Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Man's Place in Creation

God created "the heavens and the earth" (Gen 1:1), that is, "all that is, seen and unseen" (CCC 326, referring to the Nicene Creed). Man lives in both dimensions. He lives in the visible world of matter by his body, and he lives in the invisible world of spirit by his soul. The acts of the soul are invisible and immaterial: thoughts, feelings, desires, and choices have no size, weight, shape, or color.

Man is the lowest of the spirits and the highest of the animals. He is the center and bridge of the created universe. He is creation's priest, for when he offers his whole self to God he offers all creation, since he is in himself all that creation is: spirit (mind and will), which he shares with angels; sensations and feelings, which he shares with animals; organic life, which he shares with plants; and physical matter, which he shares with chemicals.

Catholic Christianity:A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church by Peter Kreeft

Monday, May 30, 2005

Good Job, Genius!

STAR WARS III, REVENGE OF THE SITH

WARNING, SPOILERS

Everyone has gone into great detail with various reviews and I am just going to give my general impressions here. Probably the best commentary for discussing how George Lucas deals with details that must be settled to flow into Star Wars IV (the real first movie) is found at Quoth the Maven. Loaded with spoilers, so watch out if you haven't seen it.
  • So when Obi Wan kept complaining "he was supposed to bring BALANCE!" ... it never occurred to anyone that two Jedi would be the balance to two Sith? Ok, so they're not rocket scientists.

  • Moral relativism charges about this movie ... having seen the movie, I now can reply, "Bunk!" Didn't anyone hear Chancellor Palpatine talking to Anakin about "Good is all in your point of view?" That's how he started messing with Anakin's mind in the first place, through moral relativism. When Obi Wan said that "absolutism was the way of the Sith" in my personal opinion he was talking about the way that Anakin was judging people to be either all good or all evil ... as tools to be used.

  • Watching the "mosquito" ships on the Wookie planet, and seeing General Grievous turn into a giant cockroach without his cloak, and seeing that lava planet ... just kept reminding me of Texas in August. And I don't like to look into the future like that.

  • The best character in this movie was a toss-up for me ... either R2D2 or Yoda.

  • The best real-life actor was (to my great surprise) Hayden Christensen. If he doesn't decide to become an architect instead of going on acting as I read on someone's blog (can't remember where), then he should specialize in villainous characters (with or without glowing yellow eyes) Second best actor was Ian McDiarmid (Councellor Palpatine).

  • There was still absolutely no chemistry between Anakin and Padme, although because Anakin kept obsessively talking about his mother, I did believe that his one true goal was to save Padme from death. Ironic that as the Emperor told him in the end, Anakin actually did kill her ... though the Emperor was just saying whatever worked to raise the hatred and self-loathing levels.

  • I want to ride a giant lizard like Obi Wan did.

  • Order 66 ... what a good idea that was (if you were evil, anyway).

  • There is nothing so fun as watching Yoda go ballistic on someone. When it is on the evil Emperor then it is twice as fun.

  • Where did "Good job, genius!" come from? That was Rose's reaction when Anakin pushed Samuel L. Jackson out the window and then said, "What have I done?"

The Cows Got Into the Corn Field

I always am likening having our own business to being farmers. When the kids didn't want to help with filing or come up to the office during the summer I would talk about how farmers' kids would be helping milk cows. When we had to cut vacation short or Tom had to work incredible hours to make a deadline I would think of having to get the harvest in before it rained. So now we have damage control after the cows have broken through the fence and trampled through the corn.

Our office was broken into last night. The good news is that we are insured and that the thieves were not interested in anything but obvious computers. Just one room over were all our servers where we also host other sites. Now that would have been a nightmare if they had had the smarts to go prospecting and knew what to look for. The bad news is that they went for the glossy stuff: our sub-leaser's G5 and Apple monitor, my computer and 1-day-old Apple monitor (sigh), and Chris' computer and one day old Dell monitor (we were comparing the Apple and Dell to see what the differences in color were ... neglible for anyone who is interested). No files were lost, at least those of any importance, because they are all kept on the servers, which were spared. Anyway we back-up nightly and take the tapes home in case of fire, flood, or ... theft.

So not that big a deal except in terms of time lost and finances juggled to replace the computers to get up and running as early as possible tomorrow.

Isaac's Resume

GENESIS BIBLE STUDY
Strengths and accomplishments:
  • He was the miracle child born to Sarah and Abraham when she was 90 years old and he was 100
  • He was the first descendent in fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham
  • He seems to have been a caring and consistent husband, at least until his sons were born
  • He demonstrated great patience
Weaknesses and mistakes:
  • Under pressure, he tended to lie
  • In conflict he sought to avoid confrontation
  • He played favorites between his sons and alienated his wife
Lessons from his life:
  • Patience often brings rewards
  • Both God's plans and his promises are larger than people
  • God keeps his promises. He remains faithful though we are often faithless
  • Playing favorites is sure to bring family conflict
Vital statistics:
  • Where: The area called the Negev, in the southern part of Palestine, between Kadesh and Shur (Genesis 20:1)
  • Occupation: Wealthy livestock owner
  • Relatives: Parents - Abraham and Sarah. Half brother - Ishmael. Wife: Rebekah. Sons - Jacob and Esau.
Key verse:
"Then God said, 'Yes, but your wife Sarah shall bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.'" (Genesis 17:19)

Isaac's story is told in Genesis 17:15-35:29. He also is mentioned in Romans 9:7, 8; Hebrews 11:17-20; James 2:21-24.

