Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"Must be nice living in your 'black and white' world"

Has someone ever responded like that to you when you're talking about moral issues?  I bet you were discussing something relating to sexuality.  How did I know?  Oh, I've been in quite a few of those discussions over the years.  Someone inevitably chides me for being too rigid - believing its always wrong to abort a child ... or to have premarital sex ... or to use contraception, etc.  Can't I see how much "grey area" there is in those kind of issues?  Next time someone sarcastically says how nice it must be for me to live in a "black and white" world though, I think I have a ready response:  

"It really is.  My life became so much easier after I realized that every time I touched the hot stove I got burned; every time I tried flying like Superman gravity still won out; and every time I tried to breathe underwater I nearly died.  As many times as I tried, I could never find any grey areas.  Seeing as how we're both here having a discussion, I'm going to say that you didn't either.  The only difference between us is that you won't admit that there our laws at work in our sexual expression too; you're just refusing to acknowledge the cause and effect we see working itself out in the society around us - not to mention what happens at the level of the soul." 

I'm thinking out loud here.  Click on the comment section and chime in.  (If your comment doesn't pop up right away, don't worry; there's an approval process.)  Look forwarding to hearing from you!

Mother Mary & Father Abraham

The Rosary really is an inexhaustible source of meditation.  Last night while thinking about the Visitation, I saw how similar Mary's faith was to that of Abraham.  "By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance" (Heb.11:8), and when Abraham "believed" God's promise that he and his elderly wife would one day welcome a son, "the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness" (Gen.15:6).  Likewise, when Mary received the double announcement of Jesus' birth and the pregnancy of Elizabeth, "she set out and went with haste" to see her formerly barren relative (Lk.1:39); and what did Elizabeth say to her, "Blessed is she who believed that there would be fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord!" (Lk.1:45).

When I came to the Nativity I recalled how Isaac, like Jesus, was a "child of promise" (Gal.4:28), and then in the Presentation in the Temple (the place of sacrifice), I recalled how both Abraham and Mary were asked to offer their sons.

Both Abraham and Mary saw their sons make their way up mountains, with the wood of  sacrifice upon their backs (Gen.22:6).  The great difference was that Abraham was spared the final moment of horror, but Mary was not.  

I recognize the tremendous honor of being made a child of Abraham in baptism, one of the children of promise (Gal.4:28), but an even deeper honor at being made, with Jesus, a child of Mary (Jn.19: 27).  "Hail Mary, full of grace . . ."

Monday, July 30, 2012

The only truly "God-forsaken" place on earth

Alright, the title is a bit of literary flourish - it got your attention though, didn't it?  Because of God's immanence He is present to us absolutely anywhere.  I'm looking to get at another deep truth in this post though, one that a pastor shared with me twenty some years ago, and that returned to me while praying the Rosary last night:

Innermost chamber of Jesus' tomb
I was fourteen years old, just a year into seriously trying to live as a disciple.  My parish's new pastor, Fr. Bernard Wilkins, gave a slideshow presentation of his pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  I will never forget what he said when he came to Jesus' tomb within the Holy Sepulchre, "I put my head in to look and emerged . . . disappointed.  I realized that I had been expecting, at least unconsciously, to experience Jesus' presence there, but I felt nothing.  Then it occurred to me, 'the tomb is the one place you won't find Him'!"  Perhaps it was his guardian angel, repeating the question posed by his angelic comrades on the morning of the Resurrection, "Why do you seek the Living One among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen!" (Lk.24:5).

The Resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Spirit, is what transformed the Apostles into men of boldness.  The same Jesus Who had been raised to life after suffering death lived within them.  They were not crippled by threats of financial hardship, physical suffering, or martyrdom because they knew that "He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who dwells in you" (Rom.8:11).

Jesus' empty tomb is what allows us, today, to say, "If God is for us, then who cares who's against us?"  (my paraphrase of Rom.8:31)

Sunday, July 29, 2012

"Jesus said this to test him"

The title of this post comes from today's gospel reading on Jesus' multiplication of the loaves and the feeding of the five thousand.  Seeing the massive crowd coming upon them Jesus looked at the Apostle Philip and asked, "Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?"  And the very next thing we're told is how Jesus "said this to test him, because He Himself knew what he was going to do" (Jn.6:6).  Now Philip, like the vast majority of us, took stock of the situation and mumbled, "Over 200 days worth of my pay wouldn't be enough to give each of these people a mouth full!"

