Sunday, October 31, 2004

What Are Ghosts?

Without our action or invitation, the dead often do appear to the living. There is enormous evidence of "ghosts" in all cultures .... We can distinguish three kinds of ghosts, I believe. First, the most familiar kind: the sad ones, the wispy ones. They seem to be working out some unfinished earthly business, or suffering some purgatorial purification until released from their earthly business. These ghosts would seem to be the ones who just barely made it to Purgatory, who feel little or no joy yet and who need to learn many painful lessons about their past life on earth.

Second, there are malicious and deceptive spirits -- and since they are deceptive, they hardly ever appear malicious. These are probably the ones who respond to conjurings at seances. They probably come from Hell. Even the chance of that happening should be sufficient to terrify away all temptations to necromancy.

Third, there are bright, happy spirits of dead friends and family, especially spouses, who appear unbidden, at God's will, not ours, with messages of hope and love. They seem to come from Heaven. Unlike the purgatorial ghosts who come back primarily for their own sakes, these bright spirits come back for the sake of us the living, to tell us all is well. They are aped by evil spirits who say the same, who speak 'peace, peace, when there is no peace'. But the deception works only one way: the fake can deceive by appearing genuine, but the genuine never deceives by appearing fake. Heavenly spirits always convince us that they are genuinely good. Even the bright spirits appear ghostlike to us because a ghost of any type is one whose substance does not belong in or come from this world. In Heaven these spirits are not ghosts but real, solid and substantial because they are at home there: One can't be a ghost in one's own country.

That there are all three kinds of ghosts is enormously likely. Even taking into account our penchant to deceive and be deceived, our credulity and fakery, there remain so many trustworthy accounts of all three types of ghosts - trustworthy by every ordinary empirical and psychological standard - that only a dogmatic prejudice against them could prevent us from believing they exist. As Chesterton says, "We believe an old apple woman when she says she ate an apple; but when she says she saw a ghost, we say 'But she's only an old apple woman." A most undemocratic and unscientific prejudice.
Peter Kreeft, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Heaven

Friday, October 29, 2004

Daily Devotion: Meditations

In Conversation With God series by Francis Fernandez-Carvajal
This seven-volume set gives you brief (five to six pages) meditations for every day of the Church’s entire liturgical calendar, including feast days and each of the three cycles of Ordinary Time on Sundays. Author Francis Fernandez-Carvajal makes generous use of the writings of the great saints as he brings you focused and moving meditations on themes taken from the Mass readings for that day, the liturgical season, and more. This work is rich and extensive enough to serve as your spiritual reading for a lifetime, as it helps you relate the particulars of the message of Christ to the ordinary circumstances of your day. Each volume is small enough for you to carry it to Adoration or some other suitable place for meditation. The whole set comes with a handsome slipcase that prevents wear-and-tear on the individual volumes.

I have been reading this series every morning for about three years and have yet to find one that is better or more complete. Following the daily Mass readings, topics range from the sacraments and virtues to family interaction and friendship. The sensible and down-to-earth writing is enhanced by quotes from saints, elsewhere in the Bible, Church documents, etc. I especially enjoy the fact that this was translated from the original Spanish, meaning that things applying to my daily life and problems are exactly the same things faced by people in Spain, or, indeed, around the world. I bought this one book at a time as they didn't have the slipcased version out yet but would highly recommend springing for the whole thing at once.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

My "little friend Mary"

The friend in this story is someone who I have worked with for about 15 years, since before either of us had children. She is a strong Christian but not Catholic (which is important to this story) and also is a client of ours. She was in our office telling of her extreme computer woes at home and that no one could figure out what was wrong. It was wreaking havoc as their kids had on-line school work and had to go to friends' homes to do it. As she was leaving, she started laughing and told me that she half jokingly had asked her teenage son the night before it if was ok to pray for her computer to be fixed. He'd said, of course, that God cares about everything. But my client kept thinking of someone she knew who had just been diagnosed with cancer and didn't know if it was right to ask for such small things. She "knew" it was all right but I think just wanted to be reassured.

I instantly pointed out the wedding at Cana, that before Jesus went on to cure lepers he had given that wedding all their wine just so they could continue the celebration. I told her, "That's where a Catholic will go to Mary because she's the greatest saint. She's the one that pointed out the wine was gone and cared enough to ask Jesus to fix it. She's got that little extra pull with Jesus so we'll ask her to put in a good word for us." She left without saying anything right after that and I wondered if I'd been out of line but then forgot it.

I just got a call and without even identifying herself my friend said, "You can tell your little friend Mary that she fixed my computer." I didn't even connect what she was talking about until she repeated exactly the same thing (because somehow I'd never think of Mary as "your little friend Mary"). Then I said, "You mean Mary, otherwise known as the mother of Jesus?" She said, "Exactly. My computer was fixed in less than an hour thanks to that tip that Tom gave me. I can see why she's the greatest saint of all." Now, my friend was laughing the whole time but I have to think that the fact that she gave Mary the credit, however jokingly, is a great tribute to Our Blessed Mother.

As I was typing this story it just occurred to me that it has now been about a week and a half since I have started saying the rosary every day again. While in the middle of saying it this morning on the way to work, I had to stop my car in the middle of the street and wait while a huge moving van pulled into an apartment parking lot. While that van was practically parked in front of me, I couldn't avoid seeing that the part of it directly in front of me showcased their name ("Budd") and the red rosebud painted on the side of the truck. At the time I thought it was odd since I was praying the rosary but now that I got this phone call ... well, are those enough "coincidences" for y'all? Which, as anybody who knows me well will tell you, are things I don't believe in ...

Giving God a Blank Check

Christ does not specify what needs we are to pray for. We are to give God the blank check, "our daily bread". It is not wrong to add specific needs, for we are assured that "my God will supply all your needs out of his riches in Christ Jesus", but we must give God room, give God a blank check for him to fill in the amount. he knows what we need, and the very first thing we need is to keep that fact firmly in mind.

Our needs and our wants are not identical. We need some things we may not want (perhaps to fast or to relax or to pray more or perhaps to suffer, to be tested), and we want many things we do not need (the million toys this world offers us to distract us from our real need, which this world can never supply). We need only one thing. "Only one thing is necessary", Christ tells us. That is why God offers us only one thing: himself in Christ. Christ does not just give us joy or life or salvation or resurrection; he is our joy, our life, our salvation, our resurrection.

Peter Kreeft, Fundamentals of the Faith

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

My Daughter, the ... Environmental Scientist?

Saturday, I found out what Hannah would like to "do when she grows up" ... such a quaint phrase to apply to a teenager but it works. She wants to be an Environmental Scientist. That may sound odd to people who don't know her really well. She's a dreamer, artistic, a good writer ... not a math whiz. None of those things sound like scientific material. However, she is an avid animal lover and after taking Zoology last year (BL is one of the few high schools who offer that, Botany, and Astronomy), even overcame her fear of insects in the interest of learning about them to do her required 50 insect collection for the class. She came out of that and Botany with an interest in being some sort of scientist and now is taking Astronomy. (She has already horrified half the class by raising doubts about the reality of global warming ... in which exchange the teacher impressed me by agreeing that there were a lot of interpretations to data and pointing out how much government funding can be earned by going along with that analysis.)

Frankly, I figured she'd lose the science interest because I couldn't see how it would fit with her personality. However, anyone who heard about that interest this weekend and really knows Hannah was struck by how perfect such a profession would be for her. I also was struck with how nice it would be to have a faithful, practicing Catholic in that field. So, as with Rose's proposed writing career we'll wait and see where all this takes Hannah. But I could see it ... I could definitely see it.

It's interesting to have careers for the girls suddenly become things that seem possible within a few days. It's kind of fun ... like guessing what's in that big box under the back of the tree at Christmas. Maybe we're right, maybe we're wrong but the possiblities are exciting.