All material quoted is from the Life Application Study Bible. See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for link to this reference.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Dictating to the Holy Ghost

Everyone knows how terrible it is to come into contact with those people who have an undisciplined missionary urge, who, having received some grace, are continually trying to force the same grace on others, to compel them not only to be converted but to be converted in the same way and with precisely the same results as themselves.

Such people seem to wish to dictate to the Holy Ghost. God is to inspire their neighbor to see things just as they do, to join the same societies, to plunge into the same activities. They go about like the scriptural monster, seeking whom they may devour. They insist that their victims have obvious vocations to assist in, or even be completely sacrificed to, their own interests. Very often they unwittingly tear out the tender little shoot of Christ-life that was pushing up against the dark heavy clay, and when the poor victim has been devoured, he is handed over, spiritless and broken, as a predigested morsel for the next one-hundred-percent zealot who comes along.
The Reed of God by Caryll Houselander

Monday, May 23, 2005

The Distinctiveness of the Doctrine of Creation

It is a simple and startling fact that no human mind on earth ever conceived the idea that the entire universe, visible and invisible, was created out of nothing, not just made or formed out of something, by a single all-powerful God -- not one except the Jews and those who later learned this idea from the Jews, namely, Christians and then Muslims.

The Jewish idea of the universe as something created was as unique in history as the Jewish idea of God the Creator -- the idea of a single all-perfect, all-powerful, all-wise, all-holy, all-just, and all-merciful God. The uniqueness of both ideas can be explained by the same fact: both came from God's revelation not man's imagination. (see Is 60:1-3).

The truth about our ultimate origin -- the doctrine of creation -- had the same supernatural source as the equally unique and startling doctrine about our ultimate destiny -- to be spiritually married to the one perfect God. That too is something "no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him" (I Cor 2:9).

Different human cultures imagined different ultimate destinies: Nirvana, the Happy Hunting Grounds, the Elysian Fields, the Return to Paradise -- but all these pale in comparison with the divinely revealed truth about our destiny. Similarly, different cultures also invented many different so-called creation myths, but none ever got as far as a Creator of the universe out of nothing.

Catholic Christianity:A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church by Peter Kreeft

How perfect that I read this just the other day. Yesterday our priest's homily was really amazing. He's always an amazing speaker but I have never heard anyone do such a wonderful job of saying that Christianity is the true religion while not saying anything bad about the other ones. He took the above concept as his starting point and then went further to talk about God stepping over the gap to meet us in humanity ... the humanity of Jesus Christ ... and about using that as a stepping stone for meeting each of us personally in our hearts and in our lives. The way to do that? Prayer, of course.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Isaac, the Bridge Between Generations

GENESIS 25 & 26
Other than nearly being sacrificed by his father, Isaac's life seems pretty boring. He can't keep his sons straight, has trouble controlling "bad boy" Jacob, and generally doesn't seem as if we can learn too much from him. Wrong, as Catholic Scripture Study showed me. I fell into that same old trap of thinking that there is only a lesson if something is interesting. But God doesn't work that way.
The life of Isaac seems insignificant next to the careers of his father Abraham and his son Jacob. There are few chapters of Scripture devoted to Isaac, and most of his story is entwined with the story of the other Patriarchs. Even the Catechism moves from "God chooses Abraham" (59-61) to "God forms his people Israel" (62-64) without mentioning Isaac by name. Yet he is a Patriarch, his name forever included when Israelites call on the name of God, the father of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Isaac's main role seems to be one of a bridge between Abraham, father of those who believe, and Jacob, father of Israel. Isaac safeguards and transmits the promise through his own faithful obedience. He embodies the continuity of God's promise, the link through whom it passes from generation to generation. But there is more significance to him than that:
  1. Isaac waits for God's promise, as indeed do all of the Patriarchs. Those 20 years spent praying for a son not only helped form Isaac in faith, they became an example for Israel as it waited for God's promised Messiah. As it is pointed out in Dei Verbum, "through the patriarchs...[God] taught this nation to acknowledge Himself as the one living and true God,...and to wait for the Savior promised by Him. In this manner He prepared the way for the gospel down through the centuries (DV3)."
  2. Isaac is also the fruit, the evidence of God's promise. He is the impossible child, born of two people well past the age of childbearing. His name means "laughter," and his name is a perpetual reminder that God promises the impossible and keeps His promises.
  3. And as the obedient son of the promise, Isaac prefigures Jesus Christ, the promised Son of God. He walked willingly and obediently up the hill to be sacrificed, even as Christ would so many years later. His life is a living testimony to "the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were (Rom. 4:17)." He is the loving son and father and husband, the obedient son through whom God pours His blessing on a nation and on the world.
All quoted material is from Catholic Exchange's "Catholic Scripture Study." See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for links to references used.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Nature of God

God is infinite; therefore he cannot be defined. But this does not mean he has no nature. He is not a "whatever", an "everything in general and nothing in particular". He has a character. He is one thing and not another: righteous, not wicked or indifferent; wise, not foolish; merciful, not cruel. But each of his attributes is infinite (unlimited): he is infinitely righteous, indefinitely wise, infinitely merciful, and so on. He is infinite, but not indefinite. He is infinitely himself.