Jesus used the sight of the approaching crowd as an opportunity to draw out an expression of Philip's faith, and he uses a variety of intimidating circumstances in our lives to do the same thing.  Most of the time we respond like Philip.  What I want us to focus on is how Jesus already knew what he was going to do.  Philip was surprised by the predicament they found themselves in, but Jesus had already seen it coming and already knew how He was going to respond.  Philip had the opportunity, when Jesus asked the question to respond, "I don't know Lord, but You do.  How do You plan for us to feed them?  Tell me, and I'll do it."  

Next time we're caught off guard by a situation, and tempted to fear or despair, lets put the lesson from today's gospel into practice.  Recognize it as Jesus asking us a question, trying to draw out our trust in Him.  Lets answer Him directly in prayer, "Lord, I'm completely caught off guard, devastated by this; but You saw this moment coming long before I was ever born, and You know what I need to do to move forward.  Please show me, and I'll do it.  St. Philip, Blessed Mother, and all you angels and saints please ask Jesus to make his direction plain for me to see."  I'm not saying that the Lord is going to respond by multiplying loaves.  That was His answer to the situation on that particular day in Palestine.  But He does have an answer for you, even if it is to bestow the grace of martyrdom.  And His answer will build your faith and that of the crowd (family and friends) around you.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Culture War & The Armor of God

I read a great post from Gary Zimak this morning in which he said that "One of the biggest mistakes that we can make is to treat the Bible as an ordinary book. Although it may look like a book, it is so much more.  When we open up the pages of Sacred Scripture, we can actually hear Jesus speaking directly to us."  When I shared the link on Facebook, I discovered how that same section jumped out at my cousin Ann.  That inspired me to grab my Bible and spend a little time simply enjoying God's word this morning.  So glad I did.  I opened to one of my favorite books, Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians; and for some reason I was drawn toward his section about putting on the armor of God.  I have been feeling the pinch of the "culture war" the last few days - very, very lightly to tell the truth, but this was encouraging to me nonetheless:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may stand against the wiles of the devil.   For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph.6:10-13)
Very important to remember.  It's what allows us to remain charitable when we find ourselves engaged in debate with others.  No matter how outlandish their claims may become or how low the discourse may descend, we engage these human beings out of a sincere love and desire that their eyes be opened to reality.  These people are not the Enemy.  In our heart of hearts we want to maintain compassion for them because they have been deceived, tricked, their understanding of the world and how it was designed to function distorted.  We've all been there!  There are undoubtedly areas of our lives where we're still there, where the Lord's truth has yet to make its way.  So we come from love, not a false sense of superiority.  And we maintain that vision through the Lord's grace, "His might," because left to ourselves we'll give way to our baser instincts in the heat of battle.  A little further down in Ephesians, Paul gave us the means of doing so:
Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.  To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel. (Eph.6:18-19)
Whoa, Paul just made the segue to exactly the next point we need to consider.  (It's like he's "inspired," or something.)  We do need to speak up, to cooperate with the Lord Jesus in opening people's minds to God's vision of the world.  In our love for them we will sometimes need to be very blunt.  Out of compassion for them we will dig in our heels and take an unyielding stand on what human behaviors are objectively right and wrong.  And with God's grace we will endure the ramifications.  (Paul became God's "ambassador in chains." [Eph.6:20])  So we pray, and we speak, and we act.  But before we head out the door (or get online), we need to make sure we're dressed!
Stand therefore, having fastened the belt of truth around your waist, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; and besides all these taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the Evil One.  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph.6:14-17)
When I read those words today I was immediately struck by how much my understanding of them had changed from when I read them as a thirteen year old - that will probably be my next post.  For our purposes however lets unpack what Paul means, at least a little.  First, truth is to be our belt; it keeps our pants up and allows us to hang our sword, which is the "word of God."  We are convinced that there is an objective order out there, established by God and by-and-large discernible through reason.  When that is disputed by other Christians (and it is in our culture - abortion, same-sex "marriage," contraception for instance) then we need to clearly articulate the word of God, Scripture and Tradition.  We need to know how to interpret Scripture correctly, in the light of contextual research and Tradition, to cut through the fog so many have as to what it actually says.

