Postage for Pakistan and other parts of the planet

Monday, December 23, 2013

I can marry anyone I feel like ... So there! Bhwhhpllllphhhh.

I argued the slippery slope argument back in 2000 or so when I worked for the GOP caucus and we were fighting domestic partnership bills. Then I interviewed a homosexual activist for an article on same sex marriage about the slippery slope. "Won't happen," he unequivocally told me, and those who insisted otherwise were being paranoid. And now this. I'm going to see if my wife will consent to our marrying our pet cat (we don't have one, but we can get one in time for the license). Because really, who is the government or the state to tell us there is no benefit to our marrying our cat? If it makes us happy, why shouldn't we be able to do this?

It's all about us. Marriage has no other purpose than to make us happy and make society recognize our love, right?

It may strike you as ridiculous, but, really, if a man and a man or a woman and a woman or a man and four women can say that their relationship is a marriage, then what's to stop me, my wife, and our future cat from saying our relationship is a marriage? Legally speaking, marriage has become about what I want it to be, nothing more, nothing less.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Conversations with an atheist

Atheist (A): I truly appreciate you responses to my ramblings. You are obviously much more educated than me in the details of the bible and have put a whole lot of thought into your beliefs.

I just feel that there is so much more to our existence here or anywhere than simply little toys for god to play with and to judge.

Me (M): , you're not rambling. Your expressing the exact same searching in which most engage, including me, not only when I was an atheist but even today.

However, can I encourage you to shift your perspective?

Please let me suggest your view of God is essentially Calvinist, even Islamic. Calvinism (which doesn't represent all Christianity anymore than Islam represents all monotheism) teaches total predestination. In other words, it teaches that God actually created some souls to go to hell.

Similarly, Islam teaches someone could live a righteous life of perfect virtue, and at the moment of their death, God could simply decide on a whim to write on their head, "Damned."

Conversely, at the moment of his or her demise, Allah could write on the forehead of the greatest sinner, "Saved."

In a word, that is majorly hosed. If any of this was true, it would be proof enough for your atheism. It would mean God is capricious and cavalier. And if He was any of these things, it would show He is not perfect (human persons can be capricious and cavalier, but these are sinful inclinations; they're wrong, they're imperfections, not marks of goodness or perfection). And if He is not perfect, He is not absolute. And if He is not absolute, He is merely contingent and thus incapable of being God. Thus, He would not exist.

However, not withstanding certain folks' lack of philosophical (not to mention theological and/or scriptural) clarity, this isn't true.

The only thing for which God predestined you was a relationship with Him (that you choose to reject that at this moment is a different story).

Also, know this: God didn't create you to be His little minion/automaton. He's not some puppeteer jerking your strings so He can get His sick jollies.

Instead, to repeat, He created you for love.

Think about it: What is the one thing most of humanity desires above all else (actually, all do, assuming there's not something in their background that makes them reject this)? Love. We want love. It's why we want and have friends, family, romance.

And what do all of these bespeak? Relationship. God gave us this desire. He made us for that.

I know you don't have much use for the Bible, but I'm sure you've heard through popular culture that God created mankind in His own image.

That doesn't mean He created us to "look" like Him. When Genesis was written (Genesis is where we find "Let us create man in our image"), God wasn't incarnate. He was merely spirit. There was no physical "image" for us to resemble.

So what could He have meant?

Think about the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Between them, there is total self-giving. There is a love that holds nothing back. Theologians say the love between the Father and the Son is so strong that the Holy Spirit proceeds from it.
Similarly, the relationship that most closely mirrors this heavenly union on earth, marriage, is so strong that nine months later, you have to give it a name (don't get me wrong: the Father and Son are not doing one another; sex is merely a sacred, physical eros and agape [two Greek words for love], symbolic expression of the pure agape love experienced by the Trinity).

So when He created us in His image, it was an image -- an icon, if you will -- of love. We were made for love.

But that's why we have free will. Have you ever had someone try and force you to love them? Have you ever tried to force someone to emotionally love you? Did either work?

Of course not. And why? Because love assumes freedom to choose. Theology and philosophy both would agree that love is an act of the will. It's a choice.

Now, when we love a lover, when we love our parents or a friend or whoever, we typically want to please them. We know someone -- our mother, whoever -- loves us when they show it by making sacrifices, by thinking more of us than they do of themselves (not that they're doormats; don't get me wrong). So a mom shows her love by staying up with her baby when it's sick. Our lover shows us love by, say, saving up for months to buy us a gift they know will please us at Christmas. You can probably think of your own examples.

What is proof that someone doesn't love us, though? When they don't care what we think. When they don't lift a finger to do anything for or with us. When they are selfish to the extreme (all people selfish, but when we love someone, we mitigate that, otherwise, we don't really love them, right?). When they want their own way, damn what we want ... ever.

It's the same with God, pal. He loves us so much. He loves us so much that He created us for love, to experience His amazing love, even though we don't give a single thing to Him. He loves us so much He sent us His only begotten Son to pay the debt of our sins.

And sin is selfishness. Sin is choosing ourselves, our own ways over his. It's using people. It's being cruel to them. It's being dishonest, killing, stealing, and doing anything that is simply at the service of self as opposed to for the love and service of another.