And we can get to know this character:
    1. better by faith than by reason; better by trusting his own revelation of himself better than by trusting our own cleverness;

    2. better still by prayer, by real personal contact with him, both private and public, both spontaneous and liturgical;

    3. and best of all by loving him, doing his will and obeying his commandments, especially that of loving each other; "for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen" (1 Jn 4:20).

    We can know something of God's nature, or character, from ourselves, from our deepest desires. God is our ultimate joy. God is the one whose presence will give us infinite and unimaginable ecstasy without boredom forever. What must God be, to do this? A sea of infinite beauty, a light of infinite understanding, a heart of infinite love. And more, always more, infinitely more, "what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived" (1 Cor 2:9).

    Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church by Peter Kreeft

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Faith and Trials

God tests our faith by allowing us to suffer. He does not make us suffer, but he allows it. He does not miraculously shield us from suffering, though he could. He does this so that we learn to trust him more; he does it to mature and strengthen our souls and thus to increase our ultimate happiness.

God also tests our faith by remaining invisible, so that we must believe him instead of seeing him. He could manifest himself in constant miraculous displays, but he does not do so, for our sake. For more "blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe" (Jn 20:29).

He tests our faith to make it stronger, as a gardener prunes a plant or a blacksmith forges iron in the fire or an athlete trains his muscles by exercise.

That is why he holds back and lets himself be forgotten, ignored, or even rejected. If we could not refuse him, our faith would not be a free choice. It is the Godfather who makes you "an offer you can't refuse", not God the Father.

We do not need to have faith in the moon: we can see it. We do not need to have faith in an equation: we can prove it. But we need to have faith in the goodness of our friends, our parents, our spouse. God is more like a friend, a father, or a husband than like the moon or an equation.

Catholic Christianity:A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church by Peter Kreeft

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Sarah's Resume

GENESIS BIBLE STUDY
Strengths and accomplishments:
  • Was intensely loyal to her own child
  • Became the mother of a nation and an ancestor of Jesus
  • Was a woman of faith, the first woman listed in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11
Weaknesses and mistakes:
  • Had trouble believing God's promises to her
  • Attempted to work problems out on her own, without consulting God
  • Tried to cover her faults by blaming others
Lessons from her life:
  • God responds to faith even in the midst of failure
  • God is not bound by what usually happens; he can stretch the limits and cause unheard-of events to occur
Vital statistics:
  • Where: Married Abram in Ur of the Chaldeans, then moved with him to Canaan
  • Occupation: Wife, mother, household manager
  • Relatives: Father - Terah. Husband - Abraham. Half brothers - Nahor and Haran. Nephew - Lot. Son - Isaac.
Key verse:
"By faith Abraham, even though he was past age -- and Sarah herself was barren -- was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise" (Hebrews 11:11)

Sarah's story is told in Genesis 11-25. She also is mentioned in Isaiah 51:2, Romans 4:19; 9:9; Hebrews 11:11; 1 Peter 3:6.

All material quoted is from the Life Application Study Bible. See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for link to this reference.

Monday, May 16, 2005

What I Learned From the Star Wars "Trili-gon"

The way everything ended up we had about 7 boys and definitely 3 girls spend the night. However, this is not accounting for the "floaters" who came and then had to leave for other events or those who were at other commitments and then came late ... and left later. In fact, one boy who couldn't make it Saturday showed up at 8:00 on Sunday and stayed until 3;00 with the other hangers-on.

I was told we were "brave" and that it sounded "chaotic" but not really at all. One dad who teaches at the school called and asked Hannah, "So how is it over there? Cats and dogs sleeping together? Boys and girls doing the same? How about your parents? Are they watching the movies with y'all?" Ummm, boys and girls in separate parts of the house and though I drifted in every so often to see which part of the movie was on we didn't intrude tooo much. The good thing about this gang is there is a lot of positive peer pressure. They really were there to watch the movies, play "Collector's Edition Classic Star Wars Trivial Pursuits", etc. And, we trusted Hannah that if anything untoward happened she'd alert us to the situation.

It was a lot of fun. I especially enjoyed having a bunch of boys around since the ratios always have been reversed until this weekend. So, what I learned:
  • You can never, ever have too much food around when you are feeding 7-10 teenage boys. Three 16" pizzas disappear as if they never existed. 6 quarts of popcorn likewise. Four liters of pop are gone in four hours. Good thing I had emergency supplies of pretzels, Doritos, etc or they would have wasted away to nothing.

  • A chocolate sheet cake creatively decorated with crossed blue and red light sabers and "May the Force be with you" (all done by Rose) is NOT regarded as dumb and, in fact, may result in having people "call" the pieces of cake with the light sabers.
  • If you have a gallon of whole milk for breakfast, you will get called a hero by many and hugged by three boys you do not even really know. Girls will smile and be thankful, but not as openly appreciative.

