Tag Archives: Pope John Paul II

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.

___

Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

The Conscience of the Modern Man

By guest writer Kachi Ngai.

“Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself, but which he must obey, its voice ever calling him to love and do what is good and to avoid evil… For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God… There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths.”
— Article 1776, Catechism of the Catholic Church

We no longer live in an age where truth and reason guide our principles. The mood of the current age is one of emotionalism, where a person’s feelings now become the inviolable truth for that person, and God forbid if someone else should dare to question it. The objective truth has given way to the subjective truth, provided that someone feels strongly enough about it. Take a look at how love is considered these days. The concept of agape (the supernatural, and certainly superior, sacrificial form of love) has been overthrown in favor of eros, the natural and more receptive form of love.

Variations on catchy slogans such as “love is love” and “love wins” are thrown around to somehow suggest that we as a society have thrown off the shackles of discrimination, and that only by “following what’s inside our hearts” will we find inner fulfillment and freedom. Arguments in favor of the protection of the family unit and society are pitted against the supposed personal fulfillment of the individual. If someone “follows their heart”, then they cannot stray.

I accept that I am taking liberties by assuming that the objective truth is a given, mainly because whether truth is objective is not the focus of this. I will discuss objective truth and how it is tied to human dignity in a later article. For now I will focus only upon the actual nature of the conscience, something on which Cardinal John Henry Newman spoke at great length, and how it applies to our Catholic Faith and the spiritual journey.

Newman was 15 when he experienced his first conversion which brought him into the Protestant faith. It was not until much later that he converted to the Roman Catholic Church, which he describes in his Apologia as largely due to the acting of his conscience.

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman saw the conscience as the connecting principle between the creature and his Creator. He went as far as to describe it as the aboriginal Vicar of Christ (Newman, 1885). In the secular world, a certain primacy is given to the conscience, almost as if it is some infallible judge. This is a far cry from the notions Newman had.

Our concept of conscience is misconstrued these days, whereby if our conscience dictates that we can act upon our whims even if they be contrary to Mother Church’s teachings, this would be permitted provided that we are at peace with it. Newman argued that this disparity between the internal conscience and the teachings of the Church did not give us free rein to reject the Church’s teaching. When the conscience no longer points towards the external (the Church’s teachings), but instead towards the internal, instead of directing us towards God and a life of virtue through obedience and discipline, it is turned towards the selfish and interior. Instead of God being our Lord and Master, it will be as Henley once poetically described in his famous poem Invictus:

“I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” (Henley, 1875)

A lovely-sounding sentiment of the triumph of the human soul over suffering, but it encapsulates the current idea that the personal conscience is the final judge.

Newman argues that conscience advocates for the truth, and that the conscience is much cruder and almost ruthless. The conscience is the compass for non-believers by which God re-directs us towards Him. The voice of conscience has nothing gentle, nothing to do with mercy in its tone. It is severe and stern. It does not speak of forgiveness, but of punishment” (Newman). This is why the redemption by Our Lord Jesus Christ is The Good News. It provides the relief for the condemnation offered by the accusing conscience. The conscience is to direct us towards where there is a particular deficiency or uncertainty in our judgement and spiritual life, and the conscience is the starting point for a particular conversion in our life.

The conscience is the call for conversion and a sign of humility. This is counter-cultural to the secular understanding of conscience as a sign of personal freedom, especially the freedom to reject the objective truth when it makes one uncomfortable (Pell, 2005). As a result of free will, man can choose to reject the prickles of their conscience, but the conscience is the beginning of the exploration and conversion through prayer and discernment, it is not some infallible judge. In Veritatis Splendour, Pope St. John Paul II describes the formation of the Catholic Conscience as a dignifying and liberating experience (Pp. St. JPII, 1993), which is why as Catholics we have a moral responsibility to develop an informed conscience (CCC 1780).

By divorcing the Catholic Faith from reason, reason becomes effectively neutered because we fail to see the impact of moral predispositions in reasoning. Simply put, the conscience can easily be fooled by our own inclinations and desires whether subconscious or otherwise, and can lead us down the path of lining up our reasoning in view of a desired result (Armstrong, 2015). This is the danger of reducing the conscience to a mere moral sense. Natural religion is based upon the sense of sin; it recognizes the disease, but cannot find the remedy (Armstrong, 2015). To emphasize the earlier point, this is where the call to conversion is required, and through this we can start to appreciate the necessity of Christ’s redemptive act.

The conscience points towards the need for constant discernment, prayer, and the turning of the heart towards the objective authority of Christ through His Church. To follow one’s conscience is not to do as one pleases, but to earnestly seek what is true and good, and to hold fast to this, as repulsive as it may appear. Only then can we truly and honestly say to our Lord: Speak Lord, your servant is listening (1 Sam 3:10).

_________

References:

Armstrong, David (2015). “Newman’s Conversion of Conscience and the Resolution of the Crisis of Modernity.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible.

