Tag Archives: creation

Eternity

2 Peter 3:12-15, Psalm 90, Mark 12:13-17

‘But in keeping with His promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.’ (2 Peter 3:13). This is the verse that struck me today because it speaks of eternity. What exactly do Christians mean by ‘Eternity’?

In popular speech, saying that something is “eternal” means that it lasts for an unlimited amount of time. From a Christian perspective, this is incorrect because the term “eternal” means OUTSIDE OF TIME.

We could look at the first verse of the Bible to give us a clearer understanding: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1). St. Thomas Aquinas states that this single verse alone reveals that our Eternal God created four things: 1) Heaven. 2) The Angelic Order (Angels). 3) Time. 4) Corporeal Matter (Earth).

This is why we say that God is ‘eternal’. He was before Time. God simply, ‘is’. That is why when Moses asked for God’s name, His answer was, “I am who I am” (Ex 3:14). This is one of the most important verses which all Christians need to know. The ORDER of creation is very deliberate. It is important to realize that God created Heaven and Angels BEFORE Time and Earth. That is why we must believe Angels exist.

Christians who de-emphasize the existence of Angels are denying their own spirituality. Angels are continuously present from the first pages of Scripture, all the way to the end. The problem today though, is that we live in the age of man, of self-consciousness, of science. That is why the world loses belief in Angels, Heaven and God. This is why the world also loses hope in ‘Eternity’.

Reason demands angels.
— Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

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Originally posted on Instagram.

How Do You Know There’s a God?

Often I get asked a few questions:
How do you know there’s a God?
How do you know that Christianity is the right religion?

Faith, of course. But never without reason.

As children, when we see something, we intuitively always inquire about its origins and inner workings.

Where did this table come from? Who made it?Earth
Where did the book come from? How is it made?
How come the telly can switch on with a flick of the button?

It seems reasonable that a child asks such questions. It is after all in our nature to be drawn towards the truth.
Imagine a parent now tells the child that the answer to the above questions is: “Chance”.
Stupid parent at best, lazy parent at worst.

Somehow… when it comes to the biggest questions of the world: “How did the world come to be?”… We seem to be content with the answer “it just happened by CHANCE.”

ABSURDITY? Perhaps.

Quoting Pope St. John Paul II (General Audience of Wed, 10 July 1985) because he has expressed it so concisely:

“To speak of chance for a universe which presents such a complex organization in its elements, and such a marvelous finality in its life would be equivalent to giving up the search for an explanation of the world as it appears to us. In fact, this would be equivalent to admitting effects without a cause. It would be an abdication of human intelligence which would thus refuse to think, to seek a solution for its problems.”

Prayers today for people who find it hard to even conceive of a day where they might believe that there is a creator of this world.

Fides Quaerens Intellectum, faith seeking understanding.

May God grant you the grace to believe so that you may understand.

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Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

The Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

By guest writer Victor R. Claveau, MJ.

Let me tell you a story that will illustrate one of the many reasons why the Catholic Church teaches that Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

Not long ago, I was invited to address the Bible and Philosophy students at a Protestant High School. The teacher and I were to meet a few days before I was to speak to the students, to get to know one another and to discuss the schedule. We met on a Sunday evening at 5:30 pm.

A few minutes after I arrived at his home, the doorbell rang, and four other people entered. As it turned out, these people were the teacher’s pastor, the pastor’s wife, and two other teachers. I was a little taken aback by the circumstances as the teacher did not tell me that he had invited other guests.

After brief introductions, our host invited his friends to ask me questions about the Catholic religion.

As I began to answer their questions, one of the teachers interjected time and again trying to explain the Protestant position. After two or three interruptions, I finally said, ‘Everyone here, including me, knows what you believe, now is your chance to find out what the Catholic Church really teaches and the foundations for those beliefs. I did not come here to argue but am willing to explain and possibly build a bridge between us.’

From then on, we had a worthwhile dialogue.

I had been answering their questions for almost three hours when the Pastor’s wife posed the question: ‘Why do you believe that you are really eating Jesus when you have communion in your church?’

Thank you for the question,” I said. “Let me try to explain by asking you a few questions.

Who created the universe?” I asked.

“God”, she answered.

“And how did God create?” I asked further.

“He spoke,” she answered.

“Right,” I said, “now let’s look at the Book of Genesis, Chapter 1:1-30 and follow along with me as I read.” Then I read the following passages.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light”, (Genesis 1:1-4)

“What happened when God said, ‘Let there be light’,” I asked.

“There was light”, she answered.

“Yes,” I said, “in verse 4 it says that ‘there was light.’ God spoke and there was light”.

And God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And it was so (Genesis 1:6-7).

And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so (Genesis 1:9).

And God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, upon the earth.” And it was so (Genesis 1:11).

And God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years and let them be lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so (Genesis 1:14-15)

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so (Genesis 1:24).

And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so (Genesis 1-29-30).

In each of these creation accounts,” I said, “God declared something to be and ‘It was so.’”

Let’s go to the Book of Isaiah.” ‘So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it’ (Isaiah 55:11).

“Doesn’t this passage indicate that whenever God declares something to be, then it becomes a reality at that instant?” I asked.

“Yes,” she agreed.

I went on.

“In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus said to the fig tree ‘May no fruit ever come from you again!’ And the fig tree withered at once (21:19). Isn’t that correct?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“When the hemorrhaging women reached out through the crowd and touched Jesus’ cloak, she was healed by her faith. ‘And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, ‘Who touched my garments?’ (Mark 5:30). Jesus had the power to heal.