  • No one can get every ounce of enjoyment out of Star Wars like a bunch of guys. My first clue was hearing the discussion begin as they trooped down the hall to watch Star Wars, "So do you think there is any significance to the fact that Luke starts out with a blue light saber and then winds up with a red light saber?"

  • StarWarz Gangsta Rap is seriously funny.

  • I'm not sure exactly which demographic Gray's Anatomy is appealing to but I was interested to overhead one of the guys saying at breakfast that the ads looked "raunchy" to a chorus of agreement. If teenage guys don't think all those sexy shenanigans in the ads look good ... but maybe they're too smart for the show ... or at least the ads. Haven't seen it but it was the "raunchy" factor that turned me off too.

  • George "Michael Moore" Lucas says that the over-25 crowd likes the three older movies while the under-25 crowd like the newer movies. He wishes. Only parts of the newer two movies are acceptable and they were all discussed at length. I mean Darth Maul is very cool and how about when Yoda whoops up on the evil count? Good moments but they can't make up for that tragic romance (and we're not talking Romeo and Juliet kind of "tragic"). This doesn't mean that no one is going to see the third movie. Everyone will see it with high hopes that something will finally measure up to the first three.

  • Tom is one savvy guy. We were talking later about how much we liked these kids and how nice they are (while still being normal ...). I was shocked when he said, "Yeah, you can see no one has any shenanigans in mind. No one is going out to their car every 10 minutes or anything." Gee, I hadn't even thought of something like that. But he was quietly assessing everything. So nice to learn new things about each other even after so many years.

  • Dallas is a much smaller town than you'd think. Turns out one boy's mother dated someone who later married someone who was a very good friend of mine many years ago. The guy is Jewish and keeps kosher while my friend is Baptist (?). This leads to my next point...

  • Theology teaching moments come up at the oddest times. During the "break" with everyone standing around eating cake and drinking milk in kitchen when that whole Jewish guy who married my friend thing came up ... the boy said, "Yeah and she's always telling him he's going to hell because he's not a Christian." Just didn't sound like my friend but we haven't been in touch for years. Anyway, then he went on to say, "Just like my 1st grade teacher and my confirmation teacher talking about how non-Catholics are going to hell." Which was my chance to leap in and say that was totally against Church teachings and tell about the American bishop who recently was excommunicated for preaching that very thing. All were much impressed and I heard this being peripherally talked about later.

  • When it came to going to Mass the next morning I surprised even myself by suddenly lowering my "cool mom" factor several degrees when I suddenly began quizzing each and every kid there, "Are you Catholic? Then when are you going to Mass today if you don't go with us?" Which led to more "non-Catholics WON'T go to hell" talk.

Bottom line, these are good kids, they were a heck of a lot of fun to be around, and when Hannah has her "Firefly" shindig later this summer I'll buy lots more pizza.

Faith and Belief

Faith includes belief, but it is more than belief. Here are some of the differences.

Belief is an act of the mind; faith is also an act of the will.

Faith is an act by which one person says to another: "I choose to trust you and believe you."

The object of belief is an idea; the object of faith is a person.

Belief alone is not something to die for. But faith is. Faith is also something to live every moment.

Belief alone is not enough to save us from sin and bring us to heaven. "You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe -- and shudder" (Jas 2:19). But faith does save us. We are "justified by faith" (Rom 5:1), if it is a faith that is alive and thus produces good works (cf. Jas 2:17).

Non-Catholics who, through no fault of their own, do not believe that the Catholic faith is true can still be saved by the faith in their hearts that leads them to love and seek God. For Christ promised that "he who seeks finds" (Mt 7:8). So while correct belief without faith cannot save anyone, faith without correct belief can.

Catholic Christianity:A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church by Peter Kreeft

Friday, May 13, 2005

Freaking Ourselves Out Apocalyptic-Style

Rose has been studying Revelations in theology class. The great thing about her theology teacher is that she doesn't skimp on the symbolic stuff (studied at Steubenville ya know, so I'd expect nothing less). In fact, I've got to applaud Rose's teacher, Miss Stowe, here ... thanks to her getting Rose interested in symbolism and all the levels of meaning to Scripture, Rose told me a couple of days ago that she'd been "wanting to do more with my faith ... do Bible studies to learn more about it." Well, that's something you don't hear every day. Talk about gladdening a mother's heart.

I have heard Rose increasingly mention one "interesting fact" after another that Miss Stowe has provided. I doubt that Miss Stowe knows this (though I'll be sure she finds out) but her influence is what brought Rose to the point of realizing that studying the Bible can be a way to seek out God.

So last night found Rose reading me the chart of numbers and colors with their symbolic meanings from Revelations. Of course, I couldn't let that go by without ripping off my dishwashing gloves and dashing off for my Navarre Bible: Revelations to see what they had to say about it. And you know how that goes ... we were flipping back and forth looking for various interpretations for the horsemen, beasts ... and those freaky plague bowls that get poured out on everyone. At first we were seriously freaking just reading the Scripture out loud ... so looking at the symbolism was very calming in terms of moving things from actual events to their larger interpretations.

