14 Days

In two very short weeks I will find myself in Chicago to spend the weekend discerning and interviewing for a job with FOCUS. I’m still a bit in shock to be honest. When I left college I never would have imagined such a thing. Even at the beginning of this school year FOCUS was not even on my radar as far as the possibility of being a missionary was concerned.

It wasn’t until late October when it hit me. I love college students (which is weird to me being a melancholic and an INTJ). And I love working with them. But they need something I can’t provide in the capacity of my current position. I realized this one rainy day as I was trudging across campus. And God simply whispered the word FOCUS. That was it.

I’m excited. And I’m afraid. But I’m trying to keep it in perspective, trying to humble myself before God. Whatever happens happens. If it is God’s will I shall get the job. If it is not, I won’t. And I’m okay either way. Because missionary or no, my vocation is the same: to love God with all my being.

I am simply asking for your prayers, not prayers that I get the position, but prayers that God gets his way in this matter.

The Quest for the Miraculous

It never fails that I find myself perusing some interesting forums on Catholic Answers. Just the other day I wound up on a few old threads that were discussing some of the generous life spans in the early chapters of Genesis. You remember; those people whom Scripture says lived for many centuries.

Throughout the thread the discussion came down to two distinct and opposing factions that, if given the chance, would have excommunicated each other right there on the forums. On one side you had the literalist interpreters, those who believed that the exact meanings of the words were the exact meaning of the texts, un-nuanced by deeper meanings. They viewed the Bible as a precise historical record. If Genesis says that Seth lived 912 years (which it does) that means gosh darn it that Seth literally lived for that long (somebody who died today who had lived 912 years, would have been born in the year 1103 when Henry I was king of England). There were no literary devices in use in that text. I was surprised to see many of these commenters also espousing extreme young earth philosophy (not that I’m saying that that is bad, it’s just not something I’ve been used to in Catholic circles).

On the other hand you had the literal commenters who immediately and flippantly dismissed the texts as obviously symbolic. People today don’t live anywhere close to that long so the text could not be stating a numeric fact; it was using a literary device in order to inform the original audience of a deeper meaning. Anyone suggesting otherwise was a dangerous fanatical fundamentalist.

I could see both sides. On the literalist side commenters were dumbfounded that Catholics of faith found it so difficult to believe that God could have allowed humans to live to such long life spans. They were astounded that they would prefer the science of our current human state to the infallible word of God, which according to one commenter was recorded word-for-word from the lips of God (perhaps I’ll write about the problem of that idea in a later post). On the literal side, the commenters simply could not believe that someone could not see that there are many different kinds of literature in the Bible and that all could not be interpreted in the same way, that not all passages are to be taken literally.

I fall in the middle somewhere.  So these are my messages. First to the literalists, those who hold that the Bible is history book and that the word-for-word, plain meaning of the texts is the supreme or accurate interpretation. You must realize that none of the texts in the Bible were written in modern English in 21st century western literary culture. You simply cannot expect all texts in the Bible to fit our contemporary modes of interpretation. You must go back to the literary styles of the date and place.  This is precisely what the Catechism teaches in Paragraphs 109-114.

But my second message is perhaps even more important, and it is to the literalists. Don’t simply assume that an event is a literary device simply because something seems scientifically impossible. Sure, the Church doesn’t dogmatically teach that the great Flood was a real historical event that actually occurred, but neither does she dogmatically teach that it is only a device used to teach a lesson. We cannot assume that because the Flood is scientifically improbable that it didn’t occur. Our God is a God of miracles. If we dismiss the long life spans, the Flood, the Tower of Babel, Lot’s Wife, the Plagues, the Parting of the Sea, and the numerous other miracles simply because they were scientifically or archaeologically unlikely, what is to stop us from denying other miracles: the wine at Cana, the feeding of the 5,000, raising Lazarus from the dead, the healing of lepers, the vanquishing of demons, and the two miracles that I would argue are most important: the Resurrection and the Eucharist?