“When Jesus said to the adulterous woman that her sins were forgiven, were they in fact forgiven?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Jesus withered the fig tree, healed the hemorrhaging woman, and forgave the adulterous woman. How could he do this?” I asked.

And the Pastor’s wife answered, “Because Jesus is God.”

“Yes, of course,’ I said, “we all believe that Jesus is God and as God He has no limitations.”

Then I went on to further explain:

“And Jesus (God) said, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51).

“And Jesus (God) said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever” (John 6:53-58).

“And Jesus (God) said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mark 14:22-24).

During the Last Supper, Jesus held bread in His sacred hands and declared that the bread was in fact His Body.

“Who. Not what, was Jesus holding in his hands at that moment?” I asked.

There was a pregnant silence for a few seconds, before the pastor’s wife said, “Himself”.

I pressed on and asked, “Who. Not what, was Jesus holding in His hands when He declared the contents of the cup to be His Blood?”

“Himself” She answered.

“Yes,” I said, “He actually gave His Body and Blood to the Apostles to eat and drink. Certainly, this is a mystery, one of the greatest mysteries in the history of the world. These elements still looked and tasted like bread and wine, but in fact they had become in reality Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, simply because, as God, He declared them to be so.

“‘Christ held Himself in His hands when He gave His body to His disciples.”

I felt as though I was on a roll, so I said, “Let me explain further”.

“Jesus went on to say, ‘Do this in memory of me’. What did He mean by the word ‘this’?

“He had just changed bread and wine into His Body and Blood, and He commanded His Apostles to do the same. At that moment Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Priesthood, and during the Mass, when a duly ordained priest says the same words Jesus spoke, the Holy Spirit changes bread and wine into the reality of Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.

“The faith of the Apostolic and early Church in the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Eucharist is attested by the words of Saint Paul and the Fathers; by the discipline of the Secret: the symbols and illustrations found in the catacombs. The fact that the Church from the very beginning believed in the Real Presence proves that the doctrine must have been delivered to her by her Founder.

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Victor R. Claveau, MJ has been a full-time Catholic evangelist since 1989 and is a graduate of the Diocese of Melbourne School of Evangelization. As the Director of Catholic Footsteps “The Evangelization Station” in Angels Camp, California, he has lectured on Catholic belief and evangelization both nationally and internationally.

Do We Interpret the Bible Literally?

During Religious Moral education (RME) lessons in school, the question was asked: “Do we take the Bible literally? If we don’t take the Bible literally, then does it mean that it’s not true?”

I replied inviting the students to compare the following texts:

“Looking into a patient’s eyes can provide a doctor with a wealth of information regarding your general health. Swelling or puffiness around the eyes may indicate allergies or infections or even kidney problems. Your doctor will compare both eyes and note any signs suggestive of allergies like redness, irritation or small lines that indicate persistent rubbing.”
— from a health magazine

and

“Look into my eyes
You will see
What you mean to me
Search your heart
Search your soul
And when you find me there,
you’ll search no more.”
— from Bryan Adams’ song Everything I Do

Is the science text true and the song text false?

I think that if an eye surgeon were to examine my corneas and say that he has seen “what I mean to him”, I would sue for malpractice.

Then again if I were to tell my wife when celebrating our wedding anniversary that “I see signs of allergies… small lines” when I look into her eyes, I would be sued for malpractice.

We concluded the lesson by saying that yes, we take the Bible literally, but according to the correct literary genre, which is dependent on the intention of the author.

Not all texts are meant to be written and understood in the same way for the same purpose.

A literal and a symbolic text are true in their OWN WAY but not true in the SAME WAY.

We concluded the lesson by pointing out that we need to use the same lens when we look at Genesis chapter one and scientific descriptions of the beginning of the Universe.

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Image: PD-US

The Joy and Dignity of Work

No man is born into the world whose work is not born with him.
– James Russell Lowell, poet

Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure. But the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. [F]ailure means a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself to be anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena where I believe I truly belonged. [R]ock bottom became the solid foundation on which I built my life.
– J.K. Rowling, Harvard commencement address

Work is often seen as a miserable burden. It can be stressful, soul-destroying and, at worst, suicide-inducing. When I was admitted to court as a solicitor, the presiding judge spent half her welcome speech advising us not to become so consumed by work as to neglect simple things like walking the dog, breaks from work which can preserve mental health. However, the sad thing is that in the modern workplace, humans are often treated as machines and pressured to keep producing more and more. The thing is, machines too need breaks before they break down. Even God took a rest after His splendid work of creation! In Israel, the ultra-orthodox Jews are careful not to do even a smidgen of work on the Sabbath Day, for fear of placing themselves above God. They hire Gentiles to work the elevator buttons.

Work is in fact a gift from God, a loving invitation to participate in His ongoing work of creation and salvation. The word “salvation” comes from the Latin salus, meaning “health”. When work is performed well, it contributes to the health of the individual and of society. It gives us purpose and joy when we are able to create useful and beautiful things, establish order in the world around us, serve others, and provide for those who depend on us. As a child gains confidence and matures when entrusted with responsibility for housework, so do we mature as persons when granted opportunities for productive work, growing in likeness to God our Father and building His kingdom.

Yet, in today’s post-industrial society, work is rife with pitfalls. Some jobs are stressful because they now demand so much multi-tasking as to obscure the original point of the job – one thinks of teaching, where in some places teachers are now expected to perform as social workers and substitute parents, while taking on more administrative tasks as well. Others are disheartening because they involve a single repetitive, mundane task, as in factory work. A friend of mine who works in a carrot factory during summer breaks shared how he yearns for meaningful work which employs his intellectual gifts, not deadening tasks which make him feel like a mere cog in a machine.