Rose kept my Navarre Revelations for future reference but I think I'm gonna have to snag it back when we're all done here with Genesis. From the alpha to the omega so to speak. So thank you Miss Stowe for not only inspiring Rose to study Scripture but for giving me the next Bible study focus (which will probably kill me in terms of notes but what the hey, right?).

Faith and Feeling

Faith is not some state of feeling we get ourselves into. It is much simpler than that. It is simply believing in God and therefore believing everything he has revealed -- no matter how we feel. "God said it, so I believe it, and that settles it."

Feelings are influenced by external things, like fashions and fads, wind and weather, diet and digestion. But when God gives us the gift of faith, he gives it from within, from within our own free will.

The devil can influence our feelings, but he has no control over our faith.

We are not responsible for our (unfree) feelings, but we are responsible for our (free) faith.

Yet, though faith is not a feeling, it often produces feelings: of trust, peace, gratitude, and confidence, for instance. And faith can also be aided by feelings: for instance, when we feel trustful or grateful to someone, God or man, it is much easier for us to believe him than we feel mistrustful or ungrateful.

But even when we do not feel trustful or peaceful, we can still believe. Faith is not dependent on feelings. It is dependent on facts: divinely revealed facts.

There is a Chinese parable about faith and feeling. Fact, Faith, and Feeling are three men walking along the top of a well. As long as Faith keeps his eyes on Fact, ahead of him, all three keep walking. But when Faith takes his eyes off Fact and turns around to worry about how Feeling is doing, both Faith and Feeling fall off the wall. (But Fact never does.)

Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church by Peter Kreeft

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Getting Closer to Jesus: His Mother

Reading The Reed of God by Caryll Houselander this morning I came across this beautiful and profound meditation on Mary and why we should imitate her. This is something that I will be thinking about whenever I say the rosary so I will put it out there for everyone to consider.
When we are attracted to a particular saint, it is usually the little human details which attract us. These touches bridge the immense gap between heroic virtue and our weakness. We love most those saints who before they were great saints were great sinners.

But even those who were saints form the cradle are brought closer to us by recorded trifles of their humanness ...

Of Our Lady such things are not recorded. We complain that so little is recorded of her personality, so few of her words, so few deeds, that we can form no picture of her, and there is nothing that we can lay hold of to imitate.

But it is Our Lady -- and no other saint -- whom we can imitate.

All the canonized saints had special vocations, and special gifts for their fulfillment: presumption for me to think of imitating St. Catherine or St. Paul or St. Joan if I have not their unique character and intellect -- which indeed I have not.

Each saint has his special work: one person's work. But Our Lady had to include in her vocation, in her life's work, the essential thing that was to be hidden in every other vocation, in every life.

She is not only human; she is humanity.

The one thing that she did and does is the one thing that we all have to do, namely, to bear Christ into the world.

Christ must be born from every soul formed in every life. If we had a picture of Our Lady's personality, we might be dazzled into thinking that only one sort of person could form Christ in himself, and we should miss the meaning of our own being.

Nothing but things essential for us are revealed to us about the Mother of God: the fact that she was wed to the Holy Spirit and bore Christ into the world.

Our crowning joy is that she did this as a lay person and through the ordinary daily life that we all live; through natural love made supernatural, as the water at Cana was, at her request, turned into wine.

In the world as it is, torn with agonies and dissensions, we need some direction for our souls which is never away from us; which, without enslaving us or narrowing our vision, enters into every detail of our life. Everyone longs for some such inward rule, a universal rule as big as the immeasurable law of love, yet as little as the narrowness of our daily routine. It must be so truly part of us all that it makes us all one, and yet to each one the secret of his own life with God.

To this need, the imitation of Our Lady is the answer; in contemplating her we find intimacy with God, the law which is the lovely yoke of the one irresistible love.

Abraham's Resume

Abraham could hardly have been expected to visualize how much of the future was resting on his decision of whether to go [follow God's direction] or stay, but his obedience affected the history of the world. His decision to follow God set into motion the development of the nation that God would eventually use as his own when he visited earth himself. When Jesus Christ came to earth, God's promise was fulfilled; through Abraham the entire world was blessed.

Strengths and accomplishments:
  • His faith pleased God
  • Became the founder of the Jewish nation
  • Was respected by others and was courageous in defending his family at any cost
  • Was not only a caring father to his own family, but practiced hospitality to others
  • Was a successful and wealthy rancher
  • Usually avoided conflicts, but when they were unavoidable, he allowed his opponent to set the rules for settling the dispute
Weaknesses and mistakes:
  • Under direct pressure, he distorted the truth
Lessons from his life:
  • God desires dependence, trust, and faith in him -- not faith in our ability to please him
  • God's plan from the beginning has been to make himself known to all people
Vital statistics:
  • Where: Born in Ur of the Chaldeans; spent most of his life in the land of Cannan
  • Occupation: Wealthy livestock owner
  • Relatives: Brothers - Nahor and Haran. Father - Terah. Wife - Sarah. Nephew - Lot. Sons - Ishmael and Isaac
  • Contemporaries: Abimelech, Melchizedek
Key verse:
"Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness" (Genesis 15:6)

Abraham's story is told in Genesis 11-25. He also is mentioned in Exodus 2:24; Acts 7:2-8; Romans 4; Galatians 3; Hebrews 2, 6, 7, 11.