You're an atheist and presumably don't believe in sin. But even you will probably recognize there are times you do things you know are wrong, that you ought not do. You likely have regrets from how you've treated others, say. That's sin.

God gives us a choice: Love me or don't. It's total freedom on our part. His love is a gift (we talk about grace; grace comes from the word *gratia*, Latin for, amongst other things, "gift"). That gift is freely given. It can also be freely rejected. (If you've ever gotten a fruitcake or bad present at Christmas, you know what I mean.)

And when we in the interest of freedom or simply having our own way or selfishness or whatever choose our own way over His---even though His way is meant to actually to increase our freedom and give us more than we could ever imagine possible on our own (in this life and the next)---He's going to respect that freedom.

But it's not morally neutral when we do this. The regret we all feel over wrong actions in our past is proof of this (it's what we call the Natural Law, which is written on the hearts of all people everywhere, which, for instance, tells anyone---regardless of culture or class---that murder is wrong).

We can reject the fruitcake. We can reject a job offer because it's not in our best interest.

We can't, however, reject God through sin or reject His very existence---often because we simply want our own way (at least, ultimately, that's how it was for me)---and have it be A-OK. If we turn our back on Him, He'll take us at our word. He's not going to force Himself on us.

Maybe this is belaboring the point, but it's like a woman or man deciding to have intercourse. When we willingly enter into coitus, we call it "making love." When we force or are forced, it's called "rape," and that's a crime/major sin. Only sociopaths would say otherwise.

Anyway, the bottom line is this: He's not waiting for us to slip up so He can say, "A-ha! Gotcha! You're hosed now, pal."

Instead, He's respecting our freedom to reject us. What's more, He's calling us to love, to live in His mercy, to live in relationship with Him, which is the destiny of everyone on this planet (again, whether they accept their destiny is a different story).

To show that He's not the hangman waiting to pull the floor out from under us, consider when Jesus called Peter to follow Him on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Peter's just majorly dissed Christ by sarcastically calling Him "Master." And when Jesus tells Peter to throw his net over the side of the boat, even though they'd "been out all night and caught nothing!" (emphasis in the original), Peter scoffs and does it just to humor this carpenter who obviously knows nothing.

But then what happens? Peter throws the net overboard, and when he pulls it back in, the catch of fish is so large, he has to call over James and John to help him haul it onto the boat. And both Scripture and archaeology show Peter was a physically *strong* man.

Afterward, Peter throws himself at Christ's feet and says, "Depart from me for I am a sinful man, O Lord."

Does Jesus mock him, scoff back at him, gloat over him, diss him in return? "You stupid bastard. You thought you could get away with it, didn't you? Gotcha. You're hosed for eternity, bub."

No. Christ says, "'Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.' And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him."

Think of that! It's the biggest catch in their professional lives. Peter was well off. His home had 42 rooms (they've excavated it in Capernaum, Israel). This would have made him even richer! Instead, what's he do? He leaves everything to follow this itinerant preacher.

Either Peter was really stupid to do this or he was on to something. What kind of man could have that effect on others?

There was another dude, Matthew, a presumably wealthy tax collector (tax collectors were major thieves; they got paid a pittance for collecting taxes, so they made their living by charging more for taxes than people really owed and then skimming the difference off the top). Jesus simply shows up in front of him one day and says, "Follow Me." Nothing else. Doesn't give him reasons. Just, "Follow Me." Matthew leaves what he's doing and that's it.

Sure, a lot of folks have followed charismatic leaders before, but most haven't done it at the drop of a hat. (I grant the above doesn't prove anything. It's not meant to. It's meant to stimulate thought.)

Jesus had that power over people, and He changed the world more than any other person in history. Think about it. As far as I can tell, that statement's an inarguable point. For instance, we tell time the way we do (BC/AD) because of Him. Even the Chinese use an AD calendar. The examples are innumerable.

Does any of this make sense? Or am I beating a dead horse in trying to help clarify things/explain? I hope not. The last thing I want to do is be an imposition, friend.

A: Have you ever considered the ancient alien theory. I can't say I believe it because I don't know(no one does) but it does have many things about it that make sense and actually provides some explanation for some of the events described in the bible. Here is what my research has enlightened me to. The theory begins many more thousands of years before what today's science claims. We are a product of a far advanced alien race creating us using DNA of primates and theirs (which would explain the similarities between us and the primates and the missing link).

It is said that the first person created by them was Adama (Adam). Bone marrow DNA from his rib (because that's where the juiciest bone marrow is) was used to create Eve. Back then they had no terms for extraterrestrials so they called them gods. Most religions state that God(s) came down from heaven with smoke and fire(spaceship) and performing incredible feats(far advanced technology). This would also help explain the many mysteries regarding some of the amazing monuments and structures(Pyramids in Egypt, southeast Asia and South America, Puma Punku, Gobekli Tepe and many more) that science does not understand and basically guesses at their origin and purpose. What if we were simply an experiment or our existence on earth is like a amusement park and when we die we go back to our original state of being or start over again. Not saying I believe all this but I don't not (I know, a double negative) believe it either.

M: The ancient alien theory. Hmmm. Can't say I ever have. I mean, I've heard how this or that thing in the Bible (e.g., the fiery chariot that assumes Elijah into heaven) was really a UFO or something, but that's misreading Scripture, as far as I can tell.