Some people shy away from work, while others idolize work and its proceeds, seeing work or the acquisition of money as their sole purpose in life. As Australia has a welfare system, some people subsist on the dole, turning down jobs – this is borne out by a factory-owner I know, who often has people asking him for work, only to make excuses and disappear after a day or two, having fulfilled their quota of job applications. My boyfriend just started work picking strawberries at a farm, which wants to employ Australians, but is manned mainly by Asian workers because the Australians tend to vanish after a few weeks. At the other extreme, my carrot-picking friend related how a Taiwanese worker griped about having Sundays off, because he wanted to make more money to spend on gambling. Both extremes demonstrate a lack of virtue, succumbing to either sloth or greed. Virtue is found in a healthy appreciation of honest work, while not mistaking it as one’s entire reason for existence.

Work is an essential part of human life, building character, bringing us into connection with others, and keeping our societies functioning. At a disability support training workshop which I attended yesterday, the presenter noted that we usually identify people with their occupations, because their work shapes who they are. As a mother of a disabled son, she knew how important work is for the human being, and helped her non-verbal son start a fruit and veg distribution business. Now when he goes out for walks, his customers greet him, and he feels a sense of pride in his work, besides having gained a certain status in society.

When one has worked well and is then able to disengage from work, one is better able to appreciate periods of rest and leisure. I have found that while searching for full-time employment, it is difficult for me to simply relax and enjoy a good book, because of the worry that comes with having something important undone. However, whether one is employed or not, all circumstances are opportunities to trust in God, offering Him the uncertainty of this transient life, at peace in knowing that whatever state one is in, one finds true rest and purpose in Him Who is Love, the source and end of our being.

Our stories are all stories of searching. We search for a good self to be and for good work to do. We search to become human in a world that tempts us always to be less than human or looks to us to be more. We search to love and to be loved. And in a world where it is often hard to believe in much of anything, we search to believe in something holy and beautiful and life-transcending that will give meaning and purpose to the lives we live.
– Frederick Buechner

We must not drift away from the humble works, because these are the works nobody will do. It is never too small. We are so small we look at things in a small way. But God, being Almighty, sees everything great. Therefore, even if you write a letter for a blind man or you just go sit and listen, or you take the mail for him, or you visit somebody or bring a flower to somebody—small things—or wash clothes for somebody, or clean the house. Very humble work, that is where you and I must be. For there are many people who can do big things. But there are very few people who will do the small things.
– Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Love: A Fruit Always in Season

Let those who think their work has no value recognise that by fulfilling their insignificant tasks out of love for God, those tasks assume supernatural worth. The aged who bear the taunts of the young, the sick crucified to their beds, the street cleaner and the garbage collector, the chorus girl who never had a line, the unemployed carpenter – all these will be enthroned above dictators, presidents, kings, and Cardinals if a greater love of God inspires their humbler tasks than inspires those who play nobler roles with less love.
– Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen

All work is holy. Through it we walk the royal road of Christ.
– Servant of God Catherine Doherty, “The Holiness of Work

God as Poet

By guest writer LeighAnna Schesser.

Recently, a friend wrote to me saying, “I’m skimming Jesus of Nazareth and Pope Benedict XVI mentions all the mountains in Jesus’ life (temptation, teaching, prayer, transfiguration,) and it just struck me as, well, really poetic. Do you have any thoughts regarding God as a Poet or something similar?”

Perhaps because I am a writer myself, the idea of God as a poet delights me. My first articulate thought was that, of course God is a poet; He is a craftsman and an artist, and we and the universe we inhabit are His great work. But something else came immediately to mind as well, and it was only in writing a response to my friend that I began to elucidate the connections:

Let me begin to reply to that question with another question: have you read the last paragraph of G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy lately? Allow me to refresh your memory; it’s one of my all-time favorite passages:

“Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian. And as I close this chaotic volume I open again the strange small book from which all Christianity came; and I am again haunted by a kind of confirmation. The tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers whoever thought themselves tall. His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city. Yet He concealed something. Solemn supermen and imperial diplomats are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the Temple, and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet He restrained something. I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.”

If God is a poet – and of course He is, as He is all good things – then this is the best encapsulation of how and why that I can think of.

Jesus, the first and final Word, is the foundation and fulfillment of all communication. The universe and everything in it was spoken into being through and by the Word of God. The Source of all poetry and all that with which poetry concerns itself is both Poet and Poem – and reader/audience. 

Poetry is distilled, refined, artful communication. Even if the poet, speaker, message, and audience are a single person, the author, it is genuine communication between parts of the self, ideas, and (usually) an imagined audience. (If that sounds trinitarian, it absolutely should.) All that poets do, in their minds and in their output, is a dim reflection of the self-contained communion of the Triune God, and His awesome creative process recorded in the first chapters of Genesis and the Gospel of John. Thus Tolkien’s word for the artist’s labor: subcreation. Like a nesting doll, our efforts to create – in our souls and in action – are within and depend on the Creation.

Creation of Adam

There are few more potent landscapes within that Creation for encountering sublimity than the mountaintop and the desert. The mountaintop and the desert are archetypical locations, liminal places in reality and imagination, intimately familiar to two very similar types of people: the artist and the mystic. Those who seek Art, find God; those who seek God, find Art. Art, perhaps especially poetry, is – metaphorically – a kind of alchemy. At one time alchemy was understood to be primarily a spiritual process: what one did with metals and physical transformations was only an aid to, and a sign of, the purification of the soul. That’s an apt image for how art works, especially when one understands that the essence of art, especially poetry, is refining: as Chesterton put it, the essence of every painting is the frame – the limitation – where one draws the line. It’s the cutting away and the framing that makes the art. Just so, the mountaintop and the desert are places where the world is refined, reduced, delineated: the extraneous is stripped away in the landscape, and so, in a kind of alchemy, that landscape helps strip away the extraneous in our outer and inner selves, leaving us primed, open, and ready to encounter the elusive Divine. 

