributing contraceptives through our public health system. The President also supports lifting the federal ban on needle exchange, which could dramatically reduce rates of infection among drug users. President Obama has also been willing to confront the stigma -- too often tied to homophobia -- that continues to surround HIV/AIDS.
Embryonic Stem Cells and Abortion
  • Supporting Stem Cell Research: President Obama and Vice President Biden believe that we owe it to the American public to explore the potential of stem cells to treat the millions of people suffering from debilitating and life-threatening diseases. Obama is a co-sponsor of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007, which will allow research of human embryonic stem cells derived from embryos donated (with consent) from in vitro fertilization clinics. These embryos must be deemed in excess and created based solely for the purpose of fertility treatment.
  • Supports a Woman's Right to Choose: President Obama understands that abortion is a divisive issue, and respects those who disagree with him. However, he has been a consistent champion of reproductive choice and will make preserving women's rights under Roe v. Wade a priority in his Adminstration. He opposes any constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's decision in that case.
  • Preventing Unintended Pregnancy: President Obama was an original co-sponsor of legislation to expand access to contraception, health information, and preventive services to help reduce unintended pregnancies. Introduced in January 2007, the Prevention First Act will increase funding for family planning and comprehensive sex education that teaches both abstinence and safe sex methods. The Act will also end insurance discrimination against contraception, improve awareness about emergency contraception, and provide compassionate assistance to rape victims.
What good things are we expecting President Obama to accomplish, that they can outweigh this social agenda coming to fruition?
And when Jesus drew near and saw Jerusalem he wept over it, saying, "Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes" (Luke 19:41-42).

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Chuck It

I don't know, we've been talking about Jesus made sense to me.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Jesus' Baptism

Alright, I'm recycling material here; but as I said, I love thinking about the mysteries surrounding Jesus' baptism. Here's a link to an excerpt from Chapter 3 of The God Who is Love: Explaining Christianity From Its Center; just jump ahead to pages three and four.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Jesus' Prayer

My Protestant brothers and sisters refer to the Our Father as The Lord's Prayer, Jesus' prayer. Reflecting upon Jesus' Baptism, it strikes me as a wonderful insight.

How natural for those words to have been on Jesus' lips as went down into the water:
Our Father, Who art in heaven, holy be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.
The prayer of the Messiah, as he takes up His office before the world. And then the second half of the prayer - offered by One Who was perfectly sinless, but the representative of a sinful race:
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
The Love of Jesus for us - Our Father...give us our daily bread...forgive us. Thank You God! What else can we feel at this moment besides gratitude and awe?

Lookin' Up

I love this Feast Day, the celebration of Jesus' Baptism (brace yourself, I feel multiple posts coming on). Listen to how Mark tells it:
Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. Immediately on coming up out of the water he saw the sky rent in two and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. Then a voice came from the heavens, "You are my beloved Son. On you my favor rests." (Mark 1:9-11)
Why is it that it feels so natural to look up when we pray? Even Jesus did it on occasion (John 11:41), and He was in a position to know that Heaven isn't physically above "the heavens"! So what's the deal? Highly visual moments like Jesus' baptism and ascension remind us that Heaven is a "higher level" of being, but again; why the physicality of looking toward the sky?

My own theory? I'll warn you; it's not very complex...I think it has to do with little children looking and reaching up toward their parents. It's such a natural, and universal, gesture, a child's reaching out and up to his/her loving provider and protector. I think that this is tranferred to our interactions with God, quite naturally, and quite appropriately. He is our Father!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Can't Say It Any Better!

Last year I signed up at Daily Gospel to receive an e-mail with the day's gospel reading and commentary. And this morning, this is what I found, a reflection on Jesus' Incarnation:

Saint Augustine (354-430), Bishop of Hippo (North Africa) and Doctor of the Church
Sermon 194, 11th sermon on the Nativity of the Lord

"This joy of mine has been made complete"
Listen, children of light: you who have been adopted for the Kingdom of God; listen, my dearest brethren; listen and exult for joy in the Lord, you just, for «praise from the upright is fitting» (Ps 33,1). Listen to what you already know; reflect on what you have heard; love what you believe; proclaim what you love!...

Christ is born, God from his Father, man through his mother. He was born from his Father's immortality and his mother's virginity. From the Father without the aid of a mother; from the mother without that of a father. From his Father without time; from his mother without seed. According to his Father he is the principle of life; according to his mother, the ending of death. According to his Father he was born to determine the order of days; according to his mother, to consecrate the day that is here.

He sent John the Baptist before him, causing him to be born when the days were beginning to decrease, while he himself was born when the days began to grow in length, thus prefiguring John's own words: «He must increase, I must decrease». For indeed, human life must grow weaker in itself but stronger in Jesus Christ «so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised» (2Cor 5,15), and so that each one of us might repeat those words of the apostle Paul: «Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me» (Gal 2,20).