What I can say about your research is this:

It's not about what some ancient pagan creation story/myth/whatever says, or even about what Judeo-Christian monotheism teaches, per se. It's about the truth.

What is true? That's the ultimate question. It's what every human heart longs for, the truth, the comfort and security of the truth. Not a "truth," but the "Truth."

Monotheism (well, I can't speak for Zoroastrianism, because I'm frankly ignorant of it, by and large) doesn't teach anything like what your research says. Not even the Jews' Talmud or the Muslims' hadith.

In the beginning, God doesn't create something out of something else that already exists. He creates out of nothing, "the heavens and the earth." The Bible tells us he then moves over the void that's there, creating the waters, the land, the sky, the firmament, vegetation, the fish, and finally animals, including man. Nothing about smoke and fire or the like.

Now it is true that it takes faith to believe what I do. However, given the discoveries of science (yes, science), I think it takes more faith to say it's false. And you'll probably admit that your atheism is as much a faith/belief system built on your rational deduction as mine is. Because it takes faith to believe what only 2.4 percent or so of the world's population believes (1.68 billion), to believe that *you* have the right answer and everyone else (6.832 billion) are basically sheeple, brainwashed from childhood, whatever. Not to mention it's a huge gamble. After all, if you're right, no big deal. If I'm right, that's a hugely different story, wouldn't you agree?

Also, I'd simply consider that people like Thomas Aquinas, Augustine of Hippo, Albertus Magnus, not to mention their modern day contemporaries such as Joseph Ratzinger, NT Wright, John Paul II ... all first rate minds ... had to consider similar data. These men aren't ones you could reasonably considered brainwashed. Each devoted most of their lives to studying and trying to understand these issues. They came to the conclusion that God is real and not the figment of imagination or some genetic impulse we don't yet understand.

Indeed, read Thomas Aquinas. He posits opposite beliefs better than his opponents could. (He would give three "objections," answer each of those, and then give a concluding paragraph.) He answered atheism's arguments back in the 12th century when there were vastly fewer atheists.

Still, I have to admit, your thesis has some level of attraction in that it is interesting. It's fascinating to speculate about, isn't it? I used to think about the same thing(s) in my agnostic/atheist days. The same thing with wondering if I'm the only person who exists and that everything---this computer, the TV my "son" is watching, the clothes my "wife" wore to "work" this morning---is a figment of my imagination, some response to stimuli of which I'm not aware and thus can't comprehend or can't comprehend because I don't realize I'm some alien's experiment (sorta like "The Matrix," I guess). I remember writing a paper on this in high school.

Anyway, I hope this hasn't been tedious for you. For me, it's been fun, and I'd like to keep it up, but only if you're game, buddy.

Cheers, mate!

Answering myself from the other day's depression and confusion

Sometimes, I'll admit it, following Christ isn't fun.

First off, there are lots of "hard sayings" that Jesus Himself gave us. Next, some assert, "A true Christian is never sad." (Guess I'm not a true Christian?) Then there is the attraction of a worldly life, and there are frustrations that can occasionally come with seeing the world through a sacramental lens in opposition to that worldly view, which is always snapping at one's heals. It is always there, in one's face (even though it's allurement quickly wanes once you get past the surface and the temptation to think, "Well, there must be something wrong in the way I'm going along with the world. Hey, I know: Instead of rejecting this as a false way to happiness, I'll double down!").

But like Jesus' response to the crowd leaving in John 6 because of these "hard sayings," where Jesus turns to the apostles and asks, "Will you go, too?" we have to reply with Peter, because it's true, "Lord, to whom else shall we go? You alone have the words of everlasting life." I think about this this morning because I was looking at the cover of my Bible, which has an icon of Christ on it. And on it, He's holding a book with the words, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

It's so true. It's probably my favorite saying of Our Lord's. You see, even though I'm a Christian, I may---scratch that---will have days that are not filled with joy and hope (a product of my own seeing the glass half empty). But being a Christian, I have the light to see where the potholes and bad detours are on the road of life. And I can avoid them. The detours may look as attention grabbing as a shiny penny, but underneath, by and large, they're just common and even corrosive nickel. They won't lead me to my final destination, my *desired* destination: A place of fulfilling relationship, one that eternally unfolds.

Therefore, ultimately, avoiding those false paths and finding true joys and living in true, authentic hope will be the ultimate road to happiness and contentment. It doesn't mean there won't be struggles for me. Too bad. Oh well. The Master said, "Pick up your cross daily, and follow Me." The cross is an instrument of execution, of torture. Life is filled with crosses, for everyone, believers and non-believers alike. But with Christ, those crosses aren't meaningless. They have a purpose, a redemptive, even joyful purpose.

So, yeah, being a Christian isn't always "fun." I'll take it over any other path, though. It provides more adventure than anything else I can possibly imagine. Want to join me in it? I hope you'll prayerfully consider doing so.

God bless you.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Conversations with an atheist

I've been having conversation with an atheist friend of mine from high school. I post them here, identities hidden, in the event that you or someone you know might find them useful. God bless!