I am not saying that every miracle recorded in the Old Testament actually occurred, but we should be careful when we dismiss something as a literary device simply because it is too awesome to believe to be true. We worship a God, not a god. We worship one who creates the natural laws, but is not bound by them. We worship a God of surprises, a God of love, a God of surprising love! We worship a God who daily performs miracles across tens of thousands of altars in order to manifest his love and his salvation to every race, tribe, and tongue. We are not on a symbolic journey, but are truly on a quest for the miraculous.

Working on a New Post

I just wanted to let you all know that it might be another day or two before I get some new content up here. I’m working on a post that is kind of about literal vs. literalist interpretations of Scripture, but is actually more about the effects if we treat the entire Scripture as one or the other. You’ll just have to read it when it comes.

Also tomorrow is the feast of St. Meinrad, one of my patron saints! (Yay!) So I won’t be fasting tomorrow! (double yay!) Read about his life here!

The Appeal of Heathenism

This past summer I did quite a bit of research about heathenism, specifically the brand of paganism that is based off the Norse pantheon. Since I’ve recently had a young woman comment on the blog who to some degree or another has left the Catholic faith to worship Odin, Thor, Baldr, and the other numerous pagan gods of the Norsemen, I think it is relevant to share what I have learned. While I wouldn’t say that there is any kind of significant portion of the lay faithful that are abandoning Christ for the Norse pantheon, even one soul lost is a sad day in heaven. So I think it is important to understand what people find so attractive about heathenism.

Equality with the gods

In the creation story of the Norse myths, the universe as we know it was created from pre-existing material that was in two states: some was ice and some was fire. These elements somehow began moving toward each other into an abyss, and when these opposites met, a frosty substance was formed, which became a living breathing giant. Without recounting the entire myth, this giant is the father (and grandfather, etc.) of the gods and the giants. This is the fundamental difference between heathenism and Catholicism: the true God is eternal and uncreated, the heathen gods are created beings that have a beginning and according to their own apocalyptic folklore, will have an end. And so, while some of the gods did create the world and humankind from the pre-existing material of the universe, they are essentially equals: brothers and sisters. There is no reason to see the gods as superior to you. This is diametrically opposed to the Catholic faith in which God is eternal and the source of the existence of all things. He is a brother, but first and foremost he is Lord, King of the universe. He owes his existence to no one, whereas the Norse gods do owe their existence to someone or to some force.

The appeal of such a belief system is difficult to deny, especially in this age of individualism, which has unfortunately seeped into the Church. To believe that we are simply brothers and sisters with the gods, created from the same stuffs is hugely appealing, especially to those who feel marginalized or forgotten within the Church.

Nothing owed

Due to human equality with the gods, there is nothing owed to them. Worship and devotion become totally optional. You can choose which gods to worship and which ones to not. The gods won’t feel snubbed if you don’t offer anything to them. Thor won’t get jealous if you only pray to Odin and vice-versa. In fact you don’t have to worship any of them if you don’t want to. It really can seem like a breath of fresh air to those in our ranks who have been poorly catechized and don’t understand why we do the things we do. When our rites seem meaningless because of poor teaching, a system without required rites becomes very appealing.

Perceived ancestral injustice

As silly as this sounds, it is actually a common theme that runs through many websites dedicated to heathen worship. There is a great animosity for the violence that early Christians inflicted upon pagans to force them to convert. Just like all humans, it can be difficult to see the entire picture when we feel defensive.

But it is an overstatement to paint the Christianization of the pagans as some ludicrously bloody mowing by the sword. To start, the Catholic Church did not come rolling out of the Crucifixion with a sword ready to conquer the world. The Church was persecuted for nearly three and a half centuries before it gained legal status. During this time, many pagans converted, totally and utterly freely despite the illegality of Christianity. If anything, these conversions were met with violence at the hands of the pagans.