Revelation About the Universe and Man

GENESIS 1:1-31
Oops, I got slightly ahead of myself with the comments I posted yesterday. So bear with me in taking a step backwards.

I am in awe of the amazing amount of information revealed through details, and of the scholars knowledgeable enough to tease this info out and convey it in an understandable way. Here are a few of the "aha" moments; things I never "got" until going through the Catholic Scripture Study about Genesis. Well, ok, I already knew the "male and female" thing but thought it was cool so I threw it in.
THE SUN AND MOON
In vs. 16, God makes "the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night." Note that the sun and moon are not named. In the ancient world, the very words "sun" and "moon" were synonymous with the names of deities. In contrast, Genesis teaches that the sun and moon are not powers to be feared but created things with a God-given purpose in the universe. They are put in dominion over day and night - but have no jurisdiction over man or the earth. Psalm 19 tells us of another function: to tell the glory of God. When we gaze at them, we should recognize the power and beauty of God in them. The text says these lights (sun, moon, stars) are for "signs" and to mark out time and seasons. What might they be signs of? Think of the star that the magi followed to find the newborn King. Think also of the eclipse of the sun on Good Friday. They are elements used by God to communicate with His creation.

MALE AND FEMALE
God, who is Spirit and thus neither male nor female, is nonetheless reflected in mankind only by male and female together. Man and woman are created "equal as persons -- and complementary as masculine and feminine" (CCC 372). Each has the inherent dignity of being created in God's image. In communion together, and particularly in the context of the family, they fully reflect the image of the Divine Family, which is God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

SHARING IN GOD'S WORK
In asking man to reproduce and fill the earth, God is asking man to help complete that which He began to do in the beginning. In giving man the responsibility to be fruitful, He allows him to participate in the creation of human life. In giving him charge over the earth, God is vesting man with some of His own authority, in effect asking man to share in His work of ruling. Man's two-part vocation is thus a reflection of God Himself. It enables him to be what he was created to be: a creature made in God's image. And it is in fulfilling this vocation that he gives praise and glory to God.

I strongly encourage readers to check out the entire lesson in Catholic Scripture Study. See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for links to all references used.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Covenant

GENESIS 2:1-7
The second chapter of Genesis focuses on humans. We get to see that they are not simply another kind of animal but have a special relationship with God. Catholic Scripture Study shows how economically this is revealed to those who know the "code".
His intention for His creation was always that it would exist with Him as His family. How do we know this? One clue appears right away in Genesis 2, but in order to recognize it, we have to understand a feature of a Hebrew word. The word translated as "seven" in our English text is the Hebrew word (sheba) for "oath-sharing." When men in ancient times came together to form a relationship in which they would treat each other as family, they swore an oath to seal the agreement. In Hebrew, "to swear an oath" means literally "to seven oneself." This kind of agreement is called a "covenant." In contrast to a contract, in which there is an exchange of property, in a covenant there is an exchange of persons: "I am yours, you are mine." ...

In Hebrew, ... would almost sound like God finished His work and rested on the "oath" day, and blessed the "oath" day and hallowed it. Perhaps a play on words, perhaps coincidence. But it is probable that to the ancient Hebrews who read this, the number seven would suggest God forming a covenant, or swearing an oath that established a family relationship with all the elements of creation. In blessing and hallowing it, He is setting apart or sanctifying creation. This bestows a kind of animation on what is inanimate. For example, in Gen. 2:4, the text reads, "These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created." The word "generations" usually refers to living things. Likewise, this idea should prepare us for passages like Ps. 148, in which the heavens and the deep, sun and stars, snow and hills, sea monsters and cattle-ALL creation sings out in praise to the Lord Who created them. All creation is filled with God's life and is part of His household.

I strongly encourage readers to check out the entire lesson in Catholic Scripture Study. See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for links to all references used.

Monday, October 25, 2004

On Being a Convert and Believing Church Truths

It's no secret that I'm a convert and a fairly new one at that ... Easter Vigil 2000, thank you very much! When I come across dissenting Catholics of what I call the "militant" sort (whether they are called cafeteria, liberal or whatever), my conversion tends to get thrown in my face. "Oh, that explains it! You converts are always so gung ho! Well, you'll figure it out." ... or variations, thereof. What does it explain? Don't you know? We converts are such simpletons that we actually believe Church teachings ... all of them ... !

Depending on my mood of the moment I either am amused or annoyed by this attitude. It assumes that converts are innocents who were just looking for the "right" match and then ... lo and behold! ... there was the Catholic church beckoning and we jumped happily into her arms. They don't take into account the fact that most converts have come from a much more cynical view of the Church than these partial dissenters will ever have. After all, all we had to go on in the first place is what the world and other Christian denominations say about the Church and that isn't very complimentary. Most converts have had to be coaxed by God, step by unwilling step, into accepting that the Church holds the deposit of faith. We have fought that internal fight against accepting whatever truth we didn't like most when confronted with evidence that the Church is abiding by Scripture ... whether it be abortion, contraception, the male priesthood, priestly celibacy, Mary (a real biggie), or any other reason that pops up. That is why we are educated in what the Church teaches. A lot of the time we've been looking and looking for reasons not to agree. We didn't find them. Instead we found Truth.

Yes, we're passionate, probably embarrassingly so. But once we gave in, we gave in all the way and that's when we jumped into Holy Mother Church's arms. As for not going along with everything the Church believes, it is up to each person to inform their conscience. That's the other thing that a lot of converts have had to do. We had to inform ourselves about why we agree with the Church. Often, we've had to do it while dealing with spirited opposition from family and friends. A surprising amount of dissenters have not looked much further than what they have been told by ill informed teachers, parents, or priests. Yes, those are all people we should be able to trust but we live in the age of information. It doesn't hurt to look up and consider what the Church Fathers have said about such issues and pretty much every one that bothers people today has bothered people at some time in the past.

There is nothing wrong with questioning Church teachings. God gave us brains and expects us to use them. However, I think there is something wrong with the way a lot of people do the questioning. You have to be open to hearing what you don't want to and then to conforming your conscience, once informed, to the Church. I really never had considered my support of abortion or euthanasia in relationship to the Church when converting. It was only when I couldn't in good conscience say, "Lord, hear our prayer" in response to spoken prayers for an end to abortion that I felt I ought to find out why the Church taught such a thing. I started reading (and reading and reading) works by people who I knew to be in accordance with Church teachings. After all, there's no good in looking to dissenters to explain what the Church teaches ... you have to start at the source to see what is really said about something. Once I saw the logic applied, I couldn't deny that what the Church taught agreed with Scripture. Don't get me wrong, I didn't immediately go around flinging up my arms and shouting, "I have seen the light." I had to get comfortable with the idea that I was going to be in direct opposition with much of popular culture ... and that wasn't easy either.

I think we also must consider the examples of those who have changed the Church the most ... the saints. St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Siena, St. John of the Cross, St. Ignatius ... the list goes on and on. When they brought up their ideas of change, did the Church embrace them with open arms? No. Often the rejection was cruel, in more ways than one. They might have gone through channels to get rulings changed but they didn't go around complaining to everyone they knew, writing books, and clucking when others supported current teachings. They applied to their lives those precepts that God wants most from us ... prayer, humility, and obedience. They trusted to God to use their lives to make a change. They were obedient to the authority over them, the Church, and God used that very obedience to make changes.

Personally, I have found this prayer very effective in helping along the way:
Lord, that I may obtain what you promise, make me love what you command.

Naturally, I also have met many people troubled by Church teachings of one sort or another who are honestly seeking answers. I do not mean to lump everyone together into a category. However, a majority of dissenters seem to be militant (or is it that they just are loud?) and there is a tone of condescension and anger underlying their conversations. They talk about "my Catholic Church," forgetting perhaps that the Church is Christ's Bride. It is His Church ... the Catholic Church ... one, holy and apostolic Church. We all are members of the Body of Christ, but the Body does not belong to individuals but to Christ.