Henley, William (1875). Invictus. England.

Newman, John Henry (1885). “Letter to the Duke of Norfolk,” V, in Certain Difficulties felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching II (London: Longmans Green, 1885), 248.

Pell, George (2005). “The Inconvenient Conscience.”

The New Evangelization: What’s new, why now?

Evangelization: Why is the Gospel good news?

The word “evangelization” comes from the Greek “Euangelion” meaning the announcing of good news. St Paul and the apostles were excited about the person and message of Jesus. They had encountered Jesus as a Savior, who by His cross and resurrection, has triumphed over sin and death, and who has sent His Holy Spirit to accompany His followers in all things. The command by Jesus to “go teach all nations” was not felt as a burden imposed upon them, but as a joyful obligation. They had experienced true freedom in the Gospel “for freedom Christ has set us free”, and they wanted to proclaim this to the world, that God has made adoption as His children possible in Christ.

Through the preaching of the apostles, those who became Christian in the early Church felt the same freedom. St. Justin Martyr felt that Christ was the fulfillment of his vocation as a philosopher. St. Agatha felt herself to be a spouse of Jesus. To preserve her vow of virginity, she refused marriage to a pagan noble and suffered martyrdom as a result. St. Augustine, after living a chaotic life, famously declared after his baptism, “You have made us for ourselves O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” The ancient world was stirred by Christ and His message. The human person has a royal dignity and a direct link with the Creator. God in Jesus Christ is the friend of the human person. And the countless Powers—gods, spirits, demons—weighing upon the soul with all their terrors, now crumbled into dust.

Why a “new” evangelization?

If evangelization is the announcing of good news, why the need for a new evangelization? John Paul II, who first coined the phrase “new evangelization”, clarified that the message of the Gospel has certainly not changed. What has changed however was the fact that

i. A growing number of Christians, in traditionally Christian countries, no longer experience Christianity, especially its moral teaching, as liberation but as a burden. They practice their religion “as if they have just returned from a funeral.”

ii. Increasingly educated and exposed to science and reason, the doctrines of Christianity were also experienced as somehow pre-scientific and having no rational basis.

Two convenient options

Faced with these two challenges, a Catholic can take the “soft” option. He can (at least in his own mind) “water down” the Church’s moral teaching, especially its difficult and inconvenient ones. Faced with accusations that he is being “pre-scientific”, he could also discard the seemingly incomprehensible “supernatural” doctrines of Christianity (the resurrection or the virgin birth, for example) and focus on what seems to be “reasonable.”

He can also take the “hard” option. In the face of a hostile world, he can retreat into his private Catholic space, with other like-minded Catholics, viewing the “hard” teachings as a necessary burden to attain heaven in the next life and diagnosing Catholics who have difficulties in believing as somehow lacking in faith. “If only they pray more and have more faith and don’t question too much.”

The teaching of the New Evangelization proposes a third option. John Paul II declares that the new Evangelization must be new “in ardor, methods and expression.” Let’s look at these in turn.

New in Ardor

Ardor refers primarily to enthusiasm and excitement. This is something that cannot be “faked”. It has to be real. It has to flow from an encounter, or a re-encounter with the person of Jesus Christ. Hence, Singapore Archbishop William Goh’s emphasis on the “conversion experience”, where one recognizes that he is a sinner in need of grace. Jesus Christ is experienced no longer as simply a great moral teacher but one’s personal savior. To continue fanning the flame of conversion, the Archbishop insists on the cultivating of an intense prayer life and on-going formation so that the converted disciple can better share the Gospel with others.

New in Method

There is a move away from teaching Catechism as simply “doctrines to be learnt” or “moral teachings to be followed.” Rather, at the heart of Catechesis is to facilitate for the child an encounter with the person of Christ. Doctrines and the Church’s moral teaching flow from that encounter. They liberate the person to live a new life in Christ. They point to Him. They are not ends in themselves. The catechist is not “the teacher” but a “facilitator.” Christ is the Teacher. The catechist is there to facilitate the encounter. He is not “God’s lawyer.” Rather, he is a co-pilgrim with his students in the journey of life. He has nevertheless found Christ in his pilgrimage of life and is thus there to share this with his students.

I remembered one incident that might illustrate this new approach. I bumped into my student who was hanging outside church and not attending Mass. In my earlier years as a Catechist, I would actually have focused straight away on his non-attendance at Mass and tell him that what he is doing is very wrong and that he should go for confession and then for Mass the next time. This time, I did something different. I said hello and asked him if he would like to chat a while as he seemed to have things on his mind. What followed was a 30 minute conversation where he shared about how he felt that Church teaching is restricting his freedom and that his family situation is unhappy. I acknowledged his feelings as very real and shared with him how, in my own experience, I too had these feelings but had gradually found Christ to be a source of freedom. I did not focus on what he “did not do.” A year later, while preparing another batch of students for confirmation, he waved at me and said that he too has decided to get confirmed. He too had experienced the love of Christ for him and found in the Catholic faith a source of true freedom. While I would never dare to take any credit for his conversion, I nevertheless shudder to think what might have happened if I had “scolded” him for not attending Mass during our first encounter, out of a sense of misguided zeal.