Violence in conversion didn’t begin until after the legalization of Christianity, but even then, violence was used on Christians, not pagans (not that that is any kind of excuse). The violence was used to keep Christians orthodox. It wasn’t until Charlemagne in the ninth century that violence was really used against the pagans. However, the violence wasn’t simply used as a conversion tool, but was part of a much larger campaign to conquer territory. It’s important here to point out two facts: one, that Charlemagne was a Christian, but he was not the infallible source of Christian dogma. He was a political leader, a human, and a sinner. And two: that the use of violence to gain control of territory, and to dominate people, did not originate at this point in history. Pagans were not peace-loving hippies. They were also violent. They conquered each other and when they did, one tribe brought in their gods and those who were conquered adopted or adapted new pantheons. It’s sad, but this is part of our fallen nature, we hurt each other and wage violence. Even good people do bad things.

What many heathens fail to realize, or admit, is that even after these violent events, the pagan religions were not simply wiped out. The polytheistic religions actually “converted” rather peacefully. They initially adopted Christ into their pantheons without giving up their gods, as they had been doing throughout history when one people conquered another. This is why you had paganism surviving well into the Christianization of each people group. It sometimes took generations for the conversion to be complete, and the completion did not occur by violence, but by catechesis.

Violence can never be justified in conversion (you hear that ISIS?), but it should also not be overstated when talking about the spread of Christianity.

Conclusions

These have pretty much been the three main things I’ve noticed when researching heathenism that seem so attractive: that the gods are actually fellow creatures (though, by whose will were they created, nobody seems to know), that there are no true obligations to the gods, and that our ancestors were violently persecuted and forced to convert by evil Christians.

Despite these allurements, there are real, intellectual reasons to reject polytheistic heathenism and accept Catholicism. We need to pray for our Church, that those becoming disillusioned by the human aspect of the Church, hold fast to the faith, and that those who have already left the Church to return to the false religions of the past would consider engaging intellectually with the faith, so that they may return to what is true, not to what is easy or trendy.

This post is not meant to belittle anyone, but if you are a member of a heathen kindred, especially if you are a former Catholic, I welcome you to share your perspective and experience on why you left the Church.

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St. Olaf, patron of the peoples of Scandinavia. We ask for you to obtain for your people the blessings of peace and truth, and the strength to forgive. We ask that through your intercession God would show them tenderness and mercy, and that the nations would be brought back from paganism and secularism to worship the creator of the universe who alone is un-created and upon whom all that exists is reliant for its very being. We ask all of this in the name of the Son of the Father, Jesus Christ, God incarnate. Amen.

A Prayer to O.L. of Guadalupe

A paraphrase of a spontaneous prayer I prayed yesterday in front of the Marian votive candles.

Blessed Mary, you appeared to St. Juan Diego as the Virgin of Guadalupe on the hill of Tepeyac. Look upon my barren and wintry hill of a heart and cause sweet roses of love to bloom. Help me to gather them up and by doing so, imprint your image into my very being, so that I may point others to Jesus Christ through you. Amen.

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So Fast

I made a number of resolutions for the new year regarding the spiritual life. While I have yet to adopt all of them (it’s best to ease into them as one eases into a frigidly cold lake), I immediately adopted my fasting resolution: to fast every Wednesday and Friday (except for solemnities and my patronal feasts) and to abstain from meat on Fridays (per canons 1250 and 1251).

Why have I chosen this? Well for starters, Jesus expects us to fast. When Jesus speaks about fasting during the sermon on the mount he says, “when you fast,” not “if you fast.” These are not words that seem to imply that fasting is optional. This is why the Church has specific days in which the faithful are obligated to fast (Ash Wednesday and Good Friday).

So why does Jesus ask us to fast? I’ve written a little bit about it before, but there are many reasons. The first is that fasting allows us to practice and cultivate (side note: I’ve been using the word cultivate a lot in my prayers lately) self-discipline. Fasting allows us to master something that is largely under our control: food. And by building that virtue, which is temperance, we will better be able to master other things, the vices which dwell in our souls.