When I was not Catholic and would have laughed at the very idea of becoming one, I looked at those dissenters and wondered why they didn't just find another church. There generally are plenty of Protestant churches that would fill the bill with their teachings. Once I was in the Church I made friends who dissent from various teachings, have tried to leave, and are drawn back time and again. It seems to me that God uses the Eucharist to keep them from straying too far. They tend to be a different sort from the angry, "militant" dissenters I have run into. My friends are questioning and honestly trying to find ways to come to terms with Church teachings. How can I not honor and appreciate that? It is what I went through myself.

Personally, I feel for the dissenters of all sorts. I pray for them, for their peace, for their change of heart so that they may wholeheartedly love the Church, or -- if we have saints in our midst -- that they will be humble and obedient so God may work to His glory through them. I must admit, when I'm toe to toe (or comments box to comments box) over an issue of doctrine I've been mad enough to spit. But even then I'm praying (for both of us!) in the midst of the fray.

On this matter of Church teachings I turned to my friends, new and old, for advice. I will leave the final words with them.
The law of God entrusted to the Church is taught to the faithful as the way of life and truth. The faithful therefore have the right to be instructed in the divine saving precepts that purify judgment and, with grace, heal wounded human reason. They have the duty of observing the constitutions and decrees conveyed by the legitimate authority of the Church. Even if they concern disciplinary matters, these determinations call for docility in charity.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2037

We must abide rather by the Pope's judgment than by the opinion of any of the theologians, however well versed he may be in the divine Scriptures.
St. Thomas Aquinas, Quodlibetum IX,Q.8, Quaest. Quodlibetales

It is sometimes reported that a large number of Catholics today do not adhere to the teaching of the Catholic Church on a number of questions, notably sexual and conjugal morality, divorce and remarriage. Some are reported as not accepting the clear position on abortion. It has to be noted that there is a tendency on the part of some Catholics to be selective in their adherence to the Church's moral teaching. It is sometimes claimed that dissent from the magisterium is totally compatible with being a "good Catholic," and poses no obstacle to the reception of the Sacraments. This is a grave error that challenges the teaching of the Bishops in the United States and elsewhere.
Pope John Paul II, in his talk to the Bishops in Los Angeles in 1987

... that it is absolutely incorrect to refer to Pre-Vatican Council II and Post-Vatican Council II, as if there were changes in the Church's position in matters of faith and morals. The only changes in that respect have sprung from erroneous interpretations of the Council.
Cardinal Ratzinger, The Ratzinger Report

The teaching Church does not invent her doctrines; she is a witness, a custodian, an interpreter, a transmitter. As regards the truths of Christian marriage, she can be called conservative, uncompromising. To those who would urge her to make her faith easier, more in keeping with the tastes of the changing mentality of the times, she answers with the apostles, we cannot. (Acts. 4:20)
Pope Paul VI, in an address in Jan. 1972

In practice, those who dissent from authoritative Church teaching very often give as their reason for doing so, not so much their own personal insights, as the authority of dissenting theologians. This, however, is to misunderstand the role of theologians in the Church, for their authority does not, and cannot outweigh the authority of the Pope in declaring the faith of the Church.
The Irish Bishops, in a statement on Conscience and Morality

I was going to expand on bending our wills and intellect to Catholicism ... I've learned to realize that when the church and I disagree, it's because I've made some sort of mistake in reasoning, not her. She's been right time after time for 2,000 years. I'm frequently wrong. I'm sure it has something to do with the fact that Christ promised that the Holy Spirit would always guide the Church, and didn't make that promise to me.

"So I should blindly follow, eh?" Well ... no. We ought to find out why we disagree. If we're really about truth and seeing the whole picture, we'd be concerned about what part we were missing. What does the Church know that we don't? Once you look into all the reasoning behind the Church's stance and understand, it's pretty obvious that it's the truth. I've also found that the more often you do this, the more your conscience conforms to Catholicism and you begin to see that what you believe is the same as the Church's belief. Which is good. So what I'm getting at is that it's logical to believe whatever the Church teaches on faith and morals because if follows from the conclusion in the paragraph above, but we have to force our wills and intellects to do it.
De Fidei Obedientia

The only honest reason to be a Christian is because you believe in Christ's claim to be God incarnate. The only honest reason to be a Catholic is because you believe the Church's claim to be the divinely authorized Body of this Christ.
Peter Kreeft, Catholic Christianity

Daily Devotion: Prayer

THE DIVINE HOURS series by Phyllis Tickle:
The Divine Hours : Prayers for Summertime
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Wintertime
Divine Hours : Prayers for Springtime
The Divine Hours trilogy is meant to be a manual for "fixed hour prayer"--an age-old discipline of saying prayers at certain times of the day. (Fixed prayer is also known as "liturgy of hours," "keeping the hours," or "saying the offices.") The psalms contained in the beautiful trilogy (summertime, wintertime, and springtime) read like ancient poems and are made even more meaningful and powerful when sung or chanted, according to Phyllis Tickle, who lovingly gathered and organized these rich volumes. The book is organized by dates ... Upon each date, readers can find complete prayers for "The Morning Office" on through the "Vespers Office" (between 5 and 8 p.m.). The clear organization and elegantly designed pages make this an excellent companion for a time-honored form of private worship and devotion. Newcomers to fixed hour prayer as well as longstanding devotees will find this an appealing and impressive guide. (Amazon.com review)

I always was interested in the idea of praying the liturgy of hours but every time I looked into it I was put off by the complaints of needing many volumes of books, lots of ribbons for place keeping, etc. About that time, these books began being published. I have been using them off and on for about two years now. The discipline needed to practice fixed hour prayer is demanding but when I manage to pull it off regularly it is very rewarding. My guess is that it probably takes less than 30 minutes total time during the day. The discipline is in remembering to do the prayers within the time range ... and when you do remember, in stopping whatever else you are doing to take the time for prayer.

I especially like using the psalms to pray with. It gives the responsorial in Mass a whole new level of meaning when I recognize the psalm as one I have been praying. Even when not practicing fixed hour prayers, I find these books invaluable prayer aids. The one complaint I have is that all the devotions are based on the actual calendar, rather than the liturgical calendar. This meant that I had to do some figuring and make a few notes as I went along so I was roughly in synch with the liturgical year. This is not a huge problem really but more of an annoyance than anything.

I see that now there also are two more volumns, one each for Lent/Easter and Advent/Christmas. However, Amazon reviewers warn that these are covered by the main books. If you are toying with the idea of using this prayer method, one of these briefer volumns might be a good introduction.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Friday, October 22, 2004

Putting the "Our" in Our Father

As many times as I have prayed the "Our Father" (aka the Lord's Prayer), this had never occurred to me. No wonder St. Teresa said she almost could never get past the first two words. It is not just personal, which always was my way of thinking when praying this, but also about community. There's something that adds a whole new dimension to meditation over the prayer that God Himself gave to us.
One of the greatest of all mysteries is contained in that first little word, our. It is the mystery of solidarity, the mystery of the Mystical Body. Each individual who prays this prayer is to call God not only "my" Father but "our Father". Each individual is to pray in the name of the whole Church. When you pray the Our Father, all the presence and power of the Mystical Body of Christ is praying with you, helping you. God sees you praying alongside the Pope and Mother Teresa and Jake Grubb (never heard of him? God did!) and Saint Francis and Saint Augustine and Saint Peter and the Blessed Virgin Mary herself. For none are dead or past to God, the eternal contemporary. (See Luke 20:37-38) Solidarity is a fact, not an ideal. Each believer is an organ in his body. Saint Paul says, "If one member [organ] suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it."