Atheist (A): The bible is riddled with complete nonsense. It also says the world is less that 6000 years old, the world is flat and men and dinosaurs walked hand in hand so nothing is says really matters in real life. Believe that shit and you'll believe anything.

Me: I've read the Bible straight thru three times now (well, almost three; I'm almost done). I've studied specific books on any number of occasions. I have never seen the things you've cited as proof of Scripture's innanity, never read the word "dinosaurs" or that the world is flat or anything like it. What I do know is that scientists once claimed David never existed because they couldn't find proof of his existence. Until they did. I also read how the story of Sodom and Gomorrah was unhistorical, because supposedly there was no evidence any such towns existed. Then the Science Channel not only televises a documentary saying it is likely true, but even has scientists pinpointing a date based on archaeological finds: June 29, 3123 BC. But you miss the point: The Bible isn't a history book. Some of it is designed to be taken literally, some of it isn't. Even various books have a moral, allegorical, literal, and anagogical (i.e., spiritual) senses. So when Jesus says, "I am the vine, you are the branches," He didn't literally mean He was a vine. Also, remember "Bible" comes from the Greek "Biblios," which means library. Are you going to tell me I should take, say, the poems of Emerson literally? What about the literature of Fyodor Dostoevsky? You've obviously never read it. Even atheists get something from it. It's why my "Bible as Literature" class was taught by an unbeliever. He just loved the beauty of the way it was written. In any event, I would humbly encourage you to consider whether I'm right in my contention that you've missed the point.

I should note I'm not saying all Scripture is on the level of Dostoevsky. Some is on the level of Encyclopedia Brittanica, some on the level of History 101, some on the level of a philosophical treatise, some on the level of self-help, etc. The point is that it's simplistic to take the view that all books of the Bible are equal and on the same level.

A: I believe the phrase is "the four corners of the earth", which are hard to find on spherical object, gives us the idea the world is flat. The dinosaurs did exist. I've seen the fossils and if god created man and animals around the same time, 4000BC, that would have them sharing the earth at the same time. As far as some of the events in the bible being found to have actually happened I don't dispute that. It's the causes of the events is what I have a problem with. For example ,the great flood, god was so mad he made it rain so much that he was able to kill thousands of people. Is it ok for god to commit mass murder in order to prove a point? Does every natural disaster come from a pissed off god or just that one. Doesn't this all seem just a little silly?

M: Thanks for an interesting and logical response. It was good. It got me thinking. I hope I can do it justice in my response, mate.

"The four corners of the earth" is an expression that's as old as, well, the Bible. But it's just that, an expression. We're not supposed to take it literally. (Note: Even in Columbus' day, despite what we're taught in school, it is likely that a majority of people did not believe the earth was flat, although some undeniably did. Even in Aristotle's time, though, they knew the earth was round.)

Granted, dinos did exist. No argument here that they didn't. To believe otherwise is to deny empirical evidence. Some do, however. They wrongly believe that unless something matches exactly what the King James *translation* (key word) says, it didn't happen. Most whol hold this position, though, (not all) either ignore or are totally ignorant of the Bible's original language(s).

For instance, there's a sense in the original language of Genesis that the creation episode being described isn't so much a *creation* but a *re*-creation. (I just learned that recently. It certainly makes sense, but then, what do I know?)

Many other examples in Scripture abound where our English language, as rich as it is, just doesn't have the ability to fully give the sense of the original tongue(s). No translation can. Can you imagine reading Shakespeare in Russian, Swahili, or Korean (languages grossly removed from our noun/subject-adverb-adjective-verb way of structuring sentences). Imagine "Get thee to a nunnery" translated with all its nuances into a remote dialect of Mongolia. You can imagine the difficulty. To see for yourself, play around with Take a complex sentence, translate it into, say, Urdu, then copy and paste that translation into the translation box, and switch languages (i.e., Urdo to English instead of English to Urdu). What comes back is sometimes wildly and often hilariously different.

And there were mammals who shared the earth with dinosaurs. Even though science tells us men weren't amongst those mammals, it doesn't mean they definitively weren't. We just haven't found evidence of it yet. I mean, science in the late 18th century told us people could regenerate limbs. I read sometime within the last few years that a few scientists have debunked Einstein's E=MC(squared). From what I understand, that's the whole foundation of modern physics!

So it is possible to imagine (however highly improbable at this juncture). After all, dinosaurs were reptiles. Reptiles are cold blooded. They can't withstand extreme cold temps. Humans can. Maybe there was a time of overlap, and we just haven't found the evidence yet? Look what Lucy, the skeleton found in Africa taught us. You can term anthropology BL and AL (before and after Lucy). She taught us so much. Why couldn't some future discovery do the same thing vis-a-vis humans and dinosaurs? I don't know. Maybe this is totally looped. I'm speculating. Still ...

If we assume dinosaurs went extinct 66 million years ago, it's not likely given the following from a secular university journal: "By simple mathematics, it follows that the human race is about 300 generations old. If one assumes a typical generation is about 20 years, this gives an age of about 6000 years." (

Also, if I don't have it wrong, science tells us the world is at least as old as the Big Bang, billions of years. The Big Bang theory was derived by a Catholic priest, Monsignor Georges Lemaître (look it up if you're skeptical).