New in Expression.

Icon written by Br. Claude Lane, OSB, Mount Angel Abbey, Saint Benedict, OR, USA

It is easy to simply reduce the phrase “new in expression” to the need for Catholics to be “up to date”, especially in the use of social media (Facebook etc). While social media is certainly an important means of evangelization, the call for a “new expression” is deeper than that. It is a call to re-present the person and message of Christ in a manner that is comprehensible, challenging and compelling to a new generation. It would be no use for instance to say “Jesus Christ saves you from sin” when the culture has lost a sense of sin. Rather, a patient dialogue about the nature of right and wrong would be an important first step in precisely recovering such a sense, and then showing how Christ saves us from the burden of an overwhelming guilt. The art of learning how to understand the cultural situation in the light of Christ would require formation. But the acquiring of such knowledge is not simply “book knowledge” but flows from the fervor to make Christ known to others.

Conclusion: Mary, the Star of the New Evangelization

On 27th Sept 2014, Archbishop William Goh consecrated Singapore to Mary, the Star of the New Evangelisation. In this, we ask not only for our blessed Mother’s powerful intercession, but also through the studying of her life, we will know how to go about our tasks of evangelizing. As the Archbishop declared in his pastoral letter, it is from Mary that we learn i) that the New Evangelization is urgent. That it is ii) principally a witness of love. That it must iii) begin from a contemplation of the Word of God and that iv) it must possess a spirit of poverty and the recognition of the primacy of grace.

____

Image: Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour

Extraordinary Jubilee: Extraordinary Divine Mercy

This year is the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. I am sure that many of us still recall the Jubilee song of 2000:
It’s a time of joy, a time of peace/A time when hearts are then set free…/It’s the time to give thanks to the Father, Son and Spirit/And with Mary, our Mother, we sing this song/Open your hearts to the Lord and begin to see the mystery/That we are all together as one family/No more walls, no more chains, no more selfishness and closed doors/For we are in the fullness of God’s time/It’s the time of the Great Jubilee.
But what is the Jubilee? What does it mean?
The tradition of the Jubilee year goes back to Ancient Israel. God decreed that every 50 years would be a Jubilee year. On the 50th year all debts would be cancelled and all conflicts reconciled. People returned to their homelands, and they bought back any land they may have sold. Life would begin anew. This economy of mercy emphasized the need for repentance, conversion, mercy and renewal.

Normally, the Jubilee occurs every half century. Yet in November 2015, Pope Francis declared an extra-ordinary Jubilee of Mercy. A mere 15 years later! Why so soon?

Perhaps our age is the age of which Jesus spoke to Saint Faustina, the apostle of mercy. We are living in the era of Divine Mercy! According to Father Michael Gaitley MIC, the graces raining on us now are the fruit of the countless martyrs of the 20th century. World wars, dehumanizing ideologies, and violent revolts in the 20th century resulted in more martyrs in the past century than all the martyrs of the Church of previous years combined.
Fra Angelico
These martyrs united their suffering with Christ, their blood shed as His blood was shed. When we beg for mercy, the graces we receive are the fruit of Christ, the Vine and His holy branches. We harvest the fruits of these martyrs — in their self-giving love they sowed the seeds of toil and tears.
What does this mean for us? As recipients of abundant mercy, we are called to be merciful to others as the Father has been merciful towards us. Love is a gift, an act of self-giving. Hence, love only exists in the measure that we give it away. When we hoard love, love disappears. Love is replaced with selfishness and pride. When we share ourselves with others, love grows and multiplies.
But this still doesn’t answer our question — What is so special about this year?
It has been said that the day Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb to the
day He died was a perfect cycle. We celebrate Christmas on December 25. On March 25, we celebrate the Annuciation, exactly 9 months before Christmas. This year, Good Friday fell on March 25, exactly 9 months before Christmas. A perfect cycle!
divineMercy
Affirming this perfect cycle, a relic of the blood of Jesus in Italy liquefies on Good Friday, whenever Good Friday coincides with the Annunciation. The last time this happened was in 2005.
Do you remember anything remarkable about 2005? 2005 was the year that the Divine Mercy Pope, St. John Paul II, passed away on the Eve of Divine Mercy Sunday. In 2005 and in 2016, Good Friday coincided with the date of the Annunciation. In 2005 and in 2016, Divine Mercy Sunday fell on April 3. Proclaiming the Jubilee of Divine Mercy in this year affirms the Divine Mercy devotion propagated by St. Pope John Paul II.
Truly, this Jubilee of Divine Mercy is extraordinary! It is replete with proof that God has prepared this period of grace and mercy to bring His people back to their homeland; to give them a chance to renew their baptismal promises and live a life of deeper intimacy with Him!
Leia Go
Leia Go is a Filipina law student. She graduated in 2011 with an AB in Interdisciplinary Studies, focusing on Literature and Philosophy from Ateneo de Manila University (Loyola Schools). Her patron saints are Mama Mary, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and Saint Faustina. She has been a lector and altar server in her schools’ campus ministry offices since high school. She also loves volunteering at the Good Shepherd Sisters baby orphanage and is discerning a vocation to religious/consecrated life.