Therefore we are each responsible for all, when we work and when we pray. This is not just a pious feeling but an awesome fact. When I pray, I have effects on my grandchildren, on some stranger I have never met, on the most abandoned soil in the world. When I bake an act of charity in the oven of the Church, that is bread to some starving soul across the world. My prayer or work, ascending like mist today, in this place and time, will come down like rain at some other place and time, whither God directs it, where thirsty soil needs it most. Just as my money can really save lives in Ethiopia, my prayer can really save souls in China or Purgatory. Spiritual transportation systems are just as real and just as effective as physical ones, for the spiritual universe is just as real and just as much one, just as much a uni-verse, as the physical universe; and its connecting thread, its spiritual gravity, is just as strong, as subtle, and as pervasive as physical gravity.

Peter Kreeft, Fundamentals of the Faith

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Time Travel Made Easy

JOHNNY AND THE BOMB (book 3 of the Johnny Maxwell Trilogy) by Terry Pratchett
In my favorite of the Johnny Maxwell trilogy, Johnny crosses paths with Mrs. Tachyon, a bag lady who also is a time traveller. He and his friends travel back to WWII in their town with the predictable changing of time that must be fixed. However, instead of simply changing time back to its previous path, Johnny wants to prevent a bomb wiping out Paradise Street in the middle of the night. This necessitates a lot of maneuvering by the kids with the usual humorous Pratchett twists and turns along the way. I was surprised at what a page turner it became by the end as I stayed up way past bedtime to get Johnny and his pals home again. Here's a favorite bit of dialogue to tide you over until you can find the book which is out of print.
In the shopping mall, a joke was going wrong.

"Make me .. er," said Bigmac, "make me one with pickle and onion rings and fries."

"Make me one with extra salad and fries, please," said Yo-less.

Wobbler took a long look at the girl in the cardboard hat.

"Make me one with everything," he said. "Because ... I'm going to become a Muslim!"

Bigmac and Yo-less exchanged glances.

"Buddhist," said Yo-less, patiently. "It's Buddhist! Make me one with everything because I'm going to become a Buddhist! It's Buddhists that want to be one with everything. Singing 'om' and all that. You mucked it up! You were practising all the way down here and you still mucked it up!"

"Buddhists wouldn't have the burger," said the girl. "They'd have the Jumbo Beanburger. Or just fries and a salad."

They stared at her.

"Vegetarianism," said the girl. "I may have to wear a paper hat but I haven't got a cardboard brain, thank you." She glared at Wobbler. "You want a bun with everything. You want fries with that?"

God Revealed Through Creation

GENESIS 1:1-31
I like the fact that even though the Trinity is not formally mentioned anywhere in the Bible, we start hearing about it from very beginning of the Bible. Until I read this study I frankly never noticed that God said, "Let us make man in our image." Its amazing what paying attention to the details of the familiar story can teach you.
The use of the plural "us" and "our" in Genesis 1:26 suggests two things about God. First, like the "royal we" it reflects His greatness, His power and majesty. The plural noun Elohiim suggests this as well: there it is a plural of emphasis, not of number. But there is also a longstanding Christian tradition of seeing "us" and "our" as reflecting the Trinity: God the Creator is NOT alone. It gives us an intimation of communion, or community within the godhead, that will be developed further in the New Testament.

The New Testament reveals that Jesus was the "word" that God spoke "in the beginning." He was present as the Creative Word of God. In other words, His role was to create and to sustain the universe and life. "Through him all things were made" (John 1:3); "by him all things were created ... all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together." (Col 1:16-17) From the very first words of Scripture, we are introduced to the Word of god Who will, throughout all the rest of its pages, slowly but magnificently be revealed. He will be fully manifested when He takes on human flesh in the womb of Mary, becoming the Incarnate Son of God.

Genesis 1:2 tells us that "the Spirit (lit. ruah, or "breath") of God was moving over the face of the waters." God's loving power, symbolized by his breath, was hovering expectantly over the unformed chaos of creation. This completes the description of creation of the natural order as an act of the Blessed Trinity. (Catholic Scripture Study)

I strongly encourage readers to check out the entire lesson in Catholic Scripture Study. See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for links to all references used.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

This Election Vitriolic? We Ain't Seen Nothin'!

Yes, everyone is fiercely partisan over the upcoming elections. Well, at least we care is the way I see it. No matter what shenanigans the media and political parties come up with, they don't hold a candle to the sorts of things that have happened in our country's history. Thanks to Tom for this illuminating passage about smear campaigns when John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were candidates for president.
One New York paper assured its readers that a Jefferson victory would mean civil war. Hordes of frenchmen and Irishmen, "the refuse of Europe," would flood the country and threaten the life of "all who love order, peace, virtue, and religion." It was said Jefferson had swindled clients as a young lawyer. The old smear of cowardice during his time as governor of Virginia was revived. But most amplified were charges of atheism. Not only was Jefferson a godless man, but one who mocked the Christian faith. In New England word went out that family Bibles would have to be hidden away for safekeeping, were he elected ...

Stories were spread of personal immorality. It was now that a whispering campaign began to the effect that all southern slave masters were known to cohabit with slave women and that the Sage of Monticello was no exception.

Adams was inevitably excoraited as a monarchist, more British than American, and therefore a bad man. He was ridiculed as old, addled, and toothless. Timothy Pickering spread the rumor that to secure his reelection Adams had struck a corrupt bargain with the Republicans. According to another story, this secret arrangement was with Jefferson himself -- Adams was to throw the election Jefferson's way and serve as Jefferson's vice president.

If Jefferson carried on with slave women, Adams, according to one story in circulation, had ordered Charles Cotesworth Pinckney to London to procure four pretty mistresses to divide between them. When the story reached Adams, he was highly amused. "I do declare upon my honor," he wrote William Tudor, "if this is true General Pinckney has kept them all for himself and cheated me out of my two."

Most vicious were the charges that Adams was insane.

(John Adams by David McCullough)

Heaven is My Home

We are still children, however hard we try to cover that up. there are no "grown-ups". When we get old, we only exchange our toys: business for bats, sex for sleds, power for popguns. At death our Father calls: "Come, little one. time to put away your toys and come home."

Home -- that's what heaven is. It won't appear strange and faraway and "supernatural", but utterly natural. Heaven is what we were designed for. All our epics seek it: It is the "home" of Odysseus, of Aeneas, of Frodo, of E.T. Heaven is not escapist. Worldliness is escapist. Heaven is home.

People think heaven is escapist because they fear that thinking about heaven will distract us from living well here and now. It is exactly the opposite, and the lives of the saints and our Lord himself prove it. Those who truly love heaven will do the most for earth. It's easy to see why. Those who love the homeland best work the hardest in the colonies to make them resemble the homeland. "Thy kingdom come ... on earth as it is in heaven."

The pregnant woman who plans a live birth cares for her unborn baby; the woman who plans for an abortion does not. Highways that lead somewhere are well maintained; dead ends are not. So if we see life as a road to heaven, some of heaven's own glory will reflect back onto that road, if only by anticipation: the world is charged with the grandeur of God and every event smells of eternity. But it it all goes down the drain in death, then this life is just swirls of dirty water, and however comfortable we make our wallowing in it, it remains a vanity of vanities.

Peter Kreeft, Fundamentals of the Faith

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

A Hymn of Creation

GENESIS 1:1-31
This chapter is the oh-so-familiar story of the creation of the universe. Anyone who has ever done any Bible study or, indeed, ever had their back to the wall when talking to a dedicated believer in science knows that Genesis is not worried about how creation occurred. It is concerned with the fact that God created everything and that God made man in His image. If you read it out loud and listen to the language and cadence you fall into it almost reads like a Psalm.