The Great Flood is interesting. I'm sure you're aware practically every culture in the world has a flood account (maybe every one does, but I can't say for sure; I'm trying to be conservative here so that I don't overstate things).

Consider the following: (And I know you don't like the source, but it's the only one we have.) The Bible tells us there were 10 generations from Adam to Noah: Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, Noah. The Bible tells us that each of these men had "sons and daughters," but it couldn't have been a huge amount of people at the time.

So imagining that in the course of nine generations, humanity would have become unbelievably wicked and evil isn't hard to fathom. After all, Adam's own son was Cain who murdered his brother ... and that was one generation removed from the Garden of Eden! Also if the above is true and each generation is roughly 20 years, that's roughly 200 years from the birth of Adam's kids to the flood event. If we take the Bible at its word and assume that what constitutes human years now are the same as what constitutes human years now, it was actually 1,056 years.

Even if we assume 20 kids per couple (and 1-4 wives per man, although Noah and his three sons only had one wife each), we're still not talking about a terribly huge number of people. They probably would have all lived in roughly the same region in those early centuries, but who knows?

"But what difference does it make if it was two people who died in the flood or 1,002?" If that's your question, good one, but go with me here.

From the outset, "the sons of God married the daughters of men." Don't misunderstand: God wasn't having kids. The primogeniture here is that of affiliation not biology. The struggle between doing things in a God-pleasing way and in a way that pleases ourselves, "screw what God thinks," is as old as the creation of mankind.

We see throughout the Bible and, indeed, history that when good people mix with bad people, it's not uncommon for and not long that bad people and their ways hold sway. It's a lot easier to gradually melt into vice than it is to maintain virtue, especially when vice seems so much easier and more fun.

And so it happens in the period leading up to the Flood. "The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of [mankind's] heart was only evil continually." Did you catch that "every"? Not "some," not "many," not even most. "Every." Maybe this is hyperbole.

For the moment, though, let's assume it's accurate.

Because the writers of the Bible were/are human, and it is said God speaks to us in language we can understand, we're told this "grieved [God] to the heart" (keep in mind that God at this point was in no way incarnate) and that He basically resolved to start over again. "Noah [alone] found favor in the eyes of the Lord."

What could possibly have motivated such a judgment on God's part?

It says, "the earth was corrupt in God's sight, and the earth was filled with violence... for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth."

What does this mean in concrete terms? We can't know. This is all the account says. Earlier in Genesis, we have Lamech, the really wicked son of Cain, saying "I have slain a man for wounding me [can you imagine?]. If Cain is avenged sevefold, truly Lamech seventy-seven fold."

Maybe I'm misunderstanding this. What I hear him saying, though, is, "You tangle with me, I'll not only mess you up, I'll kill you."

What if that was the common sentiment after the "sons of God married the daughters of men"? Plato's says there was constant war-making at this time. If we can extrapolate from humans' later actions, we can presume there was human sacrifice, even the sacrifice of children. This is all speculation, however.

Wicked and evil and "every" are pretty clear cut, though, wouldn't you say? God had created mankind for relationship with Him. He wants a relationship with you and with me and with everyone on this planet to this day. A deeper relationship than we'll possibly even conceive of in this life (it's not for nothing that some mystics have called Him "this tremendous lover," which is mind blowing when you think about it).

And when "every" thought of mankind's was "continually" evil, that sort of relationship just wasn't possible. It isn't possible today. We can't say, F@!* you, to Him and expect that at some point, He'll not take us at our word. As an illustration, Catholic theology, at least says God doesn't consign anyone to hell. Rather, they effectively put themselves there by continually rejecting Him, His grace (which essentially means "gift"), and His love.

Your Facebook page doesn't indicate a relationship with anyone, but let's say you had someone you considered the love of your life. You poured out your love and affection to this person, but they constantly rejected you. Unless you were a totally insecure doormat, eventually you would come to your senses and basically say, "You don't want me to love you? You don't want to love me? OK, fine." And you'd be gone. You'd make a fresh start and move on to someone who actually wanted to love you and be in relationship with you.

It's a bad analogy, ultimately, I know. But that's sorta the way it must have been back then.

So He wasn't proving a point. I mean, it does prove a point to us, if we can recognize the point. But, in the flood, "God punishes  man's disobedience by undoing the order of nature that he himself had established for man's benefit.... The result is a return to chaos.... The situation calls for a new beginning following on a severe purification. The Bible is offering us here an impressive lesson about the destiny of mankind when it turns its back on God and rejects the laws that are stamped on creation itself."

Furthermore, it's not like God said, "OK, Noah, now that the ark's built, close 'er up. Here come the
rains. All outside are hosed."

He gives mankind an entire week to come to repentance.
(Incidentally, this shows the small global population if people have a week to reconsider their actions. Maybe it was all those wars and Lamech-like murders. It assumes that everyone is within some sort of figurative shouting distance.)

They don't. Even in the face of Noah's building something that the dimensions show would have been the size of an aircraft carrier, they're still recalcitrant in their disobedience and rejection of God and His mercy.

Let's get to your final question, because if I haven't lost you by now, I know I soon will.

"Does every natural disaster come from a pissed off god or just that one. Doesn't this all seem just a little silly?"