On the mountaintop or in the desert, we leave behind the company of the world for the privacy of an intimate relationship with the ultimate Other. But the thing about the poet, often more so than the mystic (though not always), is that urge to communicate which prompted going out and up to begin with, is also the desire to return to the rest of the world – to bring back what one has learned and experienced and sing it out. (In the mystic, this is primarily an evangelistic urge, though art can be its fruit – St. John of the Cross comes to mind – whereas for the poet that is reversed.) Yet even in that return and openness, there is something personal, something private, something kept to oneself, that belongs only to and within that Divine relationship. Chesterton sees that private element of the relationship between the Son and the Father as mirth.

The best poetry is, as Robert Frost so famously said, the kind where the poet learns something by writing the poem; there must be surprise. Whether a new insight, the revelation of something we didn’t know we knew, or the fresh perspective offered by juxtaposition, this surprise is, I believe, the same kind of surprise that is the essence of mirth. When you examine what makes something funny, one or more of those three ways of surprise are usually at the heart of it. 

We have an unfortunate cultural preconception that poets must be black-clad, brooding, and Always Very Serious; it’s tied into the sharply mistaken notion that angst, unhappiness, and suffering are the only worthwhile fuel of art. The concept of the funny in poetry is almost completely restricted these days to “light verse” and doggerel. We similarly conceive of the truly religious person and the mystic as grave. In secular parlance, that would be conflated with joyless and mirthless, solemn. Yet as the world mischaracterizes happiness, so too it does not understand what lies in the depths of “solemnity.”

Here we really come down to it: joy can be painful. Joy and happiness are separate from pleasure. (Whereas the world says only pleasure is happiness.) What should be equally yoked to this concept of “Catholic joy” but is often forgotten, is this: mirth can be solemn. Something serious can be very, very funny, and something that causes laughter can be weighty and awe-full.1

Jesus is the God who weeps, who rages, who suffers. Emmanuel, God-with-us, means not just that he walked the earth but that he shares fully in the human condition (save sin, of course.) In Chesterton’s image of His hidden mirth, I see the sharp outline of His humanity, and, veiled from our weak sight, His Godhead – the surprise of divinity, the divine surprise, the final, satisfying twist and fitting conclusion at the end of the poem. The Triune God, revealed in the person of Jesus, is and delivers the surprise, the whole picture, the final punchline, the definitive communication; the part that takes our breath away, moves us to tears, and delights us. 

Is God a poet? He is the Word who comes to us and goes from us, in continuous dialogue; the Word that seeks the mountaintop and the desert and then returns, to bring us to them, and them to us; He is the Word that absolutely reveals, yet remains mysterious in His essence; the Word that is so beautiful it wounds us,2 and yet, in the wounding, makes us whole.

1 It is important to distinguish this idea from the way it’s appropriated by some comedians. There’s a world of difference between the breathtaking union of the mirthful and the solemn, and laughing at something tragic or making a joke of – stripping the dignity from – something that should not be made light of.
2 Pope Benedict XVI elaborates in several places on the concept of God as the beauty that wounds in order to heal, including in an address at Rimini in 2002, and in his 2009 address to artists from the Sistine Chapel.
Image: PD/US

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LeighAnna Schesser is the author of Heartland, a poetry collection exploring identity, love, and faith through place and landscape. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Virga, Kindred, Peacock Journal, and elsewhere. She holds a B.A. in Theology from Benedictine College and an MFA from North Carolina State University. LeighAnna lives in Kansas with her husband, three children, half-wild garden, and many overstuffed bookshelves. Find her at leighannaschesser.wordpress.com.

Order

Most of the liturgical year is comprised of “Ordinary Time”, when the Gospels follow the earthly ministry of Christ. This does not mean that the time is humdrum or nondescript; rather, it refers to ordinal numbers – first, second, third, and so on.

Humans have a compulsion to order things, and Catholics are no exception – we have ordered time according to the Gregorian calendar, constructed by Aloysius Lilius and Christopher Clavius SJ, and introduced by Pope Gregory XIII so that we could celebrate Easter in accordance with the seasons. Monks invented our system of timekeeping in order to pray the Divine Office. Catholics have formed healthcare, charity, school and art patronage systems throughout the ages, ordering human society according to Christian conceptions of what is good, true and beautiful.

Why do we do this? Watching the news is often depressing, because we are constantly reminded of the terrible suffering and disorder throughout the world. A friend asked me, “Can there be a world which is completely good?” We are used to living with contrasts: good and bad, better and worse.

Even just looking at ourselves and our loved ones can be a sobering process. We are so full of faults! Fr. Edmund Campion wrote in A Place in the City: “All attempts to live a religious life are partial, for to be human is to be a failure.1

Why, then, do we strive so hard for excellence or even perfection?

The word primordial comes from primus ordiri, “first” and “to begin”. In the beginning, God created a perfectly good, orderly world; Adam and Eve lived in harmony with God, each other, and creation, in a state of grace. The Greek word kósmos literally means “order”. With sin, humankind’s friendship with God was broken; suffering and chaos entered the world. Sin occurs when we act against our human nature, bringing harm to ourselves or to others.