The problem that I, personally, always had trouble reconciling is the fact that there are a other creation stories out there that seemed to echo Genesis. If that is the case, then is Genesis just another man-made story as I had been told by nay-sayers? The way that The Complete Bible Handbook explains it helped me sort this out.
The major point made in the Bible is that, however Creation is interpreted, and whatever account of Creation one follows, God is the author of the story; and if there is a design, then God is the Designer. All the accounts of Creation in the Bible make this point. In this respect, the stories of the Bible differ hugely from other stories told about Creation in the religions and beliefs of the nations that surrounded Israel, such as Babylon and Assyria. The biblical writers used different stories of Creation, and at least two of these accounts are shared with Israel's neighbors in the ancient Near East. But the Bible retold these stories of other nations and - from its own point of view - corrected them to make its own basic point: the true reading of Creation sees it as the consequence of One who gives it order and sustains it's being.

The biblical account is coherent with many other stories, whether those of the Babylonian accounts of creation, or, much later, the theories of Darwin and his successors, and has translated them into an account that endures, even when Babylon and Darwin have faded into history. These different theories of Creation are not in competition with the Bible. The stories of Creation in the Bible give the reader the opportunity to go deeper into the understanding of the universe and of our place in it, to understand the way in which God brings all things into being and to understand how God is continually in the act of creating.

I strongly encourage readers to check out the entire lesson in Catholic Scripture Study. See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for links to all references used.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Homecoming Ain't What It Used to Be

Kids handle homecoming differently than back when I was in high school (yes, waaaaaaaay back then in the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth). Maybe it's because I was in high school so long ago. Or maybe it's because I went to a small town school. Or possibly because I was so socially awkward, at least much more so than Hannah is right now. Anyway, I remember it as a time when if you didn't have a date you certainly didn't go to the dance. Hannah and her friends handle it differently ... better. She and her friends, both male and female, travel in a pack most of the time, with numbers varying depending on availablity of various people to participate. It seems to me to be a much superior way to handle social situations at that age anyway, but it really made homecoming fun for them.

About 16 of them planned the evening together (dinner, dance, midnight bowling) and then paired off within the group as "friend dates". Hannah volunteered to go with a guy from Jesuit (all boys' school) and the conversation he had with their mutual friend was hilarious ("But she knows it's not a "date" date, right? I mean, she won't expect "date" stuff, right?). No, no money spent on each other, no dancing required, don't worry. Tom was wondering about the boy and was reassured when Hannah told him, "This is going to be so great. He looks just like Fry from Futurama ... and he LOVES Futurama so he'll get it when I quote it." Yep, nothing but friends there. (I thought it was funny that the boy's resemblance to Fry was confirmed when Hannah had a friend watch Futurama for the first time and the instant Fry came on the screen, Katie gasped, "Wow, that looks just like David!")

The conversation that made Tom and me laugh out loud was between a "couple" who'd made a pact not to spend anything on each other. After all, this was a strictly "friends" thing. Then a few days ago he called.

Him, elaborately casual: Sooooooo, what color is your homecoming dress?

Her, instantly suspicious: Why? Why do you care what color my dress is?

Him, miserably: Well, my parents are making me get you a corsage.

Her, shrieking: What? I don't care about that! I don't want a corsage! You promised!

Him: I KNOW! I tried to tell them...they won't listen!

Saturday, October 16, 2004

I'm Awake Now!

There is nothing to get the adrenaline surging like getting in the car and hearing a frenzied shriek from the backseat, "There's a huge cockroach in the car!" Rose was up on the seat scrunching in the opposite direction. Tom and I flung our doors open and hurled outselves out of the car. As I turned around, Rose then said, "Mom, it just went out the door next to you!" I shrieked (nothing is more disgusting than a cockroach and they grow to epic proportions around here) and flung myself back into the car, slamming the door.

Tom whiled away the drive by speculating how the roach got in the car. His theory: it probably didn't crawl in but was "carried" in ... EUWWWWWWWWW! I carry everything into that car aside from kids and backpacks. Meanwhile, Rose was shuddering at the idea of having a cockroach in her backpack. Thanks for those mental images!

We came out of the store and opened the car doors. Out from under the car, a giant cockroach sprang and scuttled to safety elsewhere. Great, so it traveled to the store with us clinging to the undercarriage of the car. One more jolt of adrenaline to the system. Does that work like laughing? Makes you healthier? I hope so. I've used up my supply for a couple of days.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Imaging God Through Fatherhood

How privileged and exalted a thing it is to be a father -- it images God himself. If children do not have a good image of their earthly father to start from, it will be much harder for them to come to know God as a loving heavenly Father. Saint Augustine had a very bad relationship with his father, and he could not bring himself to address God as Father for a long time. Every father is a priest, like it or not, a good one or a bad one, mediating an image of God to his children.

Freud objects to the notion of God as Father on the grounds that it seems to him to be an obvious case of wishful thinking. This sort of God is exactly what we need and want. As Voltaire said, "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him. Isn't it a suspiciously perfect fit between our need for a Father's love, protection, and power, and the idea of God as just such a Father?

It is indeed -- just as suspicious as the fit between a glove and a hand, or a key and a lock. There is obviously design here. But it is just as reasonable to say God fulfills our needs because he designed us to need him as it is to say that we designed him. More reasonable, in fact, for fathers "design" children before children can invent or design any imaginary fathers.

Peter Kreeft, Fundamentals of the Faith

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Days of the Dead

JOHNNY AND THE DEAD by Terry Pratchett (book 2 of the Johnny Maxwell Trilogy)
Twelve year old Johnny Maxwell is cutting through the cemetery one day with a friend when he knocks on the door of a tomb and the inhabitant answers the door. Johnny is the only one with the unique ability to wake up the dead and soon they are bothering him to stop the proposed development of their cemetery for a large corporation's offices. Once they discover they can leave the cemetery, go to the movies, and travel over telephone wires to chat on late night radio talk shows everyone else starts feeling that something isn't quite right around town too. As always, Pratchett's twists and turns of plot and conversation are hilarious while telling an enjoyable tale about living life to the fullest even after you're dead.
"Mrs. Nugent says all that sort of thing [Halloween] is tampering with the occult," said Wobbler. Mrs. Nugent was the Johnson's next door neighbour, and known to be unreasonable on subjects like Madonna played at full volume at 3 a.m.

"Probably it is," said Johnny.

"She says witches are abroad on Halloween," said Wobbler.

"What?" Johnny's forehead wrinkled. "Like ... Marjorca and places?"

"Suppose so," said Wobbler.

"Makes ... sense, I suppose. They probably get special out-of-season bargains, being old ladies," said Johnny. "My aunt can go anywhere on the buses for almost nothing and she's not even a witch."

"Don't see why Mrs. Nugent is worried, then," said Wobbler. "It ort to be a lot safer round here, with all the witches on holiday."

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The Trinity

This is one of the descriptions of the Trinity that almost lets me wrap my brain around that whole mystery ... almost. Also, one of the best descriptions ever of the family's inner essence.
Our thoughts and our loves, the two distinctively human acts that no animal can perform, issue forth from us but do not become distinct persons unless aided by the flesh. In God, they are so real that they are the two additional Persons in God: God's word, or self-expression, is so real that he is the second person in God, and the love between Father and Son is so real that he is the third Person. Human creativity, both mental and biological, is the image of the Trinity. That is one reason why the family is holy; it bears the intimate stamp of the very inner nature of God, the life of Trinitarian love, the two becoming three in becoming one. (Peter Kreeft, Fundamentals of the Faith)

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Space Aliens Unite

ONLY YOU CAN SAVE MANKIND (Johnny Maxwell Trilogy, book 1) by Terry Pratchett
The Johnny Maxwell books are not Terry Pratchett's usual Discworld books. They are set in a very ordinary run down town in England, centering around Johnny Maxwell and his three friends. Johnny, whose parents are going through Trying Times, is playing his favorite video game when the aliens suddenly surrender to him instead of fighting back. He and his friends suspect a computer virus but things get even stranger when Johnny finds himself in incredibly lifelike dreams piloting a starfighter, leading the alien fleet home where they will be safe from mankind, and communicating with a girl who also is dreaming of the alien fleet. Pratchett adds those extra touches that regular readers love such as when they go by the ruined hulks of Space Invader ships tumbling in space that the aliens use to show each other what happens when you take a stand. His special genius, to my way of thinking, comes in how he treats the conversations and thinking of the kids, along with those little unexpected twists.
It was a very small ScreeWee. Most of its scales were grey. Its crest was nearly worn away. Its tail just dragged behind it. When it opened its mouth, there were three teeth left and they were huddling together at the back.