So fasting becomes a way in which we can enter battle against the Devil and win. In fact it was one of the ways in which Christ totally pwned the Devil in Scripture.

Fasting also enables us to focus our prayer. When we take a day to be less consumed by the food we consume, we can direct that attention towards God and enter into deeper communion with him.

The practice is also a way to commemorate solemn and sorrowful events in Our Lord’s life. The Orthodox fast on Wednesdays and Fridays to commemorate the Betrayal by Judas and the Crucifixion respectively.

Fasting is also a way to enter into solidarity with our suffering brothers and sisters: the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the relentlessly persecuted. It allows us to bear a cross that we in out cushy American lives don’t really experience. We suffer just a little bit in fasting and if our heart is in the right place we can ask God to apply the merits of our fasting to strengthen those in need.

Fasting is incredibly important for the Christian life. It is not too late to start. It won’t be easy at first, and you probably won’t be successful, but it is a work in which you progressively master your passions.

Consider taking up regular fasting.

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Prayer for After Mass

The Universal Prayer (Attributed to Pope Clement XI)

Lord, I believe in you: increase my faith.
I trust in you: strengthen my trust.
I love you: let me love you more and more.
I am sorry for my sins: deepen my sorrow.

I worship you as my first beginning,
I long for you as my last end,
I praise you as my constant helper,
And call on you as my loving protector.

Guide me by your wisdom,
Correct me with your justice,
Comfort me with your mercy,
Protect me with your power.

I offer you, Lord, my thoughts: to be fixed on you;
My words: to have you for their theme;
My actions: to reflect my love for you;
My sufferings: to be endured for your greater glory.

I want to do what you ask of me:
In the way you ask,
For as long as you ask,
Because you ask it.

Lord, enlighten my understanding,
Strengthen my will,
Purify my heart,
and make me holy.

Help me to repent of my past sins
And to resist temptation in the future.
Help me to rise above my human weaknesses
And to grow stronger as a Christian.

Let me love you, my Lord and my God,
And see myself as I really am:
A pilgrim in this world,
A Christian called to respect and love
All whose lives I touch,
Those under my authority,
My friends and my enemies.

Help me to conquer anger with gentleness,
Greed by generosity,
Apathy by fervor.
Help me to forget myself
And reach out toward others.

Make me prudent in planning,
Courageous in taking risks.
Make me patient in suffering, unassuming in prosperity.

Keep me, Lord, attentive at prayer,
Temperate in food and drink,
Diligent in my work,
Firm in my good intentions.

Let my conscience be clear,
My conduct without fault,
My speech blameless,
My life well-ordered.
Put me on guard against my human weaknesses.
Let me cherish your love for me,
Keep your law,
And come at last to your salvation.

Teach me to realize that this world is passing,
That my true future is the happiness of heaven,
That life on earth is short,
And the life to come eternal.

Help me to prepare for death
With a proper fear of judgment,
But a greater trust in your goodness.
Lead me safely through death
To the endless joy of heaven.

Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

From the Mind of God

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I took this photo earlier tonight while I was praying at the cathedral. You might not be able to tell from the quality and size of this picture, but our austere sanctuary has a simple and beautiful Christmas tree this year. As I thought about that tree, I thought about where it came from, what it was made of. Usually when I begin going down that line of thought I come to the mind-blowing reality that God created everything from absolutely nothing. God, who is spirit, simply commanded everything into existence. But the crazy part of that is to consider the question, to whom did he command? What obeyed his word? Nobody. Nothing. There was nothing besides him. It wasn’t like when Jesus called the twelve, entities that already existed, to come and form a band of 12 men to lead his Church. No, in the beginning, God didn’t have any building blocks with which to build the universe. Its unbelievably amazing. Even more so is that this universe which exists comes from God, and yet it is not God, and is not made up of the substance of God.