All material quoted is from the Life Application Study Bible. See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for link to this reference.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Are There Animals in Heaven?

I have a few friends whose pets have died recently or who have just found out about a bad pet illness. This is from last July for anyone who wants to see what Peter Kreeft says about the subject.

Interpreting Scripture

... the Church is the servant of Scripture, as a teacher is faithful to her textbook. Her Book comes alive when the Holy Spirit teaches through her, as a sword comes alive in the hands of a great swordsman (see Heb 4:12).

Some of the most important principles of interpreting Scripture are:
  1. All Scripture is a word-picture of Christ. The Word of God in words (Scripture) is about the Word of God in flesh (Christ).

  2. Therefore the Old Testament is to be interpreted in light of the New (and vice versa), for Christ came not "to abolish the law and the prophets ... but to fulfill them" (Mt 5:17).

  3. Saints are the best interpreters of Scripture, because their hearts are closer to the heart of God, Scripture's primary Author. Christ said, "If any man's will is to do his [the Father's] will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God" (Jn 7:17).

  4. The Gospels are the very heart of Scripture. The saints found no better material for meditation than these (see CCC 125-27).

  5. Each passage should be interpreted in its context -- both the immediate context of the passage and the overall context of the whole Bible in its unity, all the parts cohering together.

  6. Scripture should be interpreted from within the living tradition of the Church. This is not narrow and limiting, but expansive and deep. It is also reasonable; for suppose a living author had written a book many years ago and had been teaching that book every day: Who could interpret that book better than he?
Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church by Peter Kreeft

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Where Do I Go When I Need to Feel Closer to Jesus?

About two weeks ago when I just felt like I needed to get closer to Jesus. I instinctively started praying the rosary. That answer might surprise people who don't know about the rosary. I know it surprised me when I first started learning about it.

The first time I ever prayed the rosary was about five years ago when Hannah had woken us in the night with extreme stomach pains and Tom wound up taking her to the emergency room to see if it was appendicitis. I didn't know the first thing about the rosary except that it was supposed to be a great way to pray ... and, truth to tell, I was in quite a panic and wanted someone who would relate to me ... another mother ... Mary. Of course, I did it all wrong. I managed to dig up the actual prayers, I counted off the prayers as I said them aloud and ... I prayed to Mary for Hannah to be well. It was like a textbook case of what critics of the rosary would point to. Hannah was fine and I know that God understood my total confusion. But with that panic filled night arose my determination to find out what the story was with Mary and that rosary.

I went to Amazon (where else?) and got the easiest book I could find to fill me in, Christ's Mother and Ours by Oscar Lukefahr. I already knew the rosary beads are simply a set of counting beads to help you keep track of your prayers. As you say each prayer you go on to the next bead. However, what I learned was that the vocal prayers are intended to be aids in meditating on various events in Jesus' and his mother's life. When you pray, you mentally concentrate on either the Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, or Glorious mysteries. You put yourself "in the scene" for each of the mysteries. I have heard it said that praying the rosary is praying the Gospels. As Pope John Paul II said in his Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae we are contemplating Christ with Mary.
Mary lived with her eyes fixed on Christ, treasuring his every word: "She kept all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Lk 2:19; cf. 2:51). The memories of Jesus, impressed upon her heart, were always with her, leading her to reflect on the various moments of her life at her Son's side. In a way those memories were to be the "rosary" which she recited uninterruptedly throughout her earthly life.
When I found out all that then the rosary started to mean something to me. It didn't change my life. I am not devoted to it. I go through fits and spurts and usually wind up saying it while driving to work (long ago having memorized the prayers and mysteries). However, if I really stay focused and meditate on the mysteries it is a rare occasion when I do not come away enlightened ... sometimes by something in an event, sometimes by God reaching through the prayers to touch me. And, if nothing else, I have been spending about 20 minutes contemplating events from the Gospels ... and that can't hurt!

I'm in the mood to talk about the rosary so there'll be more later about the prayers themselves and what those mysteries actually are.

What Abraham's Life Means to Us

GENESIS 22 & 23
Abraham's story with all the drama and events and lies and faulty humans is actually a story that shows us God's faithfulness and love. I never would have thought of it this way before going through this study but it is undeniable.
The story of Abraham's life is a story with almost limitless meaning. It includes examples of faith, prayer, and sacrifice. It contains many lessons for those who, like Abraham, live their lives by putting their faith in God. Yet perhaps the greatest significance of the story of Abraham is that it is the story of God in love with man.

From the earliest chapters of Genesis, we have traced out the evidence of God's profound love for the human creatures who bear His image and likeness. The rebellion of Adam and Eve not only did not conquer God's love, it actually became an occasion for Him to demonstrate its depth and breadth and height. For not only did God
love humans when they behaved, but He even loved them when they sinned. How? He gave them promises to live by and punishments to purify them. Over and over again, God bent down to reorganize and restore the family life that was shattered in Eden. First, He promised to defeat His enemy through human beings. Then, in Genesis
12, He promised to create, from one man, a whole nation that would belong to Him; through that nation, He planned to reverse the curse of Eden into universal blessing.