We need to wear the "breastplate of righteousness," Christ's righteousness.  As we fight the devil and the darkness he has sown throughout this world, our  "vital organs" need to be protected by Christ's grace, and we need to call out for that grace to make us above reproach in our words and actions.  (Ouch - I need a lot of work.)  We don't want any behavior on our part to become an excuse for someone to ignore the Message we deliver.  

To keep our thinking straight and our actions consistent with those of Jesus' life, we need the "helmet of salvation."  When we're tempted to feel overwhelmed and intimidated by the forces rising against us we need to remember that the war has already been definitively won.  "In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer.  I have overcome the world!" (Jn.16:33).  We need to remember that our ultimate salvation depends upon continuing to live lives that give witness to Jesus and His Message.  "Because wickedness is multiplied, most people's love will grow cold.  But the one who endures to the end will be saved" (Mt.24:12-13).  "What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?  For whoever is ashamed of me and my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory" (Lk.9:25-26).

To bring Jesus' word to others, we need good support for our feet - the "equipment," or "readiness to spread" the "gospel of peace."  As said above we need study of God's word - present in Scripture and Tradition, but also available to us through observation of the natural order and the use of reason (abortion, contraception, same sex "marriage" - biology and natural law show the glaring problems in all of them).  We need to study this information with an eye to how we will articulate it to others.  Ultimately, our Christian Faith is a gospel, good news "of peace."  It puts us at peace with God, one another, and ourselves.  We share from a place of joy, knowing that our God and His vision is what will lead to human fulfillment and the proper functioning of society.   (I can't get Cardinal Dolan's face out of my mind - what a great witness for us.)  "In your hearts reverence Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to make a defense, to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it will gentleness and reverence" (1 Pet.3:15). In the end we don't want to simple convince people of the rightness or wrongness of certain behaviors; we want to introduce them into a relationship with Jesus of Nazareth!

And lets not forget that "shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the Evil One."  Satan will make use of the insults and actions of others to try and discourage us; he will whisper "it's hopeless" in our ears; "you're going to pay too high a price."  But we continue living and speaking as the Lord instructed knowing, "Blessed is the servant whom his master, when he comes, finds doing so" (Mt.24:46).

Let me give Paul, most truly the Holy Spirit, the final word:
Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. (Eph.6:13)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Aristotle 101 - Part III, Three Dimensions of a Person

All bodies have three dimensions: length, width, and height.  But as persons we human beings have at least three other dimensions, or “directions,” in which we can act as human beings: making, doing, and knowing.







We are artists. 
(art – anything artificial, or man-made)

We make everything from clothes, to paintings, to a large hadron collider.

We are moral and social beings.

We achieve, or fail to achieve, happiness by doing right or wrong.  What we do inevitabley puts us in contact with other people.

We are learners.

We acquire knowledge about nature, society, ourselves, and even knowledge itself
(as we are right now)

"Productive" thinking

"Practical" thinking

"Speculative," or "Theoretical" thinking

Concerned with
“the Beautiful”
“the Good”
“the Truth”
Previous posts in this thread:

Monday, July 23, 2012


I was thinking about all of the gifted people out there working to spread Jesus' Kingdom - of course Pope Benedict and the bishops, priests, and religious; but I was thinking specifically of the incredibly intelligent writers and speakers I enjoy on a regular basis:  Kevin Vost, Peggy Bowes, Kevin Lowry, Jennifer Fulwiler, Devin Rose, Brandon Vogt, Kari Burke, Karen Nolkemper, Mark Shea, Mike Aquilina, Scott Hahn, etc.  These people are so immensely gifted and doing such wonderful things. But truth is, it's Jesus doing it in them.  All of their gifts, talents, and achievements come from Jesus and are exercised by his grace.  Everything I admire in them, as abundant as it seems, is only a fraction of how those qualities exist in Him. "From his fullness we all received, grace upon grace" (Jn.1:16).