Love, Not Hate

SiblingsIt seems that everywhere I look there are people that are going out of their way to annoy me! People who insist on driving at 45mph even though the limit is 65mph. People who have personal phone conversations on the train. People who chew with their mouths open. The list could take up this entire column!

There are situations however that go beyond ‘annoying’, situations that can affect us in serious ways. I was recently speaking to some friends who run a franchise business and the franchise director is really making life very difficult for them, to an extent that it is affecting their ability to run their business. The director tells lies, is obnoxious and rude. More than just affecting business though, when we encounter people like this it can adversely affect our happiness. We begin to boil on the inside, it consumes us at work and at home, we begin to hate the person and are led into personal sadness and depression.

These sorts of situations will play out for all of us in different ways through our lives but how can we respond? It seems to me that there really are only two answers, we can burn with hate for the person, or, we can burn with love for the person. Love?! What?!

The person who is causing us harm and grief in whatever way, is most often acting out of their own pain. They might be having family problems; perhaps they are insecure or lonely. Mother Teresa often spoke of loneliness as the greatest poverty especially in the modern Western world, and even a person who appears to have it all (family, career, assets, etc.) can be deeply lonely. Whatever it is there is there is probably a pain in their heart.

Our encounter then with the person who is causing us so much grief should before anything else be seen as an opportunity to show love. One of my all time favourite movie scenes is in the film “Karol” which tells the story of the life of Karol Wojtyla prior to him being elected as Pope John Paul II. Karol lived as a Bishop in Poland, which suffered at the hands of the Nazis. Once they had moved out, the communists moved in. Both movements were ones of hate. Seeing the Church as their largest threat, the communist leaders planted spies all around Bishop Wojtyla. One particular spy was sent as a student into Wojtyla’s university lectures. The spy also bugged the confessional to find anything he could which would accuse Wojtyla of encouraging a violent up rise against the regime. Day in and day out this spy listened to the pain in the hearts of those who came to confession and he heard the love of Christ that was offered to them by Wojtyla. In a very moving scene, the man, who could no longer live with himself, approaches Wojtyla to confess to being a spy, “Even though I hated you, your words slipped inside of me like water through a crack. You speak of love. Such a sick word.” And with that he broke down in the forgiving arms of the future Pope.

The point is that we all know the typical response to those who cause us pain. It is to cause them pain back. But there is another way, and amazingly there is no weapon against it. Love will break down any barrier because every hardened heart, every cruel boss, every offensive individual we meet desires love.

But it is not enough just to smile at the person when we see them and avoid them like the plague the rest of the time. We need to love them, actively. In the auto biography of St Therese of Liseux she tells the story of a particular nun who irritated her to no end and made her life miserable. Therese reaches a point where she writes “I reminded myself that sentiments of charity were not enough; they must find expression, and I set myself to treat her as if I loved her best of all.” Therese loved this fellow nun not just in words but with actions. She looked past what displeased her to see the person with all their pain, and their hurt but also their gifts and talents.

Whoever is causing you trouble is not going to be any worse than the communist spy but even if they are, the key is to love them, love them actively, love them like you would love the most important person in your life. You will turn your difficult satiation around but most important you will genuinely help someone and become a better person yourself.

Copyright Bernard Toutounji 2015

Image Creative Commons http://pixabay.com/en/brothers-family-siblings-boys-love-457237/

Chin Up!

beach

Last week I spent some time in south Florida. To relax and    unwind I disconnected from my material world and meandered on the beach. There is an incredible amount of interesting shells, birds and critters that span the shoreline. On this rare occasion I witnessed a seagull devour an octopus.

But as I walked past the hundreds of beachcombers, I noticed one common theme; their heads were down. It reminded me of walking through any American city these days; everybody’s heads are down, looking at their devices, texting, playing games, etc. But these beachcombers were not looking at their phones, they were searching for shells.

But while searching for shells, they were missing out on some really great things. Like this:

IMG_9018 - Version 4

As I walked for two hours, I watched three dolphins feeding in the waves. I stopped and talked to a handful of people and mentioned the dolphins. Not one person had seen them. They were too busy looking down, instead of looking around. “I didn’t know there were dolphins out there.” And, “I’ve been so busy looking at shells, I didn’t even look around to see what else there is.” We are spending our lives looking down that we ‘bearly’ see what we are walking into.