It blinked owlishly at them over the top of the trolley it had been pushing. Apart from everything else, Kirsty had been aiming the gun well above its head.

There was one of those awkward silences.

"Around this time," said the Captain behind them, "the crew on the bridge have a snack brought to them."

Johnny leaned forward, nodded at the little old alien, and lifted the lid of the tray that was on the trolley. There were a few bowls of something green and bubbling. He gently lowered the lid again.

"I think you were going to shoot the tea lady," he said.

"How was I to know?" Kirsty demanded, "It could have been anything! This is an alien spaceship! You're not supposed to get tea ladies!"

The Captain said something in ScreeWee to the old alien, who shuffled around slowly and went off back down the corridor. One wheel of the trolley kept squeaking.

Kirsty was furious.

"This isn't going right!" she hissed.

"Come on," said Johnny, "Let's go to the bridge and get it over with."

"I didn't know it was a tea lady!" That's your dreaming!"

"Yes, all right."

"She had no right to be there!"

"I suppose even aliens get a bit thirsty in the afternoons."

"That's not what I meant! They're supposed to be alien! That means slavering and claws! It doesn't mean sending out for ... for a coffee and a jam doughnut!"

God the Father: Male Chauvinism?

One of the reasons I enjoy La Shawn Barber's writing so much is that she does not want one aspect of someone's self, such as race, to become the defining factor for everything about them. I relate to that because I feel the same way about women's rights. As with many causes that were needed some time ago (such as many of the workers' unions), women's rights or feminism has served its original purpose and now has taken on a life of its own that I find just plain annoying if not actually destructive. Face it, most of the world will never be equal to others in one way or another. Thanks to the efforts of people long ago we now have laws allowing us to gain through our own efforts. It would be nice if people could just let it drop for the most part and move on. One of the areas I find most irritating is the way we tinker with language ... chairperson instead of chairman, waitperson instead of waiter or waitress. Of course, this politically correct language gets carried on to religion which may be why I liked this commentary about God the Father.
The world invariably interprets God the Father as an anthropomorphic projection of human qualities into God, as wishful thinking, as finitizing the infinite. Some think it is a good projection, others a bad one. Feminists tend to resent the fact that the Bible calls God Father and not Mother (though many of them resent motherhood too) and the fact that he has a Son, not a Daughter. Shouldn't we put an end to this male chauvinism?

First of all, it isn't male chauvinism. The Bible is clear that the image of God is "male and female" (Gen 1:27). The greatest merely human being who ever lived was a woman an the greatest merely human act of choice ever committed was her Yes to God, which brought down God himself and our redemption into her body.

But, most simply, we can't stop the "sexist" language (which is not chauvinistic) because we didn't start it. We call God Father rather than Mother or neuter Parent because we believe that God himself has told us how to speak of him. The fundamental issue in the dispute with the feminists about Scripture's language is not male chauvinism, which no one defends, but the authority of Scripture, which the Church defends. Is Scripture God's words about us or our words about God? The world is full of human words about God, full of reasonable human preferences. They are all inadequate. God cut through them all and told us things we would never have come up with if left to ourselves. That is the fundamental issue: Have we been left to ourselves or has our divine Lover proposed to interfere with our aloneness?

Peter Kreeft, Fundamentals of the Faith

Monday, October 11, 2004

In a Theater Near Me

I already was somewhat interested in Friday Night Lights. It has gotten pretty decent reviews and I like Billy Bob Thornton. Usually I don't care for the sort of movie he is in so this would be unusual. However, we ran into a friend after Mass who mentioned that my friend Angie, who some of you may have seen as the wife shown in flashbacks in Robocop, is in this movie and has a speaking part at the beginning of the movie. As Angie told me later:
I saw "Friday Night Lights" for the first time last night...and it was really GOOD! I think you'll really like it...the acting is wonderful, as well as the sense of place the director brings to the film. Just know that it's shot in a fast, gritty, "real", jump-cut documentary-type of style (how don't know HOW Peter Berg edited this thing... Lord!) ...but it really lends itself to telling the story effectively....

My part is so small that if you blink your eyes you'll miss me!...but I'm in the dining room scene with Billy Bob (as Coach Gaines) and I think you'll see the back of my silver-haired head first, and I say,"Coach, are you ready for Midland-Lee?"...or was it "Are you ready for Midland-Lee, Coach?" Haha! Anyway, the scene is during the first hour (maybe first half-hour) of the film...it took a whole day to shoot (on the 3rd day of filming), and the director let all of us improv so much that I wasn't sure if the scene would be used at all...because we totally got away from the script.

I remember that around the time The Passion of the Christ came out she told me that she had been in Austin on a shoot. We had quite a conversation about Billy Bob Thornton as she described watching him charm young women as knowing what it must have been like watching the serpent charm Eve in the Garden of Eden. Very interesting. I knew what she was talking about as it is some of that same sort of charm that makes me enjoy watching him in movies.

Anyway, now I have a reason to make me actually find time in our schedule to go watch that movie in the theater. Thanks to Angie's impromptu review I'm much more interested in seeing it ... probably next weekend.

Studying Genesis

I really liked the combination of books I used for the Luke Bible Study. Navarre offered indepth spiritual insights, William Barclay had amazing historical knowledge, and the Ignatius Study Bible was somewhere in between. I have not really found a comparable historical resource like William Barclay for Genesis. As far as I can tell he concentrated mainly on the New Testament for his Bible Studies. However I have found a combination of works that I think will serve equally well.

Catholic Scripture Study by Gayle Somers and Sarah Christmyer, offered through Catholic Exchange. (Free registration required.) This study offers spiritual insights to specific sections being studied, connection with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and revealing connections with the deeper layers of mean in Scripture throughout the Bible such as typology. These studies are written specifically for the site and there always are two free studies there. Genesis will be there until the study following their current Romans one is begun so now is your chance to print out and read some of them if you're interested.

Life Application Study Bible: New International Version. This Protestant Bible is an interesting resource. The footnotes are fresh, interesting, and a good resource for historical questions such as how threshing was done when Ruth met Boaz for example. They also have maps and occasional one page essays about main figures of the Bible. There is a tendency to ask questions at the end of commentary such as, "Do you listen to God like this person, etc.?" which I find rather annoying but they may not strike everyone that way. I would advise the NIV version as I have been told that translation is more accurate than the New Living Translation.

The Complete Bible Handbook: An Illustrated Companion by John Bowker. This is a DK book which means first and foremost that it is beautifully illustrated. Luckily, it also is very approachable, scholarly, and reverent in covering the history and cultural context of the Bible. Each book of the Bible is covered by five types of double-page spreads: "Book" (origin, significance and key themes), "Story" (significance of specific passages, characters, and events), "Background" and "History" (cultural contexts, historical facts), and "Theology" (interpretation, theory).

Friday, October 8, 2004

A River Runs Through It

There is a certain point when your kids are old enough to get their own breakfasts and lunches and you lose control of the kitchen inventory. No one tells you they are taking the last of anything ... and this goes for husbands as well as kids. If the item is something you never use yourself then it is sheer luck or habit to resupply in time.