That puts me in awe of Jesus.  He is the "power and wisdom of God" (1 Cor.1:24).  Jesus "is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation ... He is before all things, and in him all things hold together ... in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell ... in him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col.1:15, 19; 2:3). 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Do You Ever Feel "Lost"?

The pastor of my parish, Monsignor Jack Schuler, gave a wonderful homily this morning that I wanted to pass along:  The Gospel reading was, "Seeing the people, [Jesus] felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd" (Mt.9:36).

Fr. Jack pointed out how, without a shepherd, sheep become lost.  He shared his experience of once being lost in a forest while hiking.  It sounded terrifying - not knowing which direction to turn, whether or not you were expending energy moving in the wrong direction, and whether you would make it to safety before darkness fell.  If we think far enough back into our childhoods, I bet each of us can recover a time when we were terrified by the feeling of being lost.

Fr. Jack moved from there to talking about how we figuratively describe someone as being lost.  They lack direction in life, focus.  This hit home with me because I had used that word "lost" to describe an acquaintance's behavior yesterday.  As Fr. Jack spoke I asked myself whether or not I sometimes feel lost.  I can be confused over events in my life, that's for sure; but no, I realized that deep down I never feel truly lost.  

As Father went on to point out, Jesus is the Shepherd that we turn to for direction.  I feel so incredibly grateful to Him for opening my eyes to the destination I am being led toward - eternal life with Him; and I'm grateful that no matter how confusing the events of life get, He keeps redirecting my eyes toward the goal of the journey.  Moments of grief and depression come, but in His mercy, Jesus has always put my eyes back on the prize and given me the assurance that He is a good enough shepherd to help me navigate through the present trouble and deliver me Home.  My heart broke for those who have yet to recognize Jesus' identity as their Shepherd - how hard it would be to face life without the overarching conviction that there is a Destination to be sought and a Shepherd who wants to intervene to bring you there.

I thought about the many ways Jesus' direction is available to us.  He speaks to us through Scripture about which actions lead to abundant life and which lead to the death of the soul.  He speaks through the Church's Tradition, the dogmas of our Faith.  He guides us through the questions of modern life (such as contraception and IVF) via the Church's Magisterium, the teaching of the Pope and Bishops.  And He nudges and speaks directly to our hearts during our times of prayer, especially during the celebration of the Eucharist.

Lets pray and look for ways to share Jesus' loving concern with those who seem to be wandering lost.  We all know the feeling.  We don't want to approach them with a triumphalistic, "I know the way."  Rather, like Jesus we want to feel compassion for them (Mt.9:36).  We should recall when we have felt lost and assure them that not only are we praying for them as they try to get their bearings, but we're here to talk and do what we can to help.  Share the way the Shepherd has led you and the difference that it has made. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Aristotle 101 - Part II, Bodies & Attributes

Yes, more notes from Mortimer Adler's Aristotle for Everybody.
Aristotle recognized that the universe contained more things that could be thought of than simply the physical bodies (things) we observe:  mathematical concepts, fictional characters, ideas and theories for example.  Adler promises to address those after he lays much more of the groundwork: 

When considering physical bodies, Aristotle drew a sharp distinction between 1) a body, and 2) the characteristics it possesses.  A rock, for example, is a body.  Lets say we have a rock that is grey and weigh 5 lbs.  Its color and weight are characteristics that belong to the rock.  The color and weight don't exist, in and of themselves, apart from the rock.  If the stone is blown up, you no longer have the weight "5 lbs."

The stone on the other hand does have existence.  You can change the stone's color by painting it purple, or its weight by grounding it down from 5 lbs. to 2 lbs.  But white has not magically transmuted into purple or 5 lbs. been changed into 2.  It is the rock that changed.  "Physical things, in short, are changeable.  Physical attributes are not changeable; they are the respects in which physical things change" (p.13).