Most ancient creation myths have the gods creating order out of chaos. The Judeo-Christian tradition is unique in positing creation ex nihilo, out of nothing. It is from this tradition that the Belgian priest and astronomer Msgr. Georges Lemaître formulated the “Big Bang Theory”, or hypothesis of the primeval atom.

Thus, in the Christian tradition, we do not subscribe to dualism. In the beginning, everything was good. Evil is a corruption or absence of goodness; it is not an equal force, but a parasite that distorts the goodness of creation.

Amsterdam

Our entire lives are strivings toward things we perceive to be good. The drug addict or chain smoker did not start off the habit of substance abuse simply by deciding to harm themselves thereby – even in a decision to self-harm, there is a perceived good of relief from emotional pain, or destroying what one thinks is irrevocably bad.

People who form cults generally seek some good, based on an ideal. The historian Ian Breward wrote in his book Australia: The Most Godless Place Under Heaven?:

“The desire to experience new kinds of community led a number of thoughtful and idealistic people to reject the patterns of vocation, family life and religion with which they had grown up. Their attempt to establish new patterns of social bonding in uncontaminated rural retreats can be seen as a secular monasticism, but they often discovered that to abolish the boundaries of authority, family and property created a whole series of problems which they did not have the spiritual and personal resources to solve. At their best, such groups have opened up new horizons of discipleship, but they have often learned some hard lessons about the intractable sinfulness and selfishness of partly-redeemed human nature.”2

We are tasked with proclaiming the good news that the Kingdom of God is at hand; at the same time, we are faced with the reality of living out the Gospel in a world wracked by sin, and have to accept the limitations and sufferings which come with it. It is out of these very sufferings that God recreates the world, restoring it according to His divine plan. We were made in the image and likeness of God, but we are marred by concupiscence and sin; we are wonky compasses which need to be realigned with the magnet of the Gospel, so that we may point accurately to Christ, and lead others to Him.

Discord would not offend our ears if there were not a standard of perfect harmony against which to judge all sounds. In the same way the existence of evil is an argument for the existence of God. We should not recognize imperfections as such unless there were a Perfect which they opposed. The world cannot be rationally explained without God; its very complexity forces the mind to believe that there must be something beyond all this, to have put it together. When we see a painting inside a frame, we know that someone has joined the two together. When we see a watch, we know that some intelligence has assembled it. Matter does not form itself into patterns without intelligence to guide it. The whole material universe is an argument for God.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Crisis in History

Image: Amsterdam (via Joy-Sorrow).

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1 A Place in the City, p. 107. [Penguin Books Australia (Sydney, 1994)].

2 Australia: The Most Godless Place Under Heaven?, pp. 79-80 [Beacon Hill Books (Melbourne, 1988)].

Bags of Water

By guest writer Jason K.

From a purely scientific point of view, we are all slightly-discolored bags of water, contaminated with a smattering of minerals and various carbon-based organic compounds. These carbon-based compounds are in turn wondrously-complex. Query any chemist on the likelihood of these appearing by chance on the street, and he would maintain that their existence in a purely-random world would be extremely unlikely, if not almost impossible.

Yet, here we are. A miracle of randomness, perhaps? Or the design of a benign Creator? There are those who subscribe to the first view – that life is nothing more than a result of chance. Millions and billions of years of chance, no more unlikely than a randomly-formed monkey with a randomly-formed typewriter typing out the complete works of a randomly-formed Richard Dawkins.

Their argument is this – there has been quite a few millennia since the beginning of time (and indeed there has been), long enough for molecules of space matter to bump into each other in just the right way to produce a molecule a step up in complexity. This happens over and over again, over a long period of time. And with each passing millennium, a more complex molecule is formed. Up till the aggregation of such molecules learns to move, to consume, to procreate… to live.

And from that very first bacterium, life then underwent many more billions of years’ worth of evolution to arrive at what we have today. Infinitely more complex, yet still no more than a bunch of intertwined chemical reactions in bags of water.

That chemical reactions are needed for life to occur is not a new concept, nor is it controversial. The very thing responsible for the production of most food for life on earth is nothing more than an extremely convoluted chemical reaction: carbon-dioxide-plus-water-gives-you-glucose-and-oxygen-equals-photosynthesis. The very thing that allows you to run, to jump, to laugh and to cry has its origins in little tiny membrane-bound organelles in every cell of your body called mitochondria. Glucose-plus-oxygen-gives-you-carbon-dioxide-plus-water-plus-energy. Respiration. So it is not wrong to talk about chemical equations being an essential part of life.

But what about feelings, emotions, thoughts, free will? If bodily actions can be reduced to a mere smattering of colliding compounds, why not the decision whether to eat-in or take-away? For Science, there is no conflict. If what controls a cell is a series of very many (albeit tremendously complex) chemical equations, then it makes no difference to the nerve cells of the brain, firing electrical impulses to one another and conducting chemicals across their synapses. Every time molecules collide, a thought is produced.

Free will, in that case, is an illusion. Whenever one is faced with a choice, the many molecules in the brain collide in a certain way that produces a thought. The thought that yes, although one is on a diet, one can very well have chocolate ice cream for dessert if one goes for a five-kilometer run afterwards. It is an illusion that one has a choice, when in fact it has been predetermined by those dastardly molecules in your neurones which were always going to collide in that specific way because, well, kinetic energy and Brownian motion.

So, for those who believe in life being chance, it also is predetermined. Because those molecules are always going to collide in a certain way, there are no choices to be made. There is no need for goodness, for mercy, for justice, for altruism. No suffering, no pleasure, no meaning.