At the risk of coming off as condescending, I'm going to assume you don't have kids in your life on a daily basis. If you did, it wouldn't seem so silly to you. But let me back up.

No, it's quite likely that not every natural disaster comes from God's active will (there's also His passive will, but that's another rabbit hole for a different day). Some have, probably most haven't. The recent tornado that wiped out an Illinois village, I can't think of a good reason for that to have happened in the fashion of the flood (then again, if God exists, and if God is omniscient, and if I am not God, then it follows there are things I simply can't know ... just sayin', don't get me wrong).

On the other hand, the Philippine typhoon, I could see there being some measure of divine retribution in that, sure. The Philippines has been the sole Asian country where the light of Christ has shown in a significant way. Over the last 20 years, decision after decision shows the nation is gradually turning its back on Him. I don't know, obviously. God hasn't come to me on a cloud lately, ya know?

Again, however, I don't believe every or even most natural disasters come directly from His hands.

But even if I'm wrong, I'm OK with that. Why? Because, like God, I'm a father. I'm a father who loves his children and who longs and yearns in the deepest reaches of his heart to see them have a good life.

And every day, I see them do things that, if left unchecked, will spiral off into their making some really bad choices and thus having a really bad life.

I don't want that for them. So I discipline them. When they are younger and not prone to understanding either words or reason, sometimes a swift swat on the back of the leg suffices. When they're older, I have to take away electronics or other privileges. Sometimes I give them extra chores. Sometimes I ground them.

I don't do this because I'm not a loving father, bud. I do this precisely *because* I'm a loving father. I want them to take notice that they're on the wrong path. More importantly, I want them to turn around and get back onto the right one.

God disciplines not because He's some horrible, capricious monster. He does it because He loves us. Scripture tells us He can number the hairs on our heads. That image strikes so close to home for me, man. How many nights have I rocked my children to sleep and looked lovingly upon their locks, studying each hair, gazing at how the light reflects on this patch in this way and on this other patch in another? And, boy, does my heart swell with love in those moments.

That doesn't mean, however, that when they do something wrong the next day, probably in the morning ("You left the milk out again"), I'm not going to say something.

Does that make sense?

I'm sorry to go on for so long, dude. Asking questions, making assertions, that's the easy part, frankly. It can be done in a pithy manner. Answering those, however, takes time and space. Nonetheless, I apologize for taking up so much of your time, pal. I hope it's been at least a little worthwhile.

Cheers, mate.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Not a very good Christian ... and why not? What is missing?

An open letter to Jesus Christ:

Dear Lord:

First, thank you for this day, and thank you for having made me Catholic. I really appreciate it, all of it: You dying on the cross for my multitudinous sins, You giving me all the graces and truth I can get in the Church and the Church alone ... everything. I am very grateful.

But I have a question, God: Why aren't I like these other Christians, these ones who can feel joy no matter what, these ones who can convert people simply by the fact that they are always filled with joy?

Lately, I have been inundated with thoughts of inadequacy. For the life of me, I cannot figure why I was born. Certainly, why was I born with the neurological disabilities that I was? Was it my mother's smoking and drinking the first few months of the pregnancy until she learned out I was inside her? Did I have to pay for her weakness, her sins, her habits?

Because it makes being a saint really hard, Lord. It makes it beyond hard. Everyday I have to see evidence of this in the curt comments to my wife, in the overboard reactions I mete out on my children for their being, well, children. Each day brings the shame that without taking three or four medications, I will be a monster. Do you know how that feels? You were like us in all things but sin, Lord, but I don't recall Your being neurologically disabled.

I'm almost 50, God. I'm on the downward side of 45. And I look at what my friends and associates have attained. Now, granted, some of them have attained it at great cost to their family life or their pocket books. What looks like so pretty on the outside is in danger of being foreclosed upon, repossessed, etc.

Nonetheless, here I am, and I'm still struggling. I went to college so I would make a good living. I thought that's what I'd get out of the bargain: Put in four years now, get a degree, work hard, and become prosperous. Maybe even get a little financial security along the way.

Instead, it's been nothing but struggle, not the least of which has come from the difficulty I've had in keeping a job due to my neurological disorders. We have bought into society's lie that one needs to be financially secure in order to be happy. I know it's a lie. But financial struggles are a drag, a real drag, and walking away from the lie is exceedingly difficult. If only I didn't fret about this bill, if only I didn't have to worry about where my kids' tuition was coming from, if only I could get on top of this-or-that debt, then I could breath easy. Then I could feel some security.

And I probably could have had this, but I keep getting in the way. For instance, I have a pretty big, important freelance project, God. You know this. It's in service of you. I was given very explicit instructions on what to do. I forgot them. I totally forgot them. So I spent the better part of a week working on an aspect of the project that wasn't needed or wanted. And the only reason I know this is that my client told me so. Can't I do anything right?

I feel like a waste of space. I feel as though the world would be better off had I never been born. My wife could have a good husband who had a better temperment. My kids wouldn't have to suffer such an inconstant father.