There are three principal respects in which things change:
1) in quanity - weight or size
2) in quality  - shape, color, texture
3) in place    - move from one place to another

The most important attributes are those which do not change as long as that body exists.  These are the attributes that help us in defining something's nature.
Examples:  certain metals conduct electricity; mammals suckle their young; human beings ask questions

Human beings are physical things, bodies.  But we're more than that.  We are rational animals - not just things, but persons.  Aristotle is going to teach us about our three dimensions as bodies, as well as three dimensions unique to us as persons.
Previous post in this thread:  Aristotle 101 - Introduction

Friday, July 20, 2012

Aristotle 101 - Introduction

Scripture and Theology - I've spent many years reading them and love them.  Philosophy?  I consider myself woefully inadequate, and have been trying to remedy that.  Trying to read someone like Aquinas however is very difficult because I do not have the vocabulary down.  To start making some headway I have been reading an introduction to the thought of one of Aquinas' heroes, the Greek philosopher Aristotle.   This book came recommended to me from Kevin Vost, Mortimer Adler's Aristotle for Everybody.  My intent is to post my study notes here on the blog so that you can make use of them too.

Adler's purpose in distilling the philosophy of Aristotle for modern readers is to help us think more clearly.  The beauty of Aristotle in his opinion is the way he used common human experiences and notions common to all of us - thing, body, mind, change, cause, etc. - to reason about our existence.  These commonalities are accessible by all, unlike the scientific experimentation that goes on behind the doors of a laboratory and are only read about by non-specialists such as ourselves.

Categorizing things is where Adler begins his exploration of Aristotle.  Categorizing is so basic to our human existence that it's practiced by children playing "Guess Who?"

The most basic categories into which we divide things (or bodies, to use Aristotle's terminology) are living and non-living.  All living things (bodies) take nourishment, grow, and reproduce while inanimate objects (bodies) do not.  We can subdivide living bodies into the categories of plant or animal.  Granted, there seem to be bodies on the borderline between living and non-living or between plant and animal; some things (bodies) have characteristics that seem to straddle the dividing line. 

That we have borderline cases is actually good though.  Unless our minds recognized the clear-cut distinctions between something like a rock and a rabbit, we wouldn't have to puzzle over the borderline cases.  But the human mind does recognize these larger categories, and that sets us apart from all other animals!  Other animals show intelligence, but they do not ask one another questions about the nature of things and work to answer them.

Our minds recognize these categories because it is able to discern the nature possessed by all the individual things making up that category, or class.  Artistotle discerned five main classes of physical things and placed them in an ascending order.  Each subsequent class possesses the characteristics of that which comes before it in the chain, as well as some new characteristic that sets it apart:

Inanimate Bodies
1) Elementary Bodies - have weight, occupy space, and are composed of only one element.
2) Composite Bodies - have weight, occupy space, and are composed of two or more elements 
Animate Bodies
3) Plants - have all the characteristics of composite bodies, but also take nourishment, grow, and reproduce
4) Animals - do this, as well as move and employ additional powers of sense such as touch, sight, hearing, taste, and smell.
5) Human beings - in addition to all that has come before, possess rational thought

The major differences indicated above, that separate one class of bodies from another, are essential differences.  All the other differences within a class are superficial, or accidental differences.  People have tried to divide our class into many different sub-classes (race, height, hair color, I.Q., place of origin, etc.), but these are all accidental differences.  Rational thought (asking "what" and "why") is the common property of human nature; it's what sets us apart as a class unto ourselves; all the other differences between us are superficial. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Are You Body Conscious?

Who isn't, right?  I feel it every day when I go to the pool.  After my swim today though, as I was sitting poolside and letting the kids play, I experienced a different kind of "body consciousness."  I was praying the Glorious Mysteries and realized that it had been awhile since I had really been struck by the awesomeness of Jesus' Resurrection.  The Lord that I am praying too is not just spirit, He is flesh and blood!  He is physically alive, like me - well, more than me! 

The day will come when He will share this bodily resurrection with all of us.  The Blessed Mother already experiences it; that's what the Assumption was about.  It wasn't enough for Jesus that His Mother experience eternal life in her spirit; He wanted her to experience it in her body - the same body that carried him to term, nursed him, and served him in hundreds of thousands of ways during earthly life.  And that's what He is going to do for you and me too.

These truths get at the value we Christians attribute to the body.  Don't confuse Christians' talk about bodily health and fitness with society's worship of the body. Catholicism knows that we are, to use Aquinas' terminology, hylomorphic beings. We are a union of body and soul; that's our human nature.  Jesus saved us by offering Himself to the Father in both, not one or the other; and we are responsible to God for the care of both. "The flesh is the hinge of salvation" (CCC 1015). As Paul put it, "I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified" (1 Cor.9:27).  Our cognizance of the importance of the body can even be seen in how we express salvation - it's not a matter of "faith alone" but of faith (interior) and works (exterior).  That's the big picture, the "full, body shot" if you will (James 2:14-20); and it's Good News.