A murderer is as innocent as a saint. What they do is nothing more than the bidding of their molecules colliding. Me typing out this article, going over my paragraphs over and over and tweaking them just-so is simply a result of a series of furiously-colliding molecules. (I do wish they’d make up their mind, though. All that bumping around and getting me to retype things is making me rather annoyed.)

But what if there was an alternative? More than just chemicals, more than life being an illusion of free will? What if our decisions were controlled by something outside of our water-bag-bodies?

Perhaps that is what we call a soul.

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Jason K. is a biology teacher in Singapore who enjoys reading Pratchett, playing board games, and immersing himself in Japanese culture. He has taken temporary vows as a third-order Dominican.

Image: Human Cell / PD-US

Sacramental Vision: Seeing God’s Handiwork in Everything

There is so much in the world for us all if we only have the eyes to see it, and the heart to love it, and the hand to gather it to ourselves – so much in men and women, so much in art and literature, so much everywhere in which to delight, and for which to be thankful.
– Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of the Island

ladybird

Did you know that the ladybug (or ladybird) is named for Our Lady? In German, it’s Marienkäfer; in Dutch, it’s Lieveheersbeestje, “Dear Lord’s little bug”. Did you know tempura has its etymology in Quatour Tempora and was invented by Spanish and Portuguese missionaries in Nagasaki?1 Or that La Macarena is Our Lady of Hope, and Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes is Our Lady of Ransom?2 And that “goodbye” means “God be with you”?3

God made Creation, and saw that it was good (Genesis 1). As Catholics, we are not Gnostics, who thought that the world of matter is bad, and we must be liberated from it into the realm of pure spirit. No – we affirm that Creation is good. Christ truly took on human flesh and He has sanctified it. Eric Johnston wrote on the Solemnity of the Assumption: “Jesus did not have to take Mary’s body into heaven. But in doing so, he proclaims that our whole selves fit into heaven. Our body is not the obstacle. Sin is not about our bodies; holiness is not about being less bodily, or less human. Jesus (the Word through whom all things were made) created us in the beginning in His image and likeness; He created us so that we, in the fullness of our humanity, can ascend to the presence of God.4

Nor are Catholics pantheists. We know that God the Creator is transcendent; we do not confuse His omnipresence as Him being a deity wholly immanent in Creation.5 We love Creation as a gift from Him and exercise stewardship over it, just as Adam did in the Garden of Eden.

Anthony Esolen writes: “When, in Genesis 2:19, the Lord God brings the animals to Adam, the man exercises a godlike authority in granting them names, not, we are to suppose, based upon the dictates of his willful pleasure, but upon his insight into what they really are.6 Similarly, Catholics down the ages – monks, missionaries and scientists – have taken the responsibility of naming animals, plants (Passionfruit, I’m looking at you), stars, lunar craters, diseases, places (Munich, San Francisco and the Whitsundays, anyone? We’ve got Novena in Singapore), food, beverages, you name it, we’ve got it.

I once read an article reflecting that in naming the animals, Adam formed a type of relationship with them; you don’t name things you don’t care about. Last July, Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane gave a talk on mission, saying, “God wants us to cooperate with Him in His ongoing work of creation and salvation. He asked Adam to name the animals. God could have named the animals Himself, but He wants us, as the Body of Christ, to help Him in creating order out of chaos.”

So, the next time a ladybug alights on your arm, a Saint Bernard gambols up to you, or you drink some passionfruit juice while munching on a Filet-O-Fish, give thanks to God for His wondrous deeds, and take delight in the pure beauty of existence.

Our Lord had a divine sense of humor, because He revealed that the universe was sacramental… A spoken word is a kind of sacrament, because there is something material or audible about it; there is also something spiritual about it, namely, its meaning… In a world without a divine sense of humor, architecture loses decoration and people lose courtesy in their relationships with one another.
– Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, “These Are the Sacraments

And now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and formed thee, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed thee, and called thee by thy name: thou art mine.
Isaiah 43:1

Image: Thanks to Catholicism.

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1 Michael P. Foley, Why Do Catholics Eat Fish on Friday? The Catholic Origin to Just About Everything, pp. 31-32.

3Good-bye”, American Heritage Dictionary.

4 Eric M. Johnston, “The Assumption: Our Feast”, The Catholic Spiritual Life.

5 Mark Brumley, “Why God is Father and not Mother”, EWTN.

6 Anthony Esolen, “The Lovely Dragon of Choice: The Freedom Not to Be Free”, The Imaginative Conservative.

A Scientific Approach to God

It is said that the most popular theory for the beginning of time and space is the Big Bang. This is the theory which states that 13.8 billion years ago, “everything in the Cosmos started out as a single point in space. In an instant, everything expanded outward from that location, forming the energy, atoms and eventually the stars and galaxies we see today.” An impressive theory, one that can easily be reconciled with the Creation Narratives of Christianity. However, there are many who renounce the account of God creating the universe, choosing various other viewpoints, even random chance, as the reason why there is something rather than nothing.

Msgr Georges Lemaître

Monsignor Georges Lemaître, a Roman Catholic priest, is credited with conceiving and advancing the Big Bang theory in 1927. This was at a time when many scientists believed that the universe was infinite, and therefore most had trouble accepting Monsignor Lemaître’s proposal. However, after Edwin Hubble reported in 1929 his observations that far galaxies are continuing to move further away from us, scientists began to accept the theory. This included Stephen Hawking, whose work in the 1960s helped to further the understanding that the universe has a beginning.