There always is a crucial supply that you simply must have or the household grinds to a halt. So what is the crucial item in our household? Milk? Nope. I can't miss seeing when those huge gallons are diminishing. Cereal? Nope. It must be my guardian angel who suddenly makes me think to fling open the pantry door and see the empty shelf before we are absolutely out. In our case that essential, must-have, can't-live-without-it item is ... chocolate syrup.

Yep, chocolate syrup. A river of it flows through our house each week. Hannah has a huge glass of chocolate milk every night. Tom and Rose (usually) have vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup every night. This wasn't such a problem when I bought the big bottles. I curse the day I overheard a Central Market employee telling a customer that they only stock the cans of Hershey's chocolate syrup because it is the better old formula. I had to try it and see for myself. Drat! It is better. Thicker, different flavor, better. And now everyone in the house can tell the difference. If only I could remember to buy a bunch of those cans every time I go to the store but that habit isn't ingrained yet. Which explains why I found myself at Tom Thumb after Hannah's guitar lesson last night, stocking up.

So what's that essential, can't-keep-enough-of-it-in-the-house item at your place?

Thursday, October 7, 2004

On Broadway

ALL THAT JAZZ
Hannah was telling me all about choreographer George Balanchine, his flamboyant life, his four wives, and great talent. This naturally led me to remember one of my very favorite movies, All That Jazz. A semi-autobiographical work by choreographer Bob Fosse, this film takes you close to the heart of the Broadway dance world. We follow successful, insecure, talented, lecherous choreographer Joe Gideon through his routine in getting a show underway. Along the way we learn about his flirtation with death (personified wonderfully by Jessica Lange), his inability to maintain any honest relationship, and watch some fabulous dance routines. It is dark but wonderful in its complexity and clarity. Considering that I usually prefer comedies I always am surprised that I love this film as much as I do. Parts are hard to watch, depending on your level of sensitivity, but really worth it. Highly recommended.

Levels of Truth

Our book club is reading Peter Kreeft's essays comparing Christianity with various other religions. One of the most interesting to me was Uniqueness of Christianity. He addresses the arguments used against considering Christianity, or indeed any religion as unique to itself. You can read those for yourself at the link but I especially appreciated the point that modern relativism likes to reduce religion to the level of relating to each other. It also was interesting to look at all religions based on how much truth they teach.
But any Christian who does apologetics must think about comparative religions because the most popular of all objections against the claims of Christianity today comes from this field. The objection is not that Christianity is not true but that it is not the truth; not that it is a false religion but that it is only a religion. The world is a big place, the objector reasons; "different strokes for different folks". How insufferably narrow-minded to claim that Christianity is the one true religion! God just has to be more open-minded than that.

This is the single most common objection to the Faith today, for "today" worships not God but equality. It fears being right where others are wrong more than it fears being wrong. It worships democracy and resents the fact that God is an absolute monarch. It has changed the meaning of the word honor from being respected because you are superior in some way to being accepted because you are not superior in any way but just like us ...

By Catholic standards, the religions of the world can be ranked by how much truth they teach.
  • Catholicism is first, with Orthodoxy equal except for the one issue of papal authority.
  • Then comes Protestantism and any "separated brethren" who keep the Christian essentials as found in Scripture.
  • Third comes traditional Judaism, which worships the same God but not via Christ.
  • Fourth is Islam, greatest of the theistic heresies.
  • Fifth, Hinduism, a mystical pantheism;
  • Sixth, Buddhism, a pantheism without a theos;
  • Seventh, modern Judaism, Unitarianism, Confucianism, Modernism, and secular humanism, none of which have either mysticism or supernatural religion but only ethics;
  • Eighth, idolatry; and
  • Ninth, Satanism.
To collapse these nine levels is like thinking the earth is flat.

Wednesday, October 6, 2004

How Proud Can I Be?

Rose has a teacher who's very popular with the students. For many of these freshmen, its the first time they've come across a "college style" teacher. You know the kind I mean. He's funny, larger than life, and loves to break away from world history to riff about other things. Problem is that he's so busy riffing these days that very little teaching gets done. And the things he's "teaching" the kids boil down to 90 minutes of talking about his personal philosophy of life for way too many classes. I think that he thinks he's teaching the kids to "think outside the envelope." The fact that he's generally preaching to the choir with his liberal, culturally based agenda hasn't occurred to him, but whatever. Rose would rather have him actually spend time teaching but she'll let it flow over her. No one ever disagrees with him. Why would they? He's smart, he's the teacher and ... he'll take you down and make you look like a fool if you try it. So no one ever dares try that in front of the whole class. Except, of course, for Rose yesterday.

The teacher was using the Great Schism as a jumping off point to talk about why priests should be married and in the process asked the class, "Why are we here?" They had been primed by previous speeches and dutifully replied, "To procreate." Except for Rose who raised her hand to point out that we are here for much more than mere procreation. Battle was joined. It ranged over a wide field of religious subjects ... with Rose steadfastly resisting the teacher's declarations that humans are simply animals, the Bible can't be trusted because it was written by men, and the Church has no authority because it is run by men. They were about to tackle the subject of faith when she was saved by the bell.

This was no easy task for her. Rose is quiet and reserved. Certainly no 14-year-old willingly opposes one of the school's most popular teachers in front of a class of her peers. However, as she told me, she knows how influential this teacher is and it infuriated her for him to use his authority about matters of religion when he was not following Church teachings in her Catholic school. As she said, "This is important. It is the truth!"

Talking it over with us last night, only one thing bothered her. Carried away by the argument she had several times, "had a tone" with the teacher. Even though the teacher also had been carried away and less than respectful a few times, Rose wanted to make it right. "Even though he's wrong, he has the right to his opinion and I should have been more respectful." So today she is seeking him out to apologize. Not for the content but for the occasional tone of the argument.

How proud can I be? Rose stood up for the truth in daunting circumstances, she is self aware enough to see her flaws, and she is a big enough person to apologize when it may put her at a disadvantage. I'm thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis proud!

Tuesday, October 5, 2004

The Problem of Evil

Working my way through Peter Kreeft's Fundamentals of the Faith, I continue to be struck at how well he summarizes answers to common objections to the existance of God. While the existance of evil never particularly was something that struck me as a reason there could not be a God, it clearly is one of the main objections. In fact it is one of the only two objections that St. Thomas Aquinas could find. (The other was the apparent ability of natural science to explain everything in our experience without God.) You can find Kreeft's chapter on evil here. What I liked most were his comments on the philosophical problem of evil.
Finally, what about the philosophical problem? It is not logically contradictory to say an all-powerful and all-loving God tolerates so much evil when he could eradicate it? Why do bad things happen to good people? The question makes three questionable assumptions.

First, who's to say we are good people? The question should be not "Why do bad things happen to good people?" but "Why do good things happen to bad people?" If the fairy godmother tells Cinderella that she can wear her magic gown until midnight, the question should be not "Why not after midnight?" but "Why did I get to wear it at all?" The question is not why the glass of water is half empty but why it is half full, for all goodness is gift. The best people are the ones who are most reluctant to call themselves good people. Sinners think they are saints, but saints know they are sinners. The best man who ever lived once said, "No one is good but God alone."

Second, who's to say suffering is all bad? Life without it would produce spoiled brats and tyrants, not joyful saints. Rabbi Abraham Heschel says simply, "The man who has not suffered, what can he possibly know, anyway?" Suffering can work for the greater good of wisdom. It is not true that all things are good, but it is true that "all things work together for good to those who love God."