I want to recognize my body and those of others for the gifts they are - allowing us, like Jesus, to express our love for God and others.  No need to fret over what people are thinking when they see me at the pool; that's such a myopic view of the value of our bodies, and I want the joy of God's big picture.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Moral Relativism - Making Conversation

Here are some common things you will hear from people who subscribe to moral relativism and brief responses that you can use in challenging them to rethink their position.  Again, let me acknowledge my debt to Beckwith & Koukl's Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air 

“You shouldn’t force your morality on me.”
Is that your conviction?  You honestly believe that?
Well, my conviction is that I should try and convince others of my moral beliefs.  Are you telling me that my convictions are false?  How can you say your convictions are true and mine are false?   What gives you the right to force YOUR CONVICTIONS on me?

“You shouldn’t force your morality on me”
Why Not?  If you think about it, you are trying to force your morality on me - your belief that it is wrong for me to try and "force" my beliefs on someone else.  You are trying to get me to change my behavior; and that's the very thing you just told me not to do.

“Who are you to say?”
You can respond with, “Who are YOU to say, ‘Who are you to say?'  I’m not asking you to agree with me because I’m some kind of moral authority.  I’m asking you to explore this issue with me rationally, in the belief that intelligence and reason can lead us to an understanding of right and wrong.

“Jesus said, ‘Judge not lest you be judged.’”
I like to respond, “and what was Jesus next statement?”  It was “condemn not, lest you be condemned.”
When Jesus said that we are not to judge, he meant it in the sense of not concluding that an individual was damned in the eyes of God. He did not tell us to refrain from judging actions.   
HE SAID THIS IN THE MIDST OF THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT.  It’s a three chapter sermon on what ACTIONS, on what BEHAVIORS, are virtuous and which are sinful - which behaviors will lead you to the kingdom of heaven or Gehenna!
Tolerance is given to people, not ideas or behavior.  I won’t despair of a pedophile's salvation, God can bring anyone to repentance.  But I do want him incarcerated, and I will shout that pedophilia is a disgusting wrong from whatever tower you’ll allow me.  I’ll do that for a long list of human behaviors.  
Jesus certainly has not revealed to me who is going to heaven or hell - there is such a myriad of variables involved that no one but Him should ever attempt to make that kind of statement.  What Jesus has done is tell to us, objectively speaking, what actions lead to each destination.  No one but He is aware of an individual soul's culpability.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Battling Moral Relativsim - Resources

Hey, here are those links to resources I promised on today's radio show. 

Lets start with links to writings from Blessed Pope John Paul II:
Faith & Reason (Fides et Ratio)
The Splendour of Truth (Veritatis Splendor)

Next, let me recommend a very readable, down-to-earth presentation of the issue, Francis Beckwith & Gregory Koukl's Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air

Now, for the more philosphically-minded out there, looking for a bit of a challenge.  Let me point you to pertinent sections from St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa:
Natural Law, Summa Theologica > First Part of the Second Part > Question 94
Truth, Summa Theologica > First Part > Question 16

And then there a some helpful articles on these same points in the Catholic Encyclopedia (they break down Aquinas' thought a bit more):
Natural Law

If you come back tomorrow I'll put up some of those tips Dr. Vost and I shared for talking with people who embrace moral relativism.

Friday, July 13, 2012

An Analogy for the Relationship Between Different Groups of Christians

I find the image of the family ideal for considering the relationship between different Christian groups.

My siblings, Andy and Amanda, and I have the same set of parents. You could say that our parents’ life adheres in us; any DNA test would show that we came from the same source. Now if my teenage sister was to strike out on her own – tell dad that she appreciated his advice over the years but could handle things on her own now; moved out of the house; stopped coming over for Sunday dinner; heck, even changed her last name – none of this would change the objective, biological fact that she is my sister. We would still have the same “life” of our parents within us. In fact, I bet she would unconsciously use a lot of Kapler phrases, mannerisms, and traditions. Oh, she may choose never to speak to my brother or I again; and yet, in a very real sense she could never be completely rid of us – our blood ties and common upbringing ensure it. We will always be family. What is true of the Kapler family (at least in this regard) is also true of God’s Family, the Church.