I continued to stroll on the beach, taking in the sea air, watching the dolphins swim along and noticing more and more how all of the beachcombers were looking down, so consumed with their shells. And then it hit me, this is how I live my life. I am so consumed with what is happening in the life of Molly, constantly looking down and searching for that one special thing (be it a shell, the perfect job, etc.), that I miss out on the hundreds, no thousands of delightful surprises that pop up in life around me. Dolphins, my nieces wanting to play Candyland (again) or the beautiful blue color of my mother’s eyes.

St. Pope John Paul II said, “Man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for himself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self.” (Gadium et Spes, No. 24).

Let’s learn to go outside of ourselves. Let’s look up. And look around. At others. The sky. Nature. It’s time to take a step out of our little worlds and go beyond ourselves. God has great things waiting for us to witness. But we must step outside of ourselves to see them and we must learn to keep our chin up.

Catholic Canines

TexIt’s a very long story, but suffice it to say, my husband and I are planning to bring home a dog at the end of this week.

Many people have expressed interest (to put it nicely) in why we are bringing home a dog when we do not yet have and are not currently expecting children.

Essentially, “why are you replacing a child with a dog?”

They have made it very clear that we are not truly Catholic because we are getting a dog before conceiving our first child.

This sparked some emotional turmoil in me, in part, because both my husband and I both feel called to bring home Tex (pictured right). As I began reflecting on it, I realized a couple of things:

1) We can never escape the fact that we care about what others think, nor should we.

We hear the mantra all the time about not caring what others think. It’s your life, do what you want. Be your own person. Make your own decisions.

We also know the repressing experience of peer pressure. It seems no matter what we do, we cannot escape the fact that we still care what others think.

In general, I actually believe this is a good thing. In the community of believers, we are all, in a sense, our brother’s keeper. We are all meant to help push and pull each other to greater holiness. Fraternal correction is one of the spiritual works of mercy, after all.

The fact that we care what others say to and about us reflects openness in us to receive the fraternal correction we all so desperately need. It is a good thing, and I believe a life lived hardened to others is a life of hardening your heart to the pleas of Christ.

However, just as we should be open to the advice, insight, and critique of others, so too should we develop prudence and recognize that we are all, ultimately, accountable only to our Lord and Savior. Shaking off what others say in a way that points us back to the Lord can be an incredible gift. If others remark on something in a way that allows us deeper insight into why what we are doing is indeed right, then that is an unexpected benefit. Without intending to, our brothers and sisters in Christ can form our souls to see beauty more intensely and strive to follow Christ more intently.

Likewise, those who intend to correct us by changing our decisions may still change us. In all of the comments on our apparent lack of Catholicism, I have learned more about softening my heart than ever before. Not simply to those people making such remarks, but also to the presence of God.

An openness to the beauty of and a love of creation I never thought possible has planted itself in my heart and begun to blossom. I understand more fully how many different ways there are to show Christ’s love, and in that sense, to be ever “more Catholic.”

We are the universal Church. If all of creation can groan under the weight of the fall, then surely all of creation can – in some way – long for resurrection and we can be a part of that resurrection with the rest of creation in sharing our homes with them.

We should celebrate our animals, not cast them off simply because they are not human.

2) Being pro-life means valuing and respecting all life.

I firmly believe in the pro-life side of things. If you’ve even glanced through my other articles or my personal blog, you will see that far and away the majority of my posts concern abortion. However, I also refuse to accept that the only way to be pro-life is to love people.

In fact, I argue that you are not truly pro-life if you flat out, blatantly, across the board dislike animals. I have addressed this idea in previous articles, so to save from being redundant, let’s just say that there is a proven correlation between cruelty to animals and cruelty to humans.

This makes sense.

If you cannot respect, value, serve, and love those creatures which are less than you and rely upon you, then you will not be able to respect, value, serve, and love those creatures which are equal to you, but who still rely upon you (the elderly, the unborn, the young, etc.)

In a previous article, I argued that animals help us to see and experience God more fully. Pope Saint John Paul II explores this idea in Theology of the Body, when speaking of Adam naming the animals. It is only in knowing the animals that Adam comes to know himself as different from them and to see his relationship with God and Eve as unique. If that is so, then in some way, animals help make us more human. It is in coming to know God ever better that we grow to be more human.

In this sense, how much more pro-life can you be than to see a life, rejected because it was not perfect, and decide to love and nurture it anyway? Tex is coming to live with us because he is a special needs dog and his previous owner did not, or could not, do the work necessary for Tex to be healthy and successful. Don’t many adoptive parents experience something similar with their children? Children who were rejected because they were, in some way, not perfect either health-wise or timing-wise?

All of this is to say that, since my husband and I are currently not able to have children, but we are in a position to offer an animal a life that he could not otherwise offer himself, we should at least consider it. If God deemed this creature worthwhile to make, then we ought to consider that in serving this animal, we are also serving God. In seeing that “it is good,” we are seeing as God sees. God did not create the animals and say “it is so-so.” Or “it is good, but less good than other stuff I make.”