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Shackin' Up

Recently, a couple of friends at work were very excited by this book, The Shack, and were curious what I would think of it. It took about as month for me to get to it, but I finally did. Sad to say, I didn't enjoy it as much as they had. The premise was promising enough: a man grieving the murder of his young daugher spends a weekend in a shack, conversing with the three Persons of the Trinity. And I must say, the book does some things very well, probably the most important being its presentation of God as a Being of infinite tenderness, Who continually pours Himself out to His human creatures. Because of that, one of my friends described the book as "life changing." Now that's fantastic - God using this book to increase her understanding of how perfect His love for her is and that Christianity is a RELATIONSHIP, not a list of arbitrary rules or rituals to be performed. (Not to say that "rules" and "rituals" aren't a part of every relationship though. You've been to a birthday party, right? Cake, singing, make wish, blow out candles, can't tell wish, cut cake, etc.)

I did feel like there was a distortion, however, in the image The Shack gives of God and the definitive image we find in the Jesus of the Gospels. I felt I was looking at a caricature. God IS all Love, but that Love is perfectly one with His justice and holiness (aka, "total otherness"). In an infinite Being these qualities aren't contradictions. I couldn't see the God of The Shack ever recommending excommunication as an act of Love, but that is what the Jesus of the Gospels advised the Apostles:
If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault...If he will not listen, take one or two others along...If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth is bound in heaven. (Matthew 18:15-17)

And the Apostles took Jesus at His word, as can be seen from the Apostle Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians:
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you...A man has his father's wife...Shouldn't you have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?...When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that his sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord. (1 Cor.5:1-12)

That's right, put him outside the assembly - treat him as if dead, because spiritually he is. Does it look intolerant on the part of Jesus, of Paul? It's TOUGH LOVE, and it's meant to be medicinal. It is a last-ditch effort to wake the offender to how destructive his behavior is, and that if it isn't changed, it can cost him his soul. The Church would be supremely unloving if it failed to intervene. (It strikes me as funny that a psychologist can use this technique, call it an "intervention," and receive accolades; but when a bishop does the same, calling it "excommunication," he's despised.)

This leads into what I consider The Shack's largest deficiency - its conception of the Church. The author, William P. Young, clearly recognizes the spiritual reality of the Church; I liked the visionary image he used of Jesus standing at the center of the Communion of Saints - that heaven and earth are bound together in Christ. What Young doesn't grasp though, is how the Church can be both spiritual and material, simultaneously. (It's a both/and thing, not an either/or - as are the Sacraments and the Incarnation itself!) It leads Mr. Young to break with the four gospels, creating this exchange between the characters of Mack and Jesus:
"You're not too fond of religion and institutions?" Mack said, not sure if he was asking a question or making an observation.
"I don't create institutions - never have, never will."
"What about the institution of marriage?"
"Marriage is not an institution. It's a relationship." Jesus paused, his voice steady and patient. "Like I said, I don't create institutions; that's an occupation for those who want to play God. So no, I'm not too big on religion." Jesus said a little sarcastically, "and not very fond of politics or economics either." Jesus' visage darkened noticeably. "And why should I be? They are the man-created trinity of terrors that ravages the earth and deceives those I care about. What mental turmoil and anxiety does any human face that is not related to one of those three?"

Whoa, whoa, whoa. There's Young's either/or slant; and it's unwarranted. Lets take economics. Now honestly, can't there be both good and bad economics? And marriage, of course it's a relationship. But there are legally-binding vows taken before witnesses, joint property, responsibilities, custody of children...I don't know, sounds like there's a formal/institutional side to me.

In the same vein, it has become quite fashionable to pit "religion" against "having a personal relationship with God." I did it myself for several years, and in public talks no less! "I'm a spiritual person, not religious. Religion is about binding us to certain practices, but spirituality is the living out of a relationship." What God finally opened my eyes to, however, was that these things aren't mutually exclusive; they're meant to fit like hand-in-glove. Jesus Himself, bound us to certain practices: "This is My Body; this is My Blood. Do this in remembrance of Me." He bound us to the practice of confessing our sins when He told the Apostles, "If you forgive anyone their sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven" (John 20:23). The Sacraments are Exhibit-A that practices/rituals can be filled with all the spiritual power we can imagine (and then some)! Granted, a man can come forward to receive Communion without the least thought that he is about to receive the God-man (His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity) into himself - just as another man can take a stranger back to his bed for the night, without the least appreciation for the magnitude of the sexual act. The second man's failure to engage in sex the way God intended, and to reap the intimacy it was created to enhance, doesn't lead us to label sex "meaningless." The same goes for religion: just because we are surrounded by Catholics and other Christians who have never grasped the power inherent in the Sacraments, Scripture, or life within the Church, it doesn't mean these are lacking in power. Spiritual blindness has kept us living in poverty, unable to see the million dollars lying on the kitchen table!