There is only one Family of God, stretching from heaven down to earth. The heavenly branch of the Family is in perfect unity; the earthly has obviously not been as fortunate. What is common to every member of the Family is that we have the same Life of God adhering in our souls; each of us has been born from the same “imperishable seed” (1 Peter 1:23). People of every “tribe and tongue and people and nation”(Rev. 5:9) are welcome in this Family, and for that reason it took the name “Catholic,” or universal. The Founder of the Family, enthroned in Heaven, has raised up the Pope as a visible source of unity - an older brother if you will, to image the Father’s love and care for us. It is Jesus’ and the Father’s will that we love him as an older brother and respect and obey him in Jesus’ physical absence. If one of God’s children, or a group of them, decide to “move out of the house” – no longer feel bound to the Pope’s decisions in disciplinary matters or doctrinal pronouncements, abstain from the Eucharist, change their name from Catholic (to Lutheran, Calvinist, Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, etc.) - that wouldn’t change the objective fact that we still draw our life from the same Heavenly Father. You might say that we have the same “spiritual DNA;” maybe we can’t confirm it in a laboratory, but I am sure angels and demons see the Family resemblance quite clearly. Nothing can erase this spiritual reality. And not only is there the connection on the level of the spirit, but so many who “moved out of the house” held onto a lot of the Family’s outward “characteristics”, or “habits” – the Bible, Sunday worship (for the most part), the early Ecumenical Councils’ statements on the Trinity and Jesus’ divine and human natures, baptism (albeit with different emphasis), and the order of worship (of many groups). There are other similarities, but these are major ones which leap out at me. 

Although my separated brothers and sisters may not agree, I recognize them, objectively/spiritually, as united to the Catholic Church. I believe that that is how the Lord Jesus views all of us. Oh the visible, or formal, unity may not be there – the same as if my sister cut off her ties with my parents and I - but the common origin and family characteristics remain.
Excerpted from Chp.13 of The God Who is Love: Explaining Christianity From Its Center

Thursday, July 12, 2012


My good friend Cheryl Dickow has just co-authored a book with Teresa Tomeo titled Wrapped Up: God's Ten Gifts for Women.  Their publisher even created a trailer for it that is running on YouTube:  click here to watch.  I highly encourage you to check it out; these are two ladies with incredible depth and a ton of encouragement to share with other women.  The book is already available for pre-order through Amazon.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


"Yeah, she caught my eye, as we walked on by.
She could see from my face that I was flying high,
And I don't think that I'll see her again, but we shared a moment that will last till the end.

You're beautiful. You're beautiful.
You're beautiful, it's true.
I saw your face in a crowded place,
And I don't know what to do,
'Cause I'll never be with you."

Heard this song by James Blunt as I was driving this morning, and a few things came to mind:

I had an experience like this some years back.  I was at a study group when a young lady entered the room, and I literally had to catch my breath!  Her face, especially her eyes, seemed radiant.  My heart honestly skipped a beat.  There was no forethought nor lust; it was just my immediate reaction to her beauty.

Christians recognize these transcendent moments as pointers to God, the truly Beautiful.  “For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator” (Wisdom 13:5).  How amazing that God gives we human beings a participation in His beauty!  That's part of the Theology of the Body - our physicality is a window on the Divine.

I never saw the young woman from the study group again.  I've had many fleeting encounters in my life though - that cool person that I met at a party while on vacation, or the neat people I've struck up conversations with in waiting rooms.  We're each on different life paths, but our lives intersected for a moment; and I glimpsed someone that I would have liked to know more of.  It's natural to feel a tinge of sadness, of longing.

What snaps me out of it is a fact:  God's plan is to give me an eternity, a literal eternity, to get to know that person.  Our paths might have only crossed for a moment here and now, but He intends for all of them to culminate at the same place - before His throne.  I don't just recall this after the fleeting encounters either; I've recalled it at graduations, job changes, and the funerals of loved ones.  It's a reality that gives meaning to all of the experiences of the "almost, but not yet" of this life.  