He created and then said “it is good.”

God does not see anything as useless, but rather as a beautiful addition to the playground that is creation.

So too, we do not see this as a replacement for a child, but as a beautiful addition to the playground of our lives. An addition who will teach us to love more deeply, care more passionately, and truly celebrate every life just as Christ does.

Desperately Seeking Community

Disclaimer: This piece is written in the style of a senior demon, Screwtape, to his nephew a junior demon, Wormwood. This is based on C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, which is well worth a read. 

My dear Wormwood,

You requested some tips on one of my areas of expertise, loneliness.  Lack of companionship, social pain.

I work my way through a society that is apparently well interlinked and connected, yet achieve so much so easily. Around the world there are apparently six degrees of separation — made evident by checking out who is a friend of a friend on Facebook — yet people don’t know their own neighbours or feel any sense of belonging to the community around them.

They are lonely. They don’t connect with others or evangelize; they don’t hear about the enemy or they turn to what we tell them through the media. Through this we can leave them feeling like they are trying to fill that gap without ever filling it, and we can reach everywhere.

Take, for example, young people leaving home. It could be a good social and community time. People could sit around talking about the world until late at night, praying together, discussing life and developing their beliefs. However, we have a way in. Young people have become addicted to social media, if they aren’t on it they are thinking about it and living life for the ‘status update’.

I can be there in a group of young people going out for dinner. They can spend the whole time sitting on their phones or taking ‘selfies’, without meaningful connection. Back in their homes, everyone goes into their rooms and spends time on their own computers and social media, barely seeing those they live with.

This even works, according to plan, with children in families. We can get families to put dinner out and each family member takes their food away to their individual areas to their own media. Thereby, spending the evening in isolation. Media needs to not be a tool, but something people can’t live without.

Modern motherhood itself seems to be lived in isolation. As one of the followers of the enemy says…

We live in isolation. From time immemorial mothers have raised their children in close-knit communities, surrounded by their own mothers and aunts and cousins and nieces and lifelong friends. In traditional human villages, women would gather to wash and cook together, their kids running around freely with friends and relatives… Mothers were never meant to be the sole people in charge of their children’s wellbeing all day, every day. It is utterly unnatural to go for 12 hours without having a face-to-face conversation with another adult.

In isolation we can get mothers to resent their time with their children, to turn away from motherhood because of the seemingly hard road without support. We can scare them off a road to sanctity. This was so much harder to achieve in the past when people did it together in community, sharing in the work, joys and sufferings together.

In society we have worked for increases in divorce, solo parent families, a general decrease in marriage and the family that all leads to loneliness. Everyone experiences it at some point. But we need to leave them feeling an empty loneliness, leave them watching media full of people who look  like they have connection, to feel they are missing out and not filling that gap with the enemy.

And the effects of loneliness? According to some human ‘experts’ it leads to an increase in health risks, suicide and depression. People start to devalue life around them — their own lives and those of the elderly (and young) through euthanasia and future life through abortion.

We need to leave them desperately seeking community.

They need to remain oblivious to the remedies our enemy has provided them with, namely those detestable practices of prayer and the Eucharist. Living in the ‘reality’ not in the ‘digital’. They need to stay away from that dangerous pope of theirs, Francis and his messages such as “It is not enough to be passersby on the digital highways, simply “connected”; connections need to grow into true encounters. We cannot live apart, closed in on ourselves. We need to love and to be loved. We need tenderness.”

What a load of garbage! Also the still infectious John Paul II, who tried to convince them that “God did not create man for life in isolation, but for the formation of social unity, so also ‘it has pleased God to make men holy and save them not merely as individuals, without bond or link between them, but by making them into a single people, a people which acknowledges Him in truth and serves Him in holiness.’ So from the beginning of salvation history He has chosen men not just as individuals but as members of a certain community.”

And they definitely should not watch videos like:

They need to not get involved in parish groups and communities, and invest in social capital such as community organisations or volunteer groups. Never encourage them to genuinely reach out to others, to get out of their bubble and have actual encounters with people.

Do all this, and we shall win many souls for our father below.

Your affectionate uncle,

SCREWTAPE

Child Euthanasia and the Creative Character of Suffering

Last month the Belgian Parliament passed a bill authorizing “voluntary” euthanasia for terminally ill children. Despite pressure from thousands of signatories to a petition requesting that he do otherwise and protests in the country against the bill, King Philippe signed the measure into law last week on March 4th.

Belgium initially legalized euthanasia for adults in 2002 and now is the first nation in the world where the age of the patient is not taken into consideration. Very sick children can qualify for this form of “relief” if they can show that they are experiencing “constant and unbearable pain” and if they possess the “capacity of discernment” to understand the decision that they are making. The law also requires the opinion of two doctors and the consent of the child’s parents.