The context for comprehending the significance of Abraham's story is the initiative and action of God in pursuit of humanity. His call to Abram in Genesis 12 begins a detailed, engaging account of how one ordinary human being, a creature of flesh and blood like us, is singled out by God to be transformed from sinner to saint. The
story of his life is the first extended account we have of intimacy between God and man. It is a story of God's love from beginning to end.

Yes, even at the end, when God asks Abraham to give up, to put to death, that which gives his life its only true meaning, He is acting out of passionate love for him. How can that be? God knows that in losing our lives, we find them. He knew that in Eden. He knew that on Moriah. He knew it on Calvary. The source of perfect human happiness is perfect obedience to God, even if it costs us everything.

What began as intimations of God's love in the early chapters of Genesis are confirmed and ratified in the life of Abraham. Stooping down to call Abram out of Haran to follow Him to a new country, God demonstrates His condescension to undeserving mankind. Through the details of Abraham's story - faith, missteps, miracles, weakness - we see how relentless His love is. The culmination of this courtship takes place on Moriah, when God rewards the perfect obedience of Abraham with an oath that will affect the rest of human history, until the end of time. All of God's blessings in the world, from the time of Abraham, can be traced back to this oath. His mercies to Israel, the nation that came from the loins of Abraham, were the result not of the worthiness of Israel but of the promise He had made to Abraham on Moriah (Ex. 32:11-14; Ps. 51:1-4). When Mary sings exultantly of God's work in her, she sees it as a fulfillment of God's promises to Abraham (Lu. 1:54-55).

It is ironic, isn't it, that people sometimes suggest that God in the Old Testament is full of wrath, and that it is in the New Testament that we see Him as a God of love. Don't believe it for a minute. The story of Abraham is the story of God's powerful love for mortals like us, which searches us out and elevates us to unthinkable heights.
All quoted material is from Catholic Exchange's "Catholic Scripture Study." See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for links to references used.

Monday, May 9, 2005

Why We Need Faith

We need faith because our world is full of death.

And so are we. Each one of us will die. So will each nation. Many individuals and nations will also kill. Our world has always been a world at war with itself, because it has been at war with God. Thomas Merton wrote: "We are not at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves. And we are not at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God."

Human nature does not change. Today we live in what the Vicar of Christ has called "the culture of death," a culture that kills children before birth and kills childhood after birth, kills innocence and faithfulness and families. What is the answer to this culture of death?

Faith. The Catholic faith is the answer.

Faith in the God who has not left us in the dark but has revealed himself as our Creator; who, out of his love, designed us for a life of love, in this world and in the next.

Faith in the gospel, the good news of the man who said he was God come down from heaven to die on the Cross to save us from sin and to rise from the grave to save us from death.

Faith in the Church he left us as his visible body on earth, empowered by his Spirit, authorized to teach in his name, with his authority: to invite us to believe the truth of his gospel, to live the life of his love, and to celebrate the sacraments of his presence.

This church is our only sure and certain light in this beautiful but broken world.

Faith is the answer to fear. Deep down we are all afraid: of suffering, or of dying, or of God's judgment, or of the unknown, or of weakness, or of our lives slipping out of our control, or of not being understood and loved. We sin because we fear. We bully because we are cowards.

Faith casts out fear as light casts out darkness. God has shone his light into our world, and it is stronger than darkness (Jn 1:5).

That light is Jesus Christ.

Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church by Peter Kreeft

Tuesday, May 3, 2005

Let's Talk Doctrine ... Catholic Doctrine, That Is

Y'all may remember that Wayne, the Questions and Answers guy had some "easy" questions for me.
  1. Has the Catholic church ever been wrong on doctrine?
  2. If it were wrong on a doctrine how do you correct it?
I'm going to begin with looking at where Catholic doctrine comes from. In so doing, I believe the answers to the above questions will become obvious. Here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says.
God has said everything in his Word

65 "In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son." Christ, the Son of God made man, is the Father's one, perfect and unsurpassable Word. In him he has said everything; there will be no other word than this one. St. John of the Cross, among others, commented strikingly on Hebrews 1:1-2:
In giving us his Son, his only Word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word - and he has no more to say. . . because what he spoke before to the prophets in parts, he has now spoken all at once by giving us the All Who is His Son. Any person questioning God or desiring some vision or revelation would be guilty not only of foolish behaviour but also of offending him, by not fixing his eyes entirely upon Christ and by living with the desire for some other novelty.
There will be no further Revelation

66 "The Christian economy, therefore, since it is the new and definitive Covenant, will never pass away; and no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ." Yet even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries

67 Throughout the ages, there have been so-called "private" revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ's definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. Guided by the Magisterium of the Church, the sensus fidelium knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church.
Christian faith cannot accept "revelations" that claim to surpass or correct the Revelation of which Christ is the fulfilment, as is the case in certain nonChristian religions and also in certain recent sects which base themselves on such "revelations".
Catechism of the Catholic Church
So what that all boils down to is that, because God revealed his plan of salvation to us through the prophets of the Old Testament and then came as Christ to reveal the plan's culmination, we cannot change the deposit of faith. We have to stick with what we were given. We do not have the authority to change it.