In the end, not only will encounter God's goodness and beauty through the children He has made, but directly, "face-to-face."
Oh yes, and the final thing James Blunt's song always make me think of - my daughter Lily.  During her life hundreds of thousands of people will look at her and have to catch their breath . . . but I'm blessed to spend every single day with her, here on earth and hopefully (in my case at least) in heaven.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Life I Dreamed - Book Review

Truth told, I rarely read fiction.  My coffee table is covered by theology books, and when I do need a good “story” I get it the way God intended – the SyFy Channel.  When I heard “pro-life novel” however, my interest was piqued.  I am thrilled to report that Kari Burke’s The Life I Dreamed was well worth my break with tradition.

Burke has crafted a novel that advances the culture of life without being preachy.  She uses the  interaction between her multi-dimensional characters to paint a realistic vision – something much needed in Christian fiction –of both the struggles and opportunities facing people of faith in the present culture. 

Burke’s protagonist, Emmy O’Brien, could be one of a dozen young mothers I know:  devoted to the teachings of the Church but struggling with the ramifications of living them in the day-to-day.   Her husband is a youth minister heavily involved with the lives of the kids from the parish.  She admires his devotion to them, but at the same time she’s extremely frustrated with how his job leaves her with the lion’s share of the work in parenting their own kids.  Her husband’s work for the Church also means living on a shoe-string budget.  Combine that with couple’s refusal to use contraception, their four young children, and their families’ and friends’ consternation with their Catholic lifestyle; and you have a young woman just barely making it emotionally from one day to the next. 

Imagine how frustrated and overwhelmed this character feels when her husband comes to her with the request that they help a pregnant and homeless sixteen year old.  Seriously, how much can be asked of one person?  This book explores that question in an extraordinarily honest way.  It doesn’t show angels and demons fighting spiritual battles behind the scenes.  As much of a reality as that is, this story sticks to what we see and hear and feel – and how God’s grace is at work through seemingly mundane channels.  There are no magical fixes in this book; rather, it’s the kind of hard fought redemption we actually see going on around us.  And that’s what makes this an authentic story of hope!

If you find yourself fed up with the state of the world or dragged down by the pressures you face, I recommend foregoing the escapism of television for a couple of nights to let yourself be nourished by The Life I Dreamed.  It’s a story about a family just like yours – Catholic, struggling, but able to rise to the occasion through the grace of God.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

"Who Touched Me?"

Today's Gospel reading (Mark 5:21-43) was a really good reminder for me about how I live my life with God.  A woman afflicted with "hemorrhages" for 12 years (possibly what we today call endometrioisis) came up behind Jesus, convinced that if she could just touch the tassels on his garment (tzitzit, Num.15:38-39) she would be healed.  I was very struck by what came next:
Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him, turned around in the crowd and asked, "Who has touched my clothes?"
But his disciples said to him, "You see how the crowd is pressing upon you, and yet you ask, 'Who touched me?'"
And he looked around to see who had done it.
The woman, realizing what had happened to her, approached in fear and trembling. She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth.
He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction."

There were a crowd of people in physical contact with Jesus, but only one person really "touched" him; and it was her faith that allowed her to.

It reminded me that there is a danger I need to be wary of, a fine line that always needs to be walked.  It's important to have fixed times of prayer throughout the day.  It's also important to be faithful to specific forms of prayer; for me that's Sunday Mass and the daily Rosary.  I do a lot of spontaneous prayer in addition to those, but those are the meat and potatoes of my spiritual life.  The daily Rosary ensures that I make time to meditate on Jesus' life in Scripture; I have a set time every day for God to speak to me through His Word.  Sometimes I receive incredible flashes of insight, but much of the time it is just thinking on the mysteries and trying not to get distracted.

So there is that, and it is good.  But I need to be careful that I do not let prayer become routine.  That doesn't mean that I break my commitment to the Rosary - or even worse Sunday Mass - but that I strive to always remain cognizant that I am in contact with the Living God!  It's faith in a Person - trusting in, clinging to, and relying on God in absolutely everything I think, say, and do - that allows me to "touch" Jesus, to receive the grace He wants to pour out.