Although it was opposed by some physician’s groups, religious organizations, and advocates of the disabled, the measure was pushed through with the support of the ruling Socialist party and approved with a 86 to 44 vote.

How did we get to this point? Certainly, we’ve come a long way from programs such as the Aktion T-4 euthanasia program implemented by the Nazis to murder people with mental illness or disabilities, and other peoples considered of inferior stock. But how did euthanasia transition as something a person deserved to be protected from to a positive right to be exercised, least of all, by children?

Jesus and the Little Children, Vogel Von Vogelstein (1788-1868)
Jesus and the Little Children, Vogel Von Vogelstein (1788-1868)

Assuming for a moment that children are even capable of making such a grave decision without feeling some pressure from society, doctors, or their family members, many of the arguments underlying voluntary euthanasia are quite similar to those underpinning involuntary euthanasia, too. Simply put, at the heart of the modern right-to-die movement is a notion that there are some kinds of life that are not worth living. The origins of this term derive from the German lebensunwertes leben, meaning “life unworthy of life.”

Maybe it’s the fear of being a burden upon those whom we love. Or maybe we’re tired of suffering and feeling pain. Our life and situation might seem hopeless and life simply too futile to continue. We’ve all undoubtedly felt at some point in our lives some of these emotions to one degree or another. Likewise, in our day, some suffer so much that they come to believe that their best option would be to seek euthanasia rather than pursue further treatment, palliative measures, or go into hospice care.

To be sure, Catholic teaching does not mean that we must pursue all the options and use every measure at our disposal to artificially prolong a person’s life. The Catechism says as much with regard to extraordinary medical care:

“Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of “over-zealous” treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one’s inability to impede it is merely accepted” (2278).

There is a balance here. But what Belgium has done is step into a huge moral and medical quagmire when it legalized euthanasia for children. Although others have more ably analyzed the legal, public-policy, and ethical considerations surrounding euthanasia than I, my point here is to focus on the appropriate Christian response in the face of suffering, particularly the kind that drives people to see euthanasia as their only way out.

Blessed John Paul II — no stranger to suffering as a son of Poland in the 20th century and painfully frail in his final years due to a progressive form of Parkinson’s disease — wrote a poignantly beautiful meditation on suffering in Salvifici Doloris (“The Salvific Value of Suffering”). There he writes:

[T]hroughout his earthly life man walks in one manner or another on the long path of suffering, it is precisely on this path that the Church at all times should meet man. … Human suffering evokes compassion; it also evokes respect, and in its own way it intimidates. For in suffering is contained the greatness of a specific mystery. (3-4)

The Christian response to suffering must begin in this context. Suffering, in our tradition, is not something to be run away from at all costs but a unique participation, indeed, an intimate journeying with our friend Jesus. He is the One who Himself was acquainted with all our sorrows, griefs, and pains (Isaiah 53:3). What a great remembrance in this time of Lent!

However you, my dear friend, may be suffering or the heavy crosses you are carrying the Lord calls us onward to journey with Him to Jerusalem. He leaves us not alone with our demons, but walks with us. As Blessed John Paul II writes, Jesus teaches us how to suffer not in the abstract but by his true “Gospel of Suffering” in suffering with us and for us:

Human suffering has reached its culmination in the passion of Christ. And at the same time it has entered into a completely new dimension and order: it has linked to love, to that love which Christ spoke to Nicodemus, to that love which creates good, drawing it out by means of suffering, just as the supreme good of the Redemption of the world was drawn from the cross of Christ, and from that cross constantly takes its beginning. (18)

It is this “creative character of suffering” that I think most immediately lends us an opening of grace wherever someone suffering is found. This is because suffering opens up the human person to compassionately journey with another just as Christ did. Before we can argue vehemently against euthanasia, though needed as that may be, we must first be willing to comfort those who see that alternative as their only hope, to feed them, to clothe them, to even patiently listen at the bedside.

Belgium seems to be a society that has lost hope, a society that has lost, or at least forgotten for a moment, what it means to suffer and how to offer true compassion for the dying child. What the suffering child needs is not a fatal dose of barbiturates or painkillers, but most of all to know that their mothers and fathers love them.

None of this is to deny the pain of Gethsemane and that of the Cross. But the Christian vision means that despite suffering, even, scandalously, through such, we can also become “sharers in the redemptive suffering of Christ” (SD 19). Love needs to let the child know that it does not think in terms of “burden,” “expensive,” or “poor prognosis.” Love wants to give. Love sees it as a great joy to sacrifice for the beloved little one, for my child. How strange does it sound when the mother or father says, yes, you are a “problem” for me but I gladly give myself for you because I love you!

During Lent, during these next 40 days, whether you are one who is suffering or one who is able to comfort someone who is, the Lord calls us to journey with Him and teaches us how to do the same with and for others. In this way we can give an example, following that of our Master, to a world that suffers but knows not what to do with it anymore. Nothing more is needed than this:

“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me…” (Mark 9:37).