Third, who's to say we have to know all God's reasons? Who ever promised us all the answers? Animals can't understand much about us; why should we be able to understand everything about God? The obvious point of the Book of Job, the world's greatest exploration of the problem of evil, is that we just don't know what God is up to. What a hard lesson to learn: Lesson One, that we are ignorant, that we are infants! No wonder Socrates was declared by the Delphic Oracle to be the wisest man in the world. He interpreted that declaration to mean that he alone knew that he did not have wisdom, and that was true wisdom for man.

Monday, October 4, 2004

There's No Place Like Home ... for Celebrating the Liturgical Calendar

THE CATHOLIC HOME: Celebrations and Traditions for Holidays, Feast Days, and Every Day by Meredith Gould
Who better than a nice Jewish girl to tell Catholics how to celebrate their faith at home? Jews have always been known for a sensibly domestic-centered observance of their religion, and Gould, a Jewish-born convert to Catholicism, speaks from a unique dual perspective. Having lived in a Jewish home, she knows about lighting Sabbath candles, but also remembers when Catholics kept holy water and statues in their houses. In her own home, which she affectionately describes as "the Hermitage" and "Julian of Norwich goes suburban," she has revived traditions that fell by the wayside after changes wrought by Vatican II, and also established a multitude of new ones.

Readers seeking to reinforce Catholic identity on the home front will find plenty of ideas, among them a how-to for celebrating Christmas when it actually arrives, instead of weeks before, and making Halloween holy by embracing it as the eve of All Saints Day. Gould's writing is light and airy ... her ideas are well-grounded and refreshing. She wisely reinforces her suggestions with excerpts from the Catechism of the Catholic Church and uses the church's sacraments and elaborate calendar of feast days and liturgical seasons as the skeleton of her book, trotting out bits of history and legend for added interest. Gould's engaging enthusiasm will doubtless have readers asking, "Who knew Catholicism could be so much fun?" (From Publishers Weekly)

There is not much I can add to the above except to say, "Get this book!" Even if you are well versed in reinforcement of Catholic liturgy through home traditions I think it would serve as a good reminder of following the liturgical calendar through the year. I really appreciated having everything supported by a quote from the Catechism and Gould's Jewish heritage adds nice depth to showing the customs as completion of Jewish tradition. I would have loved to have a book like this when my kids were little ... well, if I had been Catholic then.

The Long Day Closes

LUKE 23:44-49
This passage covers the darkness falling over the land, the Temple veil splitting, Jesus' death, and the Centurion's words acknowledging Jesus' innocence. A lot of significance is covered in a small amount of writing.

1. The Temple veil. William Barclay tells us:
This was the veil which hid the Holy of Holies, the place where dwelt the very presence of God, the place where no man might ever enter except the High Priest, and he only once a year, on th great day of Atonement.

The Navarre Bible points out:
The tearing of the curtain of the temple shows the end of the Old Covenant and the beginning of the New Covenant, sealed in the blood of Christ.


2. Jesus' death. The details of Jesus' death, brief as they are reveal two things which William Barclay illuminates.
  • Jesus cried with a great voice. Three of the gospels tell us of this great cry (Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37). John, on the other hand, does not mention the great cry but tells us that Jesus died, saying, "It is finished." (John 19:30) In Greek and Aramaic It is finished is one word. It is finished and the great cry are, in fact, one and the same thing. Jesus died with a shout of triumph on his lips ... He shouted it like a victor who has won his last engagement with the enemy and brought a trememdous task to triumphant conclusion.
  • Jesus died with a prayer on his lips. "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." That is Psalm 31:5 with one word added -- Father. that verse was the prayer every Jewish mother taught her child to say last thing at night. Just as we were tauight, maybe to say, "This night I lay me down to sleep," so the Jewish mother taught her child to say, before the threatening dark came down, "Into thy hands I commit my spirit." Jesus made it even more lovely for he began it with the word Father. Even on a cross Jesus died like a child falling asleep in his father's arms.
3. The Centurion's words. The Navarre Bible points out that his acknowledgment of Jesus is just one of many brought by the cross. I always had noticed these but never put them all together like this.
Jesus' redemptive death on the cross immediately begins to draw people towards God by way of repentance: as he made his way to Calvary there was the probable conversion of Simon of Cyrene and the lamentations of the women of jerusalem; at the cross, the repentance of the good thief, the effect of grace on the Roman centurion, and the compunction felt by the crowd reported in this verse. Jesus had prophesied, "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself" (John 12:32). this prophecy begins to come true on Golgotha, and it will continue to be fulfilled until the end of time.
This is the final entry I'll make from my study of Luke. I believe I'll be moving on to Genesis next. Some really great stuff there that you'd never expect, including good coverage of typology. More about that later.

Sunday, October 3, 2004

Waiting for the Oven to Preheat

So I got up at 3:45 to start preheating the oven for two French Toast Casseroles. This weekend is the Women's CRHP ( prounounced "chirp") Retreat. They have to begin breakfast by 6:00 in order to be done in time for the hour fast before the 7:30 Mass that they'll attend. Our team serves breakfast this time and Joan and I have to be there by 5:15 to start the big 100-cup coffee pot perking. We're wondering if 5:15 is early enough but its too late to change it now as that is when the Kitchen Coordinator has her alarm set for and will unlock the back door for us.

Then we'll serve breakfast, clean up, attend that 7:30 Mass, and I'll do a 1 hour security shift beginning at 9:00. Yesterday, as part of the Continuation Committee, Joan and I were at the church at 6:00 making coffee, slicing bagels, making fruit salad, etc. for the welcoming breakfast buffet that kicks off the retreat. Short on sleep this weekend? Yes! But I remember how wonderful it was having a big, hot breakfast on Sunday. The retreat is intense and you get very little sleep attending it. You need that big, hot breakfast to keep going.

I never realized what someone else went through to give us that breakfast when we attended and on the one that we gave. It is worth it to offer it to these women as a small contribution to what Christ is doing in their lives this weekend. When I took coffee to one woman yesterday morning she sat all by herself at a table and shyly confided, "I don't know anyone else here," as we looked over the room of 70 other talking women. I told her, "Neither did I when I attended my retreat, but by the time you're done you'll know them all ... and you won't believe the difference this will make in your life." Just then four women pulled her into their conversation and I left. Those are the moments that make the early mornings worth it and take me back to what this all meant to me. How wonderful to be allowed to contribute to it happening in others' lives ... even if it is just making sure the coffee is made.

Friday, October 1, 2004

Funniest Family Ever

MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE - 1st Season DVD
We have watched Malcolm in the Middle from the very beginning. It consistently has been one of the most hilarious shows ever. Tom loves it because it brings back memories of growing up with his four brothers. Naturally it is way over the top but somehow the family gets into the most absurd situations in a perfectly natural way ... and we all laugh out loud. The last season went terribly astray and we quit watching. Our guess is that a key writer moved on. However, the show was fabulous for many years with dead on comic writing and the perfect acting required to bring these situations off naturally. Only the first season is out on DVD but if you haven't seen it this is the perfect chance to give it a try. We've been laughing ourselves silly watching every night during the last week and that puts you in a great mood for the end of the day.

The Promise of Paradise

LUKE 23:39-43
Like most people I always liked the fact that even in His utmost suffering Jesus so generously rewarded the criminal who stood up for Him. Think of it. That might have been the only good deed that man ever did but it was enough to get him into paradise. When we read William Barclay's explanation of what that promise really meant we see just how generous Jesus is.
It was of set and deliberate purpose that the authorities crucified Jesus between two known criminals. It was deliberately so staged to humiliate Jesus in front of the crowd and to rank him with robbers...

The word Paradise is a Persian word meaning a walled garden. When a Persian king wished to do one of his subjects a very special honor he made him a companion of the garden which meant he was chosen to walk in the garden with the king. It was more than immortality that Jesus promised the penitent thief. He promised him the honored place of a companion of the garden in the courts of heaven.

Very cool.