This doesn't mean that the faith doesn't change, however. As explanations and interpretations of the original deposit of faith happen over time the faith grows from within, somewhat like a plant. However, every new interpretation must be tested against the original deposit of faith (see this for Cardinal Newman's seven tests of doctrinal development which help illustrate this point).

The interpretation and transmission of the faith is done by the Magisterium.
The Magisterium of the Church

85 "The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ." This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.

86 "Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith."

87 Mindful of Christ's words to his apostles: "He who hears you, hears me", The faithful receive with docility the teachings and directives that their pastors give them in different forms.
Catechism of the Catholic Church
Based on the fact that I trust Jesus set us on the right road and that the Holy Spirit is working through the Magisterium to maintain the deposit of the faith, my answer to the question of Catholic doctrine ever being wrong is ... no, it has not been wrong.

This is not to say that people, being the fallible creatures that we are, could not misapply doctrine either through error or for their own purposes. When we look at the 2,000 year history of the Church we can see, sadly, too many examples of such behavior. However, the doctrine itself is divinely revealed and we also can look at that same history and see where the Holy Spirit has put the Church back on the proper course.

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
That leads neatly to the question of what one would do if a doctrine were wrong, which I will look at from the point of view of a doctrine being misused. Church history gives us examples of saints who had various problems with the powers-that-be of the time. I have read time and again of many different types of saints who were trying to found orders, get the pope to move from France to Rome, or other tasks that seemed impossible to effect. In all the cases I can think of, they were first of all obedient to any orders given them, but persisted in prayer, petition, and working toward their goals within the confines of obedience ... and God used them for dramatic reforms in some cases. Just as the saints give us examples of how to grow closer to God, they also are the examples I would use in seeking reform.

However, before going through all that it would behoove me to thoroughly study the doctrine in question. This is something that I went through on several issues after I converted and so I have very strong feelings about it.
"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.
If I had not gone through the process that De Fedei Obedientia describes (and done it more than once) only to find that my logic had nothing on that of 2,000 years of Church Fathers, then I would not be Catholic. There would be no point to it because without believing in the Catholic doctrine and the Holy Spirit's guidance of the Church then you are left with nothing.
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
Sources: Catechism of the Catholic Church, Catholic Christianity, Why Do Catholics Do That?

Monday, May 2, 2005

Jews, Christians, Muslims ... and Abraham

GENESIS STUDY
We know that all three religions have a basic connection through Abraham. A succinct summary in The Complete Bible Handbook (see sidebar under Bible Study) shows where they agree and disagree about Abraham's example for us.
A common reverence for Abraham as a model of true human response to God and as ancestor of subsequent believers is one of the prime links between Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

Abraham's responsiveness to God is summed up in his epithet as "the friend of God." This title is first given in Hebrew scripture (Isa 41:8; 2 Chr. 20:7); it is taken up in the New Testament (Jas. 2:23); and in Islam, Abraham (Ibrahim) is known simply as "the friend" (Al Kahlil).

Each religion gives content to Abraham's friendship with God in terms of its own characteristic emphases, on the supposition that Abraham is best understood in terms of that to which he helped give rise. Thus for Jews (appealing to Gen. 26:5 as well as to more general considerations), Abraham is an example of one who was obedient to God's commandments, or Torah, even before Torah was given to Israel at Sinai. For Christians, following Paul's exposition (Rom. 4), Abraham is a model of one who has faith (pistis) in God. For Muslims, Abraham demonstrates islam, unconditional submission to the will of God, as in his willingness to sacrifice his son. Though Jews, Christians, and Muslims differ about the true human response to God as exemplified by Abraham, they agree that he provides a model of how human life should be lived.

Sunday, May 1, 2005

May is Mary's Month

(After I told Steven Riddle I didn't like poetry, what did I find in my quote journal but this which cries out for being posted on May Day.)
The May Magnificat
May is Mary's month, and I
Muse at that and wonder why:
Her feasts follow reason,
Dated due to season --

Candlemas, Lady Day;
But the Lady Month, May,
Why fasten that upon her,
With a feasting in her honour

Is it only its being brighter
Than the most are must delight her?
Is it opportunest
And flowers finds soonest?

Ask of her, the mighty mother;
Her reply puts this other
Question: What is Spring? --
Growth in everything --

Flesh and fleece, fur and feather
Grass and green world all together;
Star-eyed strawberry breasted
Throstle above her nested

Cluster of bugle blue eggs thin
Forms and warms the life within;
And bird and blossom swell
In sod or sheath or shell.

All things rising, all things sizing
Mary sees, sympathising
With that world of good
Nature's motherhood.

Their magnifying of each its kind
With delight calls to mind
How she did in her stored
Magnify the Lord

Well but there was more than this:
Spring's universal bliss
Much, had much to say
To offering Mary May.

When drop-of-blood-and-foam-dapple
Bloom lights the orchard-apple
And thicket and thorp are merry
With silver-surféd cherry

And azuring-over greybell makes
Wood banks and brakes wash wet like lakes
And magic cuckoo call
Caps, clears, and clinches all --

This ecstasy all through mothering earth
Tells Mary her mirth till Christ's birth
To remember and exultation
In God who was her salvation.
Gerard Manley Hopkins