A sensible decision — if we observe that galaxies in space are moving away from each other, then it would make perfect sense that they were at one time very close together. Moreover, it would be correct to infer that there was some force that caused the galaxies to separate and expand.

While science is a great tool in discerning and discovering aspects of reality, it cannot be deemed the sole arbiter of what is real and what is not. To say that God did not have a role in the beginning of time and space is an unscientific claim. I state that there is much more proof for God than there is for the idea of a Godless beginning of everything.

First, we can scientifically observe the world around us and see that in no other circumstance does something cause itself. Nothing else seems to just happen without something bringing it about. To say that the Big Bang caused itself would then be an exception in which we allow for a self-caused entity to exist.

Earth

If one wanted to turn the tables, so to say, on Christians and our God, we see that the definition of God is that He is not created, therefore not a self-caused, but an infinite Being. We believe this as it has been revealed to us through Divine Revelation and not from mere observation. Furthermore, we do not believe this as sole individuals or as part of a cult, but as members of an institution with rich foundational Tradition, which brings me to my next point.

If we look at the evidence for our Faith that has been handed down over the millennia, we can rest assured that when we assert that the Creation of Life and the World by an all-loving God is reality, we are in good standing and good company. The Church itself has 2,000 years of teachings and further clarifications from many respectable, intelligent people. If one does the work, one will find logical conclusions and insights within these teachings.

Furthermore, much like Christ performed miracles to affirm His teaching, so too do we find many miracles through the history of the Church to affirm our Faith. Two of the strongest are the tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe (still on display in Mexico City) and the Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano (still on display in Lanciano, Italy). While many can assume these two phenomena, both studied and tested, are false and easily ignore them, that does not prove them to be false. In fact, in many of its investigations of miracles, the Church has asked atheist scientists to study them in order to receive unbiased conclusions.

While these miracles and testimonies are indeed extraordinary, there is still more for the Christian in our Faith. In fact, not only can we know more about our Faith and come to know of God’s power, but we are also able to know God Himself, growing closer to Him and experiencing His power each day. Just like it is possible for one to buy a really expensive telescope and witness for themselves the drifting of the planets to believe in the Big Bang, it is also possible for one to know for themselves that God exists.

However, before God proves Himself to us, we need to prove ourselves to Him. Throughout the Gospels, the miracles that Christ performs on behalf of the sick, the blind, the deaf are for those who show great faith in Him. The hemorrhaging woman who touches His cloak, the paralyzed man lowered through the roof by his friends, and the Centurion whose slave was also in need of healing all went before Jesus with faith. While God too is the source of this Faith, we must use our free will to accept His Revelation and whatever He has planned for us. Additionally, it is interesting to note that all of these men and women manifested their Faith to Jesus in a big way.

It might not have been as comfortable as it seems for these people to go before Christ in front of others, humbly show their weaknesses and ask for healing. In a way, they needed to leave their comfort zones in order to experience Jesus in this way. So too must we be stretched at times in order to experience God. Furthermore, we must go humbly, seeking Him on His terms. We cannot reduce God into an organism that we can fully know and study exhaustively. If we could, He would not be God.

In a way, the origin of the universe is an interesting analogy for God. Today, we can study and learn more about it, but we cannot fully identify nor comprehend how or why the universe began, with the unique role of Earth in supporting life. Nor can we know God fully. However, with the testimonies we find in the Church over the past 2,000 years, along with the Jewish foundations on which these accounts are based, as well as our own experience of God in our daily ever-enriched lives, we can study and learn more about God, while not fully comprehending Him.

In our study and growth in relationship with the Almighty, there are things we can actively do to both prove ourselves to Him and know God and our Faith more.

First, we can read some of the following books:

  1. Practical Theology by Dr. Peter Kreeft
  2. Particles of Faith: A Catholic Guide to Navigating Science by Stacy Trasancos
  3. Pints with Aquinas by Matt Fradd
  4. Theology for Beginners by Frank Sheed
  5. Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church by H. W. Crocker III

Second, we can practice these devotions

  1. The Rosary
  2. The Daily Office (even just the morning prayer)
  3. Mass more than just on Sundays (even every day is possible)
  4. Routine Adoration
  5. Scheduled prayer time
  6. Daily Bible or Gospel Meditation
  7. Join/start a Prayer group that involves any of the above devotions or the books listed.

Our Faith is much more than a viewpoint, opinion, or theory of life. It is even more than a way of life, because it is Life itself. These books and practices are ways for us to encounter this Life that raises us up both now and at the end of our lives. Our Faith is bursting with much more and I would love to see in the comments anything else you would recommend for myself and others to encounter God and grow more in our Faith.

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Image: AllThingsCatholic; NASA.

The Beauty of (Our) Fall

I love autumn because the changing leaves are so incredibly beautiful, it blows me away every year. Yet, these pretty colors do more than give me something nice to look at. The leaves demonstrate to us the beauty in death. Which sounds like a weird thing to say, but I don’t think it is.

As Christians, we’re not new to death. We as Christians are called to a life of death and resurrection. Dying to ourselves, dying to our sin, dying to our desires. Dying and being resurrected. Resurrected over our temptations, resurrected over our desires, resurrected by the Father every morning to live yet another day.

We as Christians also know that the “dying” part is no fun. It’s not fun to fall flat on our face in the face of temptation. It’s not fun to die to our desires. It’s not fun to fail and have to ask the Father for aid and forgiveness! It is certainly (for most) not fun to get up in the morning!crossinautumn

So we tend to think about the “death end of things” from a cynical perspective. A “well, that’s just the way life goes” perspective. At best, we see it as “a chance to grow.”