Book Review: <i>Go in Peace</i> by Pope John Paul II

go-in-peace-gift-enduring-love-john-paul-ii-hardcover-cover-art

One night I had a lot of questions about life and serving others. I felt like I wasn’t doing enough, or that I wasn’t doing it right. I felt like I was wandering with no direction, and didn’t trust God to let Him take control. That night was not fun–so I picked up a book I ignored for a long time.

Pope John Paul II answered all my questions in one chapter.

You don’t have to be Catholic to appreciate his wisdom. You will get through this book and find yourself comforted. Even though life is hard, we are never alone.

The book gives you of hope, and you’ll find yourself reading things twice because of their depth.

I copied entire chapters in my journal, and hope to come back for a second read. These words are worth digging into, for they are gold.

One of my favorite passages is on conscience:

Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a person, where we are alone with God. … If you follow Christ, you will restore your conscience to its rightful place and proper role, and you will be the light of the world, the salt of the earth.

The Pope had an insight on conscience I never considered before. Our lives are so hectic that we drown out the voice in our head, which is a mistake–because our conscience doesn’t only remind us of our mistakes. By our conscience we also  discover countless graces.

It is in our heart that the Lord communicates with us most.

He also commented on truth:

The guarantee that objective truth exists is found in God, who is absolute Truth. Objectively speaking, the search for truth and the search for God are the same.

[…] the truth must be passionately pursued and lived to the best of one’s ability. Freedom of conscience, rightly understood, is by its very nature always ordered to the truth.

This book is short, powerful, and indeed brings peace to the faithful. If you know someone going through a rough time, I cannot recommend this book more. Read it and keep a journal on your thoughts–come back to it later and read again. The words will never lose their power.

The preaching of Christian morality must not empty Christ’s Cross of its power.

Can I Employ Someone as a Doormat?

Person under doormatHave you ever walked through the city and seen those people holding signs advertising something? They can be found on busy street corners or open air shopping malls. Their signs point the way to a restaurant lunch deal, the nearest bottle shop or cheap parking. You might have similarly seen someone outside a pizza shop waving a sign to passing traffic highlighting cheap lunchtime meals.

I have a problem with this; in fact we should all have a problem with this. It is not a problem with advertising; it is a problem with the fact that people are being used simply as sign posts. Sometimes the people are handing out advertising material as well and this lessens (a little) the problem because at least there is interaction with people as part of the job. However to simply strap a sign to a human person and have them stand in one place or even walk around effectively treats them as an object; it is below our dignity as people.

I am sure they get paid for this task, although of course it would not be much, but even so, payment does not make an unjust action just. I might decide to hire a person to lie across the threshold of my door so that I can wipe my shoes on them as I enter the house. I may pay them, and pay them well for being my doormat, but, is it right to use a person as a doormat? If someone freely chooses to sell their human dignity to me, am I able to buy it? I would say the answer is no.

Each of us is a personal subject, a being that thinks, perceives and intends. We belong to no one else. A subject directs what actions will take place. An object on the other hand, has actions directed to it, I am using a chair to sit on, I am using a mug to drink coffee. An object is always just that, an object, if my mug cracks, I will just get another one, it is dispensable. We begin to encounter problems when we lose the distinction between subjects and objects. If I turn a person into my doormat, I have made that person into an object, similarly, if I pay a person to act as a signpost.

The thing with human dignity is that it is innate; it is naturally within each of us. Dignity is not something that society bestows for passing certain milestones. It is not like acquiring a driving licence and it is not like graduating from university. It cannot be sold and it cannot be lost. That is why the life of the migrant, the intellectually disabled adult, the brilliant scientist, and the drug addicted gangster are all of equal worth. Christian tradition would say that every human person is sacred because they are created in the image of God but belief in the dignity of human life certainly extends beyond Christianity.

Early in his Pontificate, Pope John Paul II, wrote an encyclical titled, Laborem Exercens, which was on the subject of human work. The Pope wrote at length about the value of human work and that determining its value is not primarily in “the kind of work being done but the fact that the one who is doing it is a person”. Whether one is employed to govern the nation or sweep the streets of that nation, John Paul writes that work must enable a person to become “more a human being and not be degraded by it”. A person who is working should never experience a lowering of their dignity.

It is not to say that difficult work or boring work is below a person, but when the person doing the task is seen as only an impersonal force and not as an individual then we begin to move into problems. Even though we all need to work to survive, the essential distinction is that work is for ‘the person’ and not the person ‘for work’.

If employers wish to erect signs advertising their products and services then they should seek permission from the council for a sign post, and not offer a “job” where the person is given no more value than a metal pole. Offering jobs that are below human dignity does not benefit society; they only serve to make all of us a little bit poorer because we begin to perceive things that are not normal as a part of normal life.