Even though the universe is not made up of the substance of God, it does somehow come from God, and everything in it exists in relation to God and has its existence because God wills it, which means that God knew it before he made it, which means that everything in this universe is a reflection of something in the mind of God, which means that everything which exists tells us something about the nature of God, something about the persons of the Trinity.

And so that Christmas tree there was once just a tree in the forest (in all likelihood it was probably raised on a tree farm, but I can dream), but it tells us secrets about God. From its physical characteristics: its strength, it’s “evergreeniness”, its internal structures that deliver nutrients and water to all parts of the tree, it bark which protects it from pests and the elements, etc.; to its more abstract characteristics: the aesthetic beauty it provides to all five senses and the purposes which it serves for other members of creation.

Anyway, as the Christmas season draws to a close, and we finish celebrating the incredible mystery of God becoming a part of his creation, it important for us to never lose our incredible awe for the created world. Don’t ever think of life as boring, as our surroundings as hum-drum, because everything which exists proclaims the glory of God and gives us a glimpse into who he is.

Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made.

Romans 1:20

 

Main Purpose of Salvation or One Thing You Can’t Do in Heaven

I’m not sure what exactly lead me to consider the title of a book that I almost read a long time ago called One Thing You Can’t Do in Heaven by Mark Cahill. It was at a weekly meeting of Campus Crusade when I was still a Protestant that this book was mentioned, or perhaps it was at TCX. Either way, I thought about it today and considered two things after reading some of the comments on the page linked above: the first being that the premise of the title of the book is faulty, and the second being a misplaced emphasis on the importance of evangelization in our personal salvation.

FLASHING CAUTION LIGHT!!! I did not say that evangelization should not be emphasized, but…

There is a certain brand of Christianity, of which I used to belong, that seems to, both in practice and in word, express the belief that the main point of our salvation is to bring the Gospel to others. This is false. The end game is the Beatific Vision. The Catechism teaches:

Faith makes us taste in advance the light of the beatific vision, the goal of our journey here below. Then we shall see God “face to face,” “as he is.”

CCC 163

The Baltimore Catechism taught that the entire purpose of life is to know, love, and serve God in this life, so that we can be happy with him in heaven.

Now this is not to undermine the importance of evangelization, which is very important and is currently blazing in a beautiful fire of renewal in the Church, and is something I hope to be taking a greater part in over the next couple of years.

This is what the Catechism has to say:

“Having been divinely sent to the nations that she might be ‘the universal sacrament of salvation,’ the Church, in obedience to the command of her founder and because it is demanded by her own essential universality, strives to preach the Gospel to all men”: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and Lo, I am with you always, until the close of the age.”

CCC 849

Again, though, the purpose of our salvation is to know God here so that we may love him more there. I wish that this had been properly emphasized back in my Evangelical days.

The other thing that I mentioned is that the premise of the title of the book is faulty. Now in full disclosure I openly and readily admit that I have not read the book (nor do I have any desire to). But this post is not really about the book, but is about the premise, which is: that evangelization is something we cannot do in heaven [on a side note, is this position a concession by Evangelicals that intercession of the Saints is possible?].

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This is just not true. The largest evangelization event in the history of the world stemmed from a visit from the Blessed Mother in Mexico in the sixteenth century, with over 8 million conversions over the following 10 years. The power to evangelize and convert the world is only heightened in heaven, not eliminated. While most of us will not visit earth after death in an apparition, our power to pray for, and influence the lives of our loved ones and our nations and peoples will be beyond what we can accomplish in this mortal, limited body.

To summarize: I write this to remind us that salvation is first and foremost to reconcile us to God so that we may know him and love him in order to prepare ourselves to spend eternity with him. Evangelism comes second to that fundamental purpose, without which, salvation is entirely a waste of time. And I seek to remind us that in heaven there is no limitation to what we might accomplish for the will of God, that our power to pray for others is strengthened and our ability to speak to the depths of the hearts of the lost is deepened in the abyss of his mercy which makes us like him (1 John 3:2-3).