But I think that autumn exists to point out to us the beauty in death. While, yes, failure isn’t a great experience, aren’t we all so thankful when we come out on the other side a better person? While we don’t like laying our desires at the foot of the Cross, aren’t we all thankful when we are purged of worldly inclinations? While no one enjoys suffering, aren’t we so glad when we see how much stronger we are for it?

Death is sort of beautiful in retrospect, then. Looking back and being so thankful for those “dying” parts of our life shows us that.

Now, I am a huge proponent of our carnal, human, physical nature. I love the idea of the physical world as created for us because we are material! God gave us the world, the trees, oceans, mountains, flowers, and the seasons to help us know Him better. Perhaps it’s possible, that the beauty we all see and enjoy during autumn isn’t there just because the chlorophyll is breaking down.

Maybe it’s not some remote philosophical idea that the world “reflects creation” in its “birth in spring, flourish in summer, wither in fall, death in winter” cycle. Maybe that cycle is closer to us than we think or know. Maybe it is meant to demonstrate to us how faithful the Lord is. He is so faithful that even when we die in our daily lives, God says “even when you sin, you’re still beautiful in my eyes.” Or, “even when you die, it’s beautiful, because it’s a part of your growth.” The leaves are just God’s way of saying that without saying it.

As the last of the leaves fall, thank God for the opportunity to experience His cross and resurrection everyday in our fallen nature. Thank God for the mercy of raising us up above our sinful nature. Thank God for the beauty present in the cycles of life, even death. May our final death someday lead to the greatest and most beautiful resurrection of all!

Experiencing God’s Presence This Summer

Summer is about half-over now. Here in Wisconsin, the weather is warming up and the humidity is climbing. Flowers are blooming. People are gardening. Pollen counts have been really high this year, making me sick. A lot of summer tourism festivals are happening. Young people are engaged in their sport leagues. But soon summer will be gone. Children will be back in school. Vacations will be had.

Has your summer gone quicker than you could have imagined?  Where has God fit into your summer?  Have there been times where you neglected Sunday Mass or daily prayer?  In the days we have left of this precious time called summer, I’d like to encourage you to find God each day. Here are five ways:

  1. Notice the beauty of nature around you!

God created the heavens and the earth, and every living creature for that matter. The summer months afford us the opportunity to do lots of things. Running, biking, hiking, camping, and boating probably top your list of recreational activities. Wherever you are, there is nature, there is beauty. Wherever you are, stop. Be still. Be silent. Listen to what is going on around you. Hear the birds chirping in the woods. Look at the forest line and the landscapes. Smell the flower alongside the road. God created these things not simply to fill the earth, but for us to appreciate them.  Afterward, thank God for his beautiful work!

  1. Participate in God’s creative action

Jesus often used agrarian imagery in the gospels. For example, a man scatters seed on the land, and the seed sprouts and grows. You have an opportunity to participate in God’s creative action in the world. Plant some flowers; grow some vegetables; harvest the fruit of your work. Afterward, make a fresh salad or a fruit pie. Eat it. You deserve it, because after all, you cooperated in God’s creative work.

  1. Don’t forget to pray and thank God

We walk by faith and not by sight. Faith requires belief and prayer aids that belief. A lot of people pray when someone is in need of prayer. Prayer is more than just intercessory prayer. God wants to be in a constant relationship with you. He wants you to express your praise and gratitude all throughout the day. Pray in the morning and the evening. Ask God to be with you throughout the work you will undertake. At the close of the day, give thanks to God. When you sit down and eat as a family, pray before meals in order to recall God’s blessings, and pray afterward, in thanksgiving for God’s providence. In the busyness of the summer, we can sometimes lose sight of daily prayer, but prayer is essential! Do not forget about your relationship with God.

  1. Practice the Sacraments

God asks us to keep holy the Sabbath. If you are busy this summer and think you don’t have time for Mass, think again!  Mass is the most important thing of the week, it is when we have an opportunity to have total communion with our God by our reception of Holy Communion. Some Catholics go to Mass almost every day. If your summer schedule permits, try to go to a daily Mass, be nourished daily by the Word of God and the Holy Eucharist. If you cannot get to daily Mass, consider reading the scriptures proclaimed at Mass, they are available here. In addition to Mass, make Confession a part of your summer experience. While the Church asks us to go once a year, unless we are conscious of grave sin, more frequent Confessions increase the grace of God within us. The Sacraments are important in our lives as Catholics.

  1. Do something for other people

During the summer months we can focus a lot on ourselves and our need for recreation. It is always good to consider the needs of others. Jesus tells us how we will be judged at the end of our life in Matthew 15—it’s when we have fed the hungry or gave drink to the thirsty. Consider volunteering at a food pantry with your family. When you give to others you also receive. Serving the less fortunate is good for the soul because it reminds us of God’s blessings in our lives, and allows us to become a blessing in the lives of others. Give generously to others and God will be generous to you on the Day of Judgment!

Conclusion

Jesus loved telling His parables which focused on the kingdom of God. If you want to inherit the Kingdom of God, do not forget about God this summer. I love reminding people that eternal life is a life spent with God. We must use our time now, here on earth, as training for life with God. If God is not important now, if we do not want to spend our life with Him right now, why spend all eternity with God? God wants to be a part of our lives right now. It’s why He created such a beautiful world and has given us the summer months—so we can bask in His goodness. Participate in God’s creative action, pray daily, celebrate the sacraments, and do good unto others. Then when summer has ended, you will be renewed, not only in mind and body, but in your spirit as well.