I'm frightened, Lord. I really am. I see what damage my actions do to my soul every day. I read about how mystics have seen even the souls of priests and religious in hell. These are, presumably, people who begged and pleaded for Your mercy for their sins. And yet there they are. I know I offend Thee Who art all good and worthy of all my love by my actions, and it breaks my heart that I do this, not only because I fear the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but because it offends Thee, my God. But it also fills me with dread: Eternity is an awful long time. Sometimes I feel my seeming inability to acquire virtue and leave behind my disvirtue, my sinful and persistent inclinations, etc., dooms me to hell, that no amount of repentance or contrition will suffice to wipe away the debt I have incurred.

I know You are larger than that, O Lord. Iesu, confido in Te. It still doesn't stop me from fearing.

I'm in a low spot right now, God. Please help me find that joy that others seem to have. Please help me to know my worth. Please enable me to not sin, because I don't know how not to do it.

I cry out with St. Paul, I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

Well, I guess if St. Paul can do it, so can I. Until then, Lord, I can completely feel Satan pressing to “sift [me] like wheat” (cf. Luke 22:31; 1 Pet 5:8), so please obtain through the Father my ability to persevere until I have turned. For right now, I feel somewhat desperate.

Thank you, God,
Your servant,

Monday, December 9, 2013

Saints News for November

US bishops take extraordinary step 

The US bishops did something remarkable at their recent meeting in Baltimore on November 11. What was it? 

They voted to promote the beatification cause of an American Servant of God. To my knowledge, they have never done anything like this before. In any event, it’s exceedingly rare.

Whose case did they do this with?   

That of Mother Mary Teresa Tallon, foundress of the Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate. They are based in Monroe, NY, and their mission is to spread the gospel door-to-door. 

Why do you suspect the bishops decided to do this?   

It’s likely they agreed with outgoing USCCB president Timothy Cardinal Dolan that the successful completion of her cause would benefit not only the Archdiocese of New York but the entire US Church. After all, we are in the age of the New Evangelization, we just concluded the Year of Faith, where the focus was largely evangelization, and Mother Tallon’s life and example could have a profound impact in this nation, which many believe sorely needs it. After all, 10 percent of Americans are fallen away Catholics. She founded her order to reach out to such people. In a sense, she’s the “mother” of groups such as Catholics Come Home and Fr. Barron’s Word on Fire. 

Who was Mother Tallon?   

She was the daughter of Irish immigrants born in upstate New York, born in 1867, and she joined the Holy Cross Sisters of South Bend, IN, at age 19. After three decades as a Catholic school teacher, she was attending Mass when she believes God inspired her to found her order. She wanted to “go out in search of the lost lambs and bring them back to the fold by means of Christian instruction.” 

She died in 1954, “thanking God for the original grace of her vocation and sustaining her order since its founding.” 

Promoters of venerable’s cause express frustration

The promoters of Ven. Agnelo de Souza beatification cause are expressing extraordinary frustration over the roadblocks they believe they have to face.

Who was Agnelo de Souza? 

He was the sixth of nine children who could remember huge parts of sermons he heard from the time he was a child. He was orphaned at age 11, after which he joined the seminary, where his studies were impacted by poor health. Following his ordination, he became a missionary and then spiritual director at the local seminary. He died in 1927 at age 58.

What seems to be the issue? 

His vice postulator Fr. Hilario Fernandes says “a major hurdle is [that] many doctors find it difficult to draw a line between nature and supernatural forces. ‘It is a genuine difficulty, [he says] no doubt about it. Today science has developed so much, that it is difficult to say where science ends and where the supernatural powers begin to come in.’”

However, his problem is not so much with science and the medical community as it is with the law governing the creation of saints.

How so?

Father says he wants more attention paid to the devotion of the faithful to Ven. Agnelo and the graces people believe they've received by his intercession. He doesn't want the bar for beatification and canonization to be so high.

Should it be?

Good question. Absolutely. Devotion can be a fickle thing. Faith in a person's sanctity can wax and wane. Faith needs to be there for the recognition of sanctity, granted, but the Church has its rules – including those for the need of an incontrovertible miracle, both for beatification and canonization – for a reason. After all, what would happen if we said, "Oh, this person's a saint," only to have information later come to light that contradicts that? When the Church declares a blessed or a saint, she makes an infallible declaration that this person is in heaven. We need proof of that.

The Church’s sainthood process has worked well for centuries, and despite Father's fervent and totally understandable wish that it was easier to make his hero a saint, we need to maintain it. Otherwise, the canon of saints risks becoming a sort of Catholic Hall of Fame. Recognizing someone as a saint is more than that, though.

Indian priest closer to canonization

On November 19, it was reported by the Archdiocese of Goa, India, that an alleged miracle credited to the intercession of Bl. Joseph Vaz has been deemed worthy of study by the Vatican.

Why is this newsworthy? 

This will excite anyone who knows about this incredible saint, which, sadly, too few do.

Bl. Joseph Vaz was an Indian priest from Goa, which is where St. Francis Xavier's incorrupt body rests. Priest, and he lived over 300 years ago. After an amazing career in India, “he travelled to Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) ministering to the Catholics in that country.” As a result of his evangelical efforts, he is called the “Apostle of Ceylon.” At the time, the Calvinist Dutch ruled much of the island and Catholicism was illegal. Because of this, he had to minister in secret. He walked around barefoot not only to hide his status as a priest but to be like the poor. Also, he was a great confessor, bringing many people to conversion through this sacrament. He also had a tremendous Marian devotion.