When we turn from religious ritual to religious leadership, the same is true. There are good and bad shepherds out there; it doesn't negate the need for shepherding though. It doesn't negate the fact that Jesus established a Church, with visible leaders, for that very purpose. We could look at Scriptural citations and historical studies illustrating it until we went cross-eyed; glancing up above at the quotations of Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 above should suffice though. And what we see when we reflect on those passages is how "institution" can be the very vehicle of relationship! God works, God speaks to us, through the leaders of His Church. The Incarnation is continued as Jesus makes use of the pope and bishops, members along with all of us in His Mystical Body, to speak His Word. Our religion isn't just citing passages from a holy book, trying to shoe-horn all of the modern world's questions so that they match "old" answers. No, it is bringing our confusion and questions to God, and allowing the Holy Spirit to breathe through Scripture and Tradition, illuminating the minds of the Apostles' successors as they formulate responses that are ever-faithful to the past, but capable of speaking to new situations. (You might want to glance at my last post where I touched on the Church's opposition to in vitro fertilization.)

The sinfulness of Christian ministers doesn't negate this either, anymore than Judas' betrayal negated the role of the Twelve. After Judas' defection and suicide, another was appointed to his office (Acts of the Apostles 1:20). The Truth and Power within our Faith isn't undone by human failings; our God, dwelling within His Church, is way too powerful. I've got to go with St. Irenaeus on this one. As a disciple of Bishop Polycarp (himself, a disciple of the Apostle John) Irenaeus was in a much better position than we in the 20th century, on the other side of the world, to know what Jesus had communicated to the Apostles. In 180 A.D., Irenaeus wrote, "Where the Church is there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God, there the Church and every grace."

So, can I recommend The Shack? In my own life God has made use of materials that were less than perfect to help me along; the book Joshua, with a message similar to The Shack's, is an example. That said, there are other books that can be of a lot more benefit, C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity for starters. A good rule of thumb: (With the exception of the Bible itself) If it's palatable enough that it has made it onto a shelf at Wal-Mart, then whatever good points it has, it probably isn't the Gospel as preached by Jesus and the Apostles.

Sunday, January 4, 2009


12 Days of Christmas, 12 months of the year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 Tribes of Israel, 12 sons of Jacob the patriarch, 12 Apostles...

I was thinking about Pentecost last night (a.k.a. "meditating on the mystery of Pentecost"), trying to come at it from a different angle. I always envision Mary and the Apostles, but there were over a hundred other people gathered in that upper room (Acts 1:15)! So I imagined the reaction of that crowded room, experiencing the release of the Holy Spirit in charisms like tongues and prophecy. They were excited, prayer pouring out their hearts to God in charismatic prayer. Inevitably though, their eyes turned toward the Apostles, "the Twelve" as they were known in the early Church.

It was only natural that they should look to them for guidance in that moment. Let me explain: The nation of Israel, its 12 tribes, were descended from the 12 sons of Jacob (grandson of Abraham). Those 12 were the fathers of the nation. So for Jesus to single out 12 of His disciples to form an inner circle, to be "Apostles"or those "sent," it would have been recognized as monumental. Jesus, the Messiah, was appointing them as the foundation of His renewed Israel. They would be the fathers of the nation! Of course all of the disciples gathered on Pentecost would have turned their eyes to them.

Fathers of the nation. This truth is transmitted by us every time we refer to a priest, bishop, or pope as father. At ordination they were entrusted with the task of making present the fatherly care of the The Twelve. Putting it like that, I need to pray for them more - that's gotta be one tough job. Come Holy Spirit!

Post #50 - With Many Thanks to Kathi

50 posts - I never knew I had it in me. Once again I have to say "thank you" to my friend Kathi Strunk, who encouraged me to start not only a blog but a website. Her advice was nothing short of prophetic. That's right, I used the "p" word.

I'm not talking the Nostradamus-looking-in-a-bowl-of-oil type prophet (I'd be very weary of them), but the baptized-Christian-type. All of us have been called to share in the prophetic ministry of Jesus Christ. We exercise it in very intentional ways - taking hard stands, calling people back to their senses, reminding loved ones of God's Truth when they've gotten things all jumbled up. But I'm convinced that we often exercise it in very unintentional ways as well - when we speak and act from love.

And that's my friend Kathi; she comes from love. I see her going out of her way to develop relationships with the kids at our school and to give them little nudges in new and exciting directions. Wow, as I wrote that, it struck me as an apt description of her influence on me. Here's to Kathi!