Really, people ought to learn more about this incredible hero, because I can't do him justice here.

Blessed important to the Holy Father to receive “equivalent” canonization 

In late November, the Holy See’s press office announced Pope Francis was likely to bestow the equivalent of canonization on Bl. Peter Faber (whose name in French is the same as former Packers quarterback Brett Favre).

What is “equivalent canonization”? 

“Equivalent canonization” is where the Pope inserts the name of the new saint in the universal calendar of saints without verifying a miracle performed through his intercession and without holding a formal canonization ceremony.

According to Catholic News Service, “equivalent canonizations – used most recently for St. Angela of Foligno and St. Hildegard of Bingen – recognize the candidates’ widespread fame of holiness and veneration by Catholic faithful sustained over centuries.”

Who was Bl. Peter? 

He was a Frenchman born in 1506, and he was a college roommate of Ss. Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier at the College of St. Barbara at the University of Paris. Faber actually was the first of the Jesuits to be ordained a priest and he celebrated the Mass in 1534 during which St. Ignatius and the others took their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.  

With St. Francis Xavier and St. Ignatius Loyola, Bl. Peter was an early cofounder of the Jesuits, the religious order to which His Holiness belongs. Evidently, not long after his election to the papacy, the Pope asked the Congregation for the Causes of Saints where Bl. Peter’s canonization cause stood. He then directed the Congregation to study and evaluate Bl. Peter’s cause “on its merits.”

A “panel of historians and a group of theologians convoked by the congregation already voted unanimously in favor of the canonization, and [the postulator for Jesuit saints’ causes] said he would be surprised if the cardinals did not follow suit.”

Besides his being a Jesuit, what does the Pope about Bl. Peter? 

Francis told a Jesuit magazine several months ago that he admires Bl. Peter’s “dialogue with all, even the most remote and even with his opponents; his simple piety, a certain naiveté, perhaps, his being available straightaway, his careful interior discernment, the fact that he was a man capable of great and strong decisions but also capable of being so gentle and loving.”

According to the Italian newspaper Avvenire, Bl. Peter “is an important reference point for understanding the Pope’s leadership style.” Also, “Faber lived on the cusp of an era when the unity of the Church was being threatened. He mostly kept out of doctrinal disputes and steered his apostolate towards a reform of the Church, becoming a pioneer of ecumenism.”

How will the equivalent canonization take place? 

The blog “Vatican Insider” reports the Holy Father will issue a papal bull decreeing the canonization.

My ambiguous relationship with Nelson Mandela

It was around this same time that across the street at Troy High School, my AP English teacher was having us read Cry, the Beloved Country, published in 1948 (the same year apartheid became official law) and still in print (and which has been made into at least two films and one musical). Before reading this book, and knowing only what the same people who were usually doing the caterwalling said, it was hard to take apartheid seriously, I'll be honest. It can't be that bad, not like they make it, I thought.
After reading this amazing work, however, it was a different story. Apartheid was seen, at least in the eyes of this proud Orange Countian, conservative, idealistic, teenage Republican, as the evil that it was.
But then, at the time--key distinction--Mandela was a different story. All I knew about him was that he was a communist and a seditionist and was in jail for both reasons. That he was a seditionist was one thing. Given the circumstances, we could understand that.
But his being a communist, that was a different thing. In an age where the heroes in the milieu in which I came of age were Reagan, Judge Bill Clark, Democrat Scoop Jackson, JFK (for his anti-communism and tax cuts), and the soon-to-be-canonized JP2, being a communist was beyond the pale.
So we could bop about and sing The Specials' Free Nelson Mandela playing on KROQ all day long (and there were times we did, even though we could learn nothing about the man and why he should be freed other than that the chorus told us he should be "Freee-ee" and that we were stupid if we didn't agree). Were he released, however, many sincerely believed it would mean a bloody, potentially devastating civil war. The worst victims probably would be the very people Mandela purported to represent. After all, it wasn't as though the good folks in the "phony homelands" such as Soweto had it good to begin with. (I fully grant the confusion. Such situations are always confusing in their damned if you do ... fashion)
In that day, I don't remember we had any other way of getting opposing information. There were the Times, the Register (both of which my household took), the various newsweeklies, shows such as NBC Nightly News with Brokaw, and ABC's World News Tonight with Frank Reynolds and Peter Jennings. There was no Internet. You could read National Review or The New Republic, but who did that? No one I knew.
And so this was my own suspicious view of the man until he got released. After that point, after I had more access to more information. I realized what an amazing man he was. He went from being someone I admired merely because no one could break his spirit in that awful jail (where even the menu was segregated) to a true hero of mine. As silly/frivolous as it might seem, that view was only reinforced by pop culture references such as the movie, Invictus, which I love as one of my favorites.
When the news came this week, I watched whatever I could about the guy. I made my children do the same.
These young ones take nothing of the ambiguity I once had concerning him. To them, he is simply a great man. Considering who he was and who he became and what he represented, that is a very good thing.
Long live Nelson Mandela in our hearts. Let us each resolve here to mirror his spirit and character in our own lives so that when we pass it can also be said of us, "He